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A Guide to Designing a Portfolio Website
A wise man once said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” While that may be true in theory, simply choosing a job in practice isn’t always enough. You need to find people willing to pay you for what you do. And in today’s job market, the first place most potential patrons look to hire talent is on the Internet. That’s why, no matter what your area of expertise, having an online portfolio is essential to getting found by businesses seeking someone with your skills.
If you’re an artist, writer, or freelancer in any industry, having an online portfolio is an absolute must in the modern world. This helpful guide explains what an online portfolio is and why you need one in order to land jobs that you’ll love. It also provides tons of tips gleaned from some of the best portfolio websites on the Net. Spend a few minutes reviewing the guide, and you’ll be in great shape to starting building your own online portfolio today.
What is a Portfolio Website?
For as long as artists have sought supportive benefactors, portfolios have existed as curated collections that exhibit an individual’s particular talent and style. Prior to the digital age, physical portfolios often came in the form of large leather cases that contained printed or original pieces created by whomever lugged the thing around. Today, though, portfolios don’t need to take on a tangible form, as the Internet has made it possible to build a digital equivalent of the cumbersome old case.
A portfolio website is an online representation of your professional persona and should be the cornerstone of your overall efforts when trying to attract prospective clients. The primary purpose of an online portfolio is, of course, to entice potential employers to hire you for their next big project. It may be helpful to think of online portfolio websites as the evolution of résumés, though ideally they’ll include far more than just an overview of your work history.
The rapid pace of technology and the breadth of interconnectedness on the Internet make it possible to design portfolio websites that fulfill every purpose you can imagine. Whether you prefer a minimalist approach, a look that’s over-the-top extravagant, or anything in between, the sky’s the limit when you use one of today’s top portfolio website builders to construct your digital showcase.
A portfolio website can be your key to building a successful career in your field, and can have a dramatic effect on the trajectory of your professional life. By displaying the fruits of your labor in a place for everyone to see, there’s no telling what doors you’ll find opening for you. When you take the time to set up an online portfolio, you’re unlocking a future of limitless possibilities. In fact, many creative professionals agree that their portfolio sites are an indispensable element of their business, and one that they’d never want to do without.
5 Reasons Why You Need to Build Yourself a Portfolio Website
If you’re a freelancer or contract worker of any stripe, there are five primary reasons why you need a portfolio website. Here’s a quick look at those points and what makes them so essential.
You’re invisible if you don’t have one. The first place most hiring managers look to find contract employees is on the Internet. If you have a LinkedIn
You’ll look like more of a pro. Simply by having an online portfolio, you’ll appear more professional than the legions of freelancers who haven’t yet taken that step. An online portfolio puts your work on the same playing field as that of your competition, and if your site is even just a little bit more impressive than others in your field, that could mean the difference between landing a gig and losing it.
It’s the only sensible option. Printing and mailing out copies of your portfolio is expensive, and it takes time that you can’t afford to lose. Further, would-be employers are less likely to take you seriously if you don’t at least have a website that features a sampling of your work.
They’re easy on the wallet. Depending upon which platform you use as the foundation for your online portfolio, you may have to pay for the software or service. Fortunately, most portfolio-website builders only cost a few bucks a month. Some platforms are even free to use, though they’ll often include unwanted ads on your site. By upgrading to a paid plan, you can remove those advertisements and appear like even more of a polished professional than you already are.
You might go viral. A huge advantage of having a digital portfolio is that it makes your work easy to share with others in an instant. If an influential individual shares your work on their own social profile, your creation could attract an even larger audience, helping you become an overnight sensation.
Summary of Experience and Credentials
To give your future employers some insight into your work history, you’ll definitely want to include a list of your greatest accomplishments, at least insofar as they relate to the kind of work you are positioning yourself to do. Unlike a resume, you don’t need to include your complete work history in your online portfolio; you only need to make reference to whatever roles are in the field of your expertise. Additionally, you’ll absolutely want to mention any certifications or credentials you’ve earned over the course of your career, including any relevant details and descriptions if your qualifications are a bit obscure.
If you’ve won any awards for projects that you’ve worked on, or have received any commendations from authoritative individuals, be sure those are included in your portfolio. Additionally, you’ll want to highlight any schooling or degrees that you’ve received as part of your education. By summarizing your work experience and including all of your professional and academic accomplishments, you can show off your skills and give your site’s visitors an overview of where your talents lie.
Basic Sections of a Portfolio Website
Every portfolio website should include at least three core components: a glimpse of your greatest creations, a detailed list of the services you offer, and, of course, your contact information for when a future client is curious about hiring you.
Here’s a closer look at each of those sections and why they should be part of your portfolio:
Your work. Since the whole purpose of this site is to show off your skills in the hope of attracting a future employer, you’ll definitely want the highest quality samples of your work. Spend some time looking over all of your completed projects, and select the pieces that show off your strengths. Be sure to get an outside opinion, as well, because you don’t just want to include your own favorite samples, but also your clients’ favorites as well.
Your services. Sometimes the final product doesn’t tell the whole story, and it might not be obvious to your website visitors exactly what role you played in the production of the pieces you’re featuring in your portfolio. That’s why it’s important to clearly spell out all of the services that you offer your clients. This way, there won’t be any confusion when an aspiring client gives you a call.
Your contact info. Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is including your contact information for when an intrigued party is interested in hiring you. It’s recommended to at least include your phone number and email address, but if you’re especially active on Twitter or LinkedIn, it might make sense to encourage contact via those platforms. And since you never know which page a website visitor will land on when arriving at your site, it’s important to include your contact information on every page of your portfolio. By ensuring that your contact information is highly visible, you’ll make things easier for your visitors while increasing the likelihood of landing new clients.
Word of mouth can go a long way on the Web, which is why it’s important to showcase some of the nice things that your previous or current clients have said about you. By including quotes from those you’ve worked with, you’re letting potential employers know that other businesses trust you and are pleased with the quality of your work. That can mean a lot to some folks, especially if what others are saying is sincere and well written.
The most powerful testimonials are specific, and should ideally portray you possessing virtues that employers find attractive. The testimonials should strengthen the reputation that you are trying to build, and should reinforce how you position yourself on the market. Optimally, you want to include testimonials that portray you not only as talented and driven, but as easy to work with as well.
The best way to go about collecting testimonials is to just straight-up ask for them. Email your most-pleased clients and ask them for a few nice words that you can publish on your website. If that’s not quite your style, you could search through old emails for positive endorsements, and ask for permission to post them online. You can also direct your portfolio visitors to your Yelp page if you have reviews on that platform. The more testimonials you add to your site, the better. There’s no such thing as having too many people recommending your services.
The “About” section of your online portfolio is where you have a chance to express your personality with words. This is where potential clients will go to find out who you are and what kind of work you’re looking for. If you’re a writer, this section should be a breeze to come up with. If working with words isn’t exactly your strength, this section of your portfolio might not come to you that easily.
It’s on this page where you can share you point of view and give your visitors a glimpse into your personal history as well as your passion. Tell your story, rather than simply listing your accomplishments. Write it in a way that’s easy for anyone to read and relate to. And, just to be on the safe side, ask someone you trust to review your writing before you start spreading the word about your portfolio. Even if you’re not selling yourself as a writer, an embarrassing typo can affect the way hiring managers view you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Promote Yourself
When it comes to finding clients, think of your online portfolio as your most valuable selling tool. If ever there was a place to toot your own horn, it’s here. Modesty won’t get you very far, and by touting some of your greatest accomplishments, you can let your next employer know exactly what you believe to be your greatest strengths. That’s not to say you should include an abundance of egotistical commentary about yourself—that might immediately turn off prospects who are otherwise pleased with what they see. Rather, it’s best to take a playful and positive approach that makes you seem talented, hardworking, and likeable.
By confidently positioning yourself as skilled expert in your industry, you can make a more lasting impression in the eyes of prospective employers, increasing your odds of landing a gig you’re looking for. One great tactic for subtlety selling yourself is to maintain a blog on your portfolio. By posting and sharing articles that are relevant to your industry, you can further position yourself as an authoritative individual, especially if you have intelligent and insightful thoughts to add. A blog will also show that you are dedicated to your field and your specific role within it. The more of an expert you appear to be, the more valuable you’ll seem to employers.
There are many different approaches when it comes to choosing how to build your online portfolio. You could, of course, outsource the project to a talented Web designer, but considering how easy—not to mention affordable—it is to build a site yourself, that might be your best option. This is especially true if you’re on a budget.
If you decide to create a portfolio website on your own, you’ll want to start by comparing the top website builders and choosing one that appears most closely aligned with your ambitions and technical ability. Each of the different website builders has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, and the actually creation process also varies wildly from one builder to the next.
Some portfolio builders are geared toward creative types, while others were designed with Web neophytes in mind. As such, the learning curve for each builder is also inconsistent. A few of the platforms are so easy to use that you likely won’t even need to read any tutorials. Other builders, however, offer more enhanced ability yet take longer to get accustomed to. Luckily, many of the tools offer free trials, so you can play around with each interface and see if it’s for you. Regardless of which builder you choose, just make sure to do your homework and read plenty of reviews before committing yourself to any specific software.
Depending upon the industry you work in and the type of services you perform, you may wish to include some case studies in your portfolio. For the purposes of a portfolio, a case study is a detailed analysis of a project and the conditions under which it was created. Ideally, case studies will give prospective clients some insight into the role your work plays in the larger picture.
If you want to add some case studies to your site, start by selecting some of your creations that have led to largely positive results for your client. Aside from images of the work, case studies typically include background information about the client and the task you were assigned to tackle. The studies should mention the specific role that you played while working on the projects, and end with a testimonial from your client with their perspective on the quality of your work.
Showcase Your Work in Different Places
Did you just add some fresh content to your portfolio, but fear that no one new is going to see it? That’s where social media can play an invaluable role in spreading the word about your best work. For each new piece that you add to your portfolio, you should also promote it wherever possible. Specifically, you’ll want to post updates across all of your social media channels, and include a link back to the project page on your portfolio.
In addition to sharing your updates on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, you should also identify more niche social networks that are specific to your own industry. If you’re a photographer, for instance, you should research the top social networks for photographers. There are dozens of them out there. The same is true if you’re an illustrator, a writer, or a videographer. Social networks exist for nearly every creative industry that’s popular today.
You can also encourage your website’s visitors to share your projects on their own social streams as well. Many website builders make it easy to add Facebook “Like” buttons to each page of your site, and the ability to share pages via other social networks. If your viewers can easily share your stuff, you stand to reach far more people than you would otherwise, which can ultimately help you grow your bottom line.
Tips on Building Your Online Portfolio
Here are a few other tips you might find useful when building your own online portfolio:
Don’t just include the work that you view as your best; think about what projects potential employers would likely favor, and position those as the centerpieces of your portfolio.
Only feature what you deem to be your strongest work. Your portfolio should not include every project you’ve ever worked on.
If you’re just starting out in your field and don’t have a lot of client work to feature, it’s totally fine to add unpaid personal projects if they display your talent.
Update your portfolio frequently and add any new pieces prospective employers might appreciate. When you publish something new, share it across your social media channels.
Take your time picking out the look and feel for your site. Many builders offer a great selection of portfolio website templates, so it’s just a matter of finding one that speaks to you.
Creating an online portfolio can be the single most influential factor in the development of your career. An online portfolio allows anyone in the world to view your work and contact you for a quote at any time. Such a website gives the impression that you’re always open for business, making your site a tool that can generate business for you around the clock. This can lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people who view your work, and the number of potential employers who contact you.
Modern website builders have evolved to the point where it’s easy to create an online portfolio in as little as an hour, and many platforms are incredibly intuitive—especially for complete novices. So even if your expertise is in a field far different from Web design, that’s no excuse not to create an online portfolio. Supercharge your career and have a great time doing it when you start creating your own portfolio website today.
Many factors can influence the successfulness of your online portfolio. Before promoting your portfolio website, review this checklist to ensure that you’re not missing anything important.
Have you defined your goals and identified your ideal prospects’ expectations?
Have you pored over your past projects and picked out your best pieces?
Did you state your profession clearly in your site’s header?
Did you organize your top pieces into distinct categories?
Does your site contain a résumé or summary of your previous work history?
Are your résumé and gallery accessible within one click from your home page?
Have you added context (i.e., a backstory) for each of the pieces you’ve included?
Are your name, email address, and phone number visible on each page?
Do all outbound links from your portfolio open in a new tab, rather than the same one?
Have you included a highly visible call to action?