I created my first copywriting portfolio in less than 30 minutes. And I didn’t even have any copywriting experience.
I was unemployed and needed to make money right away.
Being in a spot like that is no fun. But one good thing about it is that it forces you to figure out where the shortcuts are.
So while other new copywriters were asking “How do I build a portfolio?” — I was asking a different question…
“What is the fastest way for me to build a portfolio that will get me hired to do copywriting work TODAY?”
That led me to thinking, “What’s the point of a portfolio?” (Asking yourself what you’re really trying to accomplish is a great way to find shortcuts.)
The simple answer is: It’s to show that you can actually do copywriting, so people will feel comfortable hiring you and you can start making money.
In other words the portfolio is just the means to the end. Ideally you’ll want to get past this phase as quickly as possible.
I did it in 30 minutes, made $340 in my first week, and went on to have a six-figure year not long after.
The key is shifting your thinking from “I need a large and diverse portfolio to start making money as a copywriter” (you don’t) to what I call a Minimum Viable Portfolio (or MVP for short).
An MVP is the smallest possible copywriting sample you can offer that will get you paying copywriting work today, even (and especially) if you’re a total newbie.
It can be as little as one single piece of copy — which anyone can put together in less than a single afternoon.
I know because I’ve done it. And I’ve helped other people do it too.
Below I’ll give you 9 ideas for creating your MVP quickly and easily, so you can move on to the real point of copywriting, which is to earn money!
You can pick one of these tactics, or combine them.
I’ve personally used them all at different points in my copywriting career, and each one has led directly to a solid source of income.
1. Use the “Crystal Ball Technique” to make hyper-relevant portfolio samples
This is an incredibly effective way to get hired as a copywriter when you’re just starting out.
The way it works is simple: Identify a copywriting job you’d like to get hired for, then write a single piece of copy that’s very similar to what that job calls for.
For example, if you want to land a job writing blog posts about coffee, you can write a blog post about tea and show it to the person you’re trying to persuade to hire you. (Notice that tea is similar enough to coffee to prove you can do the job — but different enough that it doesn’t appear to be some sort of “free sample” or spec work.)
There are 2 reasons this works so well:
1) It shows you can and will get their job done successfully. They don’t have to wonder or ponder a decision because you’ve already proven everything they need to know. (This is why I call it the Crystal Ball Technique — it’s like looking into a crystal ball and seeing you’re the right person to do the job.)
2) You stand out from the competition. Continuing with our coffee blog posts example, it’s extremely unlikely that even your more experienced competitors will have a more relevant writing sample than the one you’re going to produce. They might have something vaguely similar, but the chances that they will specifically have a piece more relevant than yours is slim to none.
The Crystal Ball Technique got me many of my first copywriting jobs. It works.
Here are some comments from the FTW blog that prove it:
2. Use the “lazy” Crystal Ball Technique to make copywriting samples even quicker
Sometimes you don’t even have to write an entire piece of copy to get hired for a copywriting job.
A smaller snippet or excerpt can be enough to create a “preview” of your work and prove your skills.
For example, I once landed a copywriting job with an Australian company that wanted someone to rewrite their job advertisements in a more fun and creative way.
To create an MVP sample for them I simply went to their website, found one of their job advertisements, and rewrote just the headline.
When I sent it over to them, they loved it so much they hired me on the spot. This was my first $40/hr copywriting job and I landed it in less than 10 minutes.
A word to the wise when using the Crystal Ball Technique:
Don’t go too far and accidentally do the entire job for free.
There is a fine line here where you can end up doing too much.
Remember that the point is to do just enough to prove that you can do the rest, not to do the entire job free of charge.
3. Know when you don’t need a portfolio and use the “Halo Effect” instead
Here’s another fun workaround I discovered once I became so busy copywriting that it was no longer worth my time to use the Crystal Ball Technique to land copywriting jobs.
It turns out it is possible to get hired as a copywriter without ever showing a single example of your work. (Naturally this is very convenient if you happen to not have any.)
The way it works is simple: Instead of showing an actual piece of copy, you do something more minimal: Talk about copywriting in a way that shows you’re knowledgeable about it.
Why does this work? It’s because of something called the Halo Effect. Simply put it means that if you talk intelligently about copywriting, people assume you can also do it well.
Here’s an example of how I’ve used this technique to get offers for writing press releases and other types of copy for hundreds of dollars apiece:
Note: I don’t recommend this approach for total beginners. It works better if you build up some confidence from completing at least a couple of copywriting jobs first. Otherwise, you’re better off going with the Crystal Ball Technique because that will give you the practice you need to complete the job you’re going after.
4. Write for a friend’s business to get your copy into “the field” quickly
Do you have a friend who has a business?
I don’t care if it’s a dog walking or lawn mowing business… Or if they haven’t gotten their first customer yet… They can use a copywriter.
You can write them anything, including:
- A flyer
- A homepage for their website (even if they don’t have a website, write it anyway and use it as a sample)
- A blog post (“5 ways to keep your dog cool this summer”)
- A brochure (go to Vistaprint and get a template to make this as easy as “fill in the blanks”)
- Or anything else
I did this once for a friend who was starting a side business teaching seniors how to use computers. I didn’t wait for him to ask — I offered to write the brochures (never mind that I had no clue how to do it, he didn’t either).
Not only did this give me my first taste of copywriting experience, it also led to a job doing copywriting for the most successful mortgage brokerage in my city a few months later when my friend dropped my name to their CEO.
5. Leverage your local clergy for more real-world portfolio items
Your local clergy needs to do marketing just like any other organization.
And I can promise you they are not doing as much marketing as they could be. They would love to have a copywriter on staff!
Yes, even a brand new copywriter…
Go to your local clergy and talk to someone in charge. Tell them you’re a new copywriter trying to gain experience and you’d love to offer your services to them for free (the technical jargon for this is pro bono work) to gain experience.
If they aren’t sure how to use you, ask them if they need flyers, brochures, invitations (e.g. to an event), Facebook posts, Twitter posts, blog posts, event descriptions, emails or anything else written.
They should have an email list and plenty of things they need to email to their list (e.g. reminders to come for services more often, invitations to hear a special speaker, etc), so you probably won’t have to come up with any ideas on your own.
I did this once years ago and walked away with a couple of nice pieces that I used to land a big paid job about a month later.
6. Mine your interests for easy writing samples
When I wanted to break into email copywriting I had the usual problem: No email copywriting portfolio.
Not even a single sample to show off.
So I decided to create a Minimum Viable Portfolio for that by writing a single email and using it to score some work.
But I had the same question as many of you have: “What should I write about?”
Well I could see that many of the email copywriting jobs posted online were related to:
- Personal development
- Making money
These were — and always will be — huge industries for copywriters.
At the time I had just read a few articles about how to improve sleep (son #2 was about to be born and I was getting ready for some late nights). One thing that stuck out to me in my research was how sleep can affect your fitness level.
Since that was fresh on my mind and I thought it was pretty surprising and interesting I decided to write a piece of “email” copy about that.
I’ll even show it to you here:
Note that it’s a pure “mockup,” meaning this was never sent to anyone as an actual email, and there’s no real book for sale — the entire point of this is to show off my copywriting skills so I could get hired.
7. Make a “meta-copywriting” sample about yourself
Sometimes people tell me, “Danny, I want to create an MVP but I have nothing to write about! None of my friends have businesses, and I can’t come up with any other ideas, so I guess I’m stuck.”
They neglect to realize that their new copywriting business is a business they can write about.
I’ve been hired by people who hadn’t seen a single piece of my portfolio, but were impressed by something I’d written about my own copywriting services.
- My copywriting website (it’s a simple, 1-page Wix website that took me a few hours to make)
- My Upwork profile (for a long time I had no portfolio posted on Upwork and even now it’s very bare-bones)
- And other copywriting that was specifically about my copywriting services (e.g. my LinkedIn profile)
The psychology is simple yet powerful: If your “meta-copywriting” is good, the person reading it will assume that you can also write good copy for whatever it is they happen to be marketing.
8. Show off results (even if they’re small)
Sometimes the best portfolio pieces aren’t actual pieces of copy, but proof of results you got as a copywriter.
I don’t care if you decided to become a copywriter at 10:00 this morning and never heard of copywriting before…
Even something as simple as a Facebook or Twitter post with a bunch of likes, comments, or shares is a piece of copy that got results.
If you have a personal blog and have gotten comments there (even from your friends/relatives) then that’s copy that got results.
If you have a friend who uses MailChimp to email customers of their yoga studio and you help her write an email that gets a 25% open rate then that is copy that got results. (Any employer or client who needs email copywriting will LOVE this.)
These don’t need to be dramatic because the number of your competitors who have any visual proof like this will be virtually zero.
For example I’ve used this screenshot — of an A/B test I once ran — to get copywriting work even though, if you look closely, the test was a loser!
If you’re still new or just don’t have any concrete results to share, don’t worry — as a copywriter, it was years before I had a single concrete result to show and I still managed to pull in a six-figure year without it. But if you keep improving your skills and do good work you will eventually have results to show off.
9. Write about something you use
It’s easy to write copy for things you use.
For example, I once wrote a good piece of copy about a cat claw clipper completely off the top of my head in about 20 minutes.
I’m not a an expert on the subject and I did no research or prep.
But when you use something regularly it’s easy to write copy for it!
You’re already sold on the product (or service) so you know exactly how to sell it to others in your copy.
You know all of the details that are important to you, the reasons you love it, how it can help make someone else’s life better… Everything you need to know is already at your fingertips.
It’s the same way you get a friend to try a new Netflix show. You don’t need to do a deep dive and research the technical details behind the production — once you love a show you can easily explain to others why you think they’ll love it too.
What do you think?
Now that you have a totally different way to think about creating a copywriting portfolio, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Are you surprised? Skeptical? Pissed you didn’t hear about it sooner? Or…?
Let’s discuss it in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.
Creative Commons Image via sbally