You know you need one. But – when you’re just starting out, how does a new freelancer build a professional portfolio?
This critical collection of work is your freelancing resume. It showcases your skills, experience, and expertise to prospective clients and helps you land new work. And you want to absolutely nail it.
Fortunately, it’s not as complicated as you think.
Just follow this 6-step process:
Step 1: Before You Build a Professional Portfolio, Find it a Home
You need to be able to share your portfolio with interested parties in an instant. The best way to do this is to put your portfolio online and have the link to it handy.
Ideally, in my opinion, your freelance portfolio should live on your own website. This gives you the greatest level of flexibility and control.
A third-party portfolio site might not have the look and features you want. Worse yet, it could unfavorably change their terms of service or go out of business. Both would leave you in a tough spot.
However, creating and maintaining a professional portfolio on these sites is often easy. So, if your tech skills are lacking or you really don’t want to deal with your own website right now, going this route could be right for you.
Pro Tip: No matter how you set it up, make sure your portfolio is simple for prospective clients to navigate.
Step 2: As You Create Your Freelance Portfolio, Start With What You Have
We all have to start somewhere.
Basically, anything you’ve done for yourself that you want to do for a client belongs in your initial body of work.
As a freelance writer, the posts on my own blog became my starter portfolio. Other examples could include designing your own logo, building your own website, or taking your own website photos.
Got college projects that demonstrate expertise in the service you want to sell? Include them.
Done related pro bono work for a friend? Put that in there, too. You can even create your own content for industries you would like to work in.
Step 3: Share Your Expertise
If you haven’t already done so in Step 2, now’s the time to get your work featured somewhere other than your own website.
The goal here is to demonstrate that your work is available and appreciated externally. It gives you credibility.
When you’re brand new, you may end up taking on an unpaid gig or two. Aim to provide a small service that results in both a testimonial and an additional project to list on your portfolio.
Maybe you write a guest post for another blog or design a flyer for a local business.
Of course, if you can get paid for these early jobs, all the better! My freelance writing career got started after I was unexpectedly paid for a guest post on a major personal finance website.
Pro Tip: Don’t get stuck in pro bono land for too long. You just need an example or two of your work being featured on an external website. After that, it’s time to get paid!
Step 4: Add Your First Paid Gigs
As you start to land paying clients, add the projects so you can build up your professional portfolio.
Just be sure you have the client’s permission to include the work. In some cases, they might not want to credit you as the creator.
This happens quite often in freelance writing, and it’s known as ghostwriting. The client will put their (or someone else’s) name on the finished product.
This can be good for your wallet (you might be able to get paid more in lieu of getting credit), but it’s not great as you try to create your freelance portfolio.
If you run into this, ask your client for a testimonial or review after the project is completed. You’ll at least be able to point to their satisfaction as a reason for future prospects to hire you.
Overall, it’s an exciting time! Your body of work is growing and your authority as a freelancer is solidifying.
Related Reading: How to Get Your First Freelance Clients on the Cheap
Step 5: Refine Your Freelance Portfolio Contents
As your business expands, your skills will improve, and you’ll take on bigger and better clients.
Your early gigs or school projects might no longer showcase your best work or align with your current vision and interests. Therefore, you should periodically take a critical eye to your portfolio and remove any items that don’t serve you (or your prospects!).
Pro Tip: Don’t delete anything completely (unless it’s really terrible)! You never know when it could come in handy in the future.
Step 6: Complete Ongoing Maintenance to Ensure an Optimal Professional Portfolio
Building your freelance portfolio is an indefinite process.
It’s a living collection that needs to be carefully curated and regularly updated so that it continues to win you the work that you love doing.
Confession time: I should probably take my own advice here. I’ve landed a couple of MAJOR clients since my last portfolio update!
No matter where you are in the portfolio building process – remember this one key thing: Your portfolio needs to be shared!
Be proud of what you’ve done so far and be excited about everything that’s to come.
The world needs your services. You need to show the world what you can do. So, build your portfolio, share it routinely, and the clients will come.
Tell me: What item(s) in your portfolio are you most proud of? Why?
Learn by listening? Download the podcast episode all about building that portfolio!