The Anatomy of a Compelling Online Portfolio

  • By KAT BOOGAARD
  • January 29, 2021

Let’s face it: Prospective employers, frenemies, and your weird great-aunt on your mom’s side can find out a lot about you just through a simple Google search.
So, when they type your name in, what will they find? Ideally, more than a link to your Facebook page and an archived news article about your high school soccer tournament.
Fortunately, you can control what you put out there with a super buttoned-up online portfolio (read: bragging rights). Even if you’re not actively looking for a job—most freelancers are always on the hunt for new clients, though #respectthehustle— it’s important to keep your work or side projects updated and in tip-top shape.
Think of your online portfolio as an extension of yourself. Click To Tweet
Think of your online portfolio as an extension of yourself, giving those viewing it more context into your passions, career, or both. For a stand-out one, here’s what it should include:

1. Your story

Yes, visitors to your online portfolio want to know more about the work you do. But, they also want to understand more about you as a person.
For that reason, make sure you include a brief bio or a bit about your background on your homepage or on a designated “About Me” page.
Whether you discovered an early passion for photography while using a disposable camera to photograph your stuffed animals or found web design to be an amazing creative outlet while stuck in your soul-sucking nine-to-five, take time to share what got you to where you are today.
Another thing to include? A tagline in a prominent place on the homepage of your site. I know, it can feel a little promotional. But, it’s an effective way for people to immediately glean what you do and who you do it for—without needing to do endless scrolling.
Here’s an example:
Freelance content marketer helping brands to educate and engage their audiences.

2. Who you’ve worked with

Remember, your online portfolio is a place where you can brag about all of the jaw-droppingly awesome work you’ve done—as well as the unbelievable clients you’ve done it for.
Include the names (or logos, if you can!) of some of the most impressive outlets that you’ve worked with in the past. Just make sure to get the necessary permission before promoting them on your site.
Doing so will add a hefty dose of credibility to your reputation as a freelancer.

3. Samples of your work

Here it is, the meat and potatoes of your site. Your online portfolio should be just that—a portfolio, meaning it should adequately showcase samples of your previous work.
There are a few important things to keep in mind here. For starters, don’t think that you need to include every single project on your site (believe me, people won’t take the time to click through all 800 of them!). It’s far better to be selective, put together a good variety, and highlight only the work that you’re most proud of.
For your online portfolio, choose the work you're most proud of. Click To Tweet
Secondly, find a way to present your samples in a way that’s easy to navigate and digest. Slow loading times caused by massive files will only frustrate your visitors—meaning they’ll likely leave before ever even seeing the work that makes you so hirable.

4. List of capabilities

Your work samples are a great way to show what you do. But, sometimes it’s also necessary to explicitly state it. This solidifies your brand as a freelancer, and also makes it immediately clear what sort of projects you will and won’t take on.
For example, let’s say you’re a freelance writer. Will you work on anything involving the written word—from website copy to press releases? Or, do you prefer to stick to more editorial content, such as articles and ebooks?
Get specific about what you do, and your portfolio will put in the legwork of weeding through prospective clients for you.

5. Blog

“Hey, but I’m not a writer!” I can hear you protesting all the way over here. And, I get it—if you aren’t trying to cut it as a freelance writer, why would you even think of including a blog as part of your portfolio?
True, you may not be a wordsmith by trade. But, make no mistake, you’re still trying to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen field, and authoring related blog posts is a great way to do just that.
Perhaps you’re a web developer who will author helpful posts about best practices. Or, maybe you’re a graphic designer who will share simple tips and advice.
Writing this sort of content (even if you’re not a born writer!) will establish you as a thought leader, which is bound to be appealing to any prospective clients in search of a freelancer who really knows what he or she is doing (spoiler alert: all clients are looking for this exact thing!).

6. Testimonials

You already know that word-of-mouth marketing is incredibly powerful. So, why not leverage that for yourself?
Ask some past happy clients if they’d be willing to provide a testimonial for you to include with your portfolio.
Whether you want to use short and snappy quotes or even video messages, sharing these sorts of recommendations will show potential new clients that you don’t just talk the talk—you also walk the walk.

7. Social media links

If you include all of the above elements, you’ll have a comprehensive online hub where everybody from employers to your Google-happy mother (hi, mom!) can learn more about what you’re capable of.
However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t provide additional resources where visitors can dive in and find out even more. Are you active on Twitter? Do you post frequent updates on LinkedIn? Do you share great snapshots on Instagram?
Include links to any relevant (and, of course, professional!) social media accounts so that people can take things one step further and get to know you on a more personal level—outside of the confines of your beautifully-crafted website.
There you go—all of the boxes you should check when creating your online portfolio. The final thing you should be sure to include? Your contact information.
Whether you want to use a fillable form, list your email address, or provide your coordinates for carrier pigeons (we don’t recommend that, by the way), you need to give people a way to get in touch. That way, when they’re undoubtedly impressed with your work, they can easily reach out—and, of course, hire you.
 
What do you add to your online portfolio to make it pop? Tell us in the comments below!

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