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There’s nothing more demoralising than finding the perfect job and then coming across the dreaded “please send your portfolio” line.
I mean, it’s fine for seasoned freelancers who have a good stack of work behind them to send through. But what about those who are just starting out? What about those who have nothing to show except enthusiasm and sheer determination?
The truth is, most freelancing job ads will absolutely want to see your portfolio, or at the very least a couple of examples of your work.
Why? Because they want to know that you can do what you say you can, and that your work is the right fit for them.
And, when there’s a bucket-load and then some of competition out there, you’re going to need everything you’ve got to stand hand and shoulders above the rest.
Have I scared you yet? I hope not!
Because in actual fact, there are ways you can create a dazzling portfolio without ever having been paid for a piece of work (a.k.a. never having a client).
That’s right, with precisely zilch experience, you can start landing jobs you’ve always dreamed of simply by creating an awesome freelancer portfolio.
If you’re still struggling to figure out what niche to focus your portfolio on, grab your free copy of high paying niches with examples!
Let’s get stuck in, shall we?!
#1 Create Bespoke Pieces
This is the number one piece of advice I give budding freelancers who come to me for help. If you’re anything like them, you want to know how the heck you can start getting work without a single snippet of evidence to show you’re capable and willing.
The answer? Create bespoke pieces in the niches you want to work in and for imaginary companies that match your ideal client profile.
At this point, you want to create 2-3 pieces of content that show off your skillset, which means adding a little diversity to your offerings.
If you’re a writer, you could create a blog post, a piece of landing page copy, and a couple of social media blurbs. If you’re a designer, you could create a logo, a piece of print collateral, and a mock-up webpage.
Start by thinking about:
- Who your ideal client is: what is their style, tone, and philosophy?
- What kind of work you want to do: is it online content writing? Logo designing? Brand development?
- Where your skills lie: your freelancer portfolio is a selection of your best work, so make sure your skills shine through in the best light
The most important thing? Think about it as if you had been given a brief. Think about the aims of your pieces and how they would help your hypothetical client.
#2 Guest Post
Guest posting is not only a great way to get a collection of portfolio pieces together, but it’s also a superb way to get your name out there in front of an audience that might otherwise have missed you.
The byline from a guest post I did for MirandaNahmias.com
I’ve written more guest posts than I can count in the past year, each of which has exposed me to a new audience and has added to my freelancer portfolio.
The best part? I’ve managed to slip into a whole new niche, where I’ve built up a freelancer portfolio of relevant clippings simply by guest posting.
This time last year, I predominantly wrote travel pieces. I soon realised that the pay was minimal in this industry, and I actually enjoyed writing about marketing and online business more (and I had previous job experience in these areas). However, I had very few (if any) samples in this niche, which meant it was difficult for me to stand out to potential clients.
So I started guest posting on relevant sites and slowly began to gather a relevant body of samples that I could send to clients.
Start guest posting by:
- Identifying the niche you want to work in and collating a list of relevant sites that write about it (you can use tools like BuzzSumo to help you out here)
- Connecting with the site owners via social media or email
- Pitching one or two key ideas that would be a good fit for the site AND your portfolio
- Write your best content – remember, this is for your freelancer portfolio, so only the best of the best make the cut!
An email I sent Krista Rae about guest blogging
#3 Get Blogging
When I first started freelancing, I had absolutely zero client experience. I’d never worked to a brief and I hadn’t been paid for a piece of writing.
But I did have a trick up my sleeve. I’d been travel blogging for almost three years, which meant I had a whole host of posts I could share with potential employers. I’d not only written hundreds of travel-related posts on my blog, but I’d also written guest posts for other sites and started to grow a name for myself in the industry.
A lot of freelancers overlook their blog as a chance to showcase their skills because it’s such a personal endeavour. However, it can be THE best place to show potential clients your skills, dedication, and knowledge on a specific topic.
If you want to use your blog to land clients, I’ve got the perfect thing for you right here.
#4 Use Your Website
If you’re serious about freelancing, I’m assuming you’ve got a website on the go. You know, one that shows who you are, what you do, and that you’re open for business, right?!
Whether you’re a designer, a blogger, a writer, or an artist, this is the perfect collateral to use in your freelancer portfolio.
You’ve probably designed the website yourself if you’re a designer, and you’ve probably crafted the copy yourself if you’re a writer.
Include this in your portfolio, as they are live samples of work that has, essentially, been “published” (even if they have only been published by you).
A snippet of copy from my freelancer portfolio website, LizzieDavey.com
Remember, most clients don’t care WHO you’ve worked with before, they just care about the skills you have and whether you can help them. They simply want to see a sample of what you can do to see if you could work well together.
#5 Offer Free Work
This is a contentious issue that’s been hotly debated for thousands of years (okay, maybe not that many, but still a lot). Should you work for free?
My answer to this is always: it depends.
I believe it’s okay to work for free if YOU’RE benefitting from the exchange as well as the client. For example, in this case, you’d be getting a sample piece for your portfolio – win-win, right?
This shouldn’t be a long-term strategy, though. Once you’ve collected one or two pieces, start charging for what you can offer – after all, you have proof that you’re awesome at what you do now.
Where to find free work:
- Ask a local business owner: identify an awesome small business in your area that matches your niche and offer to create something for them for free
- Reach out to a blogger you admire and offer to help them out with something for free
- Create work for a non-profit: not only will you be gaining something for your freelancer portfolio, but you’ll also be helping out a great cause
Sidenote: At this point, working for free is better than working for pennies. Why? Because a lot of the low-paying gigs you find on UpWork, Craiglist and the likes won’t let you use the work you create in your freelancer portfolio.
Most of this will be “ghost” work, which means it will be published or used under the name of the company and, more often than not, you’ll have to sign something that says you’re not allowed to talk about it anywhere (including your freelancer portfolio).
The Logistics of Creating a Freelancer Portfolio that Rocks
How Many Pieces Should I Have?
You want to aim to have at least 3 pieces you can send to potential clients, as I’ve found this is the usual amount they go for.
These could be created through a variety of the methods mentioned above (and I’m betting you probably already have three samples sitting somewhere on your blog, website, or hard drive, right?!).
If you see a job you really want to go for but have nothing relevant, you can always add a bespoke piece to your freelancer portfolio before you apply – every little helps!
How Should I Lay Out My Portfolio?
I’ve seen hundreds of portfolios all laid out in different ways. Some are simple lists, others are well-designed artistic pieces (almost like artworks in themselves!).
It completely depends on the kind of client you want to attract, what pieces you have, and your web skills.
The most important thing to remember is that your freelancer portfolio is easy to navigate and clear for clients to read. Use lots of white space and, if possible, break it down into sections where you can put separate styles of work or different projects.
A Final Note…
While your freelancer portfolio will be pivotal in whether you land gigs or not, it’s not ALWAYS about the work you’ve done before.
In fact, a large part of client acquisition depends on your personality and whether you’re a good fit for the brand. It depends on how you present yourself in your emails and pitches. It depends on your past experience and hobbies. It depends on your rates, your availability, and your turnaround time.
There are so many other factors at play, but if you’ve got your freelancer portfolio on point, you’ll stress less about the other elements.
I’d love to see your portfolio! Share how you built yours in the comments below.