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Insights & Advice

How to prepare & present your freelance portfolio

Depending on your area of expertise, a portfolio is something you might not necessarily need, but it is a good way to showcase your best work whether you are a Digital Marketer, Copywriter, or Developer.

For Creatives, however, having a portfolio is a must have, and especially so in the world of freelance. Your portfolio is your strongest selling tool and brings to life, on paper, what you have discussed with a prospective client. It ‘walks the talk’ and is worth investing time in.

Although CV’s can be deemed as things of the past, here at Beyond The Book, we still get asked by our clients to send them along with portfolios. If you choose to use both a CV and portfolio, make sure the two marry up in terms of design and content; your portfolio is effectively providing evidence of the talent and experience you talk about on your CV. You can also have a CV page as part of your portfolio, which means you have all the information in one place. You can see our advice on tailoring your CV for freelance here.

Remember, you don’t always get a chance to talk through your portfolio in person, therefore, your portfolio should be comprehensive enough for it to thoroughly represent your skill set without you having to explain it. It’s not only about what is in it, but the structure and design from cover to cover. Make sure your portfolio effectively showcases your experience and abilities throughout - from the opening paragraph to the whole layout and a clear ‘call to action’.

Choose an appropriate format/medium

While many freelancers still have a physical portfolio, it is also crucial that you have a digital version. Whether that is a website or a PDF portfolio, a vast amount of business is now online, and you do not want to be left behind. Having a website also means that you can be found online, which opens up another avenue of potential work.

Depending on your area of expertise, make sure your portfolio also represents the channels you use and/or design for, as part of your day to day. For example, if you are a Web Designer, a website is essential, and for Developers, your potential future clients will want to see the quality of your code in one place, such as your own website or your GitHub.

Getting hold of samples

If you are just about to embark on your freelance journey, you can ask your previous employers’ permission to showcase work from past employment, as well as using your own personal projects or dummy work. Bear in mind that due to confidentiality it can be difficult to get hold of samples of freelance work. Even if you can only showcase a few pieces, the key is to showcase them well!

Which work is best?

It’s tempting to put all of your work in a portfolio but try not to. Firstly, you will end up with a very long list of samples that no one has time to go through and secondly, it’s important to diversify your portfolio as much as you can.

You will want your portfolio to effectively represent your skill set and abilities and, therefore, cater to a variety of clients. If you want to go beyond having one portfolio, you can always tailor your portfolio for a specific client and their requirement, but bear in mind that freelance is very competitive and you will want to have something ready to send, should a requirement come in.

A potential client may not agree with you as far as the work that you consider to be your best. It’s great to show your most exciting work, but also work that gets creative within tight corporate guidelines, or detailed annual reports. If you lack some commercial experience, you could try approaching local companies or charities, offer to work for free and ask to include this work in your portfolio.

As well as the finished work, remember to present your thinking. Just because scamps can be unrefined and scruffy does not mean these should not be included. The more of your thought that you can demonstrate, the better.

For your design portfolio, you may also want to present your work, so it appears within its relevant environment. You could include images of how the project looked at the time of completion. For example, if you have designed billboards, you may want to include a photo of the billboard in situ or if you have designed brochures, it would be good to show a few spreads of a brochure mock-up. When it comes to including campaign work, you don’t need to show every piece of application, but it would be good to showcase a few different formats to again demonstrate your ability to translate design to various formats and channels.

Presenting your samples this way makes the overall design neater and helps the viewer to see what the final product actually looked like, plus it demonstrates your skill to apply design in a relevant format.

Think about the structure and length

Give your portfolio a good flow to its structure, whether that is based on the different sectors you have experience in, the type of skill used for a project, or even dividing the work based on the different formats or channels you have done work for.

However, don’t take a client through your best work first and then to the work you are least proud of. You do not want to risk ending on a negative! Put your best pieces at the front and the back, and perhaps the more ‘nuts and bolts’ work in the middle.

While your portfolio should be comprehensive, remember that no one has time to click through 100 pages for an urgent freelance job. Our recommendation is to stick to 12-20 pages if you’re using a PDF portfolio, but the most appropriate length depends on your area of expertise, the layout, and of course the amount of commercial experience you have overall.

Using a website to showcase your work allows you to include as many projects as you like. The key again is to give it a good structure and label all the work appropriately to ensure that whoever is viewing your site can be directed straight to the relevant samples.

Explaining each piece

Don’t leave room for assumption – make sure your portfolio explains a little bit about each project, elaborating on the initial brief and the challenges, as well as your particular contribution. Also, remember to give credit to the agency or company that you were doing this work for. The viewer can’t make a real judgment of your abilities without having a feel of ‘before and after’, as well as what parts of the final piece you were involved in. It’s a careful balancing act as you don’t want this to be an essay, so try to keep it brief. For example, you could use bullet points with keywords.

Presenting your portfolio

Presenting your portfolio is, even more, a demonstration of your ability as a freelancer. At this stage, it is about your work and about you, your confidence and your passion. We recommend you rehearse your presentation beforehand, so you are able to articulate your thinking and approach in a concise and effective manner.

Make each piece a success, highlighting the challenge, your thought process and why you felt it was important to showcase. Be careful to not spend too long on each piece; though do ask if the client would like you to expand. Perhaps ask how long you have at the beginning of the meeting or, even better, ask before you get there and time your presentation to perfection. Don’t be too flashy - let the work be the hero. A flash presentation may look great but could be distracting.

Here at Beyond The Book, we aim to make freelancing a positive experience and highly successful. We want you to have a great career and hope you have found this information useful. Where possible, we are more than happy to give more tailored and specific advice on portfolios.

For more information please contact us on 01789 451510 or email us.

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