So you want to be a writer. You may have arrived at this realisation early on. Early enough that you have built up plenty of experience working on, or even editing, school newspapers, college bulletins and a university magazine. Or you might have had a blog since you were 15, a website since you were 12. You may even have organised an internship or other form of work experience, paid or unpaid. If you were lucky, some of this activity might have led to your first byline or other tangible pieces of work that you can use as the basis of your first portfolio.
But what happens if you only have coursework and amateur pieces, or you’re looking to change careers after working in a completely different area? First, don’t panic.
There are in fact lots of ways that you can fill that portfolio and pick up additional skills along the way. All of them should give you something that you can use to show not only your writing skills but also to demonstrate your commitment to a career in writing. Here’s how to go about building a copywriting portfolio the right way.
7 steps to building a copywriting portfolio the right way
We’ve already discussed some of the ways to create a killer portfolio, but how do you build up to having content to go in your portfolio? Let’s take a look…
1. Offer your skills to a small business
Small local businesses rarely have the budget to hire a copywriter, but they may have a website because it’s a vital revenue stream for them. So they may have paid for a website a long time ago that is now in dire need of a content update.
Offer to rewrite their copy for them, working with the owners of the business. This is a great way to get used to working with clients and asking the right questions to get the answers you need to produce some great copy. You should explain upfront that you are trying to build a portfolio and that if they are happy with your work that you will ask them for a recommendation.
2. Work with a charity or not for profit organisation
Charities and non-profits always need help with their marketing, and if you can combine this with a cause that you are passionate about or have knowledge or experience in, all the better. Both often have teams or groups of volunteers, and even if there isn’t an editorial role right now, being involved will put you first in line when one does come up. You can view a wide selection of opportunities at Reach Volunteering.
3. Write pieces for yourself
Whilst it’s good to have work published by others, there’s nothing to stop you writing for yourself and using these pieces in a portfolio. Potential clients want to see your writing style and quality – whether or not it has been used (yet) is less important. You can even invent the brief, just make sure that you follow it when writing the actual piece!
Choose a company – local or national, it makes no difference. Then think about a piece of content they may need for their website, an email, an article or a promotional piece. Write a brief, deliver on it and add it to your portfolio. You can view templates and other ideas at.
4. Know your subject
It might be tempting to say that you’ll write about anything, for any audience. But if you start with a few topics or sectors, it will be much more manageable to keep up to date with that topic or industry. Which is important. You don’t need to be an expert but you do need to learn the research skills that will make things easier later on. (When you really do need to get up to speed on a subject you know nothing about in order to write a piece!)
Set up news feeds for these subjects and read them until you can summarise the latest discussion points and developments. Basically, do whatever will make you feel confident in talking to people in that industry because this is what will win you paid work.
5. Start a blog
If you do want to learn additional skills in SEO, usability, design and digital marketing, starting your own blog is a great idea. You can access free online training that will teach you all of the basics, and beyond, and you will develop an appreciation for how all of these elements come together to create something that people want to read, and most importantly, can find. You can set up a free site with WordPress and get started instantly. Themeisle has some top tips on how to get started with WordPress.
6. Get some real experience
There are many copywriting services that will take on students and graduates as copywriters, even with little to no experience. Usually, you will need to complete an assignment or submit your sample or portfolio; if the quality is good enough, you will have a shot at completing work for real clients.
Another approach is to ask any friends or family with their own business if you can write for them. Treat the brief as professionally as you would any other. Ask them to put together a brief and follow up with the same questions you would ask a client that you didn’t know. If they use your work…add it to your portfolio. If they don’t, work with them until you get it right – this is the best possible situation you could find yourself in, in terms of needing to ask a client what went wrong. They want you to succeed. Treat it as the golden opportunity it is and keep going until you wow them.
7. Consider the design
Once you have enough pieces for a portfolio, whatever you do, don’t just dump your copy in a file and upload it to your website. You may want to branch out into other areas such as digital marketing, usability, SEO or website design later on, so make sure these elements are every bit as professional as your copy.
There are plenty of copywriter portfolio websites out there you can use, many for free. Jimdo is one example. Or you could ask a local professional to help you in exchange for some copywriting. If you work well together, this could be a great way to get referrals and they will keep you in mind for any joint projects that could use your expertise. Tools such as Meetup can be invaluable for networking and connecting with other creatives local to you.
Have any other tips to get started building a copywriting portfolio the right way? Post them in the comments below!