As an online writer, whether new or seasoned, do you hear the word “copywriting portfolio” or get the potential clientele email demanding your “best samples,” and break out in shivers?
It doesn’t have to be such a scary thing, but I understand.
Copywriting, in particular, is an area where potential clients and employers like to see many, many samples of your work, and your best work, before even considering you. It’s how you show them what you can do. When looking at these samples, they will definitely be judging and assessing your work.
I was on the other side of this not too long ago, as an online writer applying for jobs back in 2011; now, my company is the one judging incoming writing applicants.
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As writers, we all shake just a little at the thought of this—a judgment placed on our entire repertoire of writing skills, based on the samples we feature. After all, writing is pretty subjective, isn’t it? What I may think is an incredible piece of content you may see fit to hit delete on immediately.
This is exactly why it is so important to get your copywriting portfolio right, and especially right the first time since, as we all know, you only get one chance to make that great first impression.
10 Ways to Create a Knockout Copywriting Portfolio
Interestingly, when I sat down to write this piece, I came across a great many blogs out there full of tips on how to build your portfolio, with simple and general ideas, i.e. “get experience.” There aren’t many guidelines out there telling you what to actually include in your portfolio once you’ve got that experience – or even if you’re just starting out. My blog is (hopefully) an answer to these missing questions.
So, without further ado, here are my top tips for building your best online copywriting portfolio.
Tip 1: Select Your Best Samples to Showcase
Here are a few pointers on how to start picking out exactly what to put in your freelance writing portfolio.
What: When it comes to writers, there is not one of us that doesn’t have pieces that are close to our hearts for whatever reason. But when it comes to designing your portfolio, push all nostalgia away, and think about your strongest pieces in terms of the skills required to write them, the performance of the content and how well your copy fit the particular brief.
If you find yourself torn between, say, two pieces, think about who your end client was – the person or company you wrote the content for. Also think about how big the audience for that copy was and how you are able to assess the copy’s performance.
Those are good general rules for assessing your best samples. It’s all about objectivity, not subjectivity. Your favorite piece might not be your best piece.
How Many: Also, if you’re planning on sending in your copywriting portfolio with a job application, try and stick to a maximum of five pieces. This gives the potential client or employer just enough to get a feel for you as a writer, your skills and diversity, but not too much that you overwhelm (or bore) them.
Where: If you’re creating your online portfolio (and there are some great free sites out there you can do this on), you can take the number of samples up to 20. But remain selective about what you’re putting in there and don’t be afraid to replace those pieces as your writing becomes stronger and more diverse.
Tip 2: Showcase Your Diversity, But Pin-point Job Application Samples
When it comes to the copy you want to include, I always advise writers to try and select a diverse range that shows off your skills, diversity and talent. What I mean by this is try to include copy on not just a few different subjects, but also a few different styles, such as on-site copy, blogs, press releases, eBooks, web copy and so on. If you don’t have much experience just yet, go ahead and practice a few different styles and get an editor or trusted friend to look them over and help you pick the best.
The more diverse your copywriting portfolio is, the stronger it is going to be. And that, of course, means, it’s going to be more appealing.
That being said; if you are applying for a copywriting position in a specific industry and you have experience in that sector already, make sure you pinpoint what they’re looking for, and then send them directly or include in your application a couple of examples that relate directly to the industry and position in question. It’s a great way to show the potential employer that you are a step ahead of other copywriters because you have the required knowledge and experience they want.
Tip 3: Have The Answers Ready
When it comes to every aspect of your copywriting portfolio, you absolutely have to be clued up on every piece you’ve put in there and completely ready to answer any questions that could be fired your way. Prior to being interviewed (be it in person or online), make sure you familiarize yourself with each piece of content, why you wrote it, why you chose the particular style or keywords you did, who the audience was you were writing to and how successful the piece was (remember, in the online world, it’s a lot about measurability).
Speaking of which, these days it’s all about links and social shares. If your client posted what you wrote, find out where it’s posted and track down the counts. Work on knowing accurate figures of how often your pieces were shared on the likes of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Your share counts are always a great metric to share with a potential client or when you write up a brief portfolio summary of the piece you wrote: “…my blog about Google’s new update was shared on the client’s marketing blog and earned over 500 shares across Twitter and Facebook.”
You can use BuzzSumo to find a direct amount of how many shares your content piece got.
For example, using BuzzSumo, I can type in my domain, expresswriters.com, and instantly see what is my most top-shared blog (The Top 60 Content Marketers – 498 shares):
Alternatively, you can also track down share counts if the site has a counter or social sharing bar in place.
If the client is willing, try to get information such as how many backlinks your piece attracted and what (if any at all) direct benefits the business received from your copy, for instance increased traffic, leads, sales etc.
Tip 4: Make Sure You’re Sharing Content with Permission
When it comes to a copywriting portfolio, you have to be sure you have permission to share your content in public – something that isn’t always the case. Especially if you’re a ghostwriter and you’ve signed multiple NDAs (like me).
For example, let’s say you wrote a piece for a private company that has never been made public (the content, not the company) and for which you signed a non-disclosure agreement. I’d absolutely suggest you keep that out of your portfolio – both digital and on paper.
You won’t believe how many companies approached me in my early years of owning expresswriters.com. The problem? My portfolio content was ranking higher for their name than their own site!
That said, if you are still new to the world of copywriting and your portfolio looks a little sparse, you may have few options. In that case, write a fresh sample on a fake company. This also gives you the advantage of being as creative as you want with your sample and writing for a company that you love.
Tip 5: Consider Your Presentation
This might sound a little silly, but even with copywriting portfolios, design matters. Instead of printing your masterpieces out on a standard, scruffy A4 piece of paper and stapling the lot together, invest in a shiny presentation wallet. Then slot each piece in. I don’t need to tell you as a writer that the easier you make your pieces to read, the more likely they are to be read.
What’s more, when it comes to your online portfolio, pick the design of your template very carefully. Make sure the font you choose is easy to read and that the design seriously emphasizes the copy, as opposed to the images. Always keep in mind that you’re going to be judged on your words, not the images you choose!
Tip 6: Show Off Your Writing Skills On Every Online Profile
Your online portfolio needs to be easy to navigate as well as being everywhere you are, online.
For example, if you’re on LinkedIn, write some New Posts as your own writing samples. See my content pieces on my own LinkedIn:
Make sure your samples are easy on the eyes and easy to access. Always include a link to your online portfolio on your CV, email signature and social media platforms, regardless of whether or not examples of your written work is asked for.
Tip 7: Find Pieces That Say Something About You
We’ve all been there: writing about something that we really don’t care about, but it’s a paying gig. Your personal projects may not necessarily be examples of your smartest or best work. Back in 2011, I remember writing an article about trash bags for an online hardware store. You read that right – trash bags.
So, inside that vast writing portfolio, make sure you’ve checked this off: find something or create something from scratch now to truly showcase YOU. Are you a secret (or maybe public) fiction author? Include a short story. Geek? Include that Trekkie fan piece. Hey, you might be surprised. Clients actually love touches of your personality. I’ve seen it all the time in my five years as a full-time content marketer.
Tip 8: If You Have It, Include That Award-Winning Piece
This could be something a lot of writers may struggle with. You may not yet have won any awards, but you may have been nominated or even been a finalist for one – even if it was back in your college course days. Think back to anything an academic professor loved, and showcase it: that’s sure to be a winner.
Tip 9: Keep Rationales Short
I’ve seen too many inexperienced copywriters place long rationales next to their work. That’s okay, but in my opinion they’re usually around four times too long. Clients want to see how well you’ve actually written for your own clients. “Nugget”-ing your information is a critical skill you should possess as a copywriter. You want your work to be the focus, so keep your rationale to a couple of easy-to-consume bullet points.
It’s good to include little write-ups with your actual writing samples, though, just as a rule of thumb keep them 100 words or less. In the content, you can tell the client what type of copy this was (blog, web page, etc.); what tone the client requested; and any social results/ case study results the content piece achieved for the client, if your client is willing to share that (see my #3).
Tip 10: Update Your Portfolio Consistently
Update your portfolio regularly. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer; it’s that you grow with every single writing project you get. Your research, writing, and overall skills will continue to progress as you consistently take work. So, audit your portfolios, and update your samples at least once every couple of months. Present an enticing preview of what readers can expect from you. Make sure everywhere your portfolios appear online, that they are on the same page; show that you’re consistent and pay attention to details.
When it comes to your copywriting portfolio, it’s the perfect opportunity to showcase your talents. But here’s a tip: flash the goods and show a few shiny objects. But don’t reveal your entire arsenal. A good copy tease can go a long way!
Do you have any winning tips for portfolios? Or questions?
I’d love to hear them!
Let me know in the comments.