Assembling Your Freelance Copywriting Portfolio

Writing Samples to Help You Land New Clients


How many samples should I include in my portfolio?

There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how many samples. Include enough to make any client considering your services feel confident that you’re capable of doing their work. I probably have too many in my portfolio. I add new projects to it all the time.

Having a variety of jobs represented shows your versatility. Also, if you’ve done any work for name brands or companies that are recognizable, those are worth including, as they’ll lend credibility to your work.

Remember to remove projects as you progress in your freelance writing career. With time and experience, you should be improving your skills, and you want your portfolio to reflect your current capabilities.

In my case as well, because I’ve been working in the industry for many years, I also have to remember to remove old samples that look dated. For example, I used to include in my portfolio a brochure I wrote about 20 years ago for the company that manufactures Velcro.

I figured the company and product were recognizable names that might impress prospective clients. However, the photos in the brochure showed people with outdated hair styles and clothes. The photos became the first thing people noticed about the brochure, completely overlooking my brilliant copy. After a few people remarked on the photos, I removed the brochure, realizing it was hurting more than helping me win clients. 

How do you show your samples?

My portfolio is posted on my website. I used to only include links to any online samples, mostly websites I’d written for clients. But I soon found that to be problematic.

Companies can go out of business, change their name, change their focus and redo their website. Some of the links then didn’t work or the copy on their sites was no longer mine. Therefore, I now include screenshots of my copy in my portfolio. Visitors can see the work I did, even if it is no longer visible on the client’s actual website.

Do you only show samples of websites?

No, because I do a lot of different kinds of copywriting. I have a variety of samples on my portfolio including brochures, landing pages, case studies, newsletters, etc.  That doesn’t mean you need to do the same. Include samples that best reflect your abilities and can help you land additional projects of a similar nature.

Do you worry that when you have your work posted in your portfolio that a possible client may steal copy you wrote for another company in the same industry?

That has happened, but it’s rare. And occasionally, I can prevent the theft. Below is a quick example.

Final Score: Susan – 1; Client – 0

A client called me and said, “I was looking at your online portfolio and saw the brochure you wrote for that insurance company. I have an insurance company too, and I’d like to have that exact brochure for my business. How much is it for you to recreate the copy and graphic design but with my name and logo?”

I explained to the client that every product I create is custom and belongs to the client who paid for it. I offered to create an original brochure for his insurance company that would be equally as nice but unique.

The client said, “No thanks. That existing brochure is exactly what I need. I see no reason to reinvent the wheel. That would cost more. If you won’t help me, I’ll find someone else to do it.”

After I hung up the phone, I immediately removed the brochure from my online portfolio. When the client returned to my online portfolio to show his new vendor exactly what he wanted, the brochure had magically disappeared.

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Do you ever worry that another copywriter might steal your samples?

That happened to me once. Someone from another country not only stole my samples but also my name and photo. I happened to find their profile with all my information on eLance.com, now Upwork.com. They were using my credentials to land jobs. You can read the story here, “Freelancers Beware, Your Identity & Reputation Can Be Stolen,” Fortunately, a quick email to eLance.com got the phony copywriter booted off their site and all information relating to me was removed.

So yes, you do take a risk posting your portfolio online, unless you password-protect them. But to me it’s worth the risk, as my samples help land me new clients.

Is there any other way to get samples without approaching clients, so that I can first gain some self-confidence?

You can do some speculative (spec) writing. Create samples for fake sample assignments to gain experience and eventually to show potential clients your skills.

You may also be able to score some samples if you’re willing to volunteer your help to a nonprofit. Many nonprofit organizations and charities need help with marketing and fundraising. They rely on volunteers to do much of their work.

Find a cause you believe in and consider offering your services. When I was starting out, I helped with various advertising campaigns for the United Way and the YMCA in my city and ended up with some published writing samples for my portfolio as well as gained some experience.

Also, consider starting your own business, even if it’s just a side hustle. Maybe it’s mowing the lawn for people in your neighborhood or shoveling snow during winter. Or a dog-walking service. Or maybe it’s selling handmade crafts on Etsy or reselling used products on eBay, as my son did (be sure to look at the photos) when he was in college.

Do the marketing for that business. Create a website, a brochure, a flyer or online ads, whatever you need to do to attract customers. You’ll learn a lot, create some samples for your portfolio and maybe even make a few dollars.

How did you get your first samples for your portfolio? 

One of my first gigs was for a locally published magazine. They had a low budget for editorial copy and I was willing to work super cheap. I did, however, manage to get some perks out of the deal in addition to samples for my portfolio.  I’ll share a fun story about my experience writing for that magazine.

My Short Career as a Restaurant Critic

One of my first freelance jobs was writing about restaurants for a magazine in Orlando, Florida where I live. Each month a different restaurant was featured on the cover. The articles were supposed to look like restaurant reviews but in actuality were paid ads.

The restaurant would purchase the space in the publication and in return a professional copywriter would write a positive story about their food that landed them on the cover.

Even though I was not a foodie and my culinary skills were limited to frying an egg and microwaving frozen Lean Cuisine entrées, I somehow convinced the publisher I could write these positive reviews.

One time I was asked to write a review for a restaurant at Disney World. Most people think Disney is just fast food, but the company actually has many high-end restaurants in their hotels, resorts and shopping areas. Most of them are amazing with talented chefs cherry-picked from around the world.

I was assigned to cover the California Grill, serving the finest in Californian cooking, with large windows that overlook the Magic Kingdom theme park. Time it right and you can even watch the nightly Disney fireworks show while you’re eating.

The California Grill was a fine-dining restaurant and the chef was told that “a reporter” would be coming and they should treat her well so she’d write a positive review. In reality, Disney was paying for the article, so yeah, it was going to be favorable.

When my husband and I arrived, the chef came out and introduced himself. He asked for permission to select some appetizers and entrees for my husband and me. We acquiesced figuring we probably wouldn’t have known what to choose on our own anyway. This restaurant was way more hoity-toity than any place we’d ever eaten before.

Within a few minutes, food started arriving at our table. And it just kept coming! The chef chose at least half a dozen appetizers, followed by a bunch of entrees, and then literally every single dessert on the menu.

The table was covered with plates. It was way more food than we could ever eat. We could see people staring at us. California Grill was a really expensive restaurant so no doubt these other patrons were surprised at how much food we’d ordered.

Finally, one woman who’d been staring at us for a while, worked up the nerve to come over. She introduced herself and said, “I just have to ask. How do you two stay so thin when you eat so much?”

We still laugh about that today. The lady left before us or she would have seen how much food we took home in doggy bags. It was at least a week’s worth of good eating.

So that’s one of the fun perks I received as a freelance copywriter. It also was good for my career, as even though writing those restaurant magazine articles didn’t pay well, I made a few good contacts. In fact, Disney later hired me to do some freelance writing for its Food and Beverage division (the folks who run the theme park restaurants).

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How often should I change up my portfolio?

I know many copywriters have portfolios that are outdated. They hate to take time away from paid products to focus on doing their own work. I think it’s worth the time to keep your portfolio current, showcasing your latest and best projects. 

How critical is having a portfolio?

It’s pretty important. You’ll have trouble landing client projects without samples to show clients your capabilities. So if that means having to do a few jobs at a low or no fee early on, go for it. Consider it an investment in your future success!

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