For many creative freelancers, the portfolio is the business.

It’s not just the work you’ve done. It’s the problems you’ve solved. It’s the clients you’ve worked with.

Of course, your portfolio is also the thing that attracts new clients. Is your portfolio doing its job?

Here are some reasons your portfolio could be a turn-off to clients:

1. You don’t fit their style or tone.

This is the most obvious and common of portfolio failures. Many clients make instinctive decisions about your portfolio in terms of whether or not you fit their style or tone -- especially if you’re a visual artist or do design work.

Are you able to appeal to a wider audience while still staying true to your personal style?

To do this, try explaining how your style choice in that project reflected that particular clients’ wishes. Explain how the piece solved a problem -- so that it’s less about the project, more about the client relationship.

Your portfolio shouldn’t just be images, it should be case studies.

In a larger sense, no client work that you ever complete should just be your style slapped onto a project. Of course you have your own unique vision, but your style will adapt with each project, and should be shaped by the client as well. This is how you create a portfolio that is not simply filled with the same thing over and over again.

2. You’re sharing the type of projects you’ve done, but not the type of projects that you want to do.

This might be a no-brainer, but it needs to be said: You will attract work that is like the work in your portfolio.

So if you don’t want that kind of work in your portfolio anymore, it might be time to take it out!

If you’re just pivoting your interests (heading from blog writing to short magazine articles), you’ll be able to use some of your old portfolio items, but carefully curated. You want your portfolio to lean towards what you want to do as much as possible.

This process can be helped when you spend time explaining your process and the client relationship, as above. You can point to specific areas of a larger project that dealt with the field you’re going into. For instance, if you’re going into UX design from web design, you’ll focus on the mockups for a project and different interaction questions you solved, rather than on graphics and layout.

Easier said than done, but much better than staying in the same place through your whole career.

3. You’re showing the same portfolio to everyone.

Whenever you want to apply to a gig, pick the projects or clients that are most relevant to the gig you’re applying for.

This can take time, but it’s worth it.

Include the relevant samples in the attachment in an email or the print-out you bring to a meeting, then direct them to see your full portfolio on your website.

4. Your portfolio includes old work (that’s inferior to your current work); or worse, there’s no recent work.

I hear you: maintaining your portfolio can be like keeping up with a whole separate client. Here’s what you need to do at least once every 2 months:

1. Add your new material.

2. Take out items that no longer work or that you dislike. Disclaimer: you may find that the work you don’t like is the work that clients love the most. First world problems.

3. When you go over your portfolio with clients, you should be keeping tabs on the items that spoke to them. Revisit this material and put it in the front, or add back items that are similar to it.

I recommend setting aside time on a certain day of the month to do this. Like, “I always update my portfolio on the 20th.” For some reason, this sticks in my head easily.

What about your portfolio is turning clients away?


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