How do I build my writer's portfolio?
February 28, 2006 1:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me get started as a freelance copywriter. I have one ad under my belt that I created for the company that I work for (I'm not in the marketing department but was lucky enough to lend my talent). The marketing department is now run under a different manager and the opportunity for more is no longer there. The ad appeared on the back cover of several magazines. That's ad for my portfolio. What is the best way to build my portfolio as a writer? How do I gain business and experience with an extremely slim portfolio? Someone once said that I should go back to school and try to build it through projects. This isn't really an option and I'm really not looking for any more education. Any advice is appreciated.
posted by ieatwords to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
To build your portfolio, volunteer for a non-profit and ask to help with marketing, PR or special events. Be prepared to go to 4x as many meetings as necessary.
posted by SashaPT at 1:39 PM on February 28, 2006

Do you have any designer friends? I get freelance jobs through friends who are designers. Maybe you can contact some freelance designers in your area and see if they need any help.

Also, to build up your portfolio seek out start-up businesses who need help. Offer to do some work for free (or barter).
posted by jodic at 1:39 PM on February 28, 2006

I had a friend (who did graphic design) who was in a similar situation, and her portfolio was filled with theoretical designs - company logos, advertisements, magazine covers, etc.. - they weren't real, but they were nicely done (and perhaps she can even sell those designs at some point in the future). Perhaps you can do something similar? Add some concept copywriting for nonexistent (or even existing) products to beef up your portfolio?

There's also the option of volunteering - it might be difficult to find work in this area, but I'm sure there are groups who need someone to write convincing copy on why people should give/contribute to their org.
posted by helios at 1:44 PM on February 28, 2006

SashaPT and jodic's recommendations are exactly how I built my freelance experience when I was starting out.

And going back to school doesn't have to mean returning full-time -- any writing class (whether for copywriting or creative writing) can help you make connections. A few yeas ago I got a long-term freelance copywriting gig for AOL/Cityguide via someone I met in creative writing class at UCLA.
posted by scody at 1:48 PM on February 28, 2006

You can do projects without going to school. After all, that's how people who go to school do it. They put a book of fake ads together, they show that book to someone an

The book "The Copy Workshop Work Book" is as good as any ad school for copywriting. If you don't have Quark/InDesign skills, you may want to find someone to make your ads look fairly decent when you're done with them.

As a professional, if you want a good copywriting gigs, I recommend against offering free work to small clients in order to build your book. It's not that you can't do it, but rather you're highly unlikely to build the kind of book that agencies are going to pay you to freelance with. Small clients are literal. And they usually need design help more desperately than writing help.

Everyone I've interviewed that's done "published" work for small clients develops bad habits that make them far more suited for promotional ads (80% off!) than something of any substance.

That being said, if you don't have ambitions of ad agency work, but rather would like to work directly for clients doing more promotional-type advertising, get started charging very little and ramp your rate up as you build your book.

Of course, this is the fabulous world of advertising. I hear it's completely backwards from every other form of freelance writing.

Good luck.
posted by Gucky at 1:56 PM on February 28, 2006

I've been a fulltime freelance copywriter (and sometimes technical writer) for five years now, Brandon, and both SashaPT and helios' suggestions are good.

Volunteering to help a non-profit will give you more real-world, in-the-trenches experience. It might give you a taste of how picky and frustrating some clients can be. ;-)

Of course, simply picking out a product you like and writing ads for them is more fun and a lot faster. You can use these in your portfolio as examples of your work, because they are. Just don't try and pass them off as the real thing, obviously.

There are also lots of different styles of copywriting: print, broadcast, trade ads, consumer ads, direct response, sales letters, Web site copy, etc. You might want to write a few samples of each type.

School? Probably not necessary. Read Bob Bly's The Copywriter's Handbook of any of his other books. Peter Bowerman's Well Fed Writer is another great introduction to the biz.

BTW, in real life, it's been my experience that clients are much more interested in their problems than hearing about your experience. So sure, have a few samples in your portfolio (and on your Web site). But when you sit down with a prospect, it's more important to handle yourself in a professional way. Ask questions, listen to their answers -- just like a doctor, lawyer or other professional. If they ask a question you can't answer, don't be afraid to say, "I'll get back to you on that."

There's a link in my profile to my Web site and blog which might offer more information and help, Brandon. Good luck! It's a great gig!
posted by wordwhiz at 2:17 PM on February 28, 2006 [2 favorites]

Write you own ads/campaigns for popular products. Pick out a couple of shops where you'd like to work and write some stuff for their clients. Treat is like a job, document your research, write a creative brief, etc.
posted by rschroed at 2:23 PM on February 28, 2006

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