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Copywriting portfolios: why you need one and how to create it from scratch

Ruth Elvin

Travel and Lifestyle Copywriter

PRO

The world of copywriting has plenty of advantages. From flexible remote working to – let’s be honest here – some pretty casual ‘workwear’, there’s lots to love. But when it comes to landing jobs, most of us simply don’t have the same face-to-face chances to impress as we would in a more traditional career.

We rely on our writing to do the talking.

(Great news for us introverts but a lot of pressure on our poor little portfolios.)

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.

Happily, you don’t need years of copywriting experience or a degree in graphic design to create a portfolio that wins you work. A bit of time, some helpful software and the same care you’d bring to any writing job will do it.

Choosing where to display your portfolio

The good ol’ Mad Men days are long gone. Writers no longer carry smart leather folders of their best clippings to their whisky-fuelled meetings. At least not in my experience, sadly…

The majority of copywriting jobs now take place in the online world, so your portfolio needs to live there too. There are some great options out there that make it easy to host a professional-looking digital portfolio:

Your writer website

If you already have a website for your copywriting business, this can be a natural home for your portfolio. Dedicating a page to displaying your best samples helps keep your online presence simple and cohesive, directing traffic to just the one site.

The joy of popular website builders like WordPress and Squarespace is that you can make your portfolio stand out by creating a unique design. You’ll find endless customising options on offer, although setting up a beautiful page can be time-consuming and challenging if you don’t have much coding know-how. An alternative option is to simply link to one of the specialist platforms below.

An online portfolio platform

There’s an ever-increasing number of fantastic portfolio platforms out there. Perfect if you don’t rate your technical skills, they allow you to quickly create an impressive collection of your work with minimal headaches.

There are loads of platforms to choose from, so look for those that are geared towards writers – and that ideally offer a free basic package. You are then charged extra for premium features and additional customising options. Top writer portfolio platforms include Contently, Clippings.me and Carbonmade. Most give you the option to either upload a PDF file or link to a URL. Some will even let you embed videos, audio files and other multimedia formats.

Tip – bear in mind that URLs are likely to change over time so either opt for the PDF option or make sure you regularly check back on your portfolio links.

Your ProCopywriters profile

Using the ProCopywriters portfolio tool is a great way to promote your work to a ready-made audience of potential clients. Copywriters with Pro membership can add an attractive online portfolio to their profile page that will then sit proudly in the ProCopywriters directory of over 600 UK copywriters.

The easy-to-use tool allows you to include a project overview, attach PDF files and upload a thumbnail image for each project.

Selecting your samples

A well-crafted portfolio is the most effective way to prove to clients and editors that the quality of your work backs up your marketing spiel. In short, it shows you can be trusted to deliver the goods.

With that in mind, it’s time to move on to the crucial task of choosing the right writing samples:

1.     Know your niche

You may well have worked on an ‘eclectic’ mix of projects, especially during the early stages of your copywriting career. My personal journey includes some scintillating pieces on forklift trucks, coin collecting and pond pumps, for example.

That’s no problem at all if you are aiming for the generalist copywriting market. But if you do have niche that you love and where you excel, such as travel writing or technical copy, tailor your portfolio to that field to boost the impression of expertise.

2.     What if I don’t have much writing experience yet?

Don’t stress, there’s no rule that says your portfolio must be filled with paid writing work. Even if you’re a complete newbie, you can create samples for your portfolio by simply, well, writing them. Make up your own project briefs – whether it’s a blog post or advertising feature – and go for it. Hone, edit and display with pride.

3.     Select your best pieces

Sounds obvious but try to choose the samples that best showcase your talents and experience. These won’t necessarily be the same pieces that you have the fondest memories of creating. A frustratingly challenging brief can often bring out our best work.

You don’t need to display the entire text of each writing sample you choose. This can potentially throw up duplicate content issues (where search engines get confused about which version of the content to rank), as well as making your portfolio too lengthy. Short excerpts or a screenshot of published webpages are a concise way to give a flavour of your skills.

4.     Don’t get carried away

Don’t overwhelm your portfolio with endless samples – anywhere between ten and twenty pieces is fine. It’s unlikely that anyone (except maybe your mum, bless her) is going to wade through your entire body of work! Think quality over quantity.

5.     Include a project overview

Highlight your skills further by including a short overview of each project. Briefly set out the objectives, how you achieved them and, crucially, the results. Whether that’s creating a clear, accessible style or seeing rise in site traffic and followers, it’s a great chance to show that your copywriting has tangible client benefits.

Making it look good

Before you fall down the time-sucking vortex that is designing your perfect portfolio, remember it’s your writing that’s on show here. Not your design skills.

Phew.

So, unless you’ve got epic arty skills on your side here, err on the side of caution and keep things clean, classy and simple:

  • Choose an easy-to-read font and well-spaced lines. And keep this formatting consistent across all of your samples.
  • Focus on ensuring your portfolio is simple to navigate and easily accessible. You could organise your work into some kind of logical order if you plan on displaying lots of samples. Perhaps by date, subject category or copywriting technique?
  • Include some visual content. Yes it’s all about the words, but including screenshots of pages you worked on, logos of brands you’ve helped or even some carefully chosen stock images to break up the text all increase the appeal of your portfolio.
  • Triple-check (then quadruple-check) your spelling and grammar. Careless mistakes won’t win you trust.

Clearing it with your clients

This can be a contentious issue and you’ll find plenty of conflicting advice out there about the legalities. Long story short, once completed, the copyright to your work usually belongs to the client.

Obviously, if you’ve written an article with your name in the byline, you can merrily link away to it. But often our copywriting work goes unnamed – or may even be displayed under the name of someone else.

What’s the etiquette in these situations?

While many clients understand the need for copywriters to showcase their work in a portfolio and will be happy to allow you to use it purely for these purposes, it’s important that you clear it with them first – and be prepared for them to say no. Ideally, a clause about portfolio rights should be agreed at the beginning of every new copywriting contract to avoid confusion later on.

If a client doesn’t permit you to display copy from their project, try asking them for a testimonial instead. Positive client recommendations can also add weight to your portfolio.

What are your top tips for portfolio success? Have you found a platform you love? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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