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How to make an online portfolio 2020

Do you want to showcase your work online, but aren’t sure where to begin? Follow our seven essential steps, and learn how to make the digital portfolio of your dreams

Whether you’re crafting quality copy or drafting dazzling designs, you can have all the passion in the world, but no one’s going to know about it if they can’t see it. While skill and talent are key, a portfolio is there to showcase your work, making it easier for your business to be discovered.  

Even though you already know how important a portfolio is in your industry, what you might be less certain on is how to go about actually creating it. And that’s where we step in, offering you expert advice that’s easy to understand and equally as easy to act on. 

We’ll help you to get started on your portfolio, and decide which content to include. As well as this, we’ll highlight some key aspects that you might not have considered about your portfolio, like asking for feedback and keeping it updated. 

While creative portfolios often get all the attention, if you want to make a portfolio for a non-creative business (such as project management or event planning), this guide is for you too.


1. Clarify your aims

Take some time to consider why you’re creating a portfolio in the first place. While you already know how important a portfolio can be, think about what you’d actually like to use your portfolio for. 

At its core, an online portfolio is a way to showcase your creations – but it can be so much more. By putting your work online, you can reach a wider audience, and potentially attract more clients. 

You should also review where you are in your business journey, as this is likely to influence the approach you take with your portfolio. 

If you’re creating a portfolio for the first time, then it’s probably more about creating a portfolio initially, and then refining it over time – especially as and when you have more work to add to it.

Alternatively, if you’re already more established, your portfolio might be part of a wider overhaul of your business, with lots of content to include – more on that next!

2. Select the content

Your portfolio is a way to show your work more widely, as well as encourage potential clients to find out more about you. This is why you should spend some time going through your work to find the pieces that shine the brightest.

Be selective 

If most of your previous commissions have been focused on a particular type of work, but there’s something else you’d like to work on, then choose the pieces that mirror how you see your business developing in the future. 

For example, let's say you’re a graphic designer who specialises in logos, and you’d like to switch, or expand, to working on infographics. You should include as many infographic examples as you can, and reduce the number of logos – but don’t remove them entirely, as you’ll still need to show a range of work. 

That being said, it’s okay to not include every single piece of work you’ve ever created. Essentially, keep in what you’d like to do more of, and focus less on what you want to move away from.

Use your imagination 

But what about if you don’t have any examples of the work you’d like to focus on? Or you’re just starting out, and you’re looking at a blank screen?

If you’re in the early stages of your business and you need relevant work to reference, pieces that weren’t paid for or commissioned by a client are a great place to start – you can use this as an opportunity to simply trial an idea or a project. 

This is because someone who looks at your portfolio can see your creativity and what you’re capable of, should they hire you and become one of your first clients.

Lead with the best

Attention-grabbing, high-quality work should be promoted so that you’re seen in the best light straightaway. 

As well as hooking people in with your strongest pieces first, think about how the examples work individually and together. The aim is to create a cohesive portfolio that makes sense and best reflects you, both through specific pieces and as a whole. 

creative portfolio

Novo is just one of the portfolio templates that Squarespace offers

3. Choose a platform

You need a place for your portfolio to live, so it’s important to find the best possible digital home for it. Here, we offer an overview of our top picks for portfolio website builders.

Squarespace

If you run a creative business, a Squarespace portfolio website is perfect – in fact, it’s our top choice for portfolios. Squarespace tops our list because of its design-oriented approach, and the range of beautiful templates available. 

Not only do the sites look great, but there are presentation tools available that focus on promotion, which can help your work to stand out even more. And the integrations with social media are ideal for creatives who want to grow an audience.

Read our full Squarespace website builder review here.

Jimdo

If you’re looking for an easy to use web builder that allows you to get your portfolio up and running quickly, then Jimdo could be ideal. 

The free plan option means that if you’re an aspiring business owner, you can trial ideas without worrying about your budget. 

And if you’re already running a business, especially one with a legal focus (such as project management), then the Grow Legal plan stands out. It complies with GDPR, provides legal updates, and has the option to customise legal text. 

Weebly

Weebly stood out to us for its affordable pricing, with plans starting at $8 (£6.11) per month for the Starter plan, and going up to $25 (£19.08) per month for the Business plan. 

With the Business plan, you can sell unlimited products, as well as digital goods, from your site – we thought this could be great for artists or designers selling prints, for example. 

Not only does Weebly offer ecommerce capabilities, but it’s also easy to use. Weebly has a drag-and-drop editor with WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) functionality, meaning you can gradually create your website exactly as it's displayed online.

Weebly is best suited to those wanting to set up an online portfolio easily and quickly, such as small business owners who want to publish a portfolio with minimal fuss. 

And since Weebly can be used across a range of industries, it’s perfect if you’re a freelancer operating across several sectors, and need a portfolio site that can showcase a number of different styles equally as well. 

Learn more with our guide to the best portfolio web builders.

Chris Wilcock’s portfolio includes a distinct font style and size

4. Design your portfolio

When designing your portfolio, it’s essential to think about how people will move through and experience your portfolio. Some points to consider include:

Navigation

Whether your portfolio is a single page, or sits within your business website, you can use categories to help people navigate your site. For example, if you’re an artist, you could separate your work according to the medium (e.g. mixed media, paint, and illustrations).

Images 

High resolution images are a must – they should be taken with a high quality camera, or you could hire a photographer to do it for you.

Just keep an eye on the size and formats of images, as well as the overall page size, to avoid slow loading speeds.

Read our guide to how to make a photography portfolio for more specific information on creating this type of portfolio. 

Descriptions 

Include short descriptions of your work to provide context, explain the process, and detail the results.

Features 

Consider using hover icons on an image so that when a user lands on them, more information can be revealed (e.g. project details). 

Squarespace offers this functionality, while Weebly also offers it through the app store for premium plans, at an additional charge.

A scrollable gallery is a great way to display many images without taking up lots of space on a page. 

Also, think about if your portfolio will be static, or if it will include animations. As with hover icons, Weebly offers animation features through a paid-for app on premium plans. 

Call to actions (CTAs)

Remember, a portfolio is also there to help win new clients, so be sure to include CTAs that let people get in contact, buy a product, or request a service.

Katrina Otter’s portfolio includes a clear, concise and friendly CTA

Additional pages 

Usually, portfolio websites also include an ‘about you’ section, which is a great way to show off your personality. As well as this, include contact information to make it easy for people to reach you, as well as help with CTAs, as mentioned above.

Builder tools

Also, remember to use any tools provided by your chosen portfolio website builder. Often, providers offer functions that can help with SEO (search engine optimisation) so your site can be found more easily. 

Mobile responsiveness is another common feature, which ensures that your portfolio looks good and functions properly on smartphones and tablets, as well as desktops. 

Discover which providers made our list of the best website builders for small businesses.

Ask for feedback

When you spend a lot of time looking at your own work, it’s difficult to be objective.

That’s why it’s important to get additional perspectives on your portfolio, such as the type and range of work you’ve included, as well as how it fits together and what it’s like to navigate your site. 

While friends and family are a great place to start, try and seek out opinions from people who aren’t as close to you as well. 

Tap into your network and ask clients, former coworkers, and other people who work in your industry what they would think of your portfolio if it were to land in their inbox.

Not only are they more likely to be objective, but they can also give you professional opinions and industry perspectives. 

6. Consider print formats

While we’ve focused on how to make a portfolio website, there are some instances and certain industries where also having a physical portfolio is a good idea. 

For example, if you’re an interior designer and you want to show prospective clients a moodboard, a physical portfolio allows you to include material samples and paint swatches. 

Or, if you’re a designer who specialises in print work, then it makes sense that you’d also have a paper copy of your portfolio, to reflect the medium that you work in.

A physical portfolio can also help you to show your innovative thinking when pitching, or if you’re looking to stand out from the crowd in general.

7. Keep it updated

It’s easy to think that once you’ve made your portfolio, that’s it. However, there’s more to the process – a portfolio is an ongoing task, and should be updated accordingly. 

Not only should your work change as and when you have new pieces to include, but the design should too, to reflect wider trends and to avoid your portfolio looking outdated.

Case study: Joe Crabtree, freelance graphic designer

Joe Crabtree comments: “A portfolio is often how you make a first impression on potential clients, show off your best work, and give a nod to your personality. 

“If you want to stand out and catch someone’s eye, it’s important to invest time in making your portfolio look good. However, as designers, it’s easy for us to get caught up with making our work look great and forget about giving it context. 

“Taking the time to plan out your portfolio to showcase different types of work in a user-friendly format, and then captioning each section to give a short explanation can be beneficial for the reader, especially as they might be strapped for time. 

“Another tip is to always check that your clients are happy for you to include them in your portfolio – it’s always better to be safe than sorry!”


Summary

When making a portfolio, think about why you’re creating it initially – where are you in your business journey? Setting clear goals can also make it easier to select the best pieces of work to include in your portfolio. 

Where your portfolio is hosted is key too – how much it costs, how easy it is to use, and the design options available all contribute to this decision. 

Although there are a range of portfolio website builders out there, our favourite is the Squarespace portfolio web builder – with a firm focus on design, Squarespace is perfect for creative portfolios. 

The look and feel of a portfolio is key, so spend time perfecting your site. Think about its appearance, as well as what it’s like to use. Getting feedback on your portfolio can be helpful too, as it offers insight into how your portfolio is perceived more widely. 

While online portfolios are the go-to across many industries, some professions – such as print designers or interior designers – can benefit from a printed portfolio as well. 

And remember that it’s a constant work in progress: your portfolio should be updated to include new content and changes in design trends too.

Scarlett Cook
Scarlett Cook

Scarlett writes about a wide range of topics on the site, from business security to digital marketing and EPOS systems. She can also be found writing about diversity and sustainability in business, as well as managing the Just Started profiles.