Build a Killer Online Portfolio in 9 Easy Steps


Every freelancer should have an online portfolio. You've got one, right? If not, skip to the last paragraph of this post. It's written for you.

If you do have one, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You're halfway there.

Building your portfolio is easy. The hard part is making it good. A killer portfolio does more than just showcase your work. It transforms visitors into clients. Best of all, it's an automatic work generator.

In this post, I want to show you how to take your online portfolio to the next level.

Note: A few times a month we revisit some of our reader’s favorite posts from throughout the history of FreelanceSwitch. This article by Skellie was first published December 13th, 2007, yet is just as relevant and full of useful information today.

1. Ask the question

Online portfolios tend to come in one of three shapes: a blog, a website, or a dedicated solution (something that's just a portfolio, without any of the extra stuff).

The question I'd like you to have in mind as you read this is: how well does my site answer the questions potential clients are likely to have?

2. Focus on simplicity

Your portfolio exists to impress and persuade potential clients. If you have a blog or website, though, you might (wisely) be trying to draw traffic from other sources. Maybe you're sharing your knowledge, or providing value in other ways.

This has one potential drawback, though: you're catering to so many people that the clear message you want to send potential clients might be getting lost in the noise.

If you're looking for work, don't be afraid to say it simply and boldly. Stick a 'Hire Me' button, link or section on your site.

Simplicity is the key to good web design. Potential clients will have one key question: where do I go if I'm thinking about hiring this person?

Give them the answer, as simply as you can.

3. Optimize your 'About' page

The importance of a good 'About' page can't be overestimated. It's the place potential clients will visit when they want answers to some essential questions:

  • Who is this person?
  • What qualifications and experience do they have?
  • Do they seem trustworthy and reliable?
  • Are they looking for work?
  • Can I see some examples of previous work?

You can answer the trustworthy and reliable question in two ways. You can include testimonials from previous clients, or you can emphasize the ways in which you're a decent, normal person: you have a family, hobbies and so on.

For the last question, I think it's important to link to a page containing examples of your previous work and nothing else: the portfolio in its most traditional form. It will allow potential clients to get to know what you're capable of without any distractions.

4. Provide a clear means of contact

It can't hurt to put contact information at the bottom of your 'About' page, but this isn't the only place you should make it available.

Website usability is conversational. If a potential client wanted to get in contact with you, would they ask you to tell them about yourself? Probably not. It doesn't really make sense. They would instead ask: how can I get in contact with you? A prominent 'Contact' page is a clear and simple answer to that question.

5. Create a dedicated 'Hire Me' page

If your portfolio is a traditional showcase of your work, your 'About' page will suffice. If your blog or website is aimed at a broader audience, however, you'll probably want to use your 'About' page to explain what your site does and what it has to offer.

That's when a 'Hire Me' page becomes important (though you'd probably call it 'Hire Jonathan', or whatever your name is). It should include all the information listed in the 'About' page section above.

Link to your hire page in a prominent way from your site's front page. If you want to get hired, be bold about it.

6. Show off only the skill you're selling

This might sound too common-sensical to be worth mentioning, but it's a mistake I see made in a lot of online portfolios.

The freelancer showcases a wide range of great work. You head to their 'About' page, only to discover that they're only looking for work in one of the areas covered. They're presenting their portfolio as a vanity folder rather than a useful resource for potential clients.

If you only want web design work at the moment, for example, don't showcase your photography. The items in your portfolio should always demonstrate your skill in the area you'd like to be hired in.

7. Tell stories potential clients want to hear

It's very likely that you know more about the area you freelance in than your potential clients do. People who hire web designers, for example, are rarely designers themselves. They're unlikely to appreciate your work for its creative value alone.

For that reason, you need to tell stories about your work. Not lies, of course -- real, genuine stories. Stories about results. What did it do for your client? How did they benefit from your work?

Don't showcase the items you're most proud of. Showcase items that yielded the best results for your clients. Did website traffic spike 30% after that redesign you did? Did the last article you wrote for a client make the front page of Digg?

Potential clients are more interested in the story than the work itself. Always remember that your work is a means to an end: more traffic, more profits, more sales. By focusing on the end result, you're focusing on what potential clients really want.

8. Build traffic to turn visitors into clients

You can source-out potential clients and point them to your portfolio, or you can create a portfolio people will find without your help. Some of those people will be potential clients. Get enough traffic, make a good impression, and your portfolio could become an automatic work generator.

More quality traffic generally means more work. However, it takes a lot of effort to build a popular website. Not necessarily a lot of effort in one go, but a sustained effort over time. For most successful bloggers and webmasters, that sustained effort feels more like a rewarding hobby than a chore.

As a freelancer, there are a number of ways you can add value to your site:

  • Share your knowledge with other freelancers.
  • Mentor wannabe freelancers.
  • Showcase your own work and work you like.
  • Create useful tools.
  • Share personal stories.

That's just five options. I don't doubt there are a hundred more. There are no right or wrong answers, so stick with something you love doing. That way, your enjoyment will still be there, even when the traffic isn't.

9. Add a little dose of SEO

If you don't want to work at creating content and generating inbound links, I'd suggest using this simple tip to optimize your site for search engines. Some of you reading this will be familiar with SEO, but for those who aren't, it essentially refers to the things you do to place your site higher in the search results for certain keywords.

If you can pull this off, you'll get an automatic stream of search traffic without doing too much work.

If you're a web designer working out of the Bay Area, for example, potential clients will probably be searching Google for 'Bay Area web designer'. Incorporate this word string into your site as much as is possible (and natural). Put it in your site's title bar, work it into your 'About' page, and so on.

Just remember that you need to keep it subtle. Unless there's plenty of competition for your keyword string, a few mentions should be enough.

The traffic you'll get from this practice is made up of people looking to hire someone just like you. It's easy to do, and very much worth doing.

* Those without a portfolio, this is the paragraph for you. You can create a dedicated portfolio in a few minutes at Carbonmade.

Done? Great. You might want to expand on it after reading this post, which you should do, now you've got an online portfolio and all...

Related Posts
  • Business
    Career Development
    How to Ace Your Next Job InterviewPreview ace job interview
    You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, and few first impressions are as important as the one you make with a potential employer. By understanding the seven major parts of the pre-interview and interview process, you can make a good first impression, stand out from the competition, and increase your chances of landing that great job.Read More…
  • Business
    Career Development
    How to Get Your First Job After Graduating2 first job
    Landing your ideal, first job—fresh out of school—requires a strategic approach. It should coordinate the tactics you’ll use to get this job into a plan of action, which includes critical components, such as: how to leverage your connections, reach out to contacts, and tap into the channels of greatest opportunity.Read More…
  • Code
    Mobile Development
    An Introduction to App MarketingHub
    Marketing is just as important as the development of your product. Marketing your application helps build an audience, which in turn offers you the opportunity to generate revenue.Read More…
  • Code
    The Beginner's Guide to Setting Static Front Pages in WordPressStaticfrontpage
    Typically, in a WordPress website, the home page shows the blogger's latest posts, but what if you wanted the homepage of your website to display the same page every time? For those of you who are just getting started with WordPress, then it's worth noting this is not only possible, but it's really easy.In this article, we'll talk about how to implement a static front page in WordPress as well as where it would and wouldn't be appropriate.Read More…
  • Business
    Design Your Website to Attract More LeadsAttract leads
    So you’ve taken the plunge and have gone into business for yourself. Way to go! Now the real fun begins. Your primary objective in the early days and beyond is to grow your client-base. The only way to do that is to develop and nurture a steady stream of leads. That is, people who could potentially become paying clients.Read More…
  • Business
    How a Teenager From Nigeria Built a Five Figure Freelance Writing BusinessPreview writers in charge
    It's really hard to make a living as a freelance writer. Yet, some still manage to pull it off, sometimes against all odds. While native English speakers with university degrees are struggling to get clients, Onibalusi Bamidele — a teenager from Nigeria — is pulling in over $50,000 dollars a year in freelance writing income. Moreover, Bamidele is convinced that his success can be replicated, that other writers can use the same methods to get their freelance writing businesses off the ground. Let's look at how this energetic teenager went from an academic failure to a successful freelance writer in just a few short years.Read More…