By Carl Heaton

Having a portfolio is essential in order to attract new clients. After all, how will anyone know if they want to hire you if they have no idea what you can do?

Learning how to create a portfolio may seem daunting, especially if you don’t have any serious work under your belt yet.
It’s a bit of a catch 22 – you need work to create a portfolio, but you need the portfolio to get the work.

So what to do?

Don’t throw your hand up in defeat just yet, we have the low down and exact steps you need to follow to create a dazzling portfolio that announces to your potential clients: “I am here! Look what I can do! Hire me now!”

In this article, we’ll be taking you step by step through the process of creating your own portfolio.

What Is A Portfolio And Why Do You Need One?

A portfolio is a collection of all of your best work. It should show how diverse you are, what your strengths are, and what you are capable of doing.

In times gone by, it would have been a thick folder of the printed paper that you would have to haul around with you when you went to have meetings with potential clients. Thankfully in this day and age, we can have everything online, including our portfolios.

 The nature of a portfolio is that it is always a work in progress – Anon

So why do you need a portfolio anyway? Can’t you just connect with people who need a service, and get them to hire you?
Well, no.

As with everything in this day and age, people want to see what they are buying. No one is going to hire you and pay you without seeing what you can do first. When we used to apply for jobs and have to go for interviews, our CV’s introduced us and gave potential employers an idea of what we can do.

Portfolios do the same thing.

For a great example of a freelance web designer’s site, have a look at Mr. T, One of our past students. He has everything covered!

how to create a portfolio

a UX designer who loves creating intuitive digital experiences

They should include:

  • An introduction of who you are and a bit about your passions.
    Example: HI THERE CALL ME “T”, I’m a UX designer who loves creating intuitive digital experiences.
  • A variety of your work, clearly marked in sections. Have a link to your Projects, like this one here

showcase

  • An eye-catching front page, with your best work examples.
  • A bit of info about each project, why it looks the way it does, what the client wanted and how you solved their problems.
  • Client testimonials saying how great you are. For example:

    “Thanks to Thiti, our website is alive! You did a great job putting it together, we’ve been getting lots of compliments, our customers are loving the website. We are thrilled by the overall experience! Devon WuOwner – Karaket Garden”

  • A number of CTA’s (call to action) throughout your site indicating how potential clients can contact you.
  • A contact form where clients can give you an outline of what they need, and ask for a quotation. 

Step 1: Getting started on how to create a portfolio

The best way to get content for your portfolio is to go out there and create projects for yourself. Spend a few days looking at sites that interest you, and deciding how you would improve them. Practice your design skills and create portfolio content by redesigning them yourself.

Choose local ones, international ones, big ones, small ones, whatever catches your eye. Spend a few days getting inspiration by looking at all sorts of sites, and seeing if you can find their flaws.

Finding your niche is a great way to practice designing sites. What are you passionate about?

For example, maybe you love to cook?

Have a look at local restaurants or cooking sites and see if you can improve them.

Create your own site with your favourite recipes, and a bit about you, like a practice portfolio.

  • Jamie Oliver is a great example of a food website. Obviously, he is internationally known, but you could most definitely draw inspiration from his site should you be interested in building a food-related website.
  • Food 24 is a South African site that concentrates on recipes and techniques. You could look at sites like these and try to replicate them as practice.
  • Ian Kittichai is a local celebrity chef in Bangkok. Create a site of your own as if you were a chef just like him.

If you spot a restaurant site that REALLY needs work, you could re-do it as a project, and then even approach them to show them what they are missing out on.

Taking courses is another great way to get your portfolio off the ground.

Our Web Design Bootcamp is specially designed to address everything you need to know in order to become a successful freelance designer.

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You could also read our article on everything you need to know to become a web designer here.

Collecting Testimonials

Testimonials are essential.

I cannot stress this enough.

Most people these days check something out and read reviews before they commit to it. Whether it is a restaurant, a product they bought online, or a service provider, people want to know what other people thought of them. You will need real testimonials for your website in order to persuade potential clients that you are good at what you do. Mr T. has some great examples of client testimonials at the bottom of his page, below his work and personal projects.

testimonials

So what exactly do testimonials do for you?

  • Build trust between you and potential clients.
  • Prove that you have created real-life solutions for real-life people and that they loved them.
  • Improve your authority and standing. Newbies are often viewed with hesitance, but if you have some great reviews from authoritative figures in your niche, then you will be immediately more credible to potential clients.
  • They showcase your niche. This will attract a certain type of client that you want. If we use our food example, testimonials from restaurants of local chefs will attract more restaurants and people in the food industry.

How to Ask for A Testimonial

Asking for a testimonial may not be as easy as you expect. It could present you with an awkward situation, and irritate clients which could potentially put them off you for future work. Here are 4 great awkward-free ways to get the golden words that you need for your website.

1) Set up an interview at the end of the project, and record it.
2) Use a form creating software like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to capture your client’s feelings, and present them to them once you are finished.

survey monkey

3) Do a quick Zoom video meet with the clients, after explaining to them what your intentions are.
4) Suggest a testimonial swop. If we use the food example from before, you could always do a review for a restaurant or business that you created the site for, and in turn, they could do one for you.

Step 3: Choose A Platform to Create your Portfolio

Now that you have some idea of how to begin, you need a place to host your portfolio.
There is no point in creating a whole bunch of PDFs on your computer and emailing them to people, no one wants to see that! These days you will need a fully online portfolio.
I recommend two ways to go about this:

Pro’s:

  • Reflects your own personal tastes and skills.
  • You have full control over all of its workings.
  • It helps you to practice and hone your skills.

Con’s:

  • You will have to host it somewhere and keep up with hosting costs.
  • It’s a lot more work than a site like Behance.

Using Behance to Create an Online Portfolio

Is a great, free site on which to host your portfolio. It has a lot of options that you can personalise, but ultimately you will have to fit into their template. One of the great things about Behance is that once your portfolio is done, it’s done, You don’t have to pay hosting fees or do anything other than update it with new work. Looking at our example of a food niche, Behance can be used to not only showcase your work but like and follow other designer’s work in your niche. This can be used to get inspiration as well as compare your work to others in your field.

behance

Behance is a social media platform owned by Adobe “to showcase and discover creative work”.

Pro’s:

  • Easy to use
  • One of the biggest portfolio sites in the world, with millions of projects
  • Can link you to other designers in your field
  • Can be either free or paid with more features
  • Link your portfolio to your social accounts

Con’s:

  • Less freedom to do what you want than with your own site.
  • You will have to compress all work before it can be uploaded.
  • As it is a site with a set layout, all portfolios can look a bit uniform.
  • Not branded to your particular brand, you can only use your logo to make yourself recognisable.
  • Portfolio sites mostly do not come with your own email address.
  • You cannot set up your own SEO for your projects.
  • As the site is used by many other designers, the flip side of having a community to connect with is that there is a lot of noise from your competitors who are just as accessible as you are.

Quick and Easy Portfolios with Dunked

is still a pretty new site, with only about 70,000 users. This means that it may go through a few bugs before it reaches its final incarnation, but it also gives you a chance to get in on the ground floor.

Dunked site

From designers and photographers to artists and illustrators, they’ve helped more than 100,000 talented people across the world craft beautiful, online portfolios.

Pro’s:

  • Easy to use
  • Loads of preset templates.
  • Can link you to other designers in your field.
  • Can be either free or paid with more features.
  • Uploads a variety of file types including video.

Con’s:

  • Less freedom to do what you want than with your own site.
  • As it is a site with a set layout, all portfolios can look a bit uniform.
  • Not branded to your particular brand, you can only use your logo to make yourself recognisable.
  • Portfolio sites mostly do not come with your own email address.
  • You cannot set up your own SEO for your projects.
  • As the site is used by many other designers, the flip side of having a community to connect with is that there is a lot of noise from your competitors who are just as accessible as you are.

Online Portfolio sites for Photographers; Folio HD

concentrates on big images to capture attention. It has both a paid and a free version.

Folio HD website

Great for photographers, models, architects, interior designers, makeup artists and more.

Pro’s:

  • Easy to use
  • Loads of preset templates.
  • Can link you to other designers in your field.
  • Can be either free or paid with more features.
  • Ability to link your portfolio to a blog.
  • Link to Social Media to easily share your portfolio.

Con’s:

  • Less freedom to do what you want than with your own site
  • As it is a site with a set layout, all portfolios can look a bit uniform.
  • Not branded to your particular brand, you can only use your logo to make yourself recognizable with no real way to stand out.
  • Portfolio sites mostly do not come with your own email address.
  • You cannot set up your own SEO for your projects.
  • As the site is used by many other designers, the flip side of having a community to connect with is that there is a lot of noise from your competitors who are just as accessible as you are.

eCommerce Powered Platform Portfoliobox

is one of the biggest and boldest display portfolio sites available. It offers an e-commerce option as well as a linked blog and the usual gallery.

Portfolio Box image

With Portfoliobox you are not forced to use a standard theme. You can use any style for any page and create a truly unique website that reflects you and your work. More than 1 000 000 websites have been created with Portfoliobox – All of them unique!

Pro’s:

  • Able to use a lot of different aspects interchangeably like building blocks.
  • Can link you to other designers in your field.
  • Can be either free or paid with more features.
  • Ability to link your portfolio to a blog.
  • Link to Social Media to easily share your portfolio.

Con’s:

  • Not as easy to use, the interface can be rather clunky.
  • Less freedom to do what you want than with your own site.
  • As it is a site with a set layout, all portfolios can look a bit uniform.
  • Not branded to your particular brand, you can only use your logo to make yourself recognisable with no real way to stand out.
  • Portfolio sites mostly do not come with your own email address.
  • You cannot set up your own SEO for your projects.
  • As the site is used by many other designers, the flip side of having a community to connect with is that there is a lot of noise from your competitors who are just as accessible as you are.

Free Hosting and Unlimited Portfolio Pages with Adobe Portfolio

is included free in Adobe Creative Cloud plans. As the world’s leading professional design software, Adobe has made it that much easier for designers to showcase their work through their very own platform.

Adobe Portfolio Website

Quickly and simply build a personalized website to showcase your creative work with Adobe Portfolio. Now included free with any Creative Cloud subscription.

Pro’s:

  • Free templates available for a custom layout.
  • Multi-page responsive layout (just like a website!).
  • Easily import your design projects from Behance.
  • Includes your own personalized “.myportfolio” domain (Eg: https://danakingery.myportfolio.com/) or connect to a domain that you already own.

Con’s:

  • Templates limit layout and functionality options
  • SEO limitations
  • Only “Free” if you already pay for a Creative Cloud subscription.

Demonstrate Your Expertise

Once you have practiced a bit and decided where you are going to host your portfolio, it’s time to flex your creative muscle. Demonstrating what you can do is best done when you have picked a niche. Like I mentioned earlier, a niche (article link) is often something that you are passionate about yourself. Let’s go back to our food site example.

You have looked at countless food sites, Pinterest boards, Restaurant sites, and even professional chef sites. So much so that they now run through your brain when you sleep. Your next step is to create one yourself. Choose the best aspects from every site that you liked, and compile them into one great site about the food subject of your choice. A nice way to do this is to create a site for yourself, pretending that you are a client. Build a chef site for you, the chef. Include recipes, work experience, everything that a real client would look for in a website.

Make sure that you cover every step of the way with your new “client” in order to really bring the project to life for your portfolio:

  • Create a brief.
  • Define client goals for the site.
  • Pin relevant colour samples, images, mood boards, etc.
  • Do a mind map of the site.
  • Wiremap the site.
  • Build the site using the UX and UI development stages: user research, design testing, and implementation.

You can even include these in your portfolio as an example of how you follow your creative process and give clients an idea of what to expect.
If you want to brush up on your UX and UI skills, try out this course here.

Step 5: Keep Your Portfolio Up To Date

This may sound like a no-brainer, but you absolutely MUST keep your portfolio up to date.
As soon as you have new work that is good enough to be added, do so.

Add new projects as soon as they are done.
Obviously, once you have many going works, you should weed out the inferior ones.
If you get testimonials from clients, make sure that your portfolio is updated to include their related projects.

Make sure that you share your portfolio with your Social Media business accounts at least every second day. Every Friday, when you update the week’s work, do a special post that followers can come to expect.

To go back to our food example: “This week I helped Betty Delicious get her name on the food map! Here is a quick taste to whet your appetite. Check out her full works on my portfolio!”

A constantly moving and updated portfolio is much more likely to be seen than a static one.
As we all know, the Great and Powerful Google also likes sites that are continually being updated and will rank them higher.
Also, if clients do come across your portfolio and see that the last time you updated it was ages ago, they are much more likely to pass on your work.

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Step 6: Set Aside Time Every Week To Work On Your Portfolio

Take the time on a Friday afternoon to work on your portfolio for a few hours.

Summarise the week’s work, add what is needed, and tweak bits that you think may need a bit of work.

If the site is your own, then you will have much more work to do on it than if you are using a platform like Behance.
Either way, you need to set aside time once a week to work on and update your portfolio. Friday afternoons from 3 pm to 5 pm are always great for colluding the week’s work into your portfolio.

Try and stick to this.
The more often you let it slide, the more often it will begin to happen.
Before you know it you will have gone down a slippery slope where you haven’t actually looked at your portfolio in months, and updating it is now a major job.

Step 7: Sharing Your Portfolio To Potential Clients

Having a portfolio is totally necessary, but pretty useless if you can’t get it out there to potential clients.
Sharing it can be super easy, especially if you are using a platform such as Behance, which allows you to share links to your social media accounts.

  1. Create a business Facebook or Instagram page, and link your portfolio to it. If you have your own site, you can still link a website to your social media.
  2. Create a post at least every second day on your social media accounts linking to your portfolio.
  3. Pick and choose the best images from your work to share on your social media.
  4. Tag people and other business pages that you follow who may be interested in your work.

In Conclusion

Portfolios are all about showing off.
Don’t be shy to shout your achievements as loud as you can, this isn’t the time to be modest.
Aim to really impress anyone who comes across your portfolio, and dazzle them so much that they don’t even look further for a designer.

In summary:

  • If you don’t have any real client work to show yet, don’t panic.
  • Find your niche by deciding what interests you.
  • Create your own projects by building websites that suit your niche as a practice.
  • Take the time to practice and hone your skills, and build an amazing portfolio that shows off your talents to your best advantage.
  • Keep your portfolio up to date at all times!
  • Create a business account on as many social media platforms as possible.
  • Share your work at least every second day on your business social media accounts.
  • Tag people and businesses that may help you to get the word out.

Good luck!

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carl68

About The Author

Carl

He is our senior instructor and originally from Manchester UK. Carl teaches our Web Design and Online Marketing Courses.