Creating a Freelance Portfolio That Attracts Clients

This is a guest post by Amy Boyington.

Imposter syndrome got you down?

It's common in the world of freelancing to feel like you're faking it until you're making it. You see freelancers working with companies you dream of working with some day. They have the skills you have but seem to do everything ten times better to land those incredible projects.

How can you ever compete with that?

With an outstanding freelance portfolio, of course. Your online portfolio can be your most important selling point to potential clients who want proof that you can do what you say you can do.

Fortunately, creating your portfolio won't take days or weeks. You can sit down and have it up within a couple of hours with the help of this guide.

Frequently Asked Questions About Freelance Portfolios

First, let's get some of the most common questions about freelancing portfolios out of the way:

I have no samples. How can I build a portfolio without them?

People who are just starting their freelance career won't have client work to showcase on the portfolios, yet they'll usually need a sample or two to land clients. How can you get around this catch-22?

One way is to leverage any type of past experience you've had that can showcase your skills. If you're allowed, use samples from your previous job or quick projects you've helped your friends with. Whatever work shows the skills you're selling in some form is critical to include as a base for your starting portfolio.

You can also create samples. I don't suggest spending hours on a sample project that you won't get paid for. However, writing an in-depth tech article and posting it on your blog may be the only sample you need to win over a client in the tech industry.

The only samples I have are ones I'm not allowed to share. Now what?

Often, freelancers do have a lot of work under their belts, but contracts don't permit them to share the projects with others. In this case, you'll need to get a little more creative.

Gather testimonials about successful projects and post those on your portfolio. You might even write up a couple of case studies about the projects you've done and their results. Some clients might be okay with you sharing their name and scope of the project in the case study, but always check first.

What if my work isn't the "creative" type? How do I show samples of what I've done?

Screenshots are your friend (with permission from the client, of course).

If you're in a non-creative freelancing field like accounting or virtual assisting, it won't be as simple as posting your projects in your portfolio. But you might be able to take a screenshot of some of your in place of a document or link. You can also use case studies and testimonials as proof of your successes.

How many samples should I showcase?

You can have as many samples as you'd like on your portfolio, but make sure they're all super-relevant to the skills you're selling and only showcase your absolute best work. It's always better to have three or four outstanding, highly-specific samples than 25 so-so samples.

How to Create Your Freelance Portfolio

There are two main ways to get a freelance portfolio set up quickly:

  • Use a portfolio builder. These handy tools are often free to use with limited capability, or you can pay a monthly or annual fee to unlock all the features. You can set up a portfolio within a few minutes using a builder like Porfoliobox.
  • Get your own website. This process will take longer and cost more, but if you use a straightforward platform like Wix or WordPress, you can still move quickly. Building your own website gives you more control over the look and content of your portfolio and gives you the peace of mind knowing that it'll always be there.

If you're able to afford hosting and a domain name, I suggest going the website route. You can always build your website out further in the future to become the hub for your business and a key piece in marketing your services.

In a pinch, your LinkedIn profile can also serve as a makeshift portfolio. On it, be sure to include your past relevant work experience, a description of what you do, and any credentials you have.

What to Include in Your Freelance Portfolio

Once you have the bones of your portfolio set up, you'll need to build its content. Most importantly, it should feel like you, not that imposter you're worried about. Here are a few elements that are must-haves for drawing in clients and letting them know more about you and the work you do:

A Title That Clearly States Your Niche

Whether you use your website or a portfolio builder to create an online portfolio for your freelancing work, your title needs to be attention-grabbing. Potential clients should know exactly what you do—and in what industry you do it for—from the moment they visit.

If you're a freelance writer, then, you wouldn't want your title just to say "Freelance writer." There are too many forms of writing—technical, copywriting, journalism, etc.—for that title to be specific enough. Instead, make your title reflect the niche work you do, like "Copywriter for Health and Beauty Brands."

Your Education and Experience

Your diploma or coursework and past work experience can help shape your portfolio and samples. Not all clients will care if you graduated with a bachelor's degree, but some might if it has anything to do with the services you're selling.

You can use a short paragraph to describe your relevant education and work experience, if any, that might assist you in your freelancing work. Be sure also to list any awards, certifications, and other credentials that could make you stand out from other freelancers doing the same job.

Your Best Work Samples

Obviously, work samples are the meat of your portfolio. But they're only going to win over clients if they're outstanding, highly relevant, and easy to find.

Use your portfolio to showcase only the top 10% to 25% of your work samples. They should be the ones you love the most and have had the best feedback from clients. Make sure every example fits the niche you stated in your title.

You should also add a brief description to each sample that describes its purpose and results, if you have that information.

Testimonials and Mentions

Testimonials are a must for your portfolio if you don't have completed client work to share. Even if you do, adding testimonials to your samples can be a sure-fire way to win over a client who hasn't yet decided. After every completed project, you should ask the client for a couple of sentences about your collaboration. Store them in a file to add to your portfolio.

Adding press mentions, like if you were quoted in an article or mentioned as part of a case study, to your portfolio can also come in handy. It's more proof that you're a leader in your industry and builds a level of trust between you and potential clients.

A Call-to-Action and Contact Information

Finally, a call-to-action in your portfolio is something you can use to seal the deal. I recommend placing a button before the fold of your portfolio (i.e., before the client has to scroll) that links clients to your About or Contact page.

Then, add a clear call-to-action at the end of your portfolio with a few preferred methods of contact or a link to your Contact page. It can be as simple as a sentence guiding clients to email you or call you for a free quote or a quick call to discuss their needs.

Starting your freelance portfolio doesn't take much time. However, it's necessary for you to keep adding your best work to your portfolio as you complete more client projects. Treat it like a resume you'd use to apply for jobs and you'll find that it might become your most valuable marketing tool.

Amy Boyington is a freelance writer and blog manager for lifestyle entrepreneurs and businesses. After working a few unfulfilling 9 to 5 jobs, she took it upon herself to create a career path that meshed with her family life. She now works with clients all over the world in a flexible freelance career that helps her be both a businesswoman and mom to her two children.

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