Does the idea of creating a portfolio terrify you? With our step-by-step guide, you'll learn how to make an online portfolio that will instantly get you hired!
11 minute read
So, you just found the perfect job ad! You’ve got all the right skills. The job description almost screams *YOU*. You scroll all the way down, ready to hit that Apply button, until—
These five sneaky words appear:
Please include your online portfolio.
It can be enough to make you close the tab and pretend like the ad never happened. Sound familiar?
Or maybe you’re a freelancer or small business owner wanting to land a new client. You’re about to send your pitch until you realize you don’t have all the examples of previous work in one place, going into full-blown panic mode.
Creating an online portfolio is something we hardly think about unless we need a new job. It can be really hard to decide what to include in your portfolio and what to skip.
That’s why you’ve got me!
In this article, I’ll give you step-by-step instructions on how to make an online portfolio that will instantly get you hired! By the end, the only nervousness you’re going to feel will be the pang of excitement to show off your new jazzy portfolio! Sound good?
But, before we get to the step-by-step instructions, here's something that can save you TONS of time and effort on making your portfolio:
What if I told you I have a solution that will do all the heavy lifting? That’s right! Our interactive templates essentially run on autopilot. You don’t have to worry about mismatched fonts or off-brand colors. You just need to pick the best template from our gallery, fill in the blanks, and watch the magic happen right in front of your eyes! Our editor will take care of all things layout and design. Yes, it’s that simple!
Of course, you can go down the traditional route with your portfolio. But, if you’re a marketing freelancer who wants to land that next big client, you need to look the part. Storydoc templates can convey way more than a plain-text portfolio, or even a website. Besides, I can assure you that most of your competitors will choose that approach. You’re not like everyone else, are you? Give your clients something that will be buzzworthy in a sea of basic!
Before you get down to work, start by examining different digital portfolio examples. You can get some valuable ideas on how to create a portfolio website by looking at other professionals in your field. What format did they choose? How many pieces of work did they showcase? Is their portfolio mostly static or interactive?
If you’re a writer, a photographer, or a graphic designer, this is slightly more straightforward. But, more and more professions now require people to provide portfolios—including UX designers, computer scientists, and even teachers. With so many different use cases, it’s not always obvious how to approach putting together a portfolio. By looking at your competition, you can not only draw inspiration but also figure out what will give you an edge!
Do: Draw inspiration from other people in your creative industry or niche. It should give you an idea of what kind of vibe you’d like to go for, as well as the purpose of your portfolio.
Don’t: Copy someone else’s template. While some claim imitation is the highest form of flattery, you will always be playing catch-up. Plus, who’d like to work with someone who’s known for stealing other people’s ideas?
Now that you have a rough idea of what you’d like to achieve with your portfolio, it’s time to pick your platform. There are plenty of portfolio website builders on the market, depending on your needs.
If you’re a writer, it’s worth looking into the likes of WordPress, Clippings.me, or Contently. Popular portfolio builders for photographers, designers, and other creatives include Adobe Portfolio, Flipsnack, Carbonmade, Squarespace, and Semplice. If you’re looking for an option that includes e-commerce tools, you should check out Shopify and Weebly.
Finally, if you need a solution that will make your creative work shine, we can’t recommend our very own tool enough. With an extensive library of interactive templates, you can be sure your portfolio will make a lasting impression!
Do: Research all the different portfolio website builders to pick the one that suits you best, taking into account the cost of building a website. For non-visual portfolios, you don’t really need image-heavy websites and flashy web design. And on the contrary—if your work relies on visuals, choose a medium that will best showcase your range of capabilities. If you want your online portfolio to look more professional, consider investing in your own hosting and domain name—it’s not as expensive as it might sound. At GoDaddy, you’re very likely to find a [yourfullname].com (not to mention [yourfullname].io and the like) domain to purchase for less than $20 a year.
Don’t: Choose a portfolio builder that isn’t suited for your line of work. This can confuse your audience and, in turn, cost you the gig.
Okay, so you’ve chosen a platform. The next step is to decide what your digital portfolio is going to look like.
When it comes to portfolio design, less really is more. I’m all for picking a template that stands out from the rest, but never at the cost of your audience’s attention. Especially when you’re a designer, it can be tempting to treat your portfolio like another creative outlet. This can make it overly complicated and, in turn, completely unusable. Always make sure that your portfolio is clean and easy to navigate so that your viewers can quickly find what they need. Let the quality of your work speak for itself.
For this reason, I really like the portfolio of Halle Snavely, a copywriter and content marketer. It’s simple and minimalistic, but at the same time really easy to navigate. After a short intro, you can see links to different types of content that Halle created for her clients.
For visual portfolios, you don’t need tons of graphics that jump out at you to make an impression. Let’s take the digital portfolio of Qaisar Ahmad, a Pakistani interaction designer. There’s a fixed design next to a text animation that lists different services offered by Qaisar. If you want to see examples of his work, just scroll down and they will pop up with a sleek transition effect. All of this makes his portfolio very user-friendly while displaying the most important skills.
Also, ensure that your portfolio works across different devices. Bear in mind that your viewers often go through hundreds of candidates each day. If they can’t open your online portfolio on the first try, chances are they might move on to someone else.
Do: Choose a clean, mobile-friendly portfolio design. Make sure that all the information your viewers may need is easily accessible.
Don’t: Pick an overly complex template or add distracting elements. An original layout will help show off your creativity and skill set, but if it’s too complicated to get around, your viewers might get frustrated and leave.
Now, before you start bragging about what you do, don’t forget to introduce yourself. It may seem silly, but trust me—not everyone remembers to put their name down (shocking, I know)!
First impressions still matter a lot. So, start with your elevator pitch—ideally a one-liner that sums up what you can offer. Make your personality shine and give viewers an idea of what you do.
Many professionals admit that the first few seconds of looking at a portfolio can either make or break it. Harsh, I know. That’s why you need to come up with something that will spark people’s interest. Anyone can write that they are “dedicated to creating value.” Ditch generic. Be specific. What is it that makes you unique?
For this, it’s important to know who your target audience is. What are their pain points? How do they expect you to solve their problems? What are they looking for in a company? Once you know that, it will be easier for you to craft your offering.
Out of all the examples featured in this article, this next one isn’t an actual person’s portfolio. Are you surprised? So was I! This template for writers is so well-designed that you can easily use it for inspiration. A clean, catchy one-liner before going into more detail about who you are and what you do is exactly what you need.
Yul Moreau, a Paris-based digital art director, designed a single-page portfolio that aims to grab people’s attention from the moment they land on his site. A short bio against a montage of retro videos gives you serious nostalgia while highlighting Yul’s skills.
Digital designer and marketer Robyn Kurdas chose to include a photo of herself next to a text animation that lists her job titles. The design is simple yet impressive due to the occasional pop of color.
What better way for a comic artist to present herself to potential clients than through a series of comics? Havana Nguyen chose this unique form to show the variety of services she offers while providing a glimpse into her art style.
Trying to cram everything you do and stand for into a sentence or two sounds impossible, I know! That’s why we put together a guide including 6 elevator pitch examples for any scenario. You’ll want to go shorter on your landing page, but hopefully, you’ll pick up some useful tips either way!
Your “About” page is where you can go into more detail. Potential clients will likely be interested in your background and qualifications. They will find it useful to have all the information in one place, so it won’t hurt to include your resume for easy reference. Also, don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Feel free to mention what you’re passionate about or any interesting talents that you have. Basically, anything that will make people feel like they got to know you and make you stand out in a sea of candidates.
In a non-visual portfolio, you can follow Lara Ramirez’s lead and make a bulleted list of some fun facts about you. Who knows, maybe a mutual love of cats will make your future client decide in your favor?
Once you scroll down Havana Nguyen’s portfolio, there’s another series of comics showing her transformation from a shy girl to an extrovert. Now, I’m not saying you need to design a game where you’re the main character (unless you want to), but maybe a short video or a photo series could do the trick?
Finally, don’t forget to give people a way to contact you! It’d be a shame if you got this far to lose a potential client just because they have no actual way of reaching out, right? Leave your email address or create a contact form so that once you woo your future clients, they can book you ASAP.
If you’re not sure how to get started, I’d recommend using our very own tool. Storydoc supports contact forms, calendar integrations, and even live chat widgets! This way, interested clients can shoot you a message instantly. For more information, check out our integrations page.
If you want to reach a wider audience with your portfolio, it’s also good to include some social proof. I know it may seem awkward to post links to your socials for anyone to see. But, let’s get real—these people will likely Google you anyway. Be honest, how many times did you leave a meeting only to do some Internet sleuthing to find out more about the other person? This way, you can choose what they see.
Kat Boogaard chose a handwritten font for her contact form and navigation bar, reflecting her profession as a writer. The pen illustration adds a nice touch, making the entire online portfolio look very on-brand.
For a visual portfolio, you can apply a more interactive approach. Qaisar Ahmad designed his contact page like an electronic business card. He gives viewers several options to contact him, including a chat widget.
Do: Treat your landing page and “About” page as a way to market yourself. We like to see a friendly face behind the screen—extra points if we find something relatable! Make it easy for people to get in touch with you by including contact information in various places throughout your portfolio.
Don’t: Add generic intros or become too work-centric. Nobody wants to feel like they’re talking to a robot. Tap into what makes you unique in the eyes of a potential client. People usually think twice before parting with their hard-earned cash. Why should you be the one to get their precious $$$?
If your online portfolio starts to look like a timeline of every single project you’ve ever worked on, you’re doing it wrong. Ideally, you should be proud of all the work you create. But, you should also be able to assess it with a critical eye. Not every project is going to be relevant for the role, so take some time to curate your best work.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard is to showcase the kind of projects you’d like to work on again in the future. If there’s a certain type of client you’d like to avoid, now’s the time to hide these projects from your online portfolio.
I understand it can be tempting to throw in as many examples of previous work as possible to prove you can do it all. But, as our attention spans are getting shorter, it’s better to choose your highest-quality work.
Say, if you were crafting your dating profile, would you throw your middle school photo into the mix? The answer is probably no, as you want to put your best foot forward. So, why would you feature anything less-than in your portfolio? Give them something that’ll make them fall in love with you so much that they’ll have no other choice but to hire you.
If you’re a freelance writer, you could use thumbnails to link to different pieces of content you created. A cohesive color palette makes Kat Boogaard’s portfolio pleasing to the eye, while stock photos break up chunks of text.
You could also add laptop mockups to your thumbnails to create striking visualizations. Under each thumbnail, there’s a short description of the services provided for a given client. There are also buttons that will take you to a case study of each project (which I’ll talk about in a moment). As a writer myself, this has to be one of my favorite portfolios because of how intuitive and aesthetically pleasing it is.
The design portfolio of Mariano Pascual is certainly one of the most unique ones I’ve ever seen. He essentially created his own operating system complete with a Mac-style dock! You can view his previous projects by clicking on the animated icons, or customize your experience by playing around with different backgrounds, colors, and filters. Kudos for creativity!
Product designers can draw inspiration from this next online portfolio created by Daniel Polevoy. His website is a live definition of minimalist design. You can use arrows to move between different projects that appear side by side. That’s literally it—no catchy taglines or flashy animations. Just visualizations of his products and links to his “About” page and social media profiles, as he lets his work do most of the talking.
Yul Moreau uses a scroll-based design to present the selected work. Each project is presented like a movie, listing all the different roles he played, as well as the names of his team members.
Do: Feature only your best work. If you have experience working across different industries, display that variety. Always keep in mind the type of client you’re trying to attract to make sure the projects you choose are directly relevant to them.
Don’t: Include every single project. Most of your viewers will only look through a couple of them anyway. So, it’s better to stick to top-notch work that will make them sold on you immediately than add sub-par projects and risk losing a client. Also, including lots of personal projects can be beneficial when you don’t have the client work to prove your skills. But, make sure you don’t go overboard—show that you can work within client restrictions too!
Now, since you’re only including a couple of projects, make sure you back them up with a captivating story. Sure, you know all there is to know about your work. Don’t make the mistake of assuming whoever sees your portfolio does too.
They only see the end result—not the challenges you had to tackle along the way. They know nothing about the skills you had to apply to solve a specific problem or your way of thinking.
So, make it easy for them. For each project, add a separate section to document your creative process. Briefly describe who the client was, what their guidelines were, what problems you encountered, and how you arrived at the solution. This will give them an overview of what they can expect if they choose to work with you.
In a non-visual portfolio, this part will be slightly shorter. An example is this portfolio by The Literary Co. that briefly describes the client’s requirements regarding the voice and message before moving on to the creative process outline. Short and straight to the point.
When it comes to visual portfolios, the case study section will likely go into more detail. Again, the online portfolio of Daniel Polevoy is a good example. For each project, he provides a short client profile before describing each element of his design—from the concept to the execution.
Graphic designers can also add information about client branding. For instance, Pascal Strasche provides information about the chosen brand colors, typography, logos, and custom icon sets he created for his clients.
First time writing a case study? Don’t worry! With our case study templates and design tips, it’ll soon feel like second nature to you!
Do: Provide context for each project you feature. This is a chance for you to present not only what you do, but also how well you do it. People love goals—how can your involvement make their goals a reality?
Don’t: Just show the end result. There’s a reason why these people are looking to hire someone. They don’t know what the creative process looks like—you do. Without putting your work into context, it won’t have as much meaning to your clients. Not only that, but it can lead to misunderstandings. Maybe they think the project can be churned out in a day or two when you know the kind of challenges that can crop up along the way? Always be transparent.
So, you’ve let people know who you are and what you bring to the table, but they might need that extra push… Who better to convince them about the quality of your services than someone who’s actually used them?
Reach out to past or existing clients and ask for some feedback. In an era where anyone can write anything on the Internet, providing testimonials from real customers can help you build credibility. Just make sure they sound natural and not like something you made them say. Keep it short and concise—usually, a couple of sentences will do the trick.
Testimonials will also look more reliable when they include the person’s photo and a link to their website or LinkedIn profile. I don’t know about you, but nothing makes me more suspicious than reading a review that looks like it’s been written by an AI-generated bot!
Kelsey O’Halloran’s portfolio shows how it should be done. Her homepage features a customer quote with a catchy headline. For more testimonials, you can go to her Portfolio section where there’s a quote for each project she completed.
If you don’t like the traditional format, you can take a page out of Robyn Kurdas’s book. She put her clients’ testimonials in a slideshow format, each against a brightly colored background that reflects her lively personality.
Do: Show potential clients the level of satisfaction they can achieve by working with you. You can market yourself in the best way possible, but if there’s no one to back it up, why should someone trust you?
Don’t: Expect people to take your word for it. When’s the last time you made a big purchase without reading at least one review? You can create the most stunning visuals, but I can assure you that what your client wants to know is: what’s in it for them? Pretty designs are pleasing to the eye, but it’s the results that bring in those big juicy checks.
Creating your online portfolio is not a one-off task. You can’t just give yourself a pat on the back for completing it and think it’s a done deal. I mean, if you were looking for some information online and came across a source that hasn’t been updated in well over a year, would you use it or would you keep looking for something fresher?
That’s what I thought.
Ideally, you want to be looking at your old projects thinking: “I could do that better now!” As time goes by, we find more efficient ways to do things and pick up new skills along the way. Make sure your portfolio reflects that growth. Don’t be afraid to cut out anything that no longer effectively represents your abilities and replace it with new projects.
Do: Make regular updates to your portfolio. Ensure that it’s always up-to-date and reflects your current skills. Perhaps you can set a time frame to revisit your portfolio so that you don’t forget about it.
There you have it—8 simple steps to make an online portfolio that will set you up for success! I hope that you now feel more confident about sharing your creations with the world and that the word “portfolio” no longer fills you with dread.
And if you ever get stuck, feel free to come back to this article for some actionable tips. Good luck—now go get those clients!
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