How to create an online portfolio that grabs clients' attention

Jul 26, 2018

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.

According to the Freelancing in America 2017 report, there are now 57.3 million people in the US working as freelancers.

Moreover, the number continues to rise at lightning speed–so much so that it's projected that freelancers will dominate the US workforce by the next decade.

These figures are significant because it shows how getting the attention of high-paying clients offering long-term projects is more challenging now than ever.

Whether you’ve just jumped on the freelance bandwagon or have been freelancing for some time, you need to invest in tools that will help you stand out from the crowd and get your clients’ attention.

Among these tools, perhaps the most important will be your freelance online portfolio. Done right, this can adequately capture the attention of potential clients who are willing to pay you what you’re truly worth.

That’s because your freelance online portfolio gives them an insight into what you can do along with examples to boot. It also helps you establish and develop an online brand based on what you’d like to be known for.

The challenges of creating a freelance online portfolio

Believe it or not, not all freelancers have an online portfolio despite all the benefits they can get from having one.

That’s because many freelancers find the whole idea of creating an online portfolio daunting, especially if they don’t have any skills or experience in web design.

It is even more challenging for those just starting out their freelancing careers because they don’t have anything to show. Since one of the purposes of an online portfolio is to show potential clients samples of what you can do that’s both understandable and unique, it puts freelance newbies in a tough situation.

The good news is that whether you’re just starting out or have been freelancing for some time but don’t have any web design skills, you can still create a freelance online portfolio that gets your clients’ attention.

Here are the steps on how to create a compelling online portfolio that will get those high-paying clients reaching out to you.

Invest in a professional domain and web hosting

Although it’s possible for you to create a website by signing up for a free account, I would still recommend investing a few dollars to get your own .com domain.

For starters, having your domain makes your website look very professional. The fact that you invested in getting a professional domain also shows your seriousness about your freelance career. Not to mention it's a lot easier for your potential and existing clients to remember.

More important, free website hosting services only provide you with limited features that you can use when making your online portfolio. On the other hand, investing in a professional domain and web hosting gives you the liberty to create your portfolio to your liking.

As much as possible, use your name for your portfolio's domain. This will further help potential and existing clients to associate it with you. Only consider using a business name if you have a pretty common name or if you're working with a small team.

Use the right platform

There are many different website platforms that you can use for your online portfolio. Each of them has their strengths and limitations.

When choosing a website platform, consider your niche, budget, and skill level.

WordPress is one of the most popular website platforms used by freelancers to create their online portfolios because it’s quite robust. You can fully customize your portfolio, from uploading a theme you like to installing any one of the thousands of third-party plugins so that it works just how you want it.

However, because it gives you so much liberty to customize your website, you'll need to devote some serious time to learn how to maximize them.

Another platform that's becoming popular among freelancers is Squarespace, especially among those that don't have any experience in web design and development. Although its features are limited, it’s easier to use because of its drag-and-drop dashboard.

Wix is a website platform that's somewhere in between. Just like SquareSpace, it allows you to create your online portfolio using a drag-and-drop dashboard. But like WordPress, you have the option to install additional apps and plugins to enhance your portfolio further.

Go mobile on everything...

One of the biggest mistakes freelancers make when creating an online portfolio is not taking the time to check if the template or theme that they use is mobile-friendly.

According to Statista, over half of the global website traffic comes from mobile devices.

That means that there’s a very good chance your potential clients will be viewing your online portfolio on their mobile phone or tablet. If your portfolio isn't optimized to be mobile-friendly, it can cause them to get frustrated and leave your portfolio altogether.

But it’s not just your online portfolio that should be mobile-friendly.

Anything you send to your potential and current clients should also be easy to create and view using a mobile device. That includes estimates and invoices you send to prospective and current clients.

...including your invoicing

Clients these days are more willing to work with freelancers that provide them with as much convenience as possible, especially when it comes time to make a payment. Using an online invoice generator that gives you the option to accept credit card and debit card payments will give them this.

Invoice Simple is one tool to consider when creating your invoice. Their invoice generator allows you to create professional-looking invoice and receipts to your clients that are easy to review whether they view them on their laptop or mobile device.

One of the great features they have is that they allow you to offer your clients the option to pay using their credit card, something that not many freelancers offer. There is a transaction fee for this option; however, the amount is minimal compared the otherwise hefty fees charged by most credit card companies.

Once you send your invoice out, you get a notification when your client received and open the invoice. That way, you can follow up with them in case you haven’t still received your payment.

But perhaps the best part about this is that if your client doesn’t view your invoice for some reason, Invoice Simple will send reminders on your behalf to your client so that they would view the invoice and make the payment.

Strategically design your homepage

Even though your portfolio’s homepage isn’t the very first page visitors will see, it’s still important that you take the time to design the layout and choose the words you put here.

You need to construct your homepage so that it delivers a clear message on what services you offer and who your target clients are. By doing this, you’re able to increase the chances of getting the right clients to reach out to you. It also helps you establish your brand.

If you need help in this part of your portfolio, CreativeLive has an online class that will walk you through this process that’s worth checking out.

Target your About page to your ideal client

One of the most visited pages on your online portfolio is your About page, because this is where your potential clients can learn more about who you are and what you can do.

While there’s nothing wrong with telling your visitors a bit about yourself and how you got started in freelancing, give more emphasis on your audience and their goals. After all, the reason why they found your site is because they’re looking for someone who can do just that.

List your services

Devoting a separate page to a list of the services you offer gives your visitors a clearer picture of your specialties. It also provides them with a glimpse into the type of clients and industries you cater to so you don't end up wasting time communicating with someone who doesn't match your ideal client persona.

Along with your list of services, I also recommend including other details like your service rates, payment terms, and accepted forms of payment. That way, you increase your chances of communicating with prospective clients that are willing to pay your asking price.

Provide samples of your previous work

Of all the different pages of your freelance online portfolio, this is the most important because it gives prospective clients concrete examples of your skills and capabilities.

Keep in mind when providing samples of your work, make sure that you include some details about each of them like:

  • The scope of the project
  • Who was the client
  • The goals the client wanted to achieve
  • Details of what you did
  • The results the client got after completing the project

You don’t have to write a long paragraph for this. Listing these using bullet points will suffice. This helps make it easier for your prospective clients to skim through your samples and see if you’ve done something similar to what they want to accomplish.

Also, don't overwhelm your visitors by including every single project you've completed. Include here only your best work and most impressive projects.

More important, make sure that you first get permission from your clients before you publish any work you’ve done for them. Unfortunately, some clients don’t take it too kindly when you include work you’ve done for them in your portfolio. They may even sue you for copyright infringement.

What if I don't have any clients yet?

You can fill this up by creating personal projects that are in line with the scope of services you're particularly interested in specializing in.

Add a blog

Even if you’re not offering freelance writing services, a blog is a beneficial addition to your online portfolio.

For starters, it gives you the opportunity to share your knowledge, experience, and expertise in your field. This establishes you as an expert that knows what you're doing.

Second, publishing blog posts can help generate traffic for your online portfolio. Often, people search online to look for solutions to their needs and problems. When you publish a post that delivers valuable and helpful information, it will not only bring visitors to your portfolio but also begin the process of nurturing them, eventually transforming them into potential clients.

Lastly, search bots love it when you’re constantly churning out content for your target audience. The more you do this, the better your portfolio will rank on search engine result pages. And the better you rank, the higher the chances of getting your potential clients to visit you instead of your competitors.

Include calls-to-action (CTAs) banners and buttons

As its name suggests, CTAs are banners or buttons that encourage your visitors to take some form of action.

In the case of your online portfolio, these CTAs should capture your clients’ attention to reach out to you for a quote or to schedule a consultation.

Again, you don't need to be a professional graphic design artist to create a CTA button. You can create an eye-catching yet functional CTA button on sites like Bannersnack. What I like about this site is that you can create CTA banners in different sizes using their drag-and-drop dashboard that you can add to your portfolio.

Optimize your portfolio

I saved this for last because even if you’ve done the first nine steps, your online portfolio won’t get your clients’ attention without this.

When people do a search online, search engines display the most relevant sites and pieces of content based on the keywords used. If you don’t take the steps to properly optimize your online portfolio, these search engines won’t be able to find it among the millions of sites out there. So you end up losing potential clients to your competitors.

In a fiercely competitive marketplace, an online portfolio is one of the most critical assets of any freelancer. It allows you to establish a personal brand and helps you connect with potential clients that will bring in steady cash flow to your business.

While there are lots of elements that go into creating a compelling online portfolio, all these boil down to showing to your potential clients how your services can help them reach their goals, and more importantly, why they should choose you.

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne is an inbound marketing consultant. When he's not advising startups on SAAS strategy he writes about the many lessons he has learned from the trenches.