Most freelancers don’t have a client converting freelance portfolio. I can safely say this after working with freelancers for more than a decade. Most freelancers think about their portfolio in a completely wrong way, and it’s not their fault.
As freelancers, most of us went to school to learn our craft, not how to run a business. So, if I’m a freelance writer, I went to school and learned from writers, not business people. If I’m a freelance designer, I learned from designers, not entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, what most people learn about portfolios in college is flawed. You were trained to build a portfolio for a job interview — not to attract clients. So, your portfolio is probably a place where you show of your best work, highlight your most jaw-dropping projects, and really boast about your talent.
You. You. You.
But working a job at a company is very different from running a service business. When you’re building a portfolio to grow your freelance business (as opposed to getting a 9 to 5), you have to change everything around.
With hard work and persistence, you can turn this job interview showcase into a converting freelance portfolio – a client-generating machine.
I’ve seen freelancers do it. I’ve studied them. And I’ve learned what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to using your portfolio to win new clients. In addition to searching freelance jobs sites for new opportunities, you’ll find clients eventually coming to you through your client-grabbing portfolio site.
Let’s dive in. Here’s how to turn your freelance portfolio into a client-getting machine.
It’s a tragedy just how many freelancers I work with all the time who, when pressed with why they’re not actively promoting their freelance business, come back with this excuse:
“My portfolio isn’t ready yet.”
It’s awful. So many freelancers-to-be never get to experience the enviable freelance lifestyle because they’re hoping to build the world’s most amazing portfolio before they ever start trying to get clients.
That’s a huge mistake. I recommend you start with a “Minimum Viable Portfolio.”
This is the bare-bones version of your dream portfolio. It has no bells or whistles, it’s just efficient. It gets the job done. And best of all, it only takes a few days (max) instead of a few months or years to get up and running online.
Speaking practically, this might mean building it on Squarespace or Wix instead of hiring a developer or coding it yourself. It might mean including only 2-3 projects instead of 10. It could mean putting everything on one page (which I recommend in some cases anyway) instead of having multiple pages.
The goal is to get something worthwhile published and presented to the world. As you build, focus on the rest of my advice below.
If you work in the internet marketing space, you’ve heard of and used funnels.
I hate the word “funnels” when talking about using a portfolio to get clients, though. Instead, I like to think of it as guiding your potential client on a journey from casual site visitor to paying client.
Start by answering these questions: Where should this journey lead? Should it lead a client to call you on Skype? To fill out a form? To email you?
Then, with each decision you make as you build your portfolio, ask yourself: Does this ultimately lead to my desired end result?
You’ll start to notice we have a lot of things we tend to put into portfolios just because everyone else does. But every element that doesn’t take a site visitor through your desired journey is a potential for that person to leave your site, never come back, and never hire you.
These unnecessary elements create “off-ramps” and “dead-ends,” which I’ll explain in the next two sections.
I’m just going to be straight with you here: you don’t need social media icons on your portfolio.
I know, I know, this goes against everything you’ve learned about growing your business on social media. But consider this: As your potential client begins their journey on your portfolio site, the last thing you need is for them to click your blue bird icon, jump over to Twitter, get distracted, forget about you, and never come back.
This is a classic example of an unnecessary “off-ramp” on your portfolio. Other common “off-ramp” offenders include:
We’re all guilty of “off-ramps” but freelancers who I’ve worked with see a nice bump in conversion when they take these distractions off their site.
Same goes for “dead-ends.” Do you have links that point away from your main journey like small branches? Each of those branches is a chance to lose a client. Common offenders include:
Fitting everything on one page to begin with forces you to cut down on the size of the project, focus on the client journey, and only include the most convincing and results-driven information.
Remember, your goal is to point toward conversion.
As you build your portfolio, you have to identify what it is you want from your site. That end result is what you will now refer to as a conversion. It could mean that a client actually hires you, but it doesn’t have to. It could also invite someone to:
Once you decide what action you want site visitors to take, everything — and I mean everything — in your portfolio should point toward conversion.
Let’s say your end goal is for a potential client to fill up your contact form. When you talk about yourself in an “about me” section (if you choose to have one), end with something like, “My greatest passion is helping companies level-up their branding with professional logo design. Contact me today to see what I can do for your business.” And link that to your contact form.
When you do show off projects, talk about results (more on that in the next section) so you can easily segue into offering to get results for anyone who picks up the phone or sends you a message.
Every bit of information should lead toward conversion. If there’s anything on your portfolio site that doesn’t point toward conversion, it’s probably not necessary at this stage.
As I started to mention in the last section, smart freelancers focus on the results they bring their clients. Not on the work process.
If you choose to include case studies, they should be short, to-the-point, and focused entirely on the results your previous client had due to the work you provided them.
You’ll also find clients love it when you talk business (more on this in section 7) so explain results in terms of sales or successes for clients — not necessarily in artistic or creative terms.
Notice the difference between these two project descriptions:
Option 1: I wrote 3 articles for Jane’s Clean Living Blog. They contained 500 words, 3 images, and included important information about eating healthy.
Option 2: Jane’s Clean Living Blog published 3 articles I contributed. Two of them now rank #1 in Google searches related to healthy eating and drive over 10,000 monthly pageviews to the blog on autopilot.
The difference is clear. When you focus on results, clients picture themselves getting those same results and are eager to talk more.
If you only take away one thing from this article, maybe it should be this: Your portfolio is NOT about you. It’s about your client. Notice in the section prior to this one how Option 2 focuses far more on the client than it does on you as a freelancer.
When talking to (or writing for) clients, you should always focus back on their business. Start by asking yourself (or even your client) some of the following questions and then addressing them in your portfolio site text:
As you get inside the mind of your potential client, you’ll be able to more clearly articulate and empathize with exactly what they need to get out of your relationship.
If you’re a beginning freelancer looking for clients and don’t have much previous experience, do your best and then change and adapt your portfolio as you interact with more clients. And use their words, concerns, and praise as fodder for your site’s text as well as to help you develop soft skills they’ll love.
As you pay close attention to each person that contacts you from your portfolio site (or in other settings), you’ll start to see how your ideal client pool talks about the work they want to hire you for.
They may not use the “correct” technical terms for the work they want done. Instead, there may be a more common “layman’s” term for the work you do. You may want to consider changing your more technical term to their more common words throughout your site to seem more approachable and understanding of your clients’ needs.
You should also pay attention to how they talk about their own business. Mirroring how they refer to their own customers, to management, or teams can help you speak their language. There are lots of studies showing how we tend to like people more who are similar to ourselves. So learning to talk and act like your clients is a great way to show your support and win them over more quickly.
Of course, always be genuine to who you are and never compromise your standards. But adapting to each situation in which you find yourself is a good practice in any business partnership.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! I’m going to reward you with my most important advice for creating a converting freelance portfolio.
It’s simple: just start.
The sad truth is there will be a huge majority of freelancers who read (or skim, rather,) this article and never actually take any action to improve their situation.
But not you. You’ll take this advice, adapt and apply it to your situation, and you’ll create that converting freelance portfolio and start bringing in freelance clients almost on auto-pilot.
Now, go get ‘em!
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