Attracting Clients With Your Digital Portfolio
Showcase Your Work And Launch Your Freelance Career With A Digital Portfolio
Whether you’re a freelancer (or an aspiring freelancer) or someone who wants to take their skills or interests home and work remotely, you’re going to need to show potential clients or employers what you can do. Even if you’re first starting out and have no previous projects to showcase, there are many ways of attracting clients and launching a successful freelancing career. One of the best ways to get started is by creating a portfolio.
A digital portfolio is going to be one of the most powerful tools at your disposal - especially when you’re just starting out. By being able to display your work in a visual manner, you’re showing a potential client or employer what you’re capable of instead of just trying to tell them with a piece of paper. It’s best practice to try and limit a resume to one page, two max. However, a digital portfolio can consist of dozens or even hundreds of pages. Let’s go through the process and elements within your portfolio that are going to make you stand out as a freelancer and launch your career with minimal hassle.
Before we get started, it’s important to note that a freelancer attracting clients is no different than a business attracting customers. As a freelancer, you are the business - that’s why we call them virtual business owners, or VBOs. Therefore, everything we do is in an attempt to eliminate friction between the freelancer and the client. That is - the transaction between the business (you) and the customers (your clients). Make the purchase easy and simple.
Setting Up Your Domain Name
The first thing you’re going to want to do is to register a domain for your site. There are many options available but expect to spend about $13 per year.
- Google Domains is a quick and easy one to go with. Being Google, they also have some of the best features like superior security and DNS tools. You can also purchase a custom email to go with your domain name to appear more professional when dealing with clients for around $5 a month. Google Domains or Hover are probably going to be your best bets.
- Hover has gained traction recently and has become another popular option. It’s very easy to use and their suggestions are better than most domain registrars.
- GoDaddy has been around for a while and is probably the largest of the registrars, but that’s going to cost you a few extra bucks. They’ve come a long way from where they first started and also offer web hosting (not recommended, as their hosting service is known to be spotty), a website builder, and WordPress hosting.
- NameCheap is, well… cheap. You might get lucky and snag a .com for under $9 (or less). They offer premium features for an additional charge - but most of these are going to be unnecessary since we just want a simple site.
Choosing Your Website Builder
Drag and drop website builders are extremely easy to use. There’s no coding required, just picking the elements that you want to represent your brand and dragging them into place. However, if your freelance niche is coding or website design - you may want to build your own from scratch (you’re displaying your abilities, after all).
- Wix is fairly robust with a lot of features. For $13 per month, you can remove Wix ads and get a free domain for a year. This is probably going to be the easiest and best option unless there’s something specific that you need (depending on your niche).
- Squarespace is another option and is geared more toward promoting the visual elements. Their personal plan starts at $16 per month and all of their templates are customizable.
- Weebly is a fairly popular option. They have a free plan, but it’s not recommended because you can’t connect a custom domain and your website will have Weebly ads. If you want to remove the ads, you’re going to have to go with their $12 per month option.
- WordPress is roughly ⅓ of the internet - and for good reason. WordPress offers the best in terms of customization and plugins. If you know a bit of code, you can do almost anything. There are also thousands of themes to choose from if you just wanted to plug-n-play. If you want to remove the ads, their personal option is only $5 a month.
If you haven’t already, check out our article on choosing your VBO niche. There are some excellent tips and examples that walk you through the process of narrowing down your area of focus.
Some freelancers try to go without choosing a niche, or others that attempt to be full-stack (insert noun). I spent years studying everything I could about digital marketing to make myself more appealing to employers looking for a full-stack digital marketer. However, I did so much learning that I forgot to actually work. Trust me - hands-on work is much more valuable than reading a few blog posts or taking a course from Udemy.
The first mistake I made was trying to learn everything. Like thousands of other VBOs, I got stuck by being a jack of all trades and master of none, which put me into this awkward “I know a lot, but can’t do a lot” holding pattern. These days, clients are hiring to solve a very specific issue or to be brought on to do a specific task (and do it well), which is why it’s recommended that you narrow down your focus.
Not that being a full-stack marketer or developer is a bad thing - it’s definitely a good aspiration to have, just not when you’re first starting out.
By narrowing your focus and choosing a niche, VBOs can use their portfolio to show off their skills to a very specific segment of clients for top-dollar pay. Much of this will result in repeat work and referrals. Therefore, it’s important to make those connections early on in your career - your portfolio being your most effective tool.
Showcase Your Work
There are several ways that this can be done, and it’s the most important element. Usually, you’ll have your digital portfolio fleshed out into different sections and the corresponding visuals to match. If you’re a photographer, you might have it split up into different types of events that you cover. If you’re a graphic designer then perhaps your logos can go into one section and social media or brochure graphics in another. If you design websites, you can separate your work by industry or by complexity.
No matter which way you do it, the point is to give potential clients options when they look through your online portfolio. It might be that not all of your work is applicable to their needs.
What’s important is that you show your potential clients what you are capable of. Simply providing a link with a title isn’t going to work. Post a screenshot or interactive element with a clear explanation of the project and the outcome. Remember - features tell, benefits sell. Elaborate on the benefits that came from your project and how it helped.
You may even consider creating a screen share video where you can slide through several photos of your project and explain in detail the process, results, and benefits.
“But what if I’m just starting out?”
Then do something for free or do a mock-project. Yes, there are a lot of people out there that will tell you not to work for free. Unfortunately, sometimes we have to hand out samples to show how good our product is. It’s an investment in your career and your business as a whole. There are many ways to do this.
Friends and family are the usual go-to. However, this isn’t always advised. You’re unlikely to get honest feedback on your work and the scope will likely be very limited.
You can also approach a business, in person or online, and offer your services for free for a determined amount of time. Building up your portfolio is kind of like building your career - it’s going to take some legwork. The beauty of approaching an established business is that if they like what you do, they may hire you at a later time or refer you to some of their friends. Also, keep in mind that any costs incurred (not your hourly rate) while doing pro bono work can be a tax write-off.
You may have also done some projects for school that you want to show off and that’s totally acceptable. Or perhaps you’re part of an organization that could use your skills. Or maybe you just make something up and go for it, pretend you’re both the client and the VBO - come up with a unique project and complete it. This may not always be feasible, however, since some things (like email or social media marketing campaigns) need real numbers as KPIs in order to be successful, but you get the idea.
Maybe take it a step further and find a nonprofit or charitable organization that you’d like to help out and donate some time. Not only is work like this going to help hone your skills, but you’ll likely end up with some glowing testimonials to boot.
Which brings us to our next segment of building out your digital portfolio…
Always ask for testimonials. This is the “proof” that you can do a good job and deal with clients. You would typically do this at the very end of the project, after your client has had a chance to see the results of your efforts.
You ever browse Amazon, Google, or Yelp when purchasing something? Almost everything is rated between one and five stars these days - your services aren’t really an exception.
Being endorsed by other business owners, project managers, or department heads is essential to validating your work and adding much-needed credibility to your digital portfolio. There are even plugins offered with a lot of the drag-and-drop website builders that allow ratings to be displayed on your site.
Be sure to include an area where a potential client or employer can easily get ahold of you through your portfolio. In fact, every section of your site should point to this page as it’s your primary call to action.
Don’t just have a box where they fill out the information and wait for a reply. Include your social media links, or get really into it and spend $10 a month for a separate number (for business purposes) on Google Voice and integrate scheduled meetings with your calendar.
Remember, you’re the business and the potential clients are your customers. Make it as easy as possible for them to get in touch you and retain your services. Some businesses are just browsing, while others might be ready to pull the trigger right away.
Other Things To Add
If you have examples of your work, a contact page, and hopefully a few testimonials then you have the framework necessary to create one kick-ass digital portfolio. There are other items you can add in addition to sweeten the pot a bit. The two main items being your education and some sort of freebie to download - like a guide or cheat sheet. Get creative and see what else you can come up with that fits your niche.
Check out this article on some of the best portfolio sites out there for reference. However, it’s important to note that it’s not necessary to compare yourself, your capabilities, or what you feel you can accomplish to others. Everyone starts somewhere - and that start is very rarely at the top.
Feel free to leave a comment. Feedback and suggestions are welcome.
If you think you might be ready to launch your VBO career, you might also consider Quickstart - our fast-track-to-success course designed specifically to help other virtual business owners launch their careers and become successful. Learn the ins and outs from industry experts and become a top-earning freelancer in as little as 90 days.