You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have a portfolio of work to prove it, your odds of getting a copywriting job are slim-to-none.
Agencies want to see proof of concept: your ability to craft copy that’s engaging, effective and polished. Without examples, you’re high and dry!
Building a portfolio can feel like a trial by fire. Where do you find gigs willing to give you work as a newbie? As it turns out, there are more opportunities out there than you might realize!
With a little dedication and no fear of rejection, there are plenty of places where you can nab projects that’ll become cornerstone pieces of your growing portfolio. Here’s where to find them.
Write some spec pieces for your own website
If you’re brand-new and need examples of your work, make them up! Spec pieces are examples written as if they were for a project, but they’re really just examples of your work.
For example, screenwriters and comedians often pitch spec scripts for episodes of The Simpsons because it’s an opportunity for them to illustrate their talents in a way everyone understands.
Write up a few spec pieces as if you were a member of a brand’s creative team and put them up on your own portfolio website as examples of what you can do.
Just make it clear that they’re spec pieces and not commissioned by anyone.
Pitch to industries you know well
Have special knowledge that makes you particularly skilled in writing for a certain industry? Take your talents to those brands! Industry experience and knowledgeability will give you a leg up when you’re looking for gig work.
For example, if you have a background in accounting you might be able to write about different retirement products—IRA, 401(k), investments, etc. pitch your experience to a financial company looking for copywriters and let them know that you’re capable of writing benefits-driven copy about the financial products they offer.
Quite often, they’ll see you as a better option than a general writer with no special background.
Don’t be afraid to offer a freebie
Building a portfolio of good copywriting work is one of the first things you’ll do in your career. If you’re the type of person who believes in putting in the effort upfront and getting a bigger payoff in the long run, consider offering a freebie here and there.
Be upfront with companies. “I’m trying to build my portfolio and I’d appreciate the opportunity to gain a cornerstone piece by working on this project. Because of this, I would be willing to work on it at no cost to you.” Many companies will jump at the chance to get a project done for free. Just make sure you’re setting strict limits on your charity!
Offering a freebie can have the biggest payoff. If your work is good, you might be invited to work on future projects that pay. It’s a great way to make inroads with clients as a freelancer or set yourself up for an agency position.
Answer request-for-proposal (RFP) posts
Many brands frequently issue requests-for-proposal (RFPs). These are project postings with an open call to action for writers. RFPs accompany big projects and overstaffed in-house teams or ongoing work that a creative team might not be qualified to work on. They’re your opportunity to grab a piece of the pie!
Look for RFPs on company websites, message boards, forums and job hubs. You might be surprised to see big-name brands putting out RFPs, but it’s a common tactic for scaling up creative teams.
Take the time to read these posts thoroughly and make sure you’re qualified for the project. If you are, fire off an email and follow up after a few days.
There are a few things you’ll need to get the hang of when it comes to RFPs. First, many of them come with tight deadlines and strict criteria, so get ready for a fast-paced project if you accept one. Second, consider the project rate.
Many companies will ask for bids, which means knowing your value and submitting a rate that’s competitive. Finally, be wary of opportunistic companies. Make sure the company issuing the RFP is an established brand and not a fly-by-night company that’ll take advantage of your work and disappear without paying you!
Browse forums and message boards
There’s a world of copywriting opportunities out there waiting for you to find them! Hop on over to writing message boards or creative forums and see what people are talking about.
Many times, creatives will come to these forums to get help on projects—a graphic designer who needs a copywriter, or even another copywriter who’s treading water on a huge project. If you’ve got the time, they’ll gladly take the help.
Browsing these forums and chatting with creatives is also a great way to expand your network, so others keep you in mind for future projects. Get on LinkedIn and connect with people.
Become an active participant on Reddit’s many writing subreddits. You can even strike up an account on sites like Freelancer or Fiverr to get (low-paying) projects and the opportunity to meet others like yourself—people just looking for the opportunity to show and grow their skills.
Start simple, get better, grow your skills
You’re not going to build a portfolio this week and land an agency job next week. Building a portfolio you’re proud of can take a long time! What matters is that you’re getting the experience and accumulating proof of your abilities.
You might even start to see your own growth as you swap out early examples of your work for newer, better pieces.
Start with simple gigs and leverage the work you do into bigger and better projects. Diversify the types of content you’re writing. Then, when you’ve got a respectable portfolio that you’re confident in, submit it to an agency!
At worst, you might get a few pointers and tips for how you can improve; at best, you might find yourself with the job you’ve been working toward.