Over the last couple of years of my career as a designer I have gone through many iterations of my portfolio website. I can still remember to this day how hard I worked and all the time I put into coding my first website just before graduating school. I thought it was so important to have a portfolio website that was similar to a big agency’s. A portfolio website with a big flashy logo and an organized grid of my work but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The three essential pieces you need on your portfolio website to more clients are an introduction section, a selection of your favorite projects and a contact section. As I’ve grown in the creative industry and worked my way up to a lead design position. I finally feel that I’ve found a simple portfolio website structure that results in consistently having clients get in contact with me for projects.
These three pieces are essential to have on your portfolio website to attract more clients. You can absolutely add more detailed sections if you would like but these three are the minimum for what you should have on your portfolio website.
My experience hiring creatives based on their websites
Before I go into detail about each essential piece, I have actually been on the opposite side of the table and hired creatives based on their portfolio website before. In the last two years working as a designer for a major brand I have had to hire both freelancers and agencies. The first thing that always drew me in when looking to hire was their portfolio website. Of course there are other considerations that come into the picture during the hiring process but your portfolio website is the absolute most important first impression.
What portfolio websites were the most effective?
The portfolio websites that were most effective and resulted in an interview or call with freelancers were websites that conveyed a sense of personality and perspective. Now you might ask yourself, “How might I accomplish those two things?”. If you think about how to convey personality through your portfolio website, it can take shape in the form of color choices or the fonts that you choose. We go into more detail in this article about building a winning portfolio for the creative industry here. Perspective is something that can be conveyed in the type of work you choose to display on your portfolio website. I like to think of the word perspective as it relates to the creative agency as a way to understand your style and creative preferences when producing work.
My personal portfolio website
As I mentioned before I have gone through many countless iterations of my portfolio website and the one that I currently have had for the last 2 years has been super effective for attracting clients. The very first section when you go to my portfolio website is a quick 2 sentence introduction about myself as a designer that also includes a self-portrait image. After is a section that includes all my favorite projects and finally at the bottom there is a section that contains my contact information. If you’re thinking to yourself, “wow that is so simply”, then yes you are correct. The old fashion saying ‘Keep It Simple Stupid’ is very much so something that I apply to portfolio website.
The importance of an introduction section
An introduction section at the top of your portfolio website is super important to differentiate yourself from your competition and also lets clients know you are not just another person behind a screen. Working in the creative industry involves serving clients and establishing a relationship with them. The keyword in that last sentence is relationship. When you are working with a client, yes. You are absolutely making graphics, websites, marketing materials, etc. but you are also creating and providing an experience. An introduction section helps to communicate what kind of experience and relationship you will provide during a project or engagement with a client.
An introduction section can also save you from clients you shouldn’t work with. This might sound weird, but there are clients out there that you shouldn’t work for because they can cause more aggravation than the project is worth. An introduction section can help to thwart off customers that do not fit into your ideal project.
What should you include in your introduction section?
The first thing you should include in your introduction section is a short description of you and what you offer clients. Your introduction should be boiled down to it’s core essence. Short and sweet is what we’re aiming for here so think 2-5 sentences. For me and my portfolio website, that includes 1 sentence describing qualities about myself and 1 sentence describing what I can offer clients. For example:
I’m Jon. A dreamer, problem solver, and most of all, a people person. I help jumpstart direct to consumer brands.
In my first sentence I listed dreamer, problem solver, and people person because I believe these are my best qualities and why clients enjoy working with me. I really love working closely with clients to come up with imaginative solutions to their problems. The second sentence I included relates to the type of projects I enjoy working on and what I can do for them. Mine is slightly a little more broad in detail but that is what the next section is for.
Self-portrait photo of yourself
Also included in my introduction section is a self-portrait that I had professionally taken. I do this because I believe it helps clients understand that I am not just another designer working behind a screen to pump out quick work.
How to create your introduction section
To create your own introduction section, grab a pen and paper or something you can write with. Start with creating a list of words that describe your personality. Do this until you have about 30-40 words. Feel free to build your list around my own example I provided above. After you have your list describing you and personality. You want to create two more shorter lists. The first list will be the type of clients you want to work with. The second shorter list will be what you can do for them. When creating these shorter lists, try to be as specific as possible. I know my example is a little broader and that is somewhat intentional. Currently my main focus is this website and not client work but if you are looking to focus on client work then you should be as specific as possible. This will help set client expectations and leave less room for things like scope creep.
Selected projects section
After the introduction section of your portfolio website, the next section should be 4-6 of your highest quality projects. These can be projects that you have completed either for clients, at your job, or personally in your own time. Similar to the second sentence in your introduction section, the projects that you curate in this section should be the work you truly love to do. If there is a project that you are not thrilled about, DO NOT SHOW IT. DO NOT SHOW IT. Only show the work that you would want more of in this section. I strongly recommend a minimum of 4 projects and a maximum of 6. This will keep potential clients from getting fatigued as they are viewing your website.
How do you select your projects?
It can sometimes be a little difficult to try and narrow down all the work you have completed in your creative career. When it comes to picking projects for my portfolio website I try to keep a few guidelines in mind. First guideline is, for every project you include on your portfolio website you should try to approach it as if you were telling a story. This means that every project should have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning would be an introduction of the project and what problem needed to be solved. The middle will include images of the work you created. The ending will include what the result was for the client or outcome of the project. Sometimes this can be a little difficult, as I've definitely worked on projects before that didn’t have all of these pieces and that is fine. If you have a project where you are missing a formalized beginning or end then you’re in a good place. You can go back and write in either of these pieces to the project. If you are missing the middle piece which would be the actual images and things you created. Then you should probably put this project to the side and choose another.
The second guideline for selecting your projects is making sure you have enough images to create a compelling story. When I say images that doesn't necessarily mean photographs taken of the physical work. The images can be mockups or flat graphics that make sense for your relative creative field. You can purchase a bunch of awesome templates and mockups from this site here.
The third and final guideline for selecting projects for your portfolio website is to make sure that you are proud with what you created. Are you super satisfied with the outcome of the project? Did you help a client reach their goal? Were you able to convince an audience? Making sure that you are proud of the project will allow you to talk comfortably if a client were to ask you about it without trying to oversell or overcompensate. It will also most likely be a project that you remember very much in detail because you enjoyed working on it so much.
What should you do if you don’t have enough projects?
If you are just starting out in your creative career and you are just building your portfolio website then you may not have as many projects as I recommended. If you have 3 projects that follow all of the guidelines then I would agree you are in a good place. Let’s hypothetically say that you have only 2 projects that meet the guidelines mentioned before. Without trying to carve out too much work let’s try to show 3 complete top quality projects on your portfolio website. While you may not have an immediate client project to work on you can always come up with projects of your own. Who knows you may realize you really enjoy something during the process. That is exactly how Wellfed came about.
The third and final essential piece you need on your portfolio website is a contact section. Now this is usually pretty simple but I’m going to introduce a few things you can do differently to really attract more clients. First let’s make sure that your contact section includes the basics like your name, email and maybe even your phone number. Most clients have gotten in touch with me through the simple email link that I have in my contact section. You can absolutely add a contact form if you know what you are doing but an email link should be more than sufficient.
Give something away
Once you make sure to include the basic information you should try this out. Depending on what clients you are interested in working with, think of something that you can give away to them for free. If you are a designer, can you create a typography guide for creating logos? Illustrators, can you come up with a simple color palette that is on trend? Photographers etc. This can incentivise potential clients to sign-up for your newsletter or get in touch quicker by offering them a gift for doing so. This also further differentiates you from your competition by already helping out your potential clients before even speaking with them.
Your portfolio website does not have to be super fancy or overly complicated in order to attract more clients. By keeping it simple and including an introduction, 4-6 selected projects, and a contact section you can attract more clients to grow your creative career.
If you have any questions about your current portfolio website you can sign up for our new 1-on-1 creative session using this link. 1-on-1 creative sessions are 30 minutes and we can review any questions you may have about your portfolio website. In addition, you can get a free portfolio website homepage outline by signing up for our newsletter below. This outline gives you a loose framework to see how simple your portfolio website can be so you don’t overthink it.