Even if you're not a freelancer or a "creative", you'll probably benefit from a page that lays out your accomplishments and not just your work history. If you ever want to give a talk, get quoted in an article, work a side hustle, start your own business, or just get a job offer, then you need a public portfolio.
Photo by Chris Piascik
Address the Bare Minimum
Try this experiment. Ask a friend to do a quick Google search for your greatest work accomplishments, and your contact info, from scratch. If they can't find both in thirty seconds, you have a problem to fix.
The quickest solution is a public LinkedIn profile. Make sure it describes the work you're proudest of — not just a list of past jobs. Update your profile picture, include your email address (or a throwaway that you check regularly) and check your settings to make sure you're searchable.
Go Beyond LinkedIn
A public resume is a great start. But resumes look samey. They're dry and focus on job titles rather than accomplishments. You need a portfolio too, even if you work a traditional full-time job.
In fact, the less "creative" your line of work, and the fewer of your colleagues who have portfolios, the more yours will stand out. It doesn't have to be gimmicky or win any design awards. It just has to draw people's attention to your best work. This is essential if:
- You're in a crowded field
- You have impressive clients
- Your best work isn't from your current job or day job
- It's hard to explain what you do or make
- Your work can be visualised
Whatever you do, try to break it out into projects. If you're a systems administrator, list incidents that you handled well, or present each area of expertise as a service you provide. If you clean houses, ask your favourite client if you can take photos of their cleaned home.
If your work contributes to much larger team projects, show why those projects need you. Present yourself as a specialist, not a commodity.
Consider Your Audience
Whom do you want to reach: New clients? Audiences? Reporters looking for an expert source? What do you want them to know about you? This is what your portfolio can answer better than a resume (which, by the way, is fooling no one with all those accent marks).
If you're looking for clients, highlight the kind of work you want to keep getting. Maybe that's the work you enjoy most, or just what makes the most money. You can list your most impressive past clients if you think that will build confidence in your desired future clients, but not if you think it will scare them off.
If you want to look impressive to reporters, conference organisers, or other people who might consult you as an expert, then feature your highest-profile work, even if it wasn't your absolute best.
If you do your work for a public audience, and you want to help them find more of it, then point out where it can usually be found. In each entry, point to other similar entries.
Remember to show the full range of your work — if you want more of that work. Because this isn't a résumé, no one's looking for employment gaps, so you can leave out anything you want. Only show projects that will help you get more of the work you actually want (or need) to do.
Use Simple Tools
You don't need anything complicated to make a portfolio. In fact, you should choose the simplest solution that meets your needs. Because you'll be coming back to your portfolio every time you have new work to add.
- Squarespace: Besides single-handedly funding the podcast industry, this user-friendly hosting site gives you a plug-and-play website, with templates that you can customise as much or little as you want. Personal accounts cost $US16 ($20) a month, or $US144 ($183) for a year-long contract.
- Registered domain: You don't have to buy a custom domain for your portfolio. But if you do, there are plenty of local registrars to choose from. If you can, find one that will hide your details from the Whois database (or do so for as small a free as possible).
- Tumblr: If you don't like the idea of paying forever to keep your site alive on Squarespace, Tumblr is a good free alternative with its own free and paid templates. The platform was built for blogs, not portfolios, so you might have to dig into the settings to tweak everything how you like it. And don't worry about any associations with Tumblr — if you buy a custom domain and tweak some things in your theme settings, no one will even know it's a Tumblr.
- Contently: A good solution for freelance writers. Contently's real customers are marketing companies that want to hire creatives, so they let creatives make free portfolios. As an editor, I've always been glad when a prospective writer sends me their Contently page.
While those are my favourites, look around for other options like About.me, Behance, or Dropr. Just pick a tool within the first hour, or you'll get worn out before you've done the real work. An OK portfolio is still better than no portfolio.
Be Easy to Find
Don't hide your portfolio. Link to it from your Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and anywhere that shows up when you google your name. Listen to comics artist Rian Sygh (whose thread inspired this post):
Im literally compiling a list of people to give jobs to right now. WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU NOT HAVE A EMAIL OR PORTFOLIO LISTED ON YA PROFILE
— ✨Rian Sygh✨?️? (@RianSygh) September 15, 2017
You don't have to write anything obnoxious or self-deprecating about looking for work. The URL field in your Twitter profile is often enough. But if you want to make it extra-clear that you're available for work, do so!
Keep It Updated
Once you've got that sucker up there, you have to keep it fresh. Otherwise you'll look like you haven't accomplished anything since the day you made it. Let that feeling of obligation weigh you down! You can only lift it by updating your portfolio!
It's like cleaning your bathroom: You'll hate to start doing it, but you'll feel so good when it's done. And unlike your bathroom (I hope), your portfolio will bring back warm memories of your best work, and you'll feel accomplished and productive and deserving of new opportunities. Portfolio management is great therapy.
Don't Be These Guys
Over the years I've hired designers, writers, artists, photographers, actors, coders, film crew, handymen and carpenters. I've looked for interview subjects, expert sources, and podcast guests across all kinds of industries. In all of these cases, anyone with a portfolio, a reel, or even a simple list of past work had a huge advantage.
Even when you look for work through job applications or through personal connections, you need a portfolio. Many times I've been excited about a candidate but needed to demonstrate their value to my boss, my team, or a friend looking to assign work. Without a reel, it didn't matter if I talked up a promising actor.
Without a portfolio, I couldn't make a great case for an illustrator. I found it shocking how many qualified candidates lost opportunities because they didn't give the world an example of their work. Most of them never found out.
Don't be that cautionary tale. Go make your portfolio and get the work you really want.