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How to Create an Online Portfolio that Shines for your Freelance Design Business

I used to hate designing for myself. After a few weeks of creating any website or design, I’d get bored of it so quickly and honestly, it drove me nuts. I’d put it down to being a fussy perfectionist, but it just wasn’t true. On a number of occasions, I’d scrap perfectly functioning websites to chase new ideas only to realize that my new ideas sucked and were overcomplicated. No matter what the scenario, I eventually found myself in the same place. Numerous sheets of paper spread across the desk; brainstorming.

By reminding myself of what it is that I’m actually trying to achieve, I’m able to effectively look at the bigger picture without homing in on small (and during those early stages, irrelevant) details. Today, that is how I start all of my projects. I may still be a fussy perfectionist, but I now consider that an advantage. So before jumping into the deep end, let us start by taking a step back to remind ourselves of the fundamentals.


The 3 Fundamentals of an Online Portfolio

Your portfolio is often your first (and only) impression – By taking into consideration that the average attention span of a human has dropped from 12 seconds (2000) to 8.25 seconds (2015 – that’s less than a goldfish!) and the fact that your website will no doubt take a few seconds to load (or longer!), your first impression needs to pack a punch in order to convert at its full potential. Allow your finest work to take center stage and keep the design of the site simple and easy to navigate. Some may consider this as a personal preference, but I truly think that unless the design of the portfolio itself showcases your full potential (web designers, I’m looking at you) without any of your work in sight, then it’s probably best to keep it clean.

Your portfolio is meant to showcase your work and your knowledge – Pick only your best work, having 3-4 projects that you’re proud of is far better than having 12 average projects; your portfolio is only as good as your least attractive project. Describe the brief and your thought process behind each of the projects – try to stay away from one-liners – be descriptive. Use this as an opportunity to show your knowledge, professionalism, and passion for your work.

Your portfolio should convert visitors to clients and help you build your brand – Include a simple and clear way to get in touch with you and write about yourself on a separate page with links to your social profiles. Not only do clients like digging around, but publishers do too. From a publishers point of view, unless you don’t want your work shared around the internet (in today’s world, I have no idea why you wouldn’t), reframe from plastering your images with huge watermarks. It can close a lot of doors for you.


Your Work

It goes without saying that your work is the most important aspect of your portfolio. However, your portfolio isn’t just another client. It doesn’t want plain backgrounds or a standalone logo or a really long image of a web design. You need to approach the presentation of your work in a similar way to how you created the work itself.

The good news is that there are plenty of resources that will help you out, from mockup PSD files to free stock photography. If you need some inspiration, check out the portfolio examples I’ve listed at the end of this article, I particularly like this project by Adhemas Batista. Going the extra mile to present your work will not only impress clients but enable your projects to become more ‘shareworthy’. This will ultimately bring in more traffic, generate more word-of-mouth, and really help you in the short and long term.

Before you start uploading all your work, remember that your portfolio is only as good as your least successful project and that the genre of work that you upload is likely going to be what future clients request from you. So if you’re keen to focus on one particular subject, be it logo design, then focus on uploading the best freaking logos you can make

Side note: I often play around with the presentation of certain products, and when I nail the presentation I always see an increase in sales. This will work for clients, publishers and your future followers too.


Choose a Platform

If you’re a web professional, you’re already going to have a fairly clear understanding of what is available and what you can do with it. If you’re a little confused, I don’t blame you. The moment you start searching how to create a portfolio, not only are you bombarded with options but adverts too, all claiming to be the best. I’m not going to review any, too many websites have already done that (this one is probably the best), but I will divert your attention to a few that I feel deserve it.

WordPress

WordPress is my number one recommendation, I use it for this site, for tomchalky.com, and for inspirationhut.net. While it requires some experience and a bit of knowledge, once you start getting stuck in, you’ll not only have full control over your portfolio and an internet full of resources to help you, you’ll also be able to make websites for your clients in no time.

SquareSpace

 My second recommendation is SquareSpace, it requires far less effort than WordPress and the end result can be just as awesome, and as customizable. With everything you need, built right into the platform. From detailed analytics to SEO and from pre-made templates to 24/7 support. Plus, they host it for you.

Cargo Collective

Cargo Collective doesn’t receive much recognition, and that’s probably down to their non-mainstream approach. I think that in order to provide you a versatile list, I need to include Cargo and in all honesty, I love their style. It’s super easy to set up a Cargo website and really straightforward to use, also, their target audience is creators, so their platform has been created with you in mind. The only downside is that you need to apply for an account and you are restricted when it comes to design – however, their available templates are very modern and great for artists.

Wix

Wix is another option that I’m really keen to mention. They’re one of the leading players in the website building market; and certainly one to check out. They have a whole bunch of pre-made themes that have been tailor-made for designers, and there are plenty of customizable options available to you. Alongside hundreds of applications that can further extend your site.


Some Inspiration

There are some really talented people out there, and plenty you can learn from them. Below you’ll find that I have compiled a small yet powerful collection of portfolios that really kick ass. I’ll admit, the work is fantastic. But strip all of it back, the portfolios fulfill all of their fundamental purposes.

Adhemas Batista – Adhemas’ portfolio, while simple in style, lets the work do all the talking. The surroundings (logo, icons, links) do not overpower the work in any way. The descriptions for each project is substantial, and his presentation is spot on.

Robby Leonardi – Robby’s portfolio is probably one of the best-animated portfolios I have ever seen. Just check out his interactive resume, it’s mind-blowing. This is one of the best examples I can provide for going all in with your portfolio design. Allowing the site itself to showcase how creative you really are.

Steven Bonner – Another great example of a portfolio that lets the work speak for itself. Simple, yet effective!

Hello Monday – ‘Hello Monday’ are a digital creative agency, so while their site is going to represent the work of a team and not that of an individual. I really wanted to include their site in my small list. It’s a joy to navigate, it shows off their digital talent and attention to detail beautifully.


Extra Tips

As long as you cover the fundamentals with your portfolio, you will already have a site that will serve you and your work well. However, there are a few more things that will help improve your portfolio even more that I want to add before you sign off.

Be organized

If you juggle a lot of projects and you’re constantly busy with clients, updating your portfolio can itself become quite the task. Try to streamline your process by creating templates and checklists. Also, if you have a lot of work on your portfolio make it easy for visitors to navigate with appropriate titles, tags, and categories. Not only will this improve your page views but can be useful for clients and publishers when referring to your work.

Every page should have a purpose

Encourage action from your visitors. Do you want them to get in touch with you? Subscribe to your mailing list? Follow your social profiles? Try and design your pages to encourage these kinds of actions. Even a simple ‘Want to create something awesome? Let’s chat. I’m available’ section below your projects can do the trick.

Testimonials

I hardly ever purchase anything online without reviews. This includes courses, services, and resources. If you can, add a testimonial page. Even better, add the appropriate testimonial to the project page. Be sure to include links to the reviewers website or social profile; people like to check that you’re not bluffing.

Get social!

Competition is tough! You might have a polished portfolio to attack the world with, but so does Tom, Dick, and Harry. You need to stand out from the crowd and to do this, you need to push it through as many avenues as you can. I’d start with contacting art and design blogs, registering to portfolio sites (BehanceDribbbleDeviantArt and Flickr are fantastic!) and being active on social networks. Particularly the image-based networks (Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr).

Start Blogging!

Search engines love blogs, your visitors love blogs, and so do clients. It’s also a fantastic way to drive traffic to your work. Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts on topics surrounding your industry, works in progress, sketches, or anything else that you feel will make your reader happy.

Any questions?

With articles like this one, the goal is to help you build your dream business by providing what I learn, as and when I learn it. If you have any questions, please comment below.

1 thought on “How to Create an Online Portfolio that Shines for your Freelance Design Business

  1. I really dig your shit. I’m glad I found you and your site. We’ll be doing business in the near future. You have a handle on the future styles of advertising and media presentation. Good for you.

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