How to Create a Freelance Portfolio That Gets You Work

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Fact: your freelance portfolio will make or break your freelance career. It’s the digital first step forward. The electronic world’s elevator pitch. A resumé, interview and reference page all rolled into one for the self-employed superstar!

So if you really want to make a go of your career, you’ve got to get that freelance portfolio nailed. Luckily, there are several tips that can help you draw in the paying clients in no time. So read on if you like money.    

Tip 1: Decide on whether you want to go general or specific

What makes a freelance portfolio so tricky is that you’re deciding what type of business you want to be as much as you are assembling a really slick webpage.

For instance, I’m a writer. I’ve done professional blogging, journalism, advertorial work, client profiles and PR writing. I even self-published a novel.

So when I first sat down to do a portfolio, I was lost. At first I had mock press releases next to corporate blog samples. It was a mess.

Eventually, through trial and error, I realized what I wanted my business to be. At the moment I focus primarily on blog content and journalistic work.

And my portfolio is organized to show it. I have headers labeling my internet articles and my magazine features.

To get the best portfolio possible, sit down and ask yourself what you want to offer.

If you’re a generalist, you’ll need a portfolio that’s well organized and has pages or sections devoted to the different types of work you do.

If you decide to be the best dang purse designer you can be, for instance, make a website showcasing just purses. You can also have multiple freelance portfolio websites, each devoted to a specific skill you offer.

Tip 2: Decide on the best of the best of your pieces

The next daunting task of creating your freelance portfolio is deciding what individual pieces it should contain.

Choosing portfolio items

Again, this is your best foot forward. Your digital shingle that you hang to draw in the people who will help you pay the bills.

So carefully go through your work and find the best of the best: that magazine feature for a national publication, that design piece that won an award or that case study that your client praised you up and down for, as a few examples.

If you’re new, however, you may need to get more creative. Your portfolio might include some volunteer work you did, something from an internship, some mock projects or a piece you wrote for a class. Find whatever best displays your skills.

Another note to keep in mind is that while you might be proud of that award-winning short story about a dog who helped a veteran with PTSD learn to love again, your pieces should feature the best type of work you want to bring in.

For example, if you’re going for a resumé-writing gig, use the best dang resumés you’ve ever crafted.

Tip 3: Hunt down the right website design for your industry

Another key part of your freelance portfolio is its design. It should look amazing, but it should also fit the type of work you are doing and offer you the ability to organize your work in ways that make sense for the type of work you do.

For instance, I had a heck of a time finding a good portfolio for my journalistic work on WordPress. WordPress is great for portfolios…IF your work is very visual in nature. Some of my work is just a PDF, other pieces don’t have any photos. Regardless, the photos aren’t what should be showcased here as I’m not a photographer.

Below are some good WordPress themes arranged by what you do.

Photographers: Look on WordPress for themes that are great at showcasing photos. A couple examples are Portfolio Gallery and Thumbs Portfolio.

Developers: If you’re a code monkey for a living, you have some interesting options. You may want to go with a theme that looks more like a general business site that lets you outline and promote the specific coding languages you know and services you offer. Then you can link to sites or software you designed on other pages or show GitHub links. Good examples of business designs are BusinessBuilder and Portfolioo.

Writing portfolioDesigners: Your work is highly visual, so you’ll need something that allows you to frontload all the pretty and cool things you made. X Portfolio allows you to show all the wacky, different-sized graphics you have made on the first page. CleanPortfoliohas a similar concept and is crisper in its design.

Writers: As far as showcasing writing, WordPress does what it does best and offers a lot of blog designs. If you want a portfolio meant for journalists and writers, check out sites like Contently and Clippings.me.

Tip 4: Keep in mind the number of pieces to include in your freelance portfolio

The goal with a portfolio isn’t to overwhelm people with everything awesome you’ve ever done. Hold yourself to a number limit.

Some services will cap you at a limit of projects you can feature before they make you pay. For instance, Clippings.me allows me to post 10 items for free. If I want more, I have to subscribe.

But this makes my portfolio hyper focused. I have to find just the right pieces to showcase the widest amount of work I can do. I have health, tech, entertainment, interior design and profile writing heavily featured, since those are the topics I typically aim for.

Then my prospects aren’t shifting through 200 links looking for the type of writing that they want me to do. Try to cap it at 10-20 pieces.

Tip 5: Beta-test your freelance portfolio on your network

You’ve finally selected your best pieces to feature, and the most awesome way to lay it all out; Your portfolio melts your heart when you look at it.

But you’re biased. It’s your baby. You spent hours, days, weeks or even months making it perfect.

Find someone outside yourself to assess it. It should be someone in your field who knows what they’re looking at.

Seeking Feedback

You can also pull family, significant others and friends to help. Because the people who are looking at your portfolio are average schlubs who don’t understand the full genius of your art. That’s why they’re hiring you to do it.

So get the opinions of random people. Ask, “Hey, would you hire me if you saw this?” You’ll probably get some useful feedback. Keep your ears open for anything truly constructive.

Tip 6: Check your links at least weekly

Once your profile is live, don’t assume it’s “set and forget.” Check your links.

I write this because one time some work I had linked to went nowhere. The site had changed the domain. At another link, a site had broken paragraphs and it looked like I was the kind of person who wrote one-page-long paragraphs for the internet. True story.

What prompted me to check was that I was hearing back from leads less. On the verge of deciding I sucked and giving up everything to go become a street performer, I looked at what I was really sending to people, and it wasn’t pretty.

After I fixed the links and chose different things to showcase, leads picked up again.

Check. Your. Links. 

Tip 7: Know the terms in your industry and use them

When both people and machines read content on the internet, they tend to look for keywords for what you can do. They’re looking for specific coding languages, certain types of writing, or perhaps specific software you know.

If you have an Upwork profile, this is especially important, since the site uses a freelancer search that works with an algorithm that’s looking for specific words.

Tip 8: It’s not all about you. Focus on the client. 

You should definitely outline what you can do, and that takes as certain amount of talking about yourself.

But make sure the potential client is part of the conversation. Tell them what you can do for them.

Focus on the client

The “Overview” part of the Upwork profiles is great for this, if you are on that platform. Specifically outline the types of clients you’ve worked with and the types of problems you’ve solved, as well as how you can help more clients in a similar fashion.

Even when you’re writing your portfolio text, talk in the second person with “you” statements. End on a note about how you look forward to helping their business. People want to know you’re putting them, as the client, first.

Tip 9: Remember client testimonials

Client testimonials work well for outlining what you can do for a company, as well.

It can feel embarrassing asking your clients to wax lyrical about how great you are. But it’s worth it for the marketing boost.

Simply sending a client a small message about possibly providing a client testimonial is enough.

I’ve worded it like, “I’m currently working on marketing materials for my portfolio.  If you’d like to provide a short description of what you like about my work, I would appreciate it.  However, if you do not feel comfortable doing something like this, I understand.”

Most people are OK with the doing this. However, it’s important to not put people on the spot and make them feel obligated, as that can be alienating. Keep it optional and informal.

Tip 10: Establish a relationship right away with a professional photo or even a video

Portfolio videoOne of the often-quoted rules of business is that people work with other people they know and like. When you have a digital freelance portfolio, your job is to become that person through the internet.

The easiest way to do that is to make people know you’re a real person with a face and everything. Get a professional photo taken, if you can. Some people have even taken to doing video introductions, which is now an option on Upwork.

With these tips, you can land some of the most desirable clients out there! 

Further Reading

If you’re at an early stage in your freelance career, check out our freelancing for beginners article, and the ultimate guide to home-working freedom. And while you’re here, come and connect with the #freelancelifestyle on Instagram.

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About Author

Michelle Lovrine Honeyager

Michelle Lovrine Honeyager is a freelance writer who has written features for a number of consumer and industry print magazines, as well as stories for niche websites, digital lifestyle magazines and general news sites.

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