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How to Build Your Online Portfolio and Land More Clients [6 Simple Tips]

Jessica Thiefels, July 24, 2018

Your portfolio represents you—and what you offer—in a digital format. It may also be why a potential client finds you, and will likely be their first impression of who you are and the work you do.

As such, you want your online portfolio to be as impressive as your work, in addition to being optimized for SEO and designed with quality in mind.

Keep these tips in mind as you build your online portfolio.

1. Choose the Right Platform

If you want your portfolio to speak effectively about what you offer and who you are, you have to use the right platform to build it. This is especially true if you’re designing the website yourself.

While developers can customize almost any website or template for their needs, you want something that will best represent your business right out of the box. Here are a few examples:

2. Showcase Your Best Work With a Story

Your online portfolio doesn’t need to be a timeline of every project you’ve ever done. Quite the contrary, you want to focus only on your best work. As a web designer, this may mean showcasing both your favorite final products, alongside those that were loved by clients—even if you didn’t love them yourself. This gives you a chance to feature a great testimonial, which we’ll talk about soon.

Once you’ve chosen your work, format the portfolio so you can tie stories into the projects. Web designers may include testimonials from the specific client or a story about how they worked with the client to come to this final design. Storytelling in this way is powerful if you do it right. Simon Pan, Senior Interaction Designer at Google, explains:

"Focus on compelling storytelling. Demonstrate your ability to communicate concisely with words and imagery—showing the what and telling the why. Prioritize what information your reader needs and focus on the vital moments of the project that make it interesting. The story behind the design is often more compelling than the design itself."

For example, take a look at Blue Beetle's portfolio, each "project" they worked on comes with a short story that quickly communicates what the project was about and how they were able to achieve results. 

Don’t have any work yet? No problem. Just start creating on your own and use your portfolio to display what you’ve done. For example, if you’re a web designer, start designing websites for “fake businesses.” If you want to work in a specific industry, keep your focus there to hone your style and experience for that ideal client.

3. Provide Social Proof

Social proof, testimonials from people you’ve worked with, is critical to landing more clients. Think about it: if you walked by an empty restaurant and one that was brimming with customers, which one are you more likely to choose? Probably the one with more people. Why? Social proof. You would probably think to yourself: “That’s odd, there’s no one in that restaurant. This one looks more popular, let’s go there.”

If you don’t yet have any testimonials collected, start here:

If you don’t have any potential testimonials, start reaching out. Email your best clients, or anyone who had a good experience with your work and business. Instead of just asking for a testimonial, however, write one for them. This is a good way to get a quick response and make it easier for them to help you. Your email to someone may look like this:

Hey Tom, 

I hope all is well! I’m reaching out because I would love to feature a testimonial from you on my website. I know you’re busy, so I wrote one for you. Please feel free to edit as you’d like or write something different altogether:

"Working with Sara was a great investment for my business. She helped us turn a very old, outdated website into one that’s both modern and user-friendly. We highly recommend her services to anyone who needs to build or upgrade their website. Her passion showed through her work and she provided a great final product."

I look forward to hearing back,

I look forward to hearing back,

Most people will appreciate the extra effort you took to write the testimonial, and those who have something else in mind will write their own version all the same.

If you’ve never had any clients, reach out to professors, old co-workers or previous bosses and managers. They can all vouch for your skills, abilities, and quality of work. As get you clients, you can swap those out for fresh ones.

Related: The Freelancers' Guide to Finding Web Design Jobs Online

4. Get the SEO Right

Proper use of various search engine optimization (SEO) tactics ensures that your website is found when people are searching for you. If you do social media marketing consulting for local businesses, and you live in Burlington, Vermont, you’ll want your business to show up in search when someone in Burlington, Vermont searches something like: “social media marketing consulting near me.”

To get it right, there are two types of SEO to focus on: on-site and off-site. Here are a few ways to optimize your portfolio for both.

On-Site SEO:

This is SEO optimization that you do on your website. This makes sure that when Google finds your site, it can figure out what you offer and where you can provide value to searchers. Here are a few on-site optimizations to focus on:

Off-Site SEO:

This is the work you do with other websites to drive SEO value to your portfolio. Here are a few off-site tactics to focus on:

5. Let Yourself Shine

This is the goal of every portfolio—and the most successful ones use a mix of personal sharing and clear, concise value propositions that show what they offer: “Your design portfolio should leave your audience with a sense of who you are as an individual: the strengths, interests, values, and point of view that set you apart from others in your field,” explains Rain Blond, Senior Creative Recruiter.

Striking this balance, however, can be tricky. While bringing your personal brand into your portfolio is important, you don’t want to be overly focused on yourself. That may sound strange, but Blond explains:

"I see two kinds of mistakes here: generic portfolios that lack a distinctive voice, and overly personalized ones in which the designer him or herself overshadows their work. The key to getting it right? Instead of ‘me, me, me,’ think ‘me and you.’"

As you’re telling your story and developing your unique value proposition (UVP) focus on what you bring to the table and how that solves the problem for your target audience.

6. Choose Quality, Always 

Your website is a representation of you, your brand and your business, which means quality is of utmost importance. When designing your portfolio, remember to always use the best images, highest quality themes and user-friendly design—if it's messy and cheap, visitors will get a negative impression right away. Here are a few tips for designing your high-quality portfolio:

Build Your Online Portfolio Now 

If you’re trying to get more freelance clients or build a business, your online portfolio is a must-have. Use these tips to create a website that will wow every visitor and show potential clients what you have to offer. When you choose the right platform, get your SEO right, tell a story, and choose high-quality design, you’ll have a great foundation to grow from. 

Written by

Jessica Thiefels

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