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How to Wow Your Clients Even With a Tiny Portfolio

Chris Misterek

Tiny portfolios. We all start with them. And, they kind of suck. If only they were as cool as Tiny Homes. *Sigh*

Here is the conundrum: Clients are looking for web designers with a proven portfolio before they hire them. But, how do you add to your portfolio if no one wants to hire you?!

When I got started in freelancing I had 1 website and 1 really bad landing page to show off. Just links with a background image that wasn’t even responsive.

Despite that, I was still able to land some solid gigs and build my web design portfolio while getting paid to do so. 

Here is how you make a small start a big finish:

  1. Work with what you have

    Start brainstorming. Have you ever made a background for your phone? Use it. What about that invitation you made for your nephew’s birthday? Throw it in there.

    I used a slide deck that I had made for a friend of mine.

    The chances that you have something to put up are pretty likely. So, dig through that box in your closet or some hidden file on your computer and find some portfolio gold.

  1. Don’t Highlight Your Lack of Portfolio

    Just because the 3 things on your portfolio are all you have doesn’t mean you have to tell that to the world.

    Hear me out. I’m in no way telling you to lie about what you’ve got. If you don’t have integrity you won’t make it as a web designer.

    It’s so easy to smell out a rat. Believe me.

    But, there’s a difference between being honest and being self-deprecating.

    When I didn’t have much I would say things like, “Here is my most recent project,” and then show them the only website I had ever done.

    If they asked if I had more I would tell them, “I’m currently working on building my portfolio. That is why I’m offering such a great price. But, I’m confident you’ll be happy with the end product, AND I’ll work hard to make sure you’re 100% satisfied.”

  2. Use What You’ve Done Wisely

    The first website I made used a platform called Optimize Press. So early on, I highlighted the fact that I had Optimize Press experience.

    Almost all of the gigs I got in those days were because someone was looking for a freelancer with Optimize Press know-how.

    Typically, clients have a preferred platform or plugin or system. AND, they’re looking for someone that has experience with that specific platform or plugin or system to help them.

    So, what have you worked with? Some specific WordPress theme? Some specific plugin within WordPress? Be as specific as possible. You can’t just say “Magento Experience.” You have to narrow it down much much more to rise to the top.

  3. Work for Free

    If you have absolutely nothing to put on your portfolio it might be a good time to trade your time for something that will help a friend and give you something to work with.

    Brainstorm all the people you know that could use a website and warm up those texting fingers. Heck, start with your own site and put that on your portfolio.

    BUT please please please take this just as seriously as you would a paid gig. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have told someone they’d build them a website for free and then never did.

    Look at it this way: you’re not doing this for free. This is an investment in the future of your career or business as a web designer.

    If your investment is minimal you will get minimal returns.

  4. Do Simple Concept Pieces

    If you can’t find anyone who is looking for free work then another option is taking a concept like a made-up restaurant and go for it.

    At the end of the day, most clients are just looking for proof of concept. If you can send them an actual link they can visit and scroll through your work then you’re winning.

The bottom line is to stay busy even if you don’t have any work. Hopefully, you just love web design and it doesn’t feel like a job.

When there were seasons that work was slow, I kept working on other things. I’d redesign my site or make something just for fun. OR, I’d learn something new to be able to offer to future clients.

The worst thing to do is stop making stuff. Eventually, the work will come.

While you are busy building your portfolio, people are busy looking for someone just like you.

So, tell me about what is in your portfolio right now? Are you just getting started or have you been doing this for a while? What are some things you’ve learned to make mountains out of molehills?



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