Why your portfolio doesn't matter

Jul 10, 2015

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.

When you start freelancing, one of the first things you need is a portfolio. All a portfolio does is display relevant work, highlight who you are and showcase the services you offer, but for a beginner building a portfolio, it can be intimidating.

The creation of the "perfect portfolio" is an elusive aspiration, and delaying your launch or delaying applying for work because your portfolio “just isn’t ready” is a common pitfall among new freelance developers, designers and even writers.

Aspiring to create the perfect portfolio before starting out is just another form of self-resistance, and you should not give in! Your initial portfolio does not to be perfect, it simply needs to be good enough. This is because, at the beginning of your freelance journey, your portfolio just doesn’t matter all that much.

Wait a sec, how could that be?

Let me explain my reasoning: You’re more likely to find your first clients through your personal network than through online freelance sites. The potential clients in your personal network are people who need your services and feel more comfortable giving you their business just because they know you.

Your portfolio is not going to be a critical part of their decision to hire you. Because they already have a relationship with you (or have a relationship with someone who does), they’re more likely to place their trust in you. It’s also likely that your friends and family will want to be a part of your burgeoning business and see you succeed, so they will give you work without a high level of scrutiny.

Finally, any website or design project you show a non-developer/designer will likely beyond their own capabilities (otherwise they wouldn’t consider paying you to do the work) so they will be impressed.

Additionally, while your portfolio on freelance sites may be viewed by prospective clients, they’re more likely to focus on your proposal and your bid. Just like working within your network, securing work on freelance sites is rooted in trust and relationship building.

This is a little bit more challenging to establish from behind a computer screen, but the secret sauce is in your communication, not a flawless #wokeuplikethis portfolio.

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Trust in this scenario can mean many things: they need to trust that their hire will be responsible with their money and not abuse an hourly rate job, or drastically overcharge a fixed rate job. A client needs to know that you will answer their questions and accurately execute their vision - they must find you easy to communicate with.

Finally, they need to see you as satisfactorily competent. Your portfolio will do some of this work, but your proposal will demonstrate that you can assess cost, grasp the client’s vision, and execute it.

The key to getting work on freelance sites is not to be the best, most flashy designer or developer with a bomb portfolio, but to unequivocally demonstrate that you are trustworthy and great to work with.

Now, if you already have a killer online portfolio then that’s great. I am certainly not advocating against one. I simply encourage new freelancers not to get bogged down by the daunting task of creating the perfect portfolio. Because the truth is, you don’t need one.

Ashley Livingston: Front end developer, digital designer, crafty person, loves popcorn, cheese danishes, and goats. Find me at ashleythedeveloper.co

Ashley Livingston

Ashley Livingston: Front end developer, digital designer, crafty person, loves popcorn, cheese danishes, and goats.