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In Episode #24, I break down how to get started as a copywriter when you have no portfolio.



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Read The Transcript: How To Get Started As A Copywriter With NO PORTFOLIO

Welcome to Write Bites, an audio series where we discuss writing, marketing, and freelancing during one of my daily walks around the neighborhood.

One of the biggest hurdles that really trips up aspiring writers who are wanting to get into the space, but struggling to take action, is the idea of landing those first few gigs. 

There’s sort of this belief that if you don’t have a portfolio, if you don’t have any previous experience, no one’s going to hire you. When I tell these people, “hey, you just need to get out and pitch,” It’s kind of like telling someone, “hey, just go get a job.”

[“How to get a job” clip from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia].

So in this episode, I want to do three things. I want to explain to you what clients are actually looking for in a portfolio so that you’re aiming for something that’s actually going to help you, and not just your own misguided, preconceived notion of what a portfolio should be. 

Two, I want to explain how to quickly create your own portfolio without needing to jump through a bunch of hoops, or even work on a bunch of real projects. 

Three, I want to explain to you why you don’t really need a portfolio to get started, and why the feeling that you do need a portfolio is really more based on a misunderstanding of how pitching works. 

Alright, let’s start with number one. So when most people think about a portfolio, they’re imagining some fairly extensive collection of work with impressive brands, testimonials, all of this, that and the other. They have this idea that the client’s going to get into this portfolio and spend some time going around and looking at all the examples, maybe even comparing those examples against other copywriters. 

But in reality, this is pretty much never what happens. When we talk about how a client actually engages with the portfolio, they’re probably only looking at one, maximum two pieces. And what they’re mostly looking for is just to verify that you’ve done a similar type of work to what you’re offering…what they’re looking to hire you for…that you’ve done before with the client that is reasonably similar to them. 

So if you have a really relevant example, that’s going to be more impactful to them than this huge body of work. 

Now, that’s not to say that having a big body of work won’t impress some clients and won’t potentially help you land some gigs. It could. But for the vast majority of clients that you’re reaching out to, they really just care about having that one or two really relevant examples. 

Even in my own work, and what I recommend to writers I work with who have even more experience than I do, I actually never advised to send a client to your full portfolio. Instead I have people send them the one or two very specific examples that look most like the gig that they’re proposing. That’s worked very well for me, that’s worked very well for my students, and it just makes sense when you think about it.

As a busy business owner, do you really have time to go through and analyze all these different blog posts? Are you probably even reading fully through those two examples? Probably not. A blog post is a very low investment in terms of content marketing, and when you’re hiring a writer for like a blog post, or an email, or…a little less so with website copywriting, just because I think people spend a bit more time looking for the right tone of voice, the right vibe for website concerning particularly…but for blogs and emails and some of this other stuff, you’re looking at an ongoing scope of work. 

So people are very willing to hire someone pretty quickly for that first one, because they’ll learn way more about your skills and how good of a fit you are through that first post, which isn’t going to cost them a whole lot, compared to spending a bunch of hours reading through all your previous work, which may or may not translate to you doing the piece for them specifically. 

So all that to be said, when we’re talking about what clients are actually looking for in a portfolio, it’s actually super simple. They just need one or two relevant examples.

So how does that translate into our second point? It’s very easy to create a relevant portfolio of one or two examples on your own right now. So if you’re someone who’s been waiting to try to build your portfolio, you don’t need to be doing that. 

What you need to be doing is figuring out “what’s my initial offer that I’m sending out,” and then “how can I create one or two examples right now to show to those people?”

For example, if you’re doing the blog post, let’s say your offer is you want to write blog posts for companies in the finance space. Well, all you gotta do is go write two blog posts on financial topics. 

Publish one to medium.com, which you can create your own account and just publish it right there yourself. Do the exact same thing as a LinkedIn article on your LinkedIn account. And boom, just like that, you have two published portfolio pieces that are relevant to what you’re offering to send out. In the time it takes you to write two blog posts, you now have the only portfolio you’re really going to need.

And then down the road, If someone accepts your proposal and you get published on a real publication, a real blog, you can then replace one of those self-published links with a link from whatever publication you just got published on. You just replace it as you go. 

So just like that, this is now no longer a hurdle. You’ve now immediately solved this issue. 

But on that note, I kind of want to carry into the third point, which is reframing your lens to understand why you really don’t even need the portfolio to get started. And I want to explain why pitching is not the pass-fail grade that most people think it is.

So when we talk about someone who is sitting here thinking, “hey, I don’t have a portfolio so I can’t start pitching,” what they’re probably seeing as me going out and pitching is “I either succeed or I don’t succeed.” 

It’s a pass-fail grade. 

So they’re thinking probably about one company, specifically. Let’s say company A. They’re thinking, “I want to go write a financial blog post for company A. They’re going to look at me. I’m not going to have any experience. They’re not going to hire me or they’re not going to be in the market to want a blog post,” or this, that and the other. There’s all these reasons why they might say no.

What you have to understand is, if I myself, being a six-figure copywriter with eight years of experience, were to go pitch that same blog, there’s a very high chance that they’d say no to me. 

In fact, the chance for both of us getting hired is lower than the chance that we won’t get hired. The probability is that neither of us will get hired. 

The difference between you and me is that over the course of pitching 50 companies, there’s a higher percentage of those companies that are likely to say yes to me than there are to you. But that doesn’t mean that none of them are going to say yes to you.

So when we look over the scope of 50 companies, it’s not pass-fail…it’s a matter of how many say yes–what percentage say yes.

The more experience you get, the more relevant and the higher quality of your portfolio, the better your pitches, all of these things all they do is increase the percentage of people who say yes. 

But nobody starts at zero. That’s what you have to understand when you get out and send enough pitches, nobody starts at zero. Someone’s going to say yes.

it may take 50 pitches for you to get that first yes. If you’re super unlucky, it may take you a 100 pitches to get that first yes. But at some length of pitches, you’re going to get that first yes. And if you repeat that with those same number of pitches, you’re going to get that same yes again. 

And then as you go over time, you’re going to get to the point where you send 50 pitches out and you’re getting two yeses instead of one yes. You’re getting three yeses. Four yeses. 

So at this point in my career, I get a yes every 10 to 20 pitches. So I know that if I go out and pitch 50 people, there’s a good chance I’m going to come back with three or four clients. 

It’s probably not going to be that high for you, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to land clients. It just means the percentage is lower. 

So you can not have a portfolio at all, you can have nothing going for you, and still get a small percentage just by virtue of sending out enough pitches. 

We’re not looking to flip a trigger that says, “yes, you can get clients now.” Everything that you learn from me, everything you learn from other freelancers, everything you learn in this process, none of it just flips a switch from a no to yes. 

All it does is increase the percentage…the likelihood of you getting x number of yeses over the course of 50 to 100 pitches. 

It’s still a numbers game for all of us, and that never really changes. You can get to a certain point where you start bringing leads to you, but that’s down the road. 

Right now, it’s about going out and getting in front of people. And you know that if you send enough pitches, you’re going to get a yes.

So I hope I didn’t make that even more confusing with that explanation. But I wanted to really just explain, one, how simple it is to get your own portfolio live, and two, that you don’t actually need to do it to go start landing clients. 

You can go out no portfolio, and with enough pitches, you’re going to land a client or two, and then you can use what you do for that client or two as your portfolio for the next batch of pitches.

So anyway, I hope that was helpful and I will catch you in the next video.

Share Your Thoughts

I hope this was helpful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

Plus, if you have a question you want answered on a future Write Bites episode, ask in the comments, and I’ll add it to the schedule.

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