If you’re currently working as a freelancer or thinking of diving into self-employment, you already know that your portfolio is one of the biggest assets for growing your business.
The goal is, your portfolio will help you market yourself, find new clients, and differentiate yourself from the competition.
Word of mouth is great, but if you’re a writer, designer, or web developer, showing always beats telling, hands down.
But, if you’ve ever looked at other peoples’ professional portfolios, it can be a real zap for your confidence. Or maybe you’re just not sure where to start.
In this post, we’ll go over some of the ways that you can create a digital portfolio built to impress.
What a good portfolio website should accomplish:
- Increases visibility
- Provides a way for contacts to get in touch
- Creates new opportunities
- Proves professionalism
- Stands out
- Demonstrates where you can add value
If you went to school for art, design, or web development, you’re already familiar with the idea of a portfolio. But a school portfolio tends to include a little bit of everything you’ve learned during your academic career. A freelance portfolio should focus exclusively on the work you want to be known for.
Which areas are you an expert in? Do you write about food and beverage? If that’s your space, then your portfolio should not be loaded with content about your thoughts on the latest iPhone or training dogs.
Instead, it should have a clear focus on recipes, nutrition, ingredients, and so forth. There may be a broader theme — think wellness and health, along with some restaurant reviews, but everything should tie together.
What if I don’t have much to show?
There are two main ways to build up your body of work when you’re just starting out. The first is by showing off your personal projects.
Personal projects are a great way to drum up attention — especially if you’re already creating a lot of material on your own time. A consistent personal project—like a web comic, a blog, or a series of photos — can help you showcase your talents.
This won’t work if the personal project doesn’t match up with how you plan on earning money. However, posting illustrations to Instagram can help you show off your design skills to a captive audience.
Personal works depend a lot on consistency. If your goal is to build a following on Instagram that you can then leverage into paying clients, you need to consistently push out content.
The second way you can build a portfolio is to do some work for free. We don’t recommend advertising your services for free. This can lead to low-paying gigs — a cycle that unfortunately, can be hard to break.
You can do pro bono work for a friend or family member with a small business or a company that you admire that falls within your niche. Provided you do good work, potential clients won’t know that you worked for free in the past — consider it a marketing expense.
Additionally, if you do good work for a pro bono client, they may be more inclined to refer you to others in their network.
Other things you can do to bulk up your portfolio:
Call these snippets, excerpts, shorts. Whatever you decide, consider making a selection of shorter samples that give prospects a taste of what they can expect from working with you.
Write the introduction to an article, compile a selection of mock-ups for an app, or design templates, and write a short description that offers some context.
The point is to show prospects that you have the skills to help them achieve their goals.
Fake projects are another way to show that you have what it takes to help brands level up.
This is especially effective for designers, as it’s easy to present visuals as if they were part of a real portfolio.
You might create a social media campaign for a fictitious brand — with stock photos, logos, and custom typography.
While you can’t use logos from real brands on your site, this is a great way to present your creativity in a way that looks and feels professional.
Create a downloadable resource
Creating a free download isn’t the right move for everyone, but if you can create a resource that people would genuinely like, this is a great way to collect leads.
Here, you might create an eBook that shows users how to get started as a blogger or a set of custom templates readers can use for email newsletters or a set of icons. In any case, the resource should be helpful, and prove your expertise.
Where should my portfolio “live?”
When it comes time to pull the trigger and get your stuff up there, you’ll want to collect all of your assets.
Make a checklist that includes all of the items that you’ll be using on the site.
It doesn’t have to be fancy, in fact, you’ll be just fine with one of the many website builders on the market.
Popular (and easy) options include:
Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace are all incredibly easy to set up, even if you don’t have much experience setting up websites.
That said, Squarespace is definitely the best-designed option in the lineup. WordPress is slightly more complex, but it offers more custom features and tons of themes.
We should mention, too, that visual assets come into play, as well. Obviously, this isn’t a problem for designers, but writers may have some trouble picking images that don’t feel cliche.
Search for “freelance writer websites” and you’ll see a lot of typewriters and close-ups of vintage letterpresses. If you’re looking for free stock photo sites, Jeff Bullas has put together a good, long list. We’ve got our own list.
Alternatively, Clippings, a portfolio site for journalists and online writers presents a way for writers to quickly put together a decent-looking portfolio without all the stress of setting up the visual elements that go with a traditional website. Contently is another good option.
Beyond the work — key elements every portfolio site needs
A portfolio is more than a collection of work.
Rather, it’s a curated collection of samples and information that makes clear how you can help a client reach their specific goals. Take Samar Owais’ home page, for example. There’s not much writing, but it’s instantly attractive and gets right down to business.
Or look at Matt Olpinski’s site. He’s clearly laid out what he can do for prospective clients looking for a UX/UI designer:
Your “about” page is more about your education, your background, and who you are. The rest of the site should focus on how you can help clients accomplish their goals.
If you’re a copywriter, it makes sense to highlight specific metrics — you’ll triple conversions and increase email open rates, for example.
Beyond playing into the emotional side of the business, you need to spell out exactly what services you provide.
If you’re a writer, mention your areas of expertise: do you cover fashion, food, Apple products? Spell it out.
Beyond niche, what types of services do you provide? Do you write social media captions, blog posts, eBooks, or web copy? All of the above? Make it clear what you provide and what you don’t. This way, you won’t be fielding a bunch of inquiries asking for video scripts if that’s outside of your wheelhouse.
Other important things to include:
- Call to action: How do you make prospective clients’ lives easier?
- Lead capture form
- Contact information
- Social media links
- A way to display your projects and any required descriptions
Don’t forget about portfolio rights
Before you begin a relationship with your new clients, you’ll want to set up a contract. Ideally, you’ll want a contract that explicitly states that you can use their non-confidential work in your portfolio.
In some cases, the client might retain rights to your content/design, but it’s smart to build this into the process, as this will provide a steady stream of updated material to use to grow your business.