How to design a portfolio that will land you clients

Written by Bogdan Sandu on 28 Jan 2020
111,920 Views • Web Design

Every freelancer is a one-person business. If you design websites, create graphics, do programming or write copy, you need to be concerned with establishing your brand. This is what sets you apart and makes it easy for clients to remember you.

Your portfolio website is the place to show off your best work and establish your brand. It needs to be easy to get to, pleasing to the eye and professional looking. It is a combination of business card, elevator pitch and samples of your work.

The thought of putting together a website that is a true client-getter can be intimidating. But it is actually less complicated that you might realize. There are four main goals you need to keep in mind when you set up your portfolio site.

Make it:

  • easy to use and navigate
  • simple: let the work speak for itself
  • easy for clients to see your strengths
  • professional looking

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For example, a web designer should put together a site that focuses on style and great design work. The page setting for your work should be easy to navigate, with easy-to-read fonts. This means you should avoid those thin fonts that make your grandma switch between her glasses. Think what the client would want in his own site and emphasize those elements.

Plan first, design later

For your web design portfolio, you are your own client. Plan this job like you would any project. This means setting reasonable deadlines and giving yourself ample time throughout your week to work on it. Schedule it in like you would any job and keep it on track by entering your deadlines into your work calendar.

Step one is to decide what the goal of your portfolio site is. There are a range of possibilities:

  • get a full-time job
  • get regular freelancing work
  • get into the school you have set your heart on

Which goal you have will determine how to set up the site, which projects you want to highlight and how you want the site to look graphically.

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Think about what your target client would look for in a site. For example, if you are aiming for an internship, the company may prefer a formal setup. On the other hand, a client looking for a cutting edge design professional may want a more edgy, creative feel when he looks at your site.

Think in terms of the client and his environment. If you want a full-time job, what is the culture of the organization where you want to work? Web design firms probably look for the creative spark when they check out the portfolios of applicants. Other companies may want a more standard setup, one that appeals to wide range of visitors and is useful for several different types of content.

Pinpoint what you think your targeted group wants. Then give it to them. Always include the basic essentials like user-friendly, appealing and built to accepted standards.

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Make sure the people you are trying to persuade see right away that you have the skills they need. Just by looking briefly at your site, they should be able to tell that you are a professional.

Put time into matching your website to your skills, and to the type of organization you want to join. This gives you a much better chance of getting the job and client you want in a timely manner.

Basic tips

People remember you by your brand. For an individual, the brand is yourself. Come up with a distinctive logo to make yourself memorable.

You also need a tagline, also called a motto. Make it short and easy to remember. It needs to say in a pithy way what you do and what makes you distinct from all the other creatives out there.

Make sure you put easy-to-see graphics on your site. Screenshots of your actual work are a good idea. When the visitor clicks on each one, let it open up on the live website that you worked on.

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Write a short, descriptive explanation of the project to help the visitor understand what they are looking at. It is a good idea to list the specific skills and expertise you used on each project within this text.

Design your portfolio for clients

You’re not aiming your site at other designers, other writers or other freelancers. Your sole goal is to impress potential clients. This is your virtual pitch, your chance to land the client.

Shape your website to the type of client you want to attract. For example, a financial corporation is probably looking for a website that presents a conservative, professional and clean feel.

You are selling yourself but people need to see in you and your portfolio what they want to buy. If you’re a designer who wants to work in high-end fashion, the client is going to look for a website that is upscale, edgy and cutting edge. The financial corporation, on the other hand, is conservative and low key.

You are the brand. Define who you are and what you have to offer. Then define for yourself what your ideal target market is. The goal of your portfolio site is to meld all of this. It must be attractive to the people who do the hiring.

Showcase only your best work

It is only logical, but sometimes freelancers forget this simple strategy. Put up your very best work. Make it fit your goals. For example, if a designer wants to redesign websites, sample redesigns are all that should be on his or her website.

You may be very proud of a logo you created, but it is not part of what you should showcase. Put up what represents your best work in the specific area where you want to get hired. Avoid confusing the issue with non-related samples.

The rule of thumb is to post just 10 pieces of which you are most proud, that relate directly to the type of work you are trying to attract. It is less confusing and overwhelming for the client. And 10 excellent examples are more effective than 50 so-so pieces.

And use a great CSS image gallery to showcase your work. There are lots of them out there to pick from. You just download the code, customize it and include it in your website. 

Don’t let the website design or layout of the page overwhelm your samples. It will detract from what you want the potential client to focus on. Let simplicity be your organizing principle.

Make it easy to navigate

Let visitors take in your best work quickly. Attention spans online are short, and getting shorter every year. You have a lot of competition and noise online. Grab your visitors quickly.

Use the latest web technologies to make it simple to navigate your site. Take out anything that might be misunderstood or confusing.

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Design it so all the elements you want your client to focus on are the ones that pop out. These include your samples, your contact information and a bit about your background. All the rest is simply details that could clutter up the client’s viewing experience.

Make it extremely uncomplicated for them to get from one sample to another. If it is confusing, they will just move on to site of one of your competitors.

What else to include?

Offer a synopsis of your services. Put it in an easy-to-spot area of the website. If you don’t let them know about your skills, they might pass you over in favor of someone else.

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Give information about your background, including how long you have been in business and where you are from. The idea is to create a bond with your potential client by giving short snippets of personal information.

Visitors love to see photos. If that is hard for you, consider having a caricature made from a photo and posting that. A likeness inspires trust by letting them see who it is they will be working with.

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Be sure to have a section with a list of your awards and other signs of professional recognition. This is reassuring to potential clients, showing them you are indeed good at what you do.

Make sure clients have a way to contact you

If they like what they see, potential clients will want to contact you. Don’t make them hunt for this information. Oddly, this is one area that many creatives don’t give enough attention. Remember, if they can’t contact you, you won’t get the job.

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Make sure your information is available on each page of the website in a logical and easy-to-read format. Make it simple for your potential employer to get a hold of you. Be sure to mention that you welcome their inquiries for quotes or a chance to discuss details of a job.

A contact form is often the simplest way to set this up. It also gives you a chance to ask questions specifically geared to the type of projects you work on. The more popular approach these days is to use a WordPress schedule plugin so that your clients can schedule a call with you when you are available. 

If that doesn’t suit you well, at least have a field for the person’s name, email address, website address and specifics about why they are contacting you.

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