The freelancer’s guide to portfolio websites (+ killer examples)
Portfolios are the shop window to your freelancing business. Find out how to showcase your offers and attract more of the customers you want.
Being a freelancer is hardcore.
You’re not only creating work left, right, and center, but you also have to be a sales, marketing, and admin team rolled into one.
Having an online portfolio representing the work you’ve achieved is crucial. It speaks for you while you’re sleeping and wins you new business.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to quickly build a professional portfolio to show off what you can do. Trust me, once you’ve made it, you’ll be glad you put the effort in.
What should your freelance portfolio look like?
What do you think of when you picture a good portfolio?
For me, the word conjures a gallery-type portfolio, like AshaAung Helmstetter’s site.
But, as you can guess, there’s more than one way to build a portfolio. And you don’t need to be an artist or a graphic designer to have one.
Let’s look at a few options that go beyond this format.
1. Show your work off with case studies
Case studies are examples of your work with plenty of context to back it up. They demonstrate your methods and the impact your projects have had.
One way to approach your portfolio is to think of it as a series of case studies for projects or clients. 62.6% of people find case studies effective in generating leads.
Case studies let you show and tell at the same time. Mix visual examples of your work and contextualize them to help your prospective customer understand what you can do.
It’s particularly effective if you offer a service, such as coaching or marketing, as these need more context than a gallery wall.
Designer Simon Pan uses case studies to demonstrate his creative process to new clients.
Each case study explains:
The project’s origin
The challenge he had to resolve
These case studies also demonstrate his design approach. This makes it easier for a potential client to know if they’d be a fit, and it’s a must-have for a design portfolio.
If case studies are a show and tell, let us show you another type of portfolio that’s (almost) all showing.
2. Demonstrate your skills in action
Another approach is to treat your website as a project that demonstrates your skills.
For example, Laura Belgray’s homepage, Talking Shrimp, is a compelling showcase of her copywriting skills.
Her skills are in evidence everywhere on her site, from landing page copy to the buttons — and that’s before we get to samples of her client work.
Copywriter Joe Coleman took a different approach. A sliding scale on his landing page invites visitors to choose what degree of hard sell they’d prefer.
The scale goes all the way from the softer side of selling…
…to the internet-honored cat animation technique:
It’s a memorable approach to showcase his writing skills.
If you like the playful approach, SEO expert Gary LeMasson goes even further by making his portfolio look like Google search results. For his niche, it’s a cheeky and highly relevant web design.
Here are a few ideas for how you could copy these examples:
If you’re a developer, code your portfolio from scratch.
If you’re an illustrator, illustrate your website, including the buttons.
If you’re an animator, then there should be plenty of examples on your site.
If you’re a social media marketing manager, share examples of posts you’ve created.
If you’re teaching an online course like Maestro Carlo Colombara, share tasters of course content.
As you can see, there’s more than one way to build a portfolio, but what if you offer more than one type of work?
What if you offer more than one kind of service?
Like many creators, you probably have a wide range of skill sets and offers. But does your customer want to wade through all of them to find what they need?
Your portfolio needs to be clear at a glance. The less scrolling someone has to do, the better.
Shea Jordan organized her offers into four simple boxes. This keeps things clean and organized for a visitor.
Her site visitors can simply choose which one to unpack without stress. They don’t have to think about where they need to go or search to find their destination — it’s all upfront and center.
Similarly, product designer Jonathan Patterson chose bold blocks of colors to separate the different areas of his digital portfolio. It’s got impact, and it’s clear — win-win.
By now, you’ve seen the different ways a portfolio can look, but a portfolio is more than a container. It needs some key ingredients in there. This brings us to our next topic.
3. What should your portfolio include?
Your portfolio isn’t the place to dump every single thing you’ve created. Instead, it should demonstrate your skills in action for the kind of work you want to do.
These are the most critical questions you need to ask yourself: what kind of work do I want to do in the future? And in what industry?
Does your past work fit with your answers? If not, finding time to create new work specifically for your portfolio will pay off. These can be draft projects rather than fully realized.
Alternatively, bring your relevant side projects to the spotlight. Full-stack developer Kim Kiamco gives her side projects pride of place in her portfolio.
Here are a few more items that usually feature in a freelance portfolio:
An “about you” section in which you share your background. Don’t forget to include a headshot; people like to put a face to a name. Watch this video for tips to create the best “about me” page.
Contact information, or at least a clear call to action, that leads to a contact form. For example, booking an appointment or making a purchase.
Testimonials from past clients.
Surprised to see testimonials on that list? You shouldn’t be. If there’s any ingredient in the portfolio recipe we wouldn’t recommend swapping, it’s testimonials. Here’s why.
Why you should include testimonials in your portfolio
Testimonials are a great way to convince prospective clients. They help paint a complete picture of you and are probably more glowing than anything you’d write about yourself.
What’s more, testimonials aren’t just great in your portfolio. You can also use them to promote your course or product. Like salt, they make every dish better.
Photographer Meg Marie features a large section of testimonials on the sales page of her course. Each one comprises a large image, a block quote, and then further details.
You might be thinking, “Great, but how do I get testimonials in the first place?”
You get testimonials by asking for them, preferably by email.
Of course, that process is going to be different if you’ve had three clients vs. thousands of students on your course. If it’s the former, you can just drop them a note. If it’s the latter, you can’t email them individually asking for testimonials without losing your mind.
What you need is a system as painless for them as it is for you.
You can grab one from over here in our article about asking for testimonials by email. It includes a whole system for mass-asking people for feedback, plus a testimonial request email template.
[Your Name], the creator behind
[Link][Course Name][/Link]. I was hoping you have a minute to give me some feedback about your experience with my course. Did you love it? Did you hate it? I want to know.
[Link]Give me your two cents here.
[X] minutes of your time can help me create even better courses in the future.
Thank you in advance!
Want even more testimonial pointers? We also have this guide on the best way to display your testimonials.
Alternatively, you’re probably sitting on a ton of testimonials without realizing it.
Testimonials aren’t necessarily extensive formal texts. They can also take the shape of tweets, LinkedIn recommendations, and more. If they’re relevant to your work, you can use them, as long as you have permission from the original author.
The pros of using social posts as testimonials are:
They’re public already, so asking for permission to feature them on your website is (usually) painless.
They’re written by real folk and can be checked, which adds trust and credibility to your work.
Ship30for30 integrates hyperlinked tweet testimonials on their sales page for extra credibility.
It’s a powerful testimonials section as each tweet includes a snapshot of the customer’s stats.
Note that while testimonials have their importance in a freelance portfolio, it’s the quality, not the quantity, that’s important.
Like attracts like. If you have a surplus of options, feature clients who match the type of clients you want.
For example, Mark Leruste’s How to Launch a Successful Podcast from Scratch features testimonials from podcast hosts.
Naming the podcast adds further credibility. It wouldn’t land nearly as well if he featured testimonials from customers that are completely left field of podcasters — say, for instance, chefs.
OK. Between testimonials and demonstration, you’ve got the content planned out — which leaves the question of where to build it? With so many options available, it’s time to find the perfect fit for your business.
Where can you build your professional portfolio?
When it comes to building your online portfolio website, you’re spoiled for choice. In this section, I’ll talk you through the main offers and throw in a few bonus options at the end.
Whether you’re a life coach, coder, graphic designer, or photographer, one of these will be perfect for you.
Adobe Portfolio is ideal for creating elegant galleries of your work. It’s easy to use, but on the flip side, your customization options are limited.
Syncs with your Behance account
Who’s it for?
Freelancers who need a simple website design
Creatives working in a visual medium (artists, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, etc.)
Here’s a portfolio example using Adobe Portfolio.
It’s easy to create a professional portfolio with Podia’s page builder. You can showcase your work and skills without any coding while delivering a beautiful user experience.
Plus, you can easily convert your visitors to your paid products with your courses, digital downloads, and memberships all in one place.
And yes, we’re definitely a little biased, but our 17,000+ creators who chose Podia aren’t.
Unlimited custom web pages
Capture emails on any page
Integrates with 20+ apps, including Mailchimp and PayPal.
Who’s it for?
Creators who want an all-in-one solution for their business and are specifically interested in selling info products
Creators without coding experience (or desire) who want to create eye-catching portfolios
Podia is perfect for freelancers and makers of every kind who want to share their skills with the world. For example, The Happy Artist Studio’s page works as a portfolio and a sales page.
The page is clean and uncluttered so a visitor can find what they want quickly. Her work is featured throughout the page, lending it color and energy. Her “about me” and testimonial section clarify her value to the reader.
Tara Chapman’s Two Hives Honey is another page that functions both as a portfolio and a sales page.
With a bright and clean style, Tara’s page shares extracts of her work to entice students.
And she knows the power of testimonials to convince customers, too.
You can create as many pages as you need to showcase your different offerings and examples of your past work. Whether that’s one page or twenty pages, the price stays the same.
With Portfoliobox, you can create beautiful online galleries linked to your ecommerce store. There is limited layout customization, so this is best if you only have a few cohesive pieces to show.
Who’s it for?
Creatives who want an all-in-one gallery and shop (photography, graphic design, music, architecture, etc.)
Creators who want to create their first affordable portfolio
Here’s an example of a lifestyle photography portfolio created in PortfolioBox.
Pricing: Starts from $4.90 a month on a Lite plan to $14.90 a month on Pro Plus.
The list wouldn’t be complete without website builder WordPress. Because it’s so flexible, it’s an excellent option for almost every industry, though we’re more of a fan of WordPress for blogs rather than selling info products.
Thousands of themes to choose from
Thousands of plugins to support your sales process
Search engine optimized
Almost endless customization options
Who’s it for?
Creators who have some coding know-how (or you can pay someone to help you set it up)
Creators with the budget and time to maintain plugins and WordPress releases
There are many WordPress themes you can choose from for your portfolio, such as this aptly titled Perfect Portfolio theme.
Pricing: Free, but you’ll need to budget for hosting, domain name, theme, and a web designer, if required.
Bonus options for your portfolio and how to choose a platform
Ultimately, we recommend starting a trial with multiple tools to build your portfolio before committing the cash to a platform.
Some platforms, such as Adobe Portfolio and Portfoliobox, are highly specialized for portfolios and portfolios alone.
Others, such as Podia and WordPress, offer more flexibility.
If you’re looking to sell your work, the former two options may be best for you. If you’re looking to expand beyond freelancing, then the latter two provide more opportunities and fewer restrictions.
Either way, the only way to know if it’s right for you is to try it. Good luck, and we hope this guide helped.
Join our newsletter
Join thousands of creators receiving our weekly articles about launching, growing, and thriving as a creative entrepreneur.
Create a freelance portfolio as unique as you are
There’s no one way to create the best portfolio, just like there’s no one way to build a business.
To create a portfolio site that works for you, you need to:
Be selective about the work you showcase; it should support the type of work you want to do.
Create a portfolio adapted to the work you create instead of trying to squeeze it into an ill-fitting template.
Choose where you host it carefully — your best choice will depend on your industry and what else you need. For example, if you’re using an online course builder or selling digital downloads, then it makes sense to go with an all-in-one and have everything in one place.
Include testimonials to help convince potential clients. Make sure the testimonials are a reflection of the type of clients you want to attract.
It can feel daunting to create a portfolio, I know, but the effort is worth it. The sooner the world can see your best work, the sooner and better you can get back to doing the work you love.