How to create a portfolio that sells

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Did you know that I’m also a freelance graphic designer? I’d been designing my own logos, and branding materials for years for various blogs and businesses that I’ve owned- but I only started freelancing a year ago. My first year of freelancing has been more than I could have dreamed of- and that’s why I love sharing what I’ve learned here on The Blog Loft. It really can be a dream job- and although I’m sure I have lots to learn, I’ve got a year on someone who’s trying to start from scratch so I’m happy to be able to share my experience!

Today I’m going to talk about your portfolio. Whether you are a freelance graphic designer, photographer, or web designer- your portfolio is your product.

Since you’re selling your clients a service and a product that is invisible until it’s complete, the only reference they have to what they’re actually getting is your portfolio. When someone sees your work, what do you want them to know about you as a designer? For me, it’s that I do simple designs that have a visual impact. I want my entire portfolio to reflect the kind of work I do, so that my clients know who and what they’re getting when they hire me.

So not only do you want your portfolio to, you know, look good and stuff, but you want it to become your best marketing tool. That means doing quality work that you’re proud of, and making it super easy for your followers, fans, and readers to support you. Here are a few things I’ve learned about creating a portfolio that sells.

  • Put your best work first and last. People are more likely to remember the first and last bits of any information they recieve- that’s why in a fashion show the first and last looks are always the strongest- the designer planned it that way so you would feel really blown away from beginning to end.
  • Don’t show work that you don’t love. When you’re first starting out, it is tempting to fill your portfolio with every piece of work you’ve ever done in order to look more experienced. Look at every piece of work that you put into your portfolio from the client’s perspective and ask yourself “Would I hire this person?”
  • Make it shareable. You want your followers, fans, and readers to have easy access to share buttons that will help them promote you. The goal is to get your work in front of a bigger audience through other people who admire what you do. People are more likely to purchase something if it is recommended by a friend or trusted source. You don’t want to be the only one out there tooting your own horn!
  • Keep it simple. When it comes to design and photography portfolios, the work should take center stage. Neutral colors go with everything and so they’re perfect for showing off design or photography. I talked in this post about how I like to use dark gray instead of pure black because it has a softer effect while still being perceived as black.
  • Get an outsider’s opinion. Ask your most honest friend what they think of your portfolio, the work you’re showing, the layout, and where you could improve. Ask your ego to step outside for a moment and listen to what they have to say. As artists, we’re really attached to our art, and sometimes, we forget to look at things from a client’s perspective. It can be hard to hear those honest opinions- but you get over it after a while. Someone who’s not sitting in the designer seat and can give you their honest opinion is is a valuable asset- not an insult to your talent.
  • Include a call to action. Don’t let them leave without giving them the next step- hiring you! A call to action can be the difference between someone going “Oh, that’s nice” and someone clicking on your contact page and sending you a message! Make it large, noticeable, and (obviously) pretty!

A Few tools I used for building my portfolio:

  • Final Tiles Gallery Plugin : This plugin makes creating a beautiful gallery layout really easy, and the paid version includes share buttons that make it really easy for my readers to share my work! The plugin has built in JS effects so that when viewers scroll, they see the gallery items pop up- a really cool effect that adds visual interest and stimulation. For me, it was a no brainer $18 investment.
  • Business card mockups : This is such a huge time saver for me, and I am so grateful to the people with the patience to create these things! If you’ve never used a mockup before- beware: they are addicting and make your work look awesome with a few simple clicks in Photoshop. Basically someone takes a nice photo of some business cards (or computers, wine bottles, coffee mugs, you name it) and makes a smart layer in Photoshop that grabs the perspective of the content in the photo. So all you have to do is copy and paste your design into this smart layer and boom! You’ve got a photo of your business cards! Definitely beats having them printed, or having your clients mail samples to you!
  • Pinterest hover button: I use the jQuery Pin It Button For Images a free plugin that adds a pin it button over your images when someone’s mouse hovers over it. This tool has been so valuable in bringing Pinterest traffic and new readers to my design blog. It makes it easy for viewers to share my work without having to think about it.


Tell me in the comments below: How do you market your portfolio, and where is there room for improvement?


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