If you’re a freelance creative on the internet, such as a web designer, or a writer, a great portfolio website is an essential part of your business’ online presence. It’s the place where people who find you through search or referrals will come to evaluate and decide whether to contact you. A portfolio website is essential as it is the place where you’ll showcase your work and attract potential clients.
Beyond finding clients, your portfolio will also help you expand your network of fellow creatives with whom you can enter partnerships with down the line or share referrals and helpful resources. How do you start though? And how do you set up a portfolio website that consistently attracts and converts clients? Here’s all you need to know to go from zero to hero.
The Website Framework
Before you get to put up your samples and testimonials, you’ll need to set up the framework of your website and provide a fantastic user experience. Handling the backend web elements might seem like a chore, but it’s crucial to allowing your content shine and making sure your site loads up fast and without issues. There are three things you’ll need to do in this section:
Choose Your Platform
There are a variety of platforms you can use to set up your portfolio website, from Wix, Squarespace and other less-popular alternatives to the ubiquitous WordPress. While each of those platforms has their pros and cons, the best option for most people is going to be WordPress. There, you’ll find a wide range of themes, templates, and plugins that you can use to customize your website however you want, and you’ll have the flexibility to modify it down the line without much fuss, even if you can’t code.
Pick a Domain Name
Your domain name is a major key to your online success and is essential to your personal branding. It’s going to feature in your profiles across social media and any website where your work is featured. Ideally, it should be memorable and easy to spell. Two easy options are using your name (first name and last name or any other variation) or your niche (weddingphotographer.com, businessemailwriter.com, etc.).
Whichever one you choose; the point is to ensure that it’s something contacts can easily remember when they want to check you out, and your profile isn’t right in front of them.
Get Great Hosting
The hosting plan is where many websites succeed or fail, and you’ll have to be thorough in considering your options. When comparing hosting plans, the most prominent stats are usually storage space, transfer bandwidth and speed.
For a portfolio website, the most important one you must focus on is speed. Unless you’re going to be hosting a blog alongside the site, you won’t come close to exhausting the bandwidth on any plan, and the storage allocation is going to be more than enough.
How fast your portfolio website loads, however, can vary widely from host to host. You want a plan that won’t keep your potential clients waiting any longer than they have to. Remember, the goal here is to have lots of media on your site because it will be the proof of your talent. Bluehost is an excellent option for most people – they offer an outstanding balance of speed and other features, including a free domain.
Now that you’ve finished the framework of the website, you’ll have to focus on the design. Speed won’t matter if what loads up is an ugly, disorganized site that chases site visitors away.
Pick a Theme
With WordPress, you can choose from thousands of themes, and if that seems overwhelming, you can cut down your search by checking those specifically labeled as being designed for portfolio websites. Look for what looks good and gives you the features you need to make your work shine.
Single-page Parallax themes were all the rage last year and are still popular now as portfolio templates, but you can go for more general ones which offer more versatility if you ever want to switch things up. Whichever one you choose, be sure it’s mobile-responsive. A large proportion of clients will access your site from their smartphones, and you need to make sure they don’t have any problems with the layout or functions.
UX UI Design
The first thing you need to include on your portfolio website is a photo of yourself. Whether you put it in the header or as a background or in any other section, the goal is to have a high-quality picture of yourself smiling and looking approachable. Scientific research has shown that people make judgments of a person’s intelligence and personality in less than a second, and a smile shifts perception toward the positive.
Apart from your photo, you should generally try to reduce the number of pictures and other graphic elements on your site that will make the ui design pleasant to look at. A minimal design (with a simple layout) will keep the focus on your projects, making it more likely that potential clients will go through your work extensively. Graphic design is crucial, so spend as much time as you need in order to get this right.
Set Up Your Pages and Copy
After the design, the next step is to fill in your content in the appropriate sections. Get a professional copywriter to handle this aspect, if you can spare the cash. If not, you can write it yourself. Edit meticulously and make sure that there are no errors. Remember to keep everything concise – attention spans are very short nowadays, and you want to make a great impression as early on as possible.
You can have as many pages as you need, but your ‘Portfolio’ (duh), ‘About me’ and ‘Services’ are non-negotiable. Testimonials and case studies boost your credibility and conversion rates significantly too, so you should just set them up immediately.
In your About page, write from the first-person perspective and let your personality shine through. Show readers the real you by being genuine. Highlight your experience, education, publications or certifications that bolster your credibility.
On your services page, you’ll need to give a comprehensive breakdown of everything you do and how clients would benefit. Be as detailed as possible without getting mired in technical jargon. You can also create a separate page for each service you offer and then link to them from the main overview page.
Here, include all the positive feedback you’ve gotten from clients. If you don’t have any, ask clients (even if you worked with them a long time ago, it can’t hurt) to say a few words about the experience of working with you and ask for their permission to post the testimonial along with their name and photo on your portfolio website. Some will agree, and some won’t, but a few testimonials are better than none, and testimonials without names and pictures are better than none too.
At their core, case studies are extended testimonials – You’ll take readers behind the scenes and show how you handled a client’s project and the results you were able to deliver. You can find many templates for these on the internet or follow the format of your favorite freelancers’ case studies. Again, the more you have, the better, but two or three is a good number to start.
Hosting a blog on your portfolio site can be an excellent way to show your expertise in your field. If you’re a programmer, for instance, you can write on front-end development; if you’re creating a graphic design portfolio, posting regular tips on using Adobe creative cloud or will help you build credibility in the industry. You’ll naturally attract a following over time and get more clients by appearing higher in SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) for people looking for your services.
There’s a lot of disagreement about whether it’s better to include a price list for your services on your portfolio website or wait for clients to contact you before giving them a quote. On the one hand, if you make your price list available on your site, you’d be ensuring that only clients who can afford your rates will get in touch. On the other, you might miss out on clients who need some convincing regarding why they should spend a particular amount on your service. Go with whichever one feels right, and you can always make a change down the road.
On this page, the central elements should be a well-worded CTA (call to action) and a contact form that’ll allow potential clients to send messages directly to you. There are a variety of contact form plugins you can choose from the WordPress plugin library. A free option like Contact Form 7 should suffice when you’re just starting but be sure whichever one you select has a captcha feature. Without that, you’ll be getting a lot of bot-generated messages in your inbox. Be sure the email is one that you’ve set up correctly in the web hosting panel, so you don’t miss any client inquiries.
Getting Your Portfolio Right
Now, let’s get to your actual portfolio – the place where you’ll show off all your work and impress clients.
The first thing to sort out here is to choose which projects you’ll be putting up. While it might be tempting to upload everything you’ve ever worked on, that’s not the best strategy. Instead, think about who your target clients are and then put up the projects that reflect that audience’s needs and interests. That way, when they go through your portfolio website, they’ll immediately see that you have experience working on projects just like theirs.
Secondly, be sure to give some context for every project along with their featured images. It doesn’t need to be as detailed as a case study, but one or two sentences giving a brief overview would add credibility to each entry in your portfolio, whether it’s a logo, article or any other project.
Also, you need to keep your portfolio up to date. If you use a theme that shows when you posted each item and potential clients see that your last portfolio update was from two years ago, they’ll get the impression that you haven’t been getting work or that you don’t pay enough attention to your portfolio site. If you struggle with this, hire a designer to help.
Optimizing Your Website Sales
Up to 60% of people choose professionals to hire by searching on Google. SEO is a combination of a wide range of factors, and it can be a bit hectic to get right. You can though, with enough patience and effort. Start by making sure all your web copy (and image alt attributes) includes keywords related to your services. You can install the Yoast plugin. It has all the features you’ll need in a compact, plug-and-play package that you can use even without technical knowledge.
As a freelance expert, your social media profiles are significant components of your brand. Any visitor to your online portfolio website who’s considering hiring you will likely go through your profiles to see if your personality is a good fit for them. Include links to your profile on the homepage and all other pages and make them conspicuous enough that visitors can easily find them and interact with you (like your Facebook page, follow on Twitter, etc.)
As soon as you get your portfolio website up and running, it’s going to be the target of hackers looking to steal your information and take control of your site or deface it for fun. Again, you can get many plugins that offer essential to advanced security features. WordPress is the most popular plugin in this section, and it provides a slew of features – automatic IP management, brute-force attack prevention, etc. – that’ll keep your website safe.
Remember to take precautions too, including using a complex password, not logging in on unsecured computers and being wary of phishing emails and websites.
An online portfolio website is essentially the front door of your online business and a great way of personal branding. Whether you’re a writer, a designer, or a photographer, a portfolio website can make or break your business. It has the power to convert online visitors into paying clients. An excellent online portfolio will have a solid balance of aesthetics and functionality. It’ll be responsive, easy to navigate and search engine optimized for lead generation and conversion.
If you put in the time, effort and funds into creating a stellar portfolio website, you can be sure of getting immense ROI throughout its lifetime. All you have to do is get a domain name and hosting here, and you’ll be on the path to securing a steady stream of clients.