Does your freelance portfolio include a seemingly random collection of past projects? Do you update your portfolio maybe once a year, at most? Or, have you put off creating a freelance portfolio entirely?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, it’s time for a wake-up call. Because you’re not going to land any quality work with a half-baked portfolio.

Yes, Your Freelance Portfolio Really Is That Important

The pressure’s on. So, how do you craft the perfect freelance portfolio and land your next client?

Get digital

Gone are the days when the majority of client relationships were built in conference rooms or coffee shops. Today, digital is the way to go.

If you want to talk numbers, a 2019 report found that 77 percent of surveyed freelancers feel like technology has made it easier to connect with clients.

While the internet has made it much easier to reach out to clients and communicate about projects, it’s also made sharing your portfolio incredibly simple and convenient.

In short, ditch (or set aside) that printed and bound portfolio for a top-notch digital one.

Get visual

Without a doubt, visually appealing portfolios are the most attractive and impactful.

That’s great news for graphic designers, photographers, and front-end web designers. But not so great for freelancers who work with text, data, or another medium entirely.

Still, there are ways to make a visual impression:

  • Turn your case studies into visually engaging infographics
  • Use relevant images to accompany your portfolio examples (featured image from a published article, screenshot from a developed website, or a photograph from a marketing project)
  • Take advantage of impactful fonts, formatting, and other visual elements

While we’re on the subject, however, there are also some things you should avoid:

  • Don’t rely on stock photos to add visuals to your portfolio
  • Don’t use a graphics-focused layout that downplays your actual portfolio examples

However you choose to showcase your non-visual work, make it clear and make it engaging.

Get contextual

Yes, a picture speaks a thousand words. But it’s not enough to just throw together a web page with basic hyperlinks and screenshots.

Fact: Every good portfolio tells a story.

When finalizing which projects you want to include in your portfolio, think about the big picture of each. That is:

  • Why did your client approach you?
  • What problem was your client experiencing?
  • How did you identify and solve this problem?
  • What results did you client see at the end of the project?

It’s not enough to upload some pretty graphics and expect clients to trust their project in your hands. Instead, you need to show and tell them how you’ve worked with clients in the past (and, therefore, the experience they can expect working with you in the future).

10 Examples You Could Be Using in Your Portfolio (But Probably Aren’t)

Everyone starts somewhere, especially in the world of business. Fortunately, you don’t need past clients to build an effective freelance portfolio.

Here are ten examples you can add to your portfolio right now:

1. Passion projects

Despite what many outside the freelancing world believe, what we do is work. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy our chosen craft (whatever it may be).

Just because you didn’t complete something for a client doesn’t mean it’s not an example of your skills, knowledge, and experience.

For example, many freelance writers maintain a blog covering a subject they love. The same is true of graphic designers who invest in creating personal art or photographers that spend their free time on creative shoots.

If there’s something you’re particularly proud of, it belongs in your portfolio. Just make it clear when something is part of your personal — not work — history.

2. Case studies

You can use case studies in your freelance portfolio in one of two ways.

First, you can put together a case study of your own work, explaining how you approached a client’s problem and what you did to solve it. Or, you can conduct a case study of others’ work.

Of course, there’s a right and a wrong way to do this.

For instance, consider critiquing the work of a large, well-known company over someone smaller. Potential clients will be more interested in what you have to say about a national chain’s website design than that of the mom-and-pop shop down the street.

3. Charity work

Oftentimes, freelancers fall into the belief that only paid work counts as “real” work. But that is 100 percent untrue.

Actually, charity work might be one of the best ways to build your portfolio. Just think about it:

So, before you create a “mockup” project for your portfolio or start offering free services to local businesses, reach out to your favorite charity organization first.

4. Rejections

Do you know what every single freelancer has in common? We all experience rejection.

Normally, that rejection comes before we’ve completed any work. Sometimes, though, it happens long after.

Whether your client changed their mind about a project’s direction or you put your heart and soul into a draft they didn’t love, your hard work hasn’t gone completely to waste! Instead, you can give it a home in your freelance portfolio.

As we all know, clients rarely choose our best work.

5. Graphs and charts

Once in a while, we all find ourselves at the end of a successful project feeling like there’s nothing to include in our portfolio.

Maybe your client isn’t keen on being featured in your portfolio. Or, maybe your work just doesn’t translate well to a visual portfolio.

Remember: No matter what you produce for your client, be it a physical product, a service, or something else entirely, that’s not the only tangible thing you provide.

At the end of any client relationship, you’ve provided results. So, why not include these real, measurable results in your freelance portfolio?

This could be a graph showing the number of page views converted into sales before and after your website redesign. Or, your client’s change in waste production after completing an environmental impact audit.

And in many cases, you have the option to keep the client in question completely anonymous.

6. Shareable content

It’s true that most of your portfolio should, ideally, showcase services or projects you’ve completed for clients.

But what if that’s not the only way to show off your relevant experience and know-how?

Along with filling your freelance portfolio with examples of your work, consider supplementing with articles, videos, or other informative content created by you.

While you might think including a written blog post in your portfolio makes no sense for a photographer, it does if the post is about photography. At the end of the day, it still shows that you know your stuff.

7. Testimonials

Think of your portfolio as a multimedia project. The more facets of your professional personality and expertise you can showcase, the better.

So, why not include some client testimonials?

If you have client testimonials from projects that are already in your portfolio, you definitely want to add those. However, you can also add testimonials from other clients and professional contacts, as well.

Not sure how to ask for testimonials? It’s as easy as following four simple steps.

8. Incomplete work

One key thing to remember about your portfolio is the vast majority of prospective clients won’t go in with a fine-toothed comb. At best, most will just skim.

Lucky for you, though, this means you can get away with including some incomplete (but very skimmable) content.

Feel free to include just one small segment of a larger project. The secret, however, is that the rest of that larger project may or may not exist.

If you’re a freelance writer, this could mean writing a few paragraphs of an article. Or, if you’re a mobile UX developer, this could mean putting together a single page of a hypothetical app.

Either way, this strategy lets you include mockups in your portfolio without spending the time to complete an entire project.

9. Name dropping

Have you been lucky enough to work with some high-profile clients throughout your freelancing career?

While nothing compares to the feeling of landing a major client, these big-time projects often come with non-disclosure agreements or requests to keep their projects private.

And that’s a huge bummer.

However, with a little creativity and tact, you can still include these examples in your portfolio — sort of.

Some freelancers choose to mention large contracts on their portfolios and the fact they can’t publically share the work in passing. This is an excellent way to let potential clients know you’ve played in the big leagues without jeopardizing your past clients’ confidentiality agreements.

10. Your portfolio

Okay, let’s get meta for a minute. Because there’s a good chance you’re overlooking one of the most important examples of your work:

Your actual portfolio! Confused?

Well, if you’re a freelance web developer, clients are going to notice if your online portfolio takes forever to load. And if you’re a writer by trade, typos will stick out like neon flares.

Clients see everything, for better or for worse. Don’t give them any reason to doubt your abilities.

But wait:

Building your brand doesn’t start and end with your freelance portfolio. Discover how to create and manage professional-looking invoices, estimates, and more with invoicely.