Your portfolio is an experience.
Testimonials, samples…I stressed about getting those together into a great package when I first started freelancing as a writer. What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the traditional portfolio—that collection of art work, photographs, successful projects—was just one of many checkboxes that clients were looking to tick before deciding that my work was worth their money.
The Essence Of An Experience
The Know-Like-Trust mantra that Copyblogger preaches is real.
I started off selling my education and experience to get new clients, but I’ve noticed that’s not what they’re saying put them over the edge when it came to signing on with me. What I most frequently hear includes:
- “You communicate clearly.”
- “I can tell I’m going to enjoy working with you.”
- “You clearly know your subject.”
That means that the portfolio you’ve got (or are stressing about building) probably isn’t quite as mission-critical as you think it is—it means you’re looking to create a full experience that lets a potential client know they will walk away, happy with the decision they’ve made to hire you.
That experience is made up of multiple components, and I want to cover a few of the most important (and easiest to start) here.
Elements Of A Portfolio Experience
The great part about it all is that developing these elements is a process, so even if you don’t feel ready now, getting them started means you’ve taken the most important step toward creating an effective portfolio experience down the road of client understanding.
Lay the foundations for these and start developing them (they don’t have to be perfect right out of the gate…they shouldn’t be actually) so that when you do get an editor or clients’ attention, you’ll already be outshining your competition.
Your Web Presence
We’re starting here because the rest of your portfolio experience hinges on having a web presence that solidifies client confidence.
You have to have a web presence and you have to take it seriously.
If you’re just getting started, an UpWork account and/or a LinkedIn profile is great (setting up a page on sites like Skyword or Contently works for content creators too), but if you want clients to trust you and, let’s be real…pay you more…you have to invest before they do. I’m a big fan of buying your own domain—partially because of control and flexibility, but also because it tells clients that you’re serious about what you do. I’m always looking to push my rates to the absolute edge of the value I provide, and I can’t do that if I’m still playing digital sharecropping games.
Don’t spend a ton of money on this though. There are plenty of free, professional-looking WordPress themes (I haven’t tried any of these myself, so I can’t vouch for them) and hosting shouldn’t run you more than a couple of coffees or trips to the movies a month.
Communication That’s Consistent
Every client is different, but you should treat them all basically the same.
From initial contact emails to project interview questions, templates are your friend. Not only do they save time, but they also ensure that for every client, you’re checking off all the important boxes.
For example, I have a standard list of questions that I ask all my clients before we get started on a piece. They include goals, expectations, questions about their past experiences…all things that not only make sure the final product resonates once everything is done, but that also, right from the beginning, let them know that you want them to be happy and will do the work that it takes to get there.
Of course, for each project that list takes research and tweaking, but it’s essentially the same process each time. People who pay for freelance work likely know the bitter taste of poor communication and chaotic, uninformed, inefficient work. If you can put their minds at ease on those points, you’ve already won half the battle.
Action Point: Create a folder of templates and start saving your most effective emails, pitch letters, and client communications until you have a full library. If you don’t have any, start writing generic ones and improve them as you grow.
An About Page That Means Something
Most About pages are as bland as grits without salt, and that just doesn’t have to be.
When someone goes to your About page, they want to know what you have to offer them. So instead of personal mantras or meaningless adjectives, show them what it’s like to work with you…What kind of client do you serve? Will you be interviewing them before the project starts? How will you make sure they’re satisfied once the project is done?
Do this in addition to a (preferably bulleted) rundown of your experience, education, and skills, and your prospective clients will have a complete picture of who you are, and most importantly, what they can expect.
Action Point: If you have an About page, pretend to be a prospective client and read through it. Make a list of the information that actually pertains to you and what you might be purchasing. If you walk away with only 3 points and your page is 1200 words long, you’ve got some tweaking to do.
If you don’t have one, start a short page based on the questions above. Add to it as you learn what moves your clients to buy.
A Blog That’s More Than A Blog
I’ve been considering turning my freelance blog into a collection of static articles, and that’s because my readers don’t seem to be moved by my blog activity.
That might just be a failure to connect on my part, but from what I can see, readers like seeing that I can write about my work, but just don’t seem to click through my latest updates around industry information.
So if you’re not down for writing weekly posts, that’s just fine. Your site doesn’t have to be an ongoing, never-ending obligation. Turn off the date option on your blog and write a few, high-level articles about things your clients care about.
That does leave a question though…where do you prove that you’re up-to-date and connected? That’s what social is for. That might be Instagram if you’re a photographer, Pinterest if you create custom furniture, or LinkedIn if you’re a software developer. All of those platforms have audiences clamoring for periodic content, and most of those platforms are low on quality periodic content. My posts on LinkedIn literally get hundreds of times the hits that they do on my blog, so I do most of my news and current thought-related work there.
Action Point: Make a list of 5 topics that your clients care about and come up with two article ideas for each. Make sure that they are things that set you apart from other workers in your field. Use these as the foundation of your blog/article presence as you develop your site.
Put all of these pieces together and know that your work samples (or future samples) will be exponentially more effective in bringing in new clients and establishing a reputation in your field.
Set aside about an hour to work through those action points. If you get stuck or need some feedback, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com, or come try out your free month of membership to get feedback from me and other freelancers.
P.S. Need more help with your marketing? Check out our “One Sentence Marketing Plan.”