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Peter Wise Good writing
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Want to be a successful freelance copywriter? Keep your work.

I remember when I started out in this business and I was working in – or looking to move to – leading advertising agencies, always keeping my portfolio in good shape and selecting only the best work to put in it.

Both then and now, if you’re wanting to get into a good ad agency, you need a first rate portfolio. And by first rate, I mean one stuffed full of great ideas. In those days that would mean mostly TV and posters. You might add in a press ad or two with a spot of copy, but beyond that forget it. A radio ad was generally seen as déclassé and would go unread. A sales letter? Forget it. A brochure? Give me a break. Clever stunts were in their infancy portfolio-wise, and ‘online’ was barely a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.

If it was great printed work, that was good, but it was perfectly acceptable for even people who had been in the business for a couple of years to just have spec stuff. But however good the brochure, sales letter or whatever that ran, it wouldn’t make it into your portfolio.

Many copywriters and art directors never bothered to even ask for samples of their produced work if it didn’t ‘make the grade’ in terms of being in the ‘right’ media or a ‘great’ idea. But I did. And I kept them. Ok, I’m a natural hoarder anyway. But a little voice told me that one day they might come in useful.

And I’m glad I did hang on to them. Because in my latter-day incarnation as a freelance copywriter, they are indeed very useful. (You can see some of them in my copywriting services section.)

My award-winning pieces (and I have been lucky enough to win a good number of awards) are rarely of interest to regular clients. No, what they want to see is that I’ve written the kind of stuff they want to produce for someone in their sector. A letter for a soft drinks company. A brochure for a software producer. A sales promotion for a holiday organisation. And so on.

So if you’ve never asked for or kept samples of your run-of-the-mill work, now’s the time to start.

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