Starting off is a huge hurdle every budding copywriter has to pass. Getting freelance work or that first job in an agency is virtually impossible if you have nothing that can show off your skills. This is why you need a spec book, a portfolio of your best-written work. A copywriting portfolio for beginners serves as a showcase of your skills, creativity, and ability to craft compelling copy. In this article, we will guide you through the process of creating a spec book, and show you how to build a copywriting portfolio that will get you work. Starting from selecting your target audience to organising your portfolio. By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to impressing potential clients and landing copywriting gigs.
Define your target audience
Before diving into creating your spec book, it’s essential to identify your target audience – who do you want to impress? As a freelance copywriter, you might want to target a certain industry or niche you know really well, or define the type of clients you want to attract. If you want to get into an agency, you have to impress a Creative Director, who is looking for innovative thinkers. By understanding your audience, you can tailor your spec book to showcase relevant copywriting examples that resonate with their needs and preferences.
What kind of copywriter do you want to be?
That is not as stupid as it sounds. There are many different types of copywriters – digital, retail, direct marketing, brand, radio, packaging. Yes, there will be some crossover, but by in large, a copywriter will specialise in one area. If you don’t want to write emails for the rest of your life, don’t put them in your portfolio – you could make money from it but if it bores you to tears, you won’t enjoy it. And if you don’t enjoy it, ultimately, you won’t be great at it.
Build a diverse range of samples
A spec book should demonstrate your versatility and range. I am not contradicting what I just said in the previous paragraph. A client or agency will want to see that you can write for a range of companies, that you can connect with a range of audiences, and that you can command a range of different writing tones. Create a diverse collection of samples that highlight your different writing styles, tones, and formats. For instance, you can write a blog article and then create a digital banner or social posts that drive people to that blog. Also, include work that shows your ability to write in different tones of voice. Raising money for charity will require a more sympathetic tone. Talking to a mum will require a very different tone of voice, than talking to your mates. What you need to demonstrate is your ability to change the way your write. Every brand has its own personality and tone, you have to demonstrate you can change to match theirs.
Beginner copywriters should choose niche brands
To build a copywriting portfolio of spec ads, look for some niche brands to work on. You want to find products that have a distinctive point of difference. When you are starting off, it is much easier to work on brands that have a unique benefit. If a product has a unique benefit, it will be much easier to produce either concepts or samples of copy that are compelling, informative, persuasive or intriguing. If the product has something that makes it unusual, your copy will immediately pick that up, making it stand out.
Product examples with a USP (Unique Selling Proposition):
- Woman-only gym
- Pesticide – No more ants
- Hot-rod mechanic
- Unbreakable umbrella
- Thermal underwear
- Pet toothbrush
Find a product, and research it.
Ask WHY, WHAT, WHEN, HOW
Why is it good?
What does it do?
When was it made?
How much does it cost?
Find information that you can turn into compelling copy, headlines and calls-to-action. Once you have your ammunition, create copy for different mediums.
Build your copywriting portfolio with your best work
This is a spec ad for an instant porridge (oatmeal) that was used in a presentation.
This was a spec ad used in a pitch for a Hungarian daily newspaper.
To provide context and further enhance your spec book, include explanatory notes for each sample. Explain the objectives of the project, the target audience, and any specific challenges or constraints you encountered during the process. These notes allow potential clients to understand your approach, strategic thinking, and problem-solving abilities.
Design and presentation
It is important to create mock-ups for your copy. It will not only help you see if your headlines are too long or your copy is too short, a mock-up will also frame your work in a professional way. It will help the people you show to assess the work properly. There are lots of apps you can use to create mock-ups. Use professional formatting, consistent typography, and high-resolution images.
The easiest thing to do after that is to drop all your work onto a website that you can then use to share links. You might want to also create a printed version for in-person meetings.
Speak to a professional copywriter
- Content marketing – create outstanding content for your brand
- Brand tone – give your brand a distinctive personality
- SEO best practice – see better results from optimised copy
Continuously update and improve
Remember that your spec book is a dynamic document. Keep working on it to improve the content. As you meet people and show your work, you will quickly understand which pieces are liked and which are not.
When you do get work, you can gradually replace your speculative work with work you have created for actual clients. A portfolio will continually evolve with your career. Replace outdated samples with fresh, relevant ones that showcase your growth as a copywriter. Regularly review and refine your spec book to ensure it represents your best work.
Creating a spec book is an essential step for a beginner copywriter to get started in the industry. It does not matter that you have not worked on the clients in your portfolio as long as you have made it very clear it is speculative work to help you get a job. People are looking at the work to judge your skills. As you grow you will use the same process throughout your career to pitch for new clients or in presentations to existing clients. A spec portfolio is simply to get your foot on the first rung of your career ladder.