Ten Tips to Improve your Freelance Portfolio

written by aext on March 29, 2010 in Freelance & Business and Web Design with 48 comments

Making a supplemental living or going pro with freelancing online requires a specific skill set–and a toolbox containing all manner of special tricks and techniques.  Building your toolbox while refining your skills comprise a fair amount of the work involved in creating a freelancing career, and one of the most important items in your toolbox is your portfolio. A great freelance portfolio should highlight your talents and give potential clients a meaningful way to choose you amongst your competitors–something that can be especially critical during your first few months, but which will remain important as you develop your reputation and experience.

As with many aspects of freelancing, creating a great portfolio doesn’t come with a standard manual or guidebook. It’s up to you to present yourself and your work with clarity and to express your value to others. But there are certainly many tips you can use to help structure and supplement your portfolio, and you’ll find some of the best below.

1. Include a profile picture.

This is simple but can be an intimidating profile element for some freelancers, and many choose to leave this feature out of their portfolios. Being able to “put a face with a name,” however, has always been important in business, and it’s just as powerful online. There’s no rule declaring you have to use a professional shot either! An expressive candid is just as worthy of a thousand words.

2. Diversify your pieces.

The idea that you should show a range of talents, rather than tightening your presentation into a narrow category, is often missed in freelance portfolios. Show off your principle talents, but work towards a broadness that gives clients a sense of your professional scope.

3. Let your portfolio grow with you.

Too often, freelance portfolios are created and then never touched again. Update your portfolio regularly with new pieces or more relevant information about you and your professional directions.

4. Keep your text short.

For some freelancers, this will be a piece of cake–not everyone is prone to waxing endlessly about their work. But for others, keeping the clamps on portfolio text is a challenge, and one that must be overcome. Spending too much space on unnecessary text can quickly lead clients to hit the back button or send you a “tl;dr” message (“Too long; didn’t read”).

5. Keep your pieces pruned.

Just as it’s important to avoid drowning your viewers in text, it’s also a good idea to restrict your portfolio pieces to a handful of choice examples. It’s tempting, sometimes, to throw up everything of which you’re proud or which has received good feedback, but too many examples can make your profile look cumbersome.

6. Be a Grammar Nazi (or Ninja).

In many online venues, it’s perfectly forgivable to commit the occasional spelling error or mix your “theres” with your “they’res” and “theirs”. Your freelance portfolio is not one of them. Check, double-check, and triple-check your profile copy to ensure it’s squeaky clean, and have it edited professionally if you have any further doubts.

7. Spend time with your titles.

The first few sentences of your portfolio, along with other headings, comprise some of the most important elements on the page. Don’t rush through them! Think about their ability to “grab” viewers and make modifications when you have fresh ideas.

8. Use an original voice.

You can find plenty of formulaic suggestions for putting together just about any document, but these often fall short of making any lasting impression on potential clients. Have some fun with your portfolio and let it bring out your personality–not your familiarity with standard industry speak.

9. Tame keywords.

Stuffing your portfolio with buzzwords might help draw a few extra visitors to your page, but it’s not likely to do much for you once they’ve arrived. It’s fine to work in the occasional keyword, but avoid setting a percentage standard or insisting on filling your headings with them.

10. Make your references count.

Nice compliments you’ve gotten from former employers or colleagues may seem like natural portfolio embellishments, but unless they have the substance and the authority to say something meaningful to your new visitors, they’re best left behind.

Wrapping up…

Taking these tips into account during the portfolio creation process, you’re more likely to attract potential clients and bypass the pitfalls that many freelancers first encounter. Above all, take a relaxed yet committed approach to this important staple of your freelancing toolbox; if you treat it right with thought and attention, it will reward you for years to come.