One of the most important things you need to do to build your copywriting career is to build your copywriting portfolio. It’s how you prove to clients you know how to write copy well, even before you work with your prospective client. But where do you even start? How do you create a copywriting portfolio website? How to you get samples? Here’s how to put together a copywriting portfolio that will wow your prospective clients and land you the work or job.
One note before we dig in: this is obviously a pretty big topic, so I’ll give you all of the steps, but won’t include absolutely all of the details. There’s a reason we were able to create a multi-hour course on this topic alone as part of the Comprehensive Copywriting Academy.
Read on for the key steps to creating your copywriting website, getting samples for your portfolio—even if you’re a beginner, and putting it all together to have an eye-grabbing website.
6 Steps to Putting Together a Copywriting Portfolio
1. Learn Copywriting
I’m not putting this in here to be snotty; I’m making it step number one because many people forget that it is step number one. You can’t build a copywriting portfolio that proves that you know how to write copy … if you don’t know how to write copy. It’s not as simple as just “writing clever lines” or “being a good writer”—copywriting is an entire career and, like any other career, has a lot that needs to be learned before you can practice it.
All the principles you learn to write effective copy for your copywriting clients apply to writing copy for yourself.
2. Choose Your URL
This is the step where a lot of copywriters … stall. It’s very easy to feel like you’re making progress on your website when you’re “brainstorming” names for your business and, therefore, what URL you want to choose.
But here’s the thing: this is often Resistance. What’s going to make you feel like a professional copywriter is landing and doing client work. And landing clients requires sending pitches and having samples you can share.
Clients do not care about your business name.
Let’s repeat that in case you brushed it off the first time: clients do not care about your business name.
3. Choose Your Website Host and Builder
To create your copywriting portfolio, you’ll need to set up a website. (You can read more about why you need a stand-alone portfolio here.) This isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds; there are several sites out there that make creating a professional website design a relatively simple, drag-and-drop process. Here are a few of them.
4. Write Your Website Copy
Steps 4 and 5 can, and should, be done simultaneously. For step 5, as you’ll read in a second, involves reaching out to designers. (As Comprehensive Copywriting Academy students know, that’s a lot easier and less scary than it sounds.) Our best advice: start putting feelers out for designers and write your website copy as you’re waiting to hear back.
When you set up your website, you’ll need a few basic pages:
- Homepage that directs to key areas of your site (see below bullets for those key areas)
- Portfolio that contains your samples and a description of each of your samples that explains what problem you solved for the company with your piece
- About page and, as part of that page, your USP (A USP is crucial to helping you sell yourself to prospective clients or employers, so definitely don’t skip that step. You can learn more about USPs here >>).
- Contact page that has a form prospective clients can fill out to contact you (test it to make sure the form connects to your email!)
Those are the basics and really all you need to get started. Make sure you’re avoiding these 4 common portfolio mistakes >>
5. Create Spec Ads
If you already have a client lined up to do work for, super. If not, though, that’s fine: you’re going to do work for clients you don’t have yet …
… by creating spec ads … with a designer. Spec ads are ads (or any other kind of copy project) that you create without being commissioned to do so. They’re ads that you create as if you were being paid by the company to create them. Why? They’re a great way to demonstrate your copywriting prowess before you get actually get hired or pick up some clients.
And it’s a great way to jumpstart your networking.
No matter the medium you choose (landing page, banner ad, email, etc.) you want to make sure that any spec ad follows the brand’s voice, talks to the benefit to consumer, gives a clear action for the consumer to take, and is just darn irresistible.
You’ll go through the whole process of putting together a creative brief and working with a designer to make sure you have the best ads possible. They won’t really be used by the company you’ve chosen to create spec ads for. (And you also need to be sure to mark those ads as spec in your portfolios. Just clearly add the word “Spec” with your write-up of your strategy. Otherwise, if it’s not clear you didn’t actually work for these clients, it’s a whole lot like lying.)
More Information About Spec Ads
Find out more about creating effective spec ads with these articles:
- #1 Spec Ad Mistake
- 5 Questions to Make Your Spec Ads Even Better
- What to Look for in a Spec Ad Designer
A Note on Finding Designers
Copywriters aren’t the only creatives who struggle to fill their books (I’ll use “book” and “portfolio” interchangeably–as should you, by the way). Very talented designers who are just getting started need samples just as badly as you do.
This is not about asking pro designers to work for free.
You’re looking for designers who are just starting out—essentially you’re looking for someone like you, just with design training. You benefit from their design training, they benefit from your copywriting training. You both benefit from having a wow-worthy spec ad.
Post on the “gig” section of Craigslist, post on boards (physical or online) at local college graphic design departments, get in touch with designers on LinkedIn, network at industry events, or even ask recruiters if they know of any fresh-out-of-school designers who might be willing to chat. In your posts/messages/chats, let them know that you’re a stellar copywriter who’s relatively new to the scene and you’re willing to trade some copy work for some design work to create some amazing portfolio pieces.
Don’t Forget to Include Samples You Already Have
A lot of new copywriters overlook work they’ve already done. In fact, you may have samples and not even realize it. Spend 10 minutes or so brainstorming your previous jobs.
- Did you write internal emails for your company?
- Have you written copy for brochures for your kids’ school?
- Do you have any posters or flyers you’ve created?
These all count as samples—even if your title wasn’t “copywriter!” If they reflect some of your best writing, use them!
6. Update Your Portfolio as You Land Work
As you start pitching potential clients, you’ll start to land work. You’ll want to make sure, especially in the first year or two of your career, that you’re regularly updating your portfolio with your best samples.
When you’re just starting out, small business clients are, hands down, the best first clients. Scope out small businesses, especially those that you have some experience with or in. (If you worked at a bookstore in high school, start with bookstores. If you waiter-ed your way through college, start with restaurants.) Brick and mortar small businesses are especially good for you at this early stage in your learning because it’s very likely you’ll know more than they do about copywriting and marketing and, as such, you can provide a great deal of value.
You can, and should, also pitch solopreneurs.
Solopreneurs are one-person businesses that are often entirely web-based. This means that you have a whole pool of potential clients all around the world. You can help them with their websites, of course, but you can also help them with the marketing funnels that really make an impact on their businesses.
Move on to Small Design Shops
Often, graphic designers will move from freelancing to opening small design shops, which basically consist of themselves and one or two other designers. They offer a full range of advertising and marketing services, much like a bigger ad or marketing agency, with one key difference: they don’t usually have a copywriter on staff. Which, of course, leaves a perfect opening for you to work with them on a project to project basis.
Graduate to Internal and/or External Agencies
Internal agencies are the design groups within a company that provide advertising and marketing services for that company. External agencies are the separate ad and/or marketing companies that other companies hire to do their advertising and marketing for them. Both of them offer a lot of benefits, a lot of opportunities for growth, and a lot of opportunities for advancement.
Both of them will expect an online portfolio. No ifs, ands, or buts.
The Types of Samples You Should Aim for in Your Portfolio
Now, with all of this said, bear in mind that you can make your way through this list with any goal in mind: You can plan to always stay freelance, you can opt to work as a contractor, or you can aim to get a full-time, on-staff job. It’s entirely up to you.
As you look to start building your copywriting portfolio, aim to amass samples in as many different types of media and industries as possible. Now is not the time to limit yourself. Work hard to get samples in both digital and print work, and in as many of the subcategories within those (banner ads, brochures, emails, newspaper ads, web pages, etc.) as you can.
Try, too, to get samples from a variety of different industries, with a variety of different brand voices. The more you can demonstrate both your mastery and your flexibility, the easier it will be to find work.
How to Create Your Print Portfolio
If you’re planning to look for in-house jobs that require you to interview in person, you will need two types of portfolios. In addition to your online portfolio, you’ll need a print portfolio. Your online portfolio is incredibly important, since this is what will demonstrate your copywriting abilities to people before they even meet you. It shows the proof of your skill.
Your print portfolio is what you’ll bring with you to interviews and meetings with potential clients. You’ll walk people through your work and have the opportunity to go deeper into your thinking as you created each piece.
And that’s it in a nutshell.
Again, though, it’s a lot to do, which is why our Comprehensive Copywriting Academy members have found our step-by-step deep-dive courses on creating online and print portfolios so useful. If you’re interested in learning more about our courses, you can find that info here.
Your turn! What are your best tips for building a copywriting portfolio? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on July 18, 2023