When you’re selling services your portfolio is a super important part of your website. It shows people what you’re capable of and sparks their imagination about what you can do for them.
But is your online portfolio working hard enough for you? Is it attracting the right kind of clients and the kind of projects you’re thrilled to be working on?
If your answer is ‘no’ or ‘not really’, your portfolio may need a bit of work.
Here are 5 mistakes you might be making with your online portfolio, plus what you can do to fix them:
1. You don’t have a portfolio
I know, it’s easy for me to rabbit on about portfolios since I’m a designer and work samples are a vital feature of my site. But you might be thinking that you don’t need a portfolio, or don’t have the right kind of business.
You’d be wrong though.
Portfolios aren’t just for artists and designers. Almost any type of business can benefit from having a portfolio section on their site.
Because it can be quite hard telling people that you’re great at your job. It can feel cringey and conceited, so it’s really easy to undersell your skills when you’re writing your own website copy.
But if you include samples of work on your site, that doesn’t matter so much. Even if you have undersold yourself, people can see for themselves that you’re fabulous and talented. The proof is in the pudding. Or rather, the portfolio.
Your portfolio doesn’t have to be a gallery of images, like mine. It can be any sample of the work you do, for example:
- If you’re a writer you can use sample chapters of your novels or articles you’ve written, depending on what kind of things you write (plus let’s face it, the text throughout your whole website is a sample of your work).
- For a painter and decorator, getting some photos of the rooms you’ve transformed would work really well.
- If you run a bakery create a gallery to show off your showstopper cakes and bakes.
- You’re a musician? Put up some sample clips of your compositions for people to listen to.
- A voiceover artist would also make use of audio clips.
- A videographer or animator needs a showreel for people to watch.
You can even mix up different types of file, like if you’re a fitness instructor or personal trainer, you could use both video clips of a typical class, combined with before and after photos of your clients.
Where this gets a bit tricky is if you don’t have a tangible product at the end of a project or your work has confidentiality issues. Like if you’re a life coach or therapist.
If you’re in a business like this where you might struggle to find a way to show samples of your work, testimonials from your clients will become more important. Their feedback will be invaluable as proof of how good you are. You could even create case studies for a more in-depth look at how you helped them.
Plus, it doesn’t even have to be called a ‘portfolio’. I’m using ‘portfolio’ in this post for simplicity, but things like ‘my work’, ‘gallery’, ‘press cuttings’ or ‘showreel’ work just fine too if it makes sense for your work and audience.
2. There’s too much in your portfolio
If having no portfolio at all is one mistake, at the other end of the scale comes mistake #2: having way too many samples in your portfolio.
Once you’ve been in business for a few years you’ll have loads of work samples and it’s tempting to throw them all up there to show the full range of what you can do.
But that becomes really overwhelming and most people won’t take the time to look through every single piece of work in your portfolio.
What you need to do instead is carefully curate your portfolio. Only show the projects that:
- You’re super proud of, and
- Reflect the type of work you’d like to do more of.
The work you show will attract similar projects and clients. So if you no longer offer a certain service or work with a particular type of client, don’t include samples of those types of projects.
It’s good to update your portfolio regularly with new work samples to keep things fresh. But you also need to avoid ending up with oodles and oodles of projects for people to wade through. So every so often you also need to weed out some older ones. Take out the stuff you’re not that proud of anymore, or that feels outdated so that your portfolio only contains your absolute best. Make it show your greatest hits, not your entire back catalogue.
3. Your photos aren’t good enough
It’s tough love time: often the biggest problem with a portfolio is the quality of the images.
They’re low resolution, badly lit, awkwardly cropped… Most of the time these kinds of image problems are because it’s a really quick shot taken with your phone. Does that sound familiar?
Ideally, you’d get some good images both during and at the end of each project so that you have a choice of work-in-progress and final result images to show off. But I know when you’re busy creating work you don’t necessarily have time to stop and set up a photoshoot. So grabbing a quick shot on your phone during a tea break is convenient.
That doesn’t show your work at its best though.
Check out the difference between these two screenshots:
On the left we have a photo that looks obviously DIY; the lighting isn’t that great, the window is distracting, plus there’s a random corner of chair and cushion poking their way into the frame. On the right, we have a photo that’s brightly lit and has a simple, plain background that really makes the flower decorations and icing pop out at you. This photo might well be a DIY effort too, but it doesn’t look it.
I bet both chocolate cakes taste amazing (my mouth is watering just at the thought of them!) but if I were to choose a cake solely on the photo, I’d order the one on the right. How about you?
So it’s totally worth just taking a little more time and care with your images. There are a few things you can do to instantly improve your images:
- Most new phone cameras are capable of taking good photos, and with a bit of practice you can nail it. You’ve gotta remember to set your camera on the highest quality setting though, or no matter how hard you try you’ll get crappy wee images that you won’t be happy with. Or if your phone is a bit older, or the camera is low spec, it’s best just to forget about it and go with a proper digital camera instead.
- To get a nice bright, well-lit shot, natural daylight is a better option than the artificial yellow glow of lightbulbs. Try to avoid harsh shadows that come from direct sunlight though.
- Try to get a good mix of images. Include some wide shots that take in the whole scene with plenty of space, and some close-ups to show off the details. That will give you flexibility when it comes to choosing the images that go into your portfolio, plus you’ll have the option of using them in other areas of your marketing.
- Pay attention to the background. If, for example, you’re the baker taking a photo of a showstopper celebration cake, make sure the background isn’t distracting attention from the cake. You want to make people’s mouths water at the thought of lovely cake, not have them wondering who your blurry colleague in the background is.
- Tidy up! If, for example, you’re a decorator taking a photo of a room you’ve just transformed, make sure that things like tools and dust sheets are out of sight. Especially in photos of the final result; you want the focus to be a lovely, freshly decorated living room, ready for someone to wander into and curl up on the sofa. You don’t want to distract people with a stray toolbox still lying on the floor, or the corner of a crumpled dust sheet not quite out of frame.
- Even work in progress shots should be carefully taken, tidying up and thoughtfully framing the photo to show your work at its best.
You might also like: The 5 types of images your designer needs for your website
4. You don’t provide enough info
Now that you’ve got the images (or PDFs, video, audio clips etc) sorted don’t stop there. It’s not enough to put up some pretty pictures and let them do all the work.
They need some context.
Every work sample in your portfolio should have some info accompanying it. This is vital in helping to show what you offer and how you can help your clients. Plus, it can be great for your site’s SEO (search engine optimisation) if when you describe what you did for your clients, you’re using keywords and phrases that other potential clients might be searching for.
So make sure that you explain what you did and how that benefited your client. If you had to overcome any particular challenges or issues, put that in to demonstrate how resourceful and innovative you are.
You don’t have to write an in-depth step by step process (unless you’re doing an in-depth case study, of course) but an overview that makes it clear what you did and what the photos are actually about.
Don’t forget to mention how chuffed your client was with the final result – if you can do that by showing a testimonial from them, that’s even better.
Plus, you get bonus points if you can include some info about the results they achieved. Like, if the new sales page copy you wrote resulted in a 50% increase in revenue and 60% increase in email subscribers, that’s definitely worth shouting about.
Also, if you collaborated with anyone else on the project it’d be good to mention their part. That way you won’t inadvertently take credit for work that someone else did.
Check out this example from Stephen Marsh; it’s short but it includes an overview of the project, a sample of the work, plus a credit for the collaborating marketing agency.
Or this one from Hill House Interiors; the description is short yet gives you a great feel for the atmosphere of the project, plus it’s filled with potential keywords. And check out those photos too – beautifully framed, lit and styled.
5. There’s no call to action
This last mistake is a biggie but so simple to fix. Picture this… You’ve created a portfolio full of your best work, spent ages getting the images just right and carefully crafted a description that demonstrates how fabulous you are to work with. Then… you just leave it at that. There’s nothing else.
It’s such a waste. That’s the moment when someone has just seen the proof of what you can do and is feeling all impressed and confident that you’re the right choice for them. That makes it the perfect time to invite them to book a call, or do something to start their own project with you.
So make sure each project or work sample in your portfolio has a call to action. Something to let people know what they should do next.
Improve your online portfolio to attract the right clients
As a web designer, I’ve seen loads of portfolios over the years, plus I’ve worked on plenty of them too. I’ve seen people make the same few mistakes over and over again (and made some of them myself too, no doubt!).
But thankfully, these 5 mistakes all have really easy fixes to improve your portfolio and make sure it’s finally attracting all the right clients.
If you’d like some help to get your portfolio (and the rest of your site) attracting the right kind of clients, I’d love to help – get in touch to book a chat.
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