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How to Create a Freelance Portfolio from Scratch

How to Create a Portfolio from Scratch
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If you’re looking for a way to make money outside of a traditional job, one of the best options is to work as a freelancer.

There are countless services that you can offer on a freelance basis, and chances are you already have some skills and experience that you can put to good use.

The 57 million Americans who freelance represent 35% of the workforce (according to this study conducted by Upwork), and those numbers were before the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the marketplace and sparked a huge shift towards working from home.

Regardless of whether you’re looking to just make some extra money in your spare time or are interested in pursuing a full-time income, freelancing can be a great choice.

As a service provider, you can start earning income as soon as you land your first client (unlike blogging and some other side hustles that can take a long time before paying off). 

While there are many different ways to attract clients, one of the best long-term strategies is to use a portfolio website to promote your services.

An effective online portfolio can lead to more good-paying gigs and less time spent pursuing potential clients.

In this article, we’ll explain how to make a portfolio website for your freelance services and take a look at a few great freelance portfolio examples.

Step 1: Set Up Your Website

Creating a website may sound intimidating, but don’t worry: it’s easy. You don’t need any technical skills. Just follow this guide.

Get a Domain

The domain name is where visitors will find your site. For example, our domain name is thewaystowealth.com. You’ll need to register a domain name and pay a small annual fee. The hardest part of the process is finding a good .com domain name that’s still available.

There are lots of other options (.net, .org, .co, etc.), but choosing a .com domain is recommended because it will be easiest for visitors to remember and is generally considered the standard and most professional option.

When you’re choosing a domain name, you’ll want to consider the plans you have for the future of your business.

If there’s a possibility that you’ll want to grow your freelancing business into an agency, try to find a brandable domain that will remain appropriate as your business expands.

On the other hand, if you have no intention of expanding your freelance business in that way and plan to remain a one-man or one-woman operation, simply using your name as the domain name is an ideal option.

For some tips on choosing the right domain name, check out our article “Blog Name Ideas: Five Tips for Picking a Great Domain.”

Get Website Hosting

Once you’ve chosen a domain name, you’re ready to sign up for web hosting. When visitors arrive at your domain, the website they’ll see and experience in the browser is hosted on a server, and the web host handles those details for you.

There are many different web hosts out there, but we recommend Bluehost as an excellent starting point for new websites. 

When you’re first getting started as a freelancer, you’ll want to keep your expenses to a minimum, and Bluehost offers some of the best prices in the industry. They also offer 24/7 customer support in case any issues arise.

When you sign up for a new Bluehost account, you’ll also get a free domain name for one year (about a $10 to $15 value). You can register the domain and create your hosting account at the same time.

Don’t be confused by the fact that there are several different plans to choose from. For the portfolio website that you’ll be setting up, any plan will do. We recommend Bluehost’s Basic Shared WordPress plan, which starts at just a few dollars per month.

Choose a Platform

Next, you’ll need to choose the platform that you’ll use to power your website. While you could code the site by hand using HTML, there are easier options that will allow you to get a great-looking, professional portfolio website up and running in minutes.

WordPress is by far the most popular content management system (CMS) in the world, powering about 35% of all websites on the internet. It’s also free and extremely simple to install.

In fact, if you sign up for the WordPress hosting plan we recommended from Bluehost, WordPress will be automatically installed for your domain.

Because WordPress is such a popular platform, and because it’s open-source, there are literally thousands of templates (called WordPress themes) that you can use to control how your website looks.

There are also thousands of WordPress plugins that add all kinds of valuable functionality to your site.

Both themes and plugins work without you having to do a single line of coding.

If you’re using a hosting plan that doesn’t automatically install WordPress for you, you’ll need to install it on your site. Most hosts make this extremely simple and if you need any help you can reach out to customer support for assistance.

Choose a WordPress Theme

When WordPress is installed, your site will be using a default theme. Selecting a different theme is recommended, because your site will have a generic look if you stick with the default option (which isn’t optimized for portfolios).

Thankfully, there are plenty of themes out there that make it easy to create a professional-looking website without any design or coding skills.

You can choose a free WordPress theme (browse the selection here), or if you have a budget of $50 to $100, you can get a high-quality premium theme that will give you more customization options and upgrade the look of your site.

Some of the best places to find quality themes include Elegant Themes, ThemeForest and StudioPress

Don’t obsess over the theme. It can be a difficult decision with so many options out there, but just pick one that you like and move forward.

Make Sure to Include…

Your portfolio website can be fairly simple, but here are a few things that should always be included:

  • A short bio: Help visitors get to know you very quickly. You may want to include this brief bio on the homepage, where it will be visible immediately.
  • A long bio: Write an “About” page that includes more detail. Although this is your bio, you should keep the focus on how your background and experience can positively impact the visitor and their project, as well as why they should care about you and your services.
  • Samples of your work: Show potential clients what you’re capable of by showcasing your best work. If you’re just getting started, you can use personal projects in your portfolio.
  • Contact information: Make it super easy for visitors to contact you. Use a simple contact form or list an email address, link to social profiles where you’re active, and even list a business phone number if you have one.
  • Social proof: Include client testimonials or showcase the logos of websites where you’ve been featured.
  • A guided next step: Lead potential clients by guiding them to the action that you want them to take, like contacting you for a consultation. Tell them what to expect after they contact you.

Step 2: Identify Your Niche and Specialty

One of the best ways to stand out from millions of other freelancers is to niche down or specialize. You can do this by offering very specific services, or by focusing on a particular industry or type of client.

For example, instead of promoting yourself as a freelance writer who can do any type of writing for clients in any industry, consider specializing. You could offer copywriting services specifically for advertising copy. Or you could niche down by writing on a specific topic, like family and parenting.

Learn more: How to find your ideal freelance niche.

It may seem like choosing a niche or specialty would limit your options, but it can be very beneficial for branding and it can help you to stand out as an expert in your particular field.

And as we explain in this article about writing great freelance proposals, shrinking your potential client pool is actually one of the best ways to earn better rates. 

Most of the highest-paid freelancers have chosen to specialize in some way.

Clients are willing to pay for expertise. For example, a digital marketer that focuses exclusively on Facebook ads is likely to be able to charge higher rates than a general digital marketer that does a little bit of everything, including Facebook ads.

Step 3: Create Samples That Target Your Niche and Speciality

The most basic idea of a portfolio page is to showcase your work in a way that encourages potential clients to hire you. 

If you’ve chosen to specialize in a particular type of service, or work with clients in a certain industry, you’ll want this to be reflected in the samples included in your portfolio. 

In other words, if you’re trying to brand yourself as a personal finance writer, don’t include samples of your writing on health and fitness or other unrelated topics.

When your ideal client arrives at your portfolio page, you want them to see work samples that speak to them and their specific needs.

If your samples are highly relevant to them, they’re more likely to know right away that you’re an ideal person to hire.

If you’ve done some freelancing in the past, hopefully you have some strong samples that can be included in your portfolio. But if you’re just getting started, you might not have anything to use as a sample.

If that’s the case, here are a few options:

  • Create a personal project. If you’re a web developer, create your own website that you can use in your portfolio. If you want to ghostwrite e-books for clients, write your own e-book. There’s no reason that your portfolio samples have to be actual client projects; you can create a project of your own if needed.
  • Create a fictional concept. If you’re a web designer, you could create a redesign concept for a well-known website (like these Facebook redesign concepts). This project would never go live, but it gives you an example that can be used to show your abilities. For transparency, it’s best to make it clear in your portfolio that this item is simply a concept and not done on behalf of a client.
  • Include volunteer work. If you’ve offered your services for free to a non-profit or charity, you can also include this work in your portfolio.
  • Start with family and friends. You may know some people who could benefit from your services, and people that know and trust you may be willing to hire you without an existing portfolio. You can use your personal network to find a few clients and use those projects to build your portfolio.
  • Offer discounted work. Without an existing portfolio, you may be able to land your first clients by offering a discount or low rates. This could give you a chance to get some experience with projects that could be included in your portfolio when they’re done.

Remember that you can update your portfolio as you go. You might not have a lot of work to show off at first, but that’s OK; quality is more important than quantity, and you can add projects to the portfolio as you’re securing and completing more client work.

Step 4: Offer a No-Obligation CTA

The goal of your freelance portfolio site is to put you in contact with the right types of clients. Therefore, you want to make it easy for clients to contact you. 

But don’t simply put a contact form or list an email address on your site and expect visitors to reach out.

The most effective portfolio websites include a call-to-action (CTA) that tells the visitor what action they should take, and which makes taking that action as easy as possible. 

The best CTAs also give the visitor some incentive, which makes them more likely to get in touch.

There are a number of different ways you can do this and it depends on the services that you’re offering. 

Here are a few examples:

  • Search Engine Optimization. Offer a free SEO analysis of their current website.
  • Content Strategy or Content Marketing: Offer a free audit of the content on their website.
  • Web Design: Offer a free re-design consultation.
  • Social Media Marketing: Offer a free audit or analysis of their social profiles.

The idea here is that you want to give the prospective client something of value that also provides you with the opportunity to prove your ability. 

Take the burden off their shoulders and make it easy for them to contact you, and you’ll have a constant source of leads for new clients.

You can even use a tool like Calendly to make it extremely easy for visitors to schedule a call or consultation. 

The easier you can make it for visitors, and the more value that you offer, the more leads you’ll get.

Freelance Portfolio Examples

Let’s take a look at examples of a few portfolio sites that are putting some of the concepts we’ve covered into practice.

Example 1: Kaleigh Moore

Kaleigh Moore doesn’t simply market herself as a freelance writer. As you can see from her portfolio site, she takes a niche approach and specializes in blog content for e-commerce and SaaS companies.

Source: https://www.kaleighmoore.com/.

Example 2: Devon Stank

Devon Stank is a web developer that focuses specifically on the Squarespace platform. Instead of offering general web development services, Devon stands out as a Squarespace expert.

As we discussed earlier, this niching-down approach is effective because it shrinks the market to the clients you are best positioned to serve — and who will thus pay you the highest rates.

Source: https://www.devonstank.com/.

Example 3: Bracken Marketing

Bracken Marketing is an agency rather than a freelancer, but the approach they’re taking could be duplicated by freelancers.

Notice how their website includes a landing page to book a free social media marketing consultation, with a form that makes it easy for a potential client to reach out.

That’s perfect for lead generation, and something every portfolio site should feature.

Source: https://www.brackenmarketing.com/.

Freelance Portfolio FAQ

How should you address the fact that you’re a beginner?

Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not. If you’re a beginner, the best place to start is with your personal network of family and friends. Try to land a few clients through your network and start to get some experience that can be included in your portfolio. You won’t be a beginner for very long.

How many samples do you need for a freelance portfolio?

There is no exact number. Quality is more important than quantity, so don’t showcase work samples that fail to represent your best quality of work just to have a certain number of items in your portfolio.

But if you’re looking for a specific number that you should shoot for, having at least three samples in your portfolio will help to show that you’ve had some experience, while still being a number that is attainable even for beginners.

What’s the biggest mistake you can make when building a freelance portfolio?

The biggest and most common mistake is simply throwing some random samples on a website and expecting clients to hire you. Potential clients want to see what you can do specifically for them, which is why we recommend taking a niche or specialized approach and branding yourself.

Summary

Your portfolio website is an incredibly valuable asset to your business as a freelancer.

Setting up a portfolio website is easy, but creating a portfolio that is truly effective will require a strategic approach.

Follow the steps and tips covered in this article and you’ll be well on your way to having a portfolio site that will attract clients and help you to grow your business.

Up Next

This article is part of our in-depth series on How to Get Started Freelancing.

In the series, the goal is to help you step-by-step land your first high-paying freelance client.

I invite you to check out the next article, How To Get Clients Online (Guide For Beginner Freelancers).

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Marc Andre is a personal finance blogger at Vital Dollar, where he writes about saving, managing and making money. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two kids, and has been a full-time blogger and internet marketer since 2008.

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