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Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Sat Nov 14, 2020 7:48 pm
by TheCopyCat
Hello,

I'm interested in becoming a freelance copywriter - mainly in sales/advertising, but I don't mind branching out into other areas (websites, blogs, etc.). But my problem lies in where to begin. It's the old adage "can't get a job without experience, can't get experience without a job".

I want to make a post on a few freelancing websites like Fiverr, but it's how to get the ball rolling without that crucial experience, is the main sticking point. Selling yourself without much there to sell is the question! It feels like putting up a big sign in a shop window without any of the goods to display.

I have the bare bones of a portfolio: since 2016 I have attended a convention in Sweden and worked for the convention as a crew member on their newsletter, writing articles on the events that were held for the whole of this period.

This year, I have also written a page of copy on the convention website, advertising to recruit volunteers for the paper.

Over the years I have additionally written adverts for various events in the convention book ('conbook'), altering or entirely re-writing the ads as the theme for each year changed (Atlantis, Japan, South America etc.) But as the conbooks aren't publicly available I'm not sure how much value their copy would be to the average client.

But it doesn't feel like I could launch a career on this basis.

In a broadly technical sense, I suppose I could claim "four years' copywriting experience" (using Robert W. Bly's 'false logic' technique, if I understand it correctly) but as it was only a few weeks' experience each per year, that feels like a glaring omission - and I want to be honest, as a copywriter. I don't want to be a snake-oil salesman.

I'm aiming to build on this small portfolio, but I'm wondering what the best approach is? The Udemy course I took suggested looking at websites, re-writing a page and sending it in spec to the company, offering more for free in exchange for a testimonial. Is such an option viable?

I'm rambling somewhat.

My main issues are this:

1) When first setting up, what techniques can a novice use to sell their talents whilst being honest (or at least, not dishonestly secretive) about their level of experience?

2)What are the best techniques to build up a portfolio in the meantime, to gain experience?

Thank you very much for your time

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2020 2:15 pm
by SARubin
TheCopyCat wrote: Sat Nov 14, 2020 7:48 pm Hello,

I'm interested in becoming a freelance copywriter - mainly in sales/advertising, but I don't mind branching out into other areas (websites, blogs, etc.). But my problem lies in where to begin. It's the old adage "can't get a job without experience, can't get experience without a job".
Hey CopyCat, welcome to the forum.

Yes, that is a circular dilemma. Not too many people will hire you to write sales copy if you don’t have any experience, and it’s hard to gain experience if nobody will hire you.
TheCopyCat wrote: Sat Nov 14, 2020 7:48 pmI want to make a post on a few freelancing websites like Fiverr,
Unfortunately, freelance farms like fiverr, freelancer, etc. have turned writing into a commodity. Which will leave you competing with tens of thousands of low priced writers, all competing for table scraps. (Linkdin is a little better, but only marginally until you get a solid reputation, which could take a long time)

Having your services positioned on as many marketplaces as possible is still a good way to gain some exposure, but I've always found it more advantageous to market my services directly to potential clients. (personalized contact, instead of trying to yell above the crowd in a noisy marketplace)

I'm not saying it's best for everyone, but it's always worked better for me.
TheCopyCat wrote: Sat Nov 14, 2020 7:48 pmWhat are the best techniques to build up a portfolio in the meantime, to gain experience?
Of course the most obvious answer is to start creating your own experience (and portfolio). And the best experience you can get is to find something to sell, and then write some copy to sell it.

It can be your own product or an affiliate product. Either way that’s about the best true sales copy experience anyone can ever get, because the marketplace won’t hesitate to let you know if your copy is good.

If the copy sells, then it’s good. If it doesn’t, then it’s not.

And once you have a few winners under your belt it's much easier to approach clients with confidence because you'll have some actual sales numbers to show them.

But if you're just interested in finding clients to write for, then having a portfolio is a good place to start. At least this way you'll have something to show if they ask for samples.


Similar to what that Udemy course told you, you can start by finding a niche that is interesting to you. Then, find some of the more popular websites in that niche, and study the sales pages for their style and formatting.

Generally speaking, if a sales page is still up after a month or two it means it’s probably working for that company (otherwise most smart business owners would put up a different sales page)

So find a few winning sales pages, then you can copy them a few times, word-for-word, just to get a feel for what it’s like writing with the flow of sales copy


Step 2 would be to re-write those pages in your own words and style. You can keep the same formatting and just change to wording around.

These new samples will be the beginning of your “experience” and your portfolio. And if you want to sound a bit more professional you can refer to them as “spec” assignments (which, if we spin it right… basically means you wrote it for someone, but it never got used)

Then you can display your portfolio samples on your own blog or website, a social network, or somewhere your target audience hangs out…?

TheCopyCat wrote: Sat Nov 14, 2020 7:48 pmWhen first setting up, what techniques can a novice use to sell their talents whilst being honest (or at least, not dishonestly secretive) about their level of experience?

The Udemy course I took suggested looking at websites, re-writing a page and sending it in spec to the company, offering more for free in exchange for a testimonial. Is such an option viable?
Yes, this can potentially be a viable option, but you'll also need a strong introduction for your own services.

If you're emailing people then your email is competing with all the other spam emails they get everyday. So your first copy challenge is getting them to read your email.

If you're contacting them through social media... Same thing.

Also, if you're going to solicit companies in this manner, then I would not just ask for a testimonial.

As a business owner this ask would immediately tell me that you don't know what you're doing. And unless you're copy was mind blowingly brilliant, then it wouldn't even get a second glance.

Or, if your copy is good, then what's to stop me from using it without returning your request?

Instead, I'd recommend you find a few websites that have obviously weak copy. Then I'd write a half dozen headlines along with 2 or 3 opening ledes (opening paragraphs) for that business.

Put these samples on a private page in your portfolio so you can personalize the page for the recipient.

Next I'd contact them with a message solidly focused on them, and what I can do for them and their business. Something like this could be a rough draft...

"Hi, I just visited your website at www. yourwebsite .com and I love what you're doing. It looks like you have some great products and a great business.

My name is copycat, and the reason I'm contacting you is because I'm absolutely certain I can quickly help you increase your sales

My business is writing high performance sales copy, and while the copy on your site looks OK, I'm positive I can get you more sale with just a few small changes.

I realize you don't know me yet, so I took the liberty of writing a few powerful headlines and opening ledes you can use to increase your sales immediately. Feel free to split test them against your current sales copy, with my compliments, and please let me know if you'd like to see what the rest of the sales page looks like.

[link to personalized headline and lede samples]

Looking forward to hearing from you soon,
copycat"



Of course that could be cleaned up a bit. But basically we started out by complimenting them (to build a little rapport), told them your name and what you do, (and what you can do for them), and gave them a free gift to increase the possibility of reciprocation.

But mostly, we're only giving them a taste of what they can expect. So if they want more they need to contact you. (Curiosity can be a powerful motivator)

Also, you can track who clicked on the links, to gauge interest.

If nobody clicks the links, then we need to adjust our email message. If they do click the link then they go on the short list for follow up.

As a bonus, you still get to add these samples to your portfolio, even if the recipient doesn't respond.

Obviously this is not a mass market approach. It's a slower (but more personalized) method to help you land your first few clients. And you may need to do this with a couple dozen prospects before you get a few responses.


As far as your lack of experience? Well, you don't need to lie, and you don't need to use the Bob Bly method of fake logic. But you can truthfully say that over the past 4 years you've done some freelance work for conbook in Atlantis, Japan, South America, and Sweden.

And then let your client draw their own conclusions about your experience.

But mostly, the ones who do respond will already be predisposed to wanting to work with you because of what they already know you can do (based on the samples you made, just for them).

And if they want to see more, then you can point them to the portfolio you started from the first half of this post.


Anyway CopyCat, these are just a few suggestions. I can give you more but this post is already getting pretty long. Hopefully I at least helped you plant the seeds of an idea you can use here?

Again, welcome to the forum.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Sun Nov 15, 2020 5:47 pm
by TheCopyCat
Hi SARubin,

Thank you so much, that's some really great advice!

It gives me a much clearer picture of how best to gain a foothold in the field. I'll try some of the things you've suggested and will let you know how I get on.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Thu Nov 19, 2020 11:30 pm
by Franklin
Something else you might do is get your name out there, as an up and coming copywriter, on as many targeted platforms as possible.

You could spend a few days setting up accounts on freelance sites, copywriting forums, and related social sites. Then spend a couple hours a week maintaining them by posting updates.

It's an inexpensive marketing channel and you never know when a new client might stumble upon one of your profiles.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:13 pm
by TheCopyCat
Good news,

I have a potential client and have set up a Skype meeting for next week - and my website is almost ready for launch. I told the client that I charge 40 GBP per work hour and per hour of live consultation (with a two-hour minimum fee for the first live call). Most sources I have found agree that about 40 GBP (approx 50 USD) per hour is an appropriate amount for beginner freelance copywriters.

So whilst the price seems adequate, and charging for live calls is easy enough, I'm not sure how to calculate the work hours. Would you set a timer before you begin writing a project and stop it each time? Do you include the hours of research, or not? Do you simply charge 8 hours in a day? (That's hypothetical as I haven't given up my 9-5 job yet and wouldn't charge that anyway!) But I want to be honest in my billing.

None of the books I've read or video tutorials I've seen have explained payment calculation for freelancers - they assume it's self-explanatory, I think. I suppose that it's a different matter for everyone, naturally, but a baseline idea would be very much appreciated.

Please can you offer some advice?

Many thanks.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Sat Jan 09, 2021 1:24 pm
by SARubin
Hey TheCopyCat,

That is great news.

And 40 GBP (50 USD) per hour is very good pay for anyone just starting out.

As for project working hours it's tough to say how you should calculate it for yourself. As you already noted, it's a different matter for everyone.

It also depends on how familiar you are with the product or niche? Because it will obviously take longer for researching the product (finding a unique hook or storyline) and researching the market (competition and pain points or desires in the ideal customer) for a product you're not familiar with.

For example: I don't need much time for research when it comes to writing copy for self help / self development products, or prepper / survival niches, or anything closely related to either of those because I'm already fairly intimate with those markets (along with a few others).

But if tasked with a project in the financial newsletter, or health and supplement realms, it would take much longer because I've never written for them.

I could write for them, it would just take far longer for researching the product, competition, market, and any government regulations that may be involved with those products.

TheCopyCat wrote: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:13 pm Would you set a timer before you begin writing a project and stop it each time?
You can do this for the actual work, but the only issue you may run into is most clients I've worked with at least like to know a ballpark figure (estimate / quote) for a project before it starts.

Telling them you bill by the hour is fine, but will it take 3 hours? Or 30 hours?

Most people want at least a rough estimate for their own budget planning.

TheCopyCat wrote: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:13 pmDo you include the hours of research, or not?
If you're calculating an hourly rate, then absolutely yes. Writing is often the easy part. Research can often take the most time.

TheCopyCat wrote: Fri Jan 08, 2021 11:13 pmNone of the books I've read or video tutorials I've seen have explained payment calculation for freelancers - they assume it's self-explanatory, I think. I suppose that it's a different matter for everyone, naturally, but a baseline idea would be very much appreciated.

Please can you offer some advice?

Many thanks.
I have a PDF I can send you. It's the AWAI pricing guide for copywriting.
It's a couple years old but the prices are still relevant to today's standards.

Once you get past the sales pitch and propaganda there's an actual price guide near the middle.

Let me find it in my files and I'll send it to you in an email / private message later today.

Keep in mind, these are only "guidelines" for salescopy. I charge less for some things, and more for others things listed. But it can give you a solid baseline to work from, then you can adjust for your own needs from there.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Sat Jan 09, 2021 9:51 pm
by TheCopyCat
Hi SARubin

Yes please, that PDF sounds like it would be really useful!

Thanks :)

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:45 pm
by WordyWordpecker
SARubin wrote: Sat Jan 09, 2021 1:24 pm
I have a PDF I can send you. It's the AWAI pricing guide for copywriting.
It's a couple years old but the prices are still relevant to today's standards.
Hi Steve,
Can I have a copy of the PDF too please. thank you.

Re: Selling yourself as a beginner and building a portfolio

Posted: Fri Jan 22, 2021 1:44 am
by SARubin
WordyWordpecker wrote: Thu Jan 21, 2021 9:45 pm Hi Steve,
Can I have a copy of the PDF too please. thank you.
Sure thing. I'll email it to you.