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Everything You Need to Know About Portfolios

Sarah Bartley
Front-end web developer | Moderator for Elphas Can Code | Creator of Disney Codes Challenge
・9 min read

Originally published May 30, 2018 on The Original BritishPandaChick blog. I made tweaks to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.

Today's post is all about portfolios. Portfolios aren't just a way to show who you are online. It is the most important thing any freelancer can have in order to show your ideal clients you are the right person for the job.

In Skillcrush 300, they dedicate an entire lesson to portfolios and outline steps students need to take to start building their own portfolios. This post will expand on what I mentioned during part two of the online presence guide and review this Skillcrush lesson so you can start putting your own portfolio together.

Do you need a portfolio?

In short, the answer is yes. It doesn't matter what services you plan to offer or what your ideal clients look like. A portfolio is often a must for any freelancer.

Portfolios are the center of everything freelancers do because this is the greatest way to demonstrate you and your work online. Skillcrush thinks of them as a one-stop-shop your clients go to find out more about you in one place. Skillcrush likes to think of this as an online piece of paradise since it is much more powerful than a resume.

While resumes focus on your employment history, portfolios are all about what you can do with the skills you put on your resume. This means your projects serve as examples of how you use these skills and services on your website.

Portfolios aren't just about showing what you can do.

The projects you put in your portfolio act as movie trailers to your ideal clients. They allow clients to learn more about the value you bring to your projects and what your process looks like to create these projects. For many freelancers, giving clients a sneak peek at their processes has been the one thing that helps their ideal clients decide if they are the right person for the job.

In tech, portfolios are necessary not only for freelancing but for looking for jobs. Many employers expect candidates to submit portfolios to see they can use specific skills required for positions. Although many want a portfolio site link, online tools such as Github, Dribbble, and Behance are becoming powerful extensions of your portfolio since you can show more of your work online.

I've talked to many developers and they have all recommended including a link to these tools on your resume since many employers will be looking to see what else you have been building. There is no right or wrong way to create a portfolio website. Every freelancer is going to have a different version using different code or even content management systems (CMS) to make their portfolios.

Important Things to Remember

Before you start building a portfolio or updating an existing portfolio, Skillcrush has identified a few points for students to remember about portfolios.

1. You don't need the most impressive website ever!

Portfolios don't have to the best website you've ever built or be super fancy. As a matter of fact, it is often better to keep portfolios simple and practical because it keeps your ideal clients focused on the goal you want them to achieve. Too many effects and animations can actually backfire so make sure you think about user experience and how to get your ideal clients to a specific goal.

My portfolio site is not the best site I've ever made. It has actually gone through many changes throughout my coding journey. However, it does reflect where I am on my coding journey and the progress I've made.

I've kept mine simple by having specific sections for the about me, portfolio, and contact area. Although it isn't fancy, it is set up so a potential client can easily find what they are looking for.

2. Think highlight reel, not a catalog!

One of the mistakes freelancers (including myself) have made is getting wrapped up in all the details and trying to show off everything I can do. This is a mistake since it didn't give my portfolio a clear focus. Instead of showing every project, Skillcrush encourages students to focus on the best projects and writing awesome summaries for those projects.

3. Schedule times to work on your portfolio!

Portfolios are an ongoing project so they will never be 100% up to date. That is fine, but it is still important to make things current. Don't worry about checking your portfolio every single day.

Skillcrush recommends creating a routine to do a check-up on your portfolio site and update it. They even suggest finding a routine that works best for you.

4. Ease up on yourself!

When it comes to portfolios, freelancers are the harshest critics of themselves and always nitpick things about their portfolios. I am guilty of this myself and could easily write another blog post of all the things that could be better on my portfolio site. Don't do this!

Instead, take a deep breath and remember portfolios are always a work in progress. Skillcrush even reminds their students that clients aren't web developers or web designers. That is why they are hiring you! So the clients won't catch on all the details you might notice about your portfolio.

5. Don't compare or compete with other freelancers!

Remembering comparing yourself to others is the quickest way to impostor syndrome, but it is pointless to compare and compete with other freelancers because every freelancer is different. Freelancers are going to offer different services and prices which fit the clients they are looking for. Skillcrush even says 95% of the time, you are only competing with freelancers in your own head.

Most importantly, a live portfolio is the best portfolio. Any portfolio that is live on the web is the best since it is the start of where ideal clients can find you. The goal is just to get something on the web since something is better than nothing at all. Many freelancers focus on launching a portfolio first then make changes once it was live on the web.

Portfolio = Confidence!

There are many perks to portfolios, but the biggest perk is the confidence it gives freelancers. Just having a portfolio shows the progress you've made. So whenever impostor syndrome rears its head, take a look at your own portfolio.

Your portfolio will show what you can do and how far you've come. As you get more freelance projects, these projects will even show the value you've given to others. For many developers and web designers, the portfolio site is an automatic confidence booster since this is often the first project many developers tackle when they begin learning how to code.

Building our own portfolios makes every developer confident since it is the first project we made by ourselves. My portfolio site was the first project I made when I started learning how to code and is still one of my favorite projects because of how confident the entire experience made me.

Let’s talk about case studies!

In order to show your clients you are the best person for the job, freelancers often use case studies both to show their work and thought process. Skillcrush defines case studies as a description freelancers use to describe how they complete projects.

Think of case studies as the behind-the-scenes features on DVDs/Blu-Rays. Freelancers use case studies to demonstrate the process they take to create a specific project in their own fun, easy ways. Freelancing is similar to working through a math problem. Remember when your teachers use to tell you to show your work? Well, that is true.

Case studies aren't actually about the solution. It shows how you solve any problems that happened. It can also serve as the documentation you can revisit later when you need them. Developers often revisit old projects when they get stuck on problems in other projects in order to figure out the right solutions.

During this lesson, Skillcrush shares a few other benefits for adding case studies to your portfolio. These benefits include:

  • justifying the decisions you made. Case studies are all about communication and they are a great way of showing clients how you communicate as well as how you made specific decisions throughout a project.
  • Shows clients exactly what they are paying for. Good case studies are thoughtful and show how things are refined along the way to get to the final version. They are great for presenting different options and showing sketches that translate how you are translating what they want.
  • Explain your pricing. A lot of clients don’t know why the price tag is set the way it is, but a case study can help them understand why you are charging a specific rate. Once clients understand the things that are required to make a task, it can help clients be careful deciding what services they want and timing.
  • Illustrates your social skills. Case studies show that you think of the big picture, problem solve and clear in how you talk to them. It can also show other skills you’ve highlighted.

Anatomy of a Case Study

There is no right or wrong way to do a case study, but good case studies have a few things in common. Most case studies will include the following pieces.

  • Project details-This is the client's name (usually the first name or the business name), the date the project was completed/launched, and the role the freelancer had on the project. Web developers and web designers will often include programming languages or tools they use to create the project.
  • Project overview-Overviews outline the project objectives/goals. Once these are identified, freelancers explain the process they used to complete the project. If any problems occurred during the process, freelancers will mention them and how they overcame these obstacles.
  • Project results-This is where freelancers talk about the results of the project and the accomplishments made during the project. This means using lots of success metrics, testimonials, and even screenshots to show clients these results.

Every case study is going to vary depending on different freelancers and what your niche is. Therefore it is important to use your best judgment on how you approach case studies. Some clients have rules on displaying their projects so make sure you check first with a client before writing a case study.

I don't have any case studies on my portfolio now, but I do have descriptions for each of these projects which have bits and pieces of what Skillcrush recommends. Clients will make quick decisions on who they want to work with and if you are the right person to help them. In order to win over your ideal clients, you will want to present your work in a way that shows them you understand them and are the right person for the job.

Awesome! What should I do next?

First, you want to write your case study. Use the pieces from The Anatomy of Case Studies section as a guide to help you write yours. Don't worry if things don't make sense right now. The goal is to get everything down on paper or in a Google Doc.

Once you've written a case study, gather any visuals that might help you illustrate the results. Skillcrush recommends checking the layout of your copy for any spelling, grammar, and consistency. They even recommend double-checking to see if the case study matches the personal branding for your website and will speak with your niche audience.

After you double checked everything, it is time to add your case study to your live portfolio website. Every freelancer displays this differently on their portfolio site. Some just add a new section on the portfolio page for the case study while others create a separate page. Pick something that works the best for you and will be easy for your clients to find when they are on your website.

Conclusion

That is a wrap for this lesson from Skillcrush 300! This post went over why you need a portfolio and things you need to remember as you work on your own portfolio. Finally, I shared the value a case study brings to a project and what the ingredients are for a good case study.

Tomorrow, the next lesson of Skillcrush 300 is where you can start finding clients. I'll be revealing some of Skillcrush's tips for finding clients quickly and how you can approach potential clients so they will hire you. I highly recommend revisiting any of the other lessons during this break to revisit any of the previous lessons in Skillcrush 300 since we'll be using all that information in the upcoming lessons from now on.

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