When you start out freelancing, there are a lot of things going on. If you’re like me, you’re mostly excited, and some parts freaking out, and then you’re kind of like a kid in a candy shop. There are so many opportunities out there, with so many kinds of companies. How do you decide what to do first? Yes, you need an updated resume and a relevant portfolio. But what do you want to be accomplishing and what sort of clients do you want to go after? As a creative, something I had to keep in mind was the type of work my portfolio represented and the type of work that I wanted it to portray in the future. After all, the work on my portfolio would help me attract a specific client base in the future. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind when you build your portfolio:

1. Keep it Organized

We’ve talked about usability before, but you want to keep in mind how someone is going to be viewing your portfolio. Will they be viewing it from a computer or in a mobile environment like a cell phone or tablet? How are you organizing your projects? Some people organize their work by the type of work they’re doing, like User Experience vs. User Interface; for me, I may separate things by Content Marketing pieces versus Branding copy. Other people may separate their work by user base; is the work B2B or B2C? Play around with what may feel more natural to you. And as you do more work for more clients, this may evolve.

2. Explain Your Part

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was Google. Every project has input from different team members at one point or another. In your portfolio, describe your role on each project. Did you only do market research behind one project but all the wireframes on another? Did you manage the content or also create the content? Be specific so that even if you don’t necessarily want to highlight the client you did work for, potential clients know you have that skill.

3. Don’t Show All Your Cards

Some people put every piece of work they’ve ever done on their portfolio, no matter how outdated or out of scope with their present expertise a project may be. Think twice about this. If you are trying to attract a specific type of client, then market your portfolio to them. For example, if you know you want to work in the Fintech space, show work that may be relevant. If you want to show a very specific skill set and the client you did work for using that skill is not in a relevant industry, highlight the skill, not the client.

Don’t be afraid to keep some of the work you’ve done under wraps, and let people know there’s more than what meets the eye! A portfolio is meant to be an overview and conversation starter, not an encyclopedia of everything you’ve ever done.

4. Just Say No

When I started out freelancing part-time years ago, I sometimes wanted to accept every project that came my way. Because I could do it, and they were paying me, I should, right? Oh, how wrong I was indeed. When you’re building your career, your skill set, and your portfolio, it’s hard to say “no” to people. “But if I did that,” I’d think, “I could put it in my portfolio.” Instead, if you don’t see how a project will serve your long-term goals of learning a new skill, hold back. Find a considerate way of letting a client know that you don’t have the creative bandwidth to take this type of project on. If you have time, suggest another project you’d be open to working on.

When it comes to sending potential clients to your portfolio, be up front about what you can offer to them and what you expect to get out of a project. Remember that your time is valuable and the time you commit to the work you’re doing should serve the vision you have for yourself down the line. And if it doesn’t, remember that you always have a choice to say no to an opportunity.

Looking for more guidance? Check out our full-length Portfolio Guide for more ways you can tackle your portfolio.


Allison is a former Creative Circle Account Executive, with a background in creative writing, content writing/strategy, publishing, and business development. Her world revolves around words and the relationships and interactions they inspire. Allison is now the Content Specialist at Raizlabs, a design and development firm in Boston and San Francisco.