Copywriting Q&A: Why You Need an Online Portfolio

Find out exactly why you need a portfolio—and how to build oneWhen a lot of people first try to get into copywriting, their first steps are to spruce up their resumes and cover letters and then apply to jobs. And these people (usually, by the way, the ones who tell you that it’s “soooo hard to get into copywriting”) never get called in for interviews. Why? Because they haven’t put together online portfolios. Read on to find out exactly why this is a step you cannot skip and how you can get started with yours.

Today’s question comes to us from Aaron C., who asks, “How important is it to have a portfolio when I’m first starting out? Won’t employers understand that I need to get a job before I can have a portfolio?”

If you’ve been following Filthy Rich Writer for a while, you’ll already know how adamant I am that you need an online portfolio. (You need both print and online, but let’s deal with online first.) What might not be as clear, though, is exactly why you need an online portfolio.

An online portfolio shows prospective employers and clients that you know what you’re doing—you know how to write great copy and pair it with images—before they even meet you. Your online portfolio is proof that you know how to do your job. And that is very powerful.

Think about it: Hiring anyone is a risk. There’s no guarantee they’ll actually be able to do the job they’re hired for. But a portfolio is proof that you understand the concepts of copywriting and can translate them into real work.

If you don’t have an online portfolio, no one is going to call you in for an interview because you can’t offer any proof that you actually know how to write copy.

The assumption is that if you know how to write copy, you will have written copy and you will have put it together in an online portfolio to prove that you can do it. And, on the other hand, if you don’t know how to write copy, you won’t have written copy and you can’t create a portfolio—hence, no portfolio equals no copywriting ability.

So, you need an online portfolio to show prospective clients and employers that you can actually write copy and that calling you in for an interview won’t waste anyone’s time. And make no mistake, a great cover letter won’t be enough to overcome a lack of portfolio samples. There are so many other applicants for any job that they won’t have to bother with someone who doesn’t have a portfolio.

Got it? You cannot get copywriting jobs without a portfolio.

This is tough love. Stay with me now.

So you need a portfolio. But you don’t need to “have a job” before you can put one together. You actually have a few different ways that you can build your portfolio without landing your first big agency or in-house agency job.

Here are 3 of them:

1. You can find small business clients.

Besides helping you build your portfolio, small biz clients offer an extra bonus: They pay you. You can send out sales letters or post cards to small businesses in your area to drum up business or find them through other (kind of genius) channels. Either way, working with small businesses is a great way to build your portfolio.

2. You can work with non-profits.

They have small budgets for marketing, which  means they need a lot of help and they’re grateful for it. It probably won’t be a big money-maker for you, but it can certainly help make a difference—in both your portfolio and your community.

3. Work with designers to create spec ads.

Spec ads are essentially “fake” ads for businesses. You’re solving problems for a client that isn’t really your client. This gives you a chance to show your skills with all different kinds of work.

Find a designer at your same experience level who’s looking to build his or her portfolio, too. Then create a creative brief to help you frame your project. After you’ve made an initial pass at concepts, design and copy, evaluate your spec pieces to make sure they’re the best they can be.

When you put spec pieces in your portfolio, just be sure to mark them as “spec”—it’s a bit disingenuous if you don’t.


Your turn! Have you started building your portfolio? How have you done it? Let us know in the comments below!

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