10 Tips for Generating a Great Freelance Portfolio

(This is a guest article by Angelita Williams*)

Landing freelance jobs can feel like a catch-22: you can't land them without work samples, but you can't get work samples without the jobs. This is why it's important to make sure your freelance portfolio is as polished and impressive as you can make it. Every freelance assignment you complete, no matter how small, can be vital to increasing your experience, broadening your skill set, and making your body of work that much more attractive to your next employer. Here are a few ways to maximize the impact of your freelance portfolio and drum up new work as a result.

  1. Keep it simple. Your online portfolio isn't designed to be an all-encompassing site that tells potential employers your life story. It's ideally a streamlined, clear, easy-to-navigate home for your work, whether you're a writer, designer, photographer, or do anything that can be excerpted and displayed visually. Your freelance portfolio is your chance to showcase your work with an emphasis on clarity and impact. Don't clutter the pages with random information, and don't overdo the design. If you remember nothing else, remember this: you have to let your work speak for itself.

  2. Focus on your skill. It's rare to find a successful freelancer who advertises herself or himself as a master of all trades. If you're a photographer, don't make a pitch for your web design skills; if you're a writer, don't go on about how you dabble in graphic art. Your portfolio is designed to sell your ability, and that means you need to devote your energy to promoting your main activity. If you get hired to do a job, then you can begin to put out feelers with your employer and let them know what else you're capable of doing. Until then, it's all about the big guns.

  3. Proofread everything. If you use "definately," you will definitely not get hired. Grammar isn't just the domain of sticklers and English teachers; if you want to impress potential employers, it's vital that your portfolio reflects the professional demeanor and skill you're trying to project. Misspelled words and sloppy writing will only prove that you didn't care enough about the details to bother checking them, and that sends a terrible message to hiring managers. It's not just about the spelling, but about what it says about you.

  4. Keep your work updated. Every time you complete a job, evidence of that work along with relevant samples should be added to your portfolio. Keeping your body of work updated can feel like a full-time in itself, but remember, every job you do will help you when it comes to the next one. It's true that you don't want to overload your portfolio -- it's designed to be an example of you at your best, not you in total. Still, as you progress, it's important to make sure your portfolio reflects the amount of work you've been doing, especially if you've done good work for increasingly major employers.

  5. Don't ramble. Get to the point. You don't have to give a detailed back story for every work sample in your portfolio, just the basic facts about who hired you, what you did, and what you learned. When you begin speaking with a potential employer, you can fill in more of the little details that are appropriate in job interview settings. Until then, err on the side of minimalism.

  6. Highlight your personal info. This one's so obvious that people forget to do it. Your portfolio is designed to show off your work and get you hired, but that's not possible unless employers can easily locate your information. A brief "About Me" page is all you need to discuss who you are, what you do, and how you can be reached. This is where you can talk a little about yourself and really sell yourself to potential employers.

  7. Make yourself easy to hire. Piggybacking on the previous tip, you need to make the hiring process as easy as possible for those looking at your freelance portfolio. Build in a simple block of information with a header like "Here's how to hire me" on your bio page, and provide handy links there, as well as contact info, on the home page, as well. You want an employer or hiring manager to be able to move seamlessly from viewing your work to sending you an e-mail or arranging a phone call. The harder they have to hunt, the less likely you are to get the job. When designing your portfolio, ask yourself, "How easy is it for newcomers to find out how to hire me?" Let the answer guide your design.

  8. Emphasize your diversity. It's a good idea to showcase how your skills have been applied across a variety of jobs. For instance, if you're a web designer, offer samples of sites for personal business, major corporations, blogs, and more. This lets employers know you can work at the professional level in multiple areas while also maintaining a core sensibility and skill level.

  9. Talk about your experience. It's a smart idea to include with your work samples a brief description of what you did and what you might have learned. You don't have to be blunt about it or say "I learned how to do this task on this job," but it's wise to discuss principles you applied. For instance, a freelance writer might discuss how market research played a role in tailoring content to an audience, which lets employers know you're able to solve problems and take proper initiative.

  10. Don't sell ads. Everyone needs money, but the portfolio brings in cash through jobs, not ads. This is your professional home online and a chance to create a package of your best work. You cheapen that immensely by selling ads against the content. Think of your portfolio like a business card; it's something you invest in knowing it will bring in work down the road. Keep your portfolio clean, ad-free, and focused on your work, and the money will follow on its own.

*About the author: This guest post is contributed by Angelita Williams, who writes on the topics of online college courses. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: angelita.williams7 @gmail.com.

*Image Credit: Photograph by cirox [via Flickr Creative Commons]

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