One of the most important tools for helping you land work as a professional copywriter is a portfolio. It’s a way to show prospective clients your capabilities and style. And it allows them to compare your work to other copywriters whom they might be considering.
“Whether you’re a fresh new face or an old-timer looking to up your game, a professional portfolio is an essential weapon in any copywriter’s client-winning arsenal,” says Ruth Elvin, a lifestyle copywriter. “Hone, edit and display with pride.”
Here then are 10 crucial tips to keep in mind as you assemble your copywriting portfolio.
Don’t throw every piece of work you’ve ever done into your copywriting portfolio. Choose those items that best reflect your talent. Leave out the ones that are “just okay” or that look somewhat unprofessional because the budget was low. You likely won’t be present to offer an explanation, so just reveal those works that speak for themselves as top-notch sales pieces for your abilities.
I learned this lesson the hard way. Many years ago (okay, truth is it was decades ago), I had been doing some small-time modeling and had put together a portfolio of my photos. An ad agency executive asked me come into his office to meet with a fashion client.
I brought my portfolio and included all of my photos thinking it would make me look more experienced. Instead, as they flipped through my photos and came across the ones that weren’t particularly flattering, I explained, “The photographer had a lot of trouble with the lighting that day.” And “This photo was taken at the end of a very long shooting day.”
Additionally, I had set up my portfolio to be chronological based on when the photos were taken. That meant that my earliest photos came first, when I had the least amount of experience. And it showed.
I finished my presentation and went home. Later that afternoon the ad agency executive called and said, “Why did you include all of your pictures, even the bad ones? Don’t EVER show prospects any work you’re not proud of.” I didn’t land the job, but I did learn the lesson: quality over quantity.
Include enough samples in your copywriting portfolio to show the full range of your capabilities. Perhaps you can write websites, brochures and case studies, so be sure you have at least one or two examples of each. This is something I try to do with my own portfolio.
Perhaps you also want to show the diversity of clients for whom you’re able to write. So you could show samples for a manufacturer, a service company and a high tech firm.
Essentially, you want prospects to see themselves in your samples and think, “Well, if she has experience doing that kind of project for that kind of client, then she can surely handle my work.”
Even though you’re selling your copywriting services, clients tend to focus on design. If they see a website or brochure that looks professional, they assume the copy is professional as well.
Back in the day when I was starting out pre-internet, I used to present my portfolio in person. It was a bit of a dog-and-pony show. As I would show the prospect each piece, I used to find it frustrating that they would most look at the design and wouldn’t take the time to read my brilliant copy. At best they’d scan the heads and subheads.
With experience I learned to point out a few specifics about the copy so they’d at least understand my strategy regarding the text. Even so, it was challenging for them to formulate an impression of the work without giving at least some weight to the quality of the design.
Nowadays, clients view my portfolio on their own, and I suspect most of them still focus more on design but copy. For that reason, when I’m deciding which of my pieces to display, I make sure they are not only good examples of my copy but also impressive samples of quality design.
If any of your samples have won copywriting awards, you want your prospect to know it. Be sure to note your award-winning pieces. Your prospect is likely to be impressed.
Even if you haven’t won any awards, you can consider including client feedback on your copy. Perhaps the client sent you a thank-you note or provided a testimonial or reference letter you can use. Or maybe your copy was even discussed on social media. Any type of third-party endorsement can help persuade a hesitant prospect to choose you.
If your samples have stories behind them, those anecdotes can be worth including. They can serve as mini-case studies or project overviews. You can talk about the objective for the project, the thinking that went into your strategy, any important details about the project and finally, the results achieved.
Case studies reveal to the client that you’re not just someone who puts pen to paper; you’re a thoughtful and strategic marketing professional who also happens to have exceptional copywriting skills.
Like fashion, copywriting and design go through style changes. Work samples created in the 1990s will look dated because the people in the photos probably are sporting styles that were popular then and not now.
Back in the 1980s I wrote a brochure for the company that manufactures Velcro. It featured child and adult models wearing clothes and shoes with Velcro closures. Looking at the brochure today, the photos look like iconic pictures of the decade. The big hairstyles alone are a dead giveaway of the timeframe.
Be sure to keep your portfolio fresh. Add new samples and remove those that may no longer be relevant.
Here’s another lesson I learned the hard way. My early portfolio included links to websites I’d written. After about a year and a half, I went back to my portfolio and found some of the links didn’t work.
In one case, the client had gone out of business. In another, the client had redone their website to reflect a new focus for their business. And finally, another client had merged with a competitor and shut down its own website.
When those links in my portfolio no longer worked, I had no way to show off my work. Sure I could send the client my drafts in MS Word, but few clients are willing to invest the time reading documents. They really just want to take a quick glance at each project to form an overview of your skills.
So, here’s how I prevent that situation from reoccurring. I post links to websites I’ve written but also include actual screenshots. Screenshots add visual interest to my portfolio but also serve another purpose. If the websites go away, I still have evidence of the work you did. I also have a plug-in on my websites that lets me check for broken links, so I can easily find any issues before visitors do.
A new copywriter recently asked me the following: “I have press releases and articles that I’ve written for clients. Can I submit these as writing samples to prospective employers and clients? Or do I need to create some ‘fake’ original samples?”
I encouraged the copywriter to use the actual writing samples. If you wrote them yourself, they’re legitimate examples of your work and also prove that you have clients who trust you with their copywriting assignments. Certainly if you have any samples that include your byline, such as articles or blog posts you’ve written, be sure to include links to them so the client can see you’ve been published.
f you’re so new that you don’t have any actual samples, you may have to create some to prove you’re capable, but generally speaking clients want to see legitimate work.
I want to add one caveat. Some clients may not want you to post their samples online on your website or in your online portfolio because they could potentially be found and copied by a competitor.
I have had clients in fashion and data technology, for example, who made sure to tell me up front not to showcase any work I did for them. Fortunately, those instances are rare.
If you’re unsure how a client might feel about including their work in your portfolio, you probably should ask permission. And if a client won’t let you display their content, consider asking them for a testimonial instead, which can also be useful in converting prospects into customers.
Even though I have an online portfolio located within my website, prospects still often request samples of my work. While I could just direct them to the portfolio, I usually will take a moment to point out a few relevant samples or send them a few select links. When you tailor your presentation, you boost your impression of proven expertise in that niche.
For example, I was recently pitching a large real estate client. In my proposal I included links to the pages of my portfolio that were real estate-related. The client was immediately able to see I had relevant experience and was therefore a good choice to take on their work.
Once you’ve made your copywriting portfolio you need to park it somewhere accessible. It can become a menu item or individual page on your website or blog. Another option is to create a Facebook page or include samples on your LinkedIn profile.
Other options include creating an online portfolio on Wix, Weebly, PortfolioBox, Crevado or Behance. These sites offer free versions or paid portfolio sites that can be customized with plenty of bells and whistles.
If you don’t have a website, you can post your copywriting portfolio on sites like Wix, Weebly and LinkedIn.Freelance writer John Mello suggests placing links to your copywriting portfolio in your e-mail signature. “Then, every time you send an e-mail to a client or contact, they’ll see the link to your work, which means they might take the time to browse and check out your credentials,” he says.
The best tip I can give you for doing your copywriting portfolio is just to get it done. Don’t make it into such a massive undertaking that you keep putting it off. Start small and build. Tell yourself that something is better than nothing.
One of the tricks to being successful, no matter what your endeavor, is to always be improving. That certainly goes for online copywriting portfolios. Your best is yet to come. But for now, put aside all your insecurities about your limited experience or the lacking sophistication of your work samples. Create SOMETHING and get the process started, all with the intent of revisiting your portfolio monthly or quarterly to continually upgrade it.
As the infamous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once said, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”