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Build a Killer Online Portfolio in 9 Easy Steps

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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...