How to Build Your First Copywriting Portfolio

By: Chris Marlow

Last month I asked my readers to tell me what baffles them most about the business side of copywriting, and two readers said "getting started!" So that's what I'll show you how to do here.

It's the old "What comes first? The chicken or the egg?", applied to a new career in copywriting.

One of the major hurdles faced by new copywriters is the book, or portfolio. Or more specifically, the fact that there is none.

How does a new copywriter get samples, and work, if he needs samples to get the work?

I know how it feels to be in that position,and so does every freelance copywriter! No one is born with samples.

But unlike the pre-Internet copywriters, who had to figure it out for themselves, YOU can ask your online colleagues!

So here it is in a nutshell: three ways you can blast past the number one obstacle to getting started as a copywriter and get work when you do not yet have a portfolio, or even one lousy sample.

Solution #1. This one is the easiest and may even have occurred to you.

Do it for free!

When I started out I quickly learned that small nonprofits were happy to accept free creative services. I also knew that I could bargain free for more control.

A common complaint among copywriters is that a well-meaning but misguided client can muck things up, and the end result may be nothing like what you envisioned.

So I told my non-profit client, a small women's shelter, that I'd do a package for free, but I had to have complete creative control.

This allowed me to show a piece in my portfolio that was really me. In fact, the photo on the front of the envelope WAS me!

Not only did the experience give me a substantial sample, but it also allowed me to test my direct marketing skills.

The package wasn't a blockbuster. But it didn't fail either. It did tell me how good I was, and I was slightly deflated with the results. But hey, back then NOT failing was kind of like winning!

Solution #2. Look at friends and family. I've never used this idea but many of my coaching students have. They look at friends, family, colleagues, whomever they know in life or business, and offer to do free work.

Actually, I advise my coaching students to offer to do free work and if the client likes it enough to use it, THEN they should get paid. It is a simple proposition:

"I believe I can help you get more leads, or sales. Let me write a promotion. If you also think it will work, use it. If you use it, you benefit from my work. Only then will you pay me."

Important: Get this agreement into a contract!

Solution #3. Hook up with a copywriter's coach and ask to see samples. I do this all the time with my coaching students who have no samples.

When the moment comes that the potential client asks for samples, send samples from your coach's portfolio.

Write in the email:

"Here are some copywriting samples. I work closely with veteran copywriter (name of coach) to ensure maximum results for your promotion, and this is the level of quality you can expect from working with me. My site isn't up right now but you can take a look at (name of coach)'s site."

It works like a charm.

This approach works best when you are working with a coach who has worked in many, most, or all niche markets, like me.

So this is my unplanned opportunity for a bit of self-promotion. Hey, I'm a direct marketer after all!

So if you find yourself in a bind, guess what. You're not!

Just contact me. You can use an hour of my coaching to get past the #1 hurdle of all new copywriters, getting good samples that get you good work.

We don't lie; I never lie. All we do is "bridge" using my samples, your coach, mentor, colleague, and friend.

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