Convert Your Freelance Work into Portfolio Success

As a freelancer, you know that you need to have a variety of things in place in order to successfully manage and grow your business. You need a strong professional reputation, for starters. You need an accounting system all sorted out, organized, and ready to go. And, well—perhaps most importantly—you need clients.

It’s that last part that tends to trip most freelancers up. How can you find and land high-quality gigs? What exactly do you need to do to attract those clients that you’re so eagerly waiting for?

Well, it all starts with your freelance secret weapon, of course: A solid and impressive portfolio of your work.

So, Why is Your Portfolio a Big Deal?

Let’s say you were looking for someone to build you a new house. When looking at your different options, there are likely a few things you’ll consider. You might do some digging to find various reviews of that builder. Or, maybe you’ll compare pricing structure.

But, the thing that is most likely to sway your decision is sure to be the examples that builder showcases of his or her previous work. What other homes have been completed, and what do they look like? Do they meet your expectations?

As a freelancer, you might not be pouring foundations and hanging drywall. But, a portfolio of your work is still just as important.

Think about it this way: Anyone can say how well they do something. However, being able to put your money where your mouth is to show how well you do it is another story entirely.

And, that’s exactly where your portfolio comes into play—it provides concrete proof of how great you are at your craft. Thus, it’s an undeniably important part of building your professional brand as a freelancer and ultimately attracting more valuable clients.

Alright, you get it. Your portfolio is important. But, if you haven’t ever put one together before, what sorts of considerations do you need to make? Follow these four steps, and you’ll pull together a sampling of work that’s bound to impress.

1: Define Your Audience

Let’s go back to our home builder as an example. Bob’s a builder who wants to specialize in building custom homes over 4,000 square feet for wealthy clients. So, would it make sense if his portfolio showcased a bunch of modest and affordable ranch homes? Probably not.

Before ever picking any pieces for your portfolio, it’s important to take some time to identify who exactly you’re trying to target. What sorts of clients do you want to attract more of?

In our Welcome to Your Independence freelancing handbook, we recommend three key questions to help you identify your ideal client:

  • Out of the clients I’ve most enjoyed working with, what was a common thread between them? Business size? Industry?
  • What is my passion? Is there a specific type of content I like to write, subject I like to photograph, or website I like to build?
  • Of the clients I’ve disliked, what traits did they have in common? What didn’t I like about them?

Once you have that sorted out, you’ll want to showcase work that is most likely to appeal to that type of client. For example, if you’re a freelance writer who wants to mainly work on website copy, you’re better off showcasing some previous website projects—rather than that in-depth piece you wrote about the destruction of the rainforests.

Yes, you want your portfolio to be a sampling of your very best work. But, in the end, it’s better for you (and your business) if it has a somewhat clear focus as well.

2: Choose Your Best Work

As mentioned (and, of course, this should be painfully obvious), you want your portfolio to highlight your very best work. This will be a key resource in attracting more clients—which is a lot easier to do if you have an assortment of high quality, impressive samples to showcase.

So, one you’ve narrowed down exactly what sorts of projects and pieces you want to include, narrow that pool down just a little bit further. In fact, aim to cut it in half. That way, you’ll be left with the work that you consider to be the cream of the crop.

Remember, your portfolio doesn’t need to be massive. In fact, it’s better to have a smaller variety of really strong pieces than it is to have a vast array of mediocre work. This is one of those instances when the cliché “quality over quantity” rule applies.

3: Don’t Neglect Visual Appeal

While the word “portfolio” might immediately invoke visions of a leather booklet with glossy sheet protectors, that might not necessarily ring true anymore. In today’s digital age, it’s more than likely that your portfolio will be kept online—on your freelance website, if you have one.

Whether you’re putting it together yourself or have hired someone to do it for you, it can be all too easy to get wrapped up in all of the bells and whistles you can include on your site. However, it’s important that you keep in mind that there only needs to be one star of the show: Your work.

So, make sure that your portfolio is visually appealing (you don’t want anything too cluttered or busy!) and easy to navigate. The simpler it is to look through, the more likely people are to actually do so!

4: Include Testimonials

Alright, perhaps this is a bit of a cheater tip—you don’t need to include testimonials with your portfolio. But, there’s no denying that they can be a powerful marketing tactic and an awesome compliment to your body of work.

Word of mouth marketing is incredibly effective—particularly in the freelance arena. And, if you’re brimming with all sorts of compliments from past clients, you might as well showcase them! As we say in our Welcome to Your Independence ebook, “Happy clients are your best weapon as a freelancer. The world is small, and satisfied clients are the perfect people to provide testimonials for your service and refer you to their own connections.”

Depending on what your digital portfolio ends up looking like, you could include a simple quote from a specific client along with the particular piece you’re showcasing. Or, you could establish a completely separate section dedicated to testimonials.

Whatever way you decide to go is up to you. But, if you have the capability, including praise from previous clients is never a bad idea. Prospects will trust the words of your past customers way more than they’ll trust anything you have to say—it’s human nature.

When it comes to marketing your freelance services to new clients, your portfolio is one of the most powerful tools you can keep in your freelance toolbelt—as long as you have a solid one.  Use these four key tips, and you’re sure to pull together a sampling of work that will impress even the pickiest of clients.   Good luck!

Kat Boogaard

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