What’s the first thing you think about when you hear the word “portfolio”? Do you think of your online business? I have to confess I don’t. The first thing I think about is an artist lugging around a huge folder full of drawings and paintings. It takes a moment for me to think of how a portfolio applies to freelance businesses, especially a VA business.
And to take the image a little further, how do you use a portfolio in the virtual world, where you may not have an opportunity to meet personally with prospective clients? Is there a way to showcase your work samples in an effective way without lugging them around or inviting clients to look over your shoulder while you perform tasks on your computer?
The answer is yes, and we’ll unpack some of those strategies below. If you don’t have a portfolio yet, I hope this post will serve as a helpful guide to get you started. And if you already have a portfolio, I hope these tips will help you take it to the next level.
So, without further ado, here are four strategies for creating a winning portfolio to showcase to clients:
1. Define Your Business Goals.
If you follow our VAClassroom blog, you may start feeling a bit of déjà vu at this point, because I’m going to repeat some familiar advice. As with all your content, whether you are a writer, designer, social media manager, virtual events specialist, etc., you want to think of your portfolio from your target audience’s perspective. You also need to have a firm grasp on your own identity and goals as a business owner. The first step is to ask yourself these questions:
– Who am I?
– Who is my target audience?
– What skills do I want to offer?
– What skills do I NOT want to offer?
In an article called “How to Build a Portfolio That Drives Your Freelance Business,”
Brent Galloway says, “Rather than showcase everything you’ve had experience in, your freelance portfolio must focus on what you’d like to be known for.” He further stresses that we should make the type of work we specialize in apparent.
I remember an art festival I entered back in high school. I put together a portfolio showcasing every type of skill I had learned in art class – all kinds of drawings, paintings, and sculptures with no unifying theme. To my dismay, I discovered the judges weren’t impressed at all. I hadn’t done enough research to understand that they were looking for each artist’s individual style across different media.
In the same way, be sure to plan your business portfolio samples in a way that focusses on your ideal clients’ needs and what they’ll be looking for. But at the same time, remain true to your own business goals and niche. Showcase your work with a laser focus on your targeted audience, and only show the types of work you’d like to do again if asked.
2. Collect Work Samples.
Now, with clear goals in mind, you can set about gathering work samples for your portfolio. If you’ve been in business for a while, this task should be fairly simple, but if you’re just starting out, never fear. There are still ways to showcase your skills using free work you’ve done for others or for yourself.
First of all, think about which work samples illustrate your skills and passions, as well as being in demand by your ideal clients. Which projects will attract clients to your business? And this goes for all freelancers and Virtual Assistants, not just artists or graphic designers.
Danny Margulies gives the following advice in his article “How to build a freelance portfolio from scratch — in 1 afternoon”:
“You don’t need to be in a creative industry like writing or graphic design in order to build an impressive freelance portfolio…
“It doesn’t matter what type of work you do. Screenshots of spreadsheets, research documents, social media posts, apps and anything else you can imagine can all make great portfolio pieces that make you look smart and credible.”
Depending on your niche, he also recommends posting screenshots of results you’ve achieved, like a Facebook post with likes and shares if you’re a Social Media specialist. For copywriters, he suggests writing an email for a friend’s business and taking a screenshot of the results in MailChimp to show that people are opening and reading your emails.
In the case of paid work, remember to request permission to include your clients’ projects in your portfolio. In an article titled “Building a portfolio that wins you the work you want,” Hannah Belton advises “building it into your client contract that you reserve the right to use the visuals you create for your client in your own marketing, although it’s important to be respectful and you should always double check with them that they’re happy before you go posting their visuals everywhere.” This is because some clients may need to maintain privacy about their projects for commercial reasons.
If you don’t have any clients yet, doing some free work can be a good way to start building your portfolio, but don’t let it get out of hand. The last thing you need is to be seen as the best online professional because you don’t cost anything. In addition to including work you’ve done for family and friends, Lise Cartwright has some good advice in her article, “How to Create Samples for Your Portfolio (When You Have Zero Clients).” She suggests offering your services to your first 5 clients at a steep discount in exchange for featuring them in your portfolio.
3. Choose Your Technology.
Now for the fun part? Well, if you like technology, this could be the fun part. In any case, this step is important because it’s how your portfolio takes shape and enters the virtual world.
As with all aspects of your business, you want to tailor your portfolio to your target audience and your business goals. Where do your potential clients hang out, and how are they most likely to access your portfolio?
As Virtual Assistants and online professionals, many of us have a website we use for lead generation and as a hub for our online business activities. If that’s you, a website plugin could be the perfect choice for your portfolio.
For example, if you’re using a WordPress website, you could use a plugin like Nimble Portfolio. This free plugin helps you create a media gallery you can use to display client logos, projects, pictures, and videos. One attractive feature is that it allows not only picture and video previews, but also PDF previews.
If you’re a designer, many articles recommend sites like Behance or Dribbble for displaying visual media. Instagram and Pinterest are other popular free options for the graphic design field.
In her article “Five Tips to Build a Freelance Portfolio that Will Get You Work”, Hannah Martin recommends clippings.me as a great place to build a writing portfolio. The advantage of this site is that writers can upload PDFs, add links, and embed multimedia pieces, like podcasts and videos.
This is just a taste of the many different portfolio tools out there. Before choosing your technology, take some time to research the options for your field and select the one that best fits you and your target audience.
4. Unlock Your Portfolio’s Marketing Potential.
Okay, we’re almost done, but not yet. Now that your portfolio is online, you want to make sure it’s reaching your target audience and driving traffic back to your site. You also want to keep it attractive and up to date so it reflects favorably on your business.
One effective way to promote your portfolio is to build it into your content marketing strategy. My hair stylist has an Instagram account where she posts photos of clients’ haircuts and color treatments soon after their appointments. I thoroughly enjoy having my hair featured and usually share the post with my followers, complimenting my stylist and recommending her salon and services. My followers usually can’t believe it’s my hair; it looks too good. 😉
Provided you have your client’s permission, sharing recent portfolio items through social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest can bring traffic to your site as well as giving your client some exposure. You could even write a blog post or create a YouTube video or podcast episode where you talk about the process of completing the project.
In an article titled “How to Craft a Standout Online Portfolio: 7 Tips & Tools,” Matthew Kane stresses the importance of including contact information on your portfolio – not just your email and telephone number, but contact and lead capture forms, a subscription sign-up, and buttons to follow your social media profiles. He says, “Being active in giving your potential customers a way to contact you — or for you to contact them — is a surefire way of increasing your chances of gaining business.”
And remember to keep an eye on your portfolio to make sure it’s up to date. If your early projects look kind of embarrassing now that you’ve improved your skills, or if you’ve stopped offering certain services, it’s important to remove those work samples. In the article above, Kane recommends setting a recurring reminder in Google Calendar so that you’ll revisit your portfolio at least once a year.
No matter what type of virtual business or niche you’re in, a portfolio can help you win clients by showcasing your skills in a highly visual and appealing way. Whatever stage you’re at in your business, I hope the above tips are helpful. And if you have any strategies that have worked for you, please post them in the comments below!
Here’s a quick summary: