New freelancers face a common conundrum: how do you attract clients when you have no portfolio to show? Or, if you’re not in a creative industry, how do you make your CV stand out from the crowd as a contractor?
Let’s start with the creative freelancer and the all-important portfolio.
It’s normal for freelancers to put their portfolio centre-stage, effectively trading on their reputation. And when it seems that the accepted norm is to build a website around a portfolio, your missing history can feel as obvious as a lost limb.
So how do you tempt clients if you can’t convince them with your work? How can you cover-up your gap-toothed website? How can you get the ball rolling from a standing start?
In this article we cover:
What if I don’t have a portfolio?
It’s simple. If you don’t have a portfolio yet, then don’t pretend you do – don’t even mention the word portfolio. Deny the existence of portfolios. Portfolios are dead to you.
Instead of talking about the work you’ve done (the dead past) talk about the work you will do (the living future). Focus on the services you’re offering to clients – focus on the awesome benefits you offer, and how you’re a better choice than of all the tired, complacent rival freelancers. Talk about what clients gain by working with you, and how your approach benefits them.
By talking positively about the great things you offer clients, you can win them over. And if they do ask about your experience, be honest. If you’ve got a little experience, tell them about it.
At some point soon though, it’ll really benefit you to start knocking up a portfolio.
Getting your online portfolio together
A great online portfolio can win you more work, promote your services perfectly, and set you apart from the competition. Highlighting history you’re proud of is one way to encourage trust with clients, allowing for that elusive connection that’s so difficult to secure over the web.
Whether you’re a web designer, a copywriter or even a social media expert, you can showcase past achievements in one simple site.
Here are some tips on what makes a fantastic portfolio site; from presenting your work in the right way to ensuring it leads to enquiries:
Keep it Simple
When starting out, it can be tempting to include every single job you’ve done on your portfolio, since you want to show off your versatility and experience. However, no matter how engaging the content is, this can actually bore the viewer. It also gives more opportunity for the potential client to discover work of yours they don’t like.
It’s best to stick to 5-10 examples, making sure these are the ones you really are proud to promote. For example, include pieces you’ve received incredible feedback or awards for, or work for high profile clients.
Your portfolio doesn’t need to showcase all of you; it needs to lead the visitor to contact you for work. If a client is interested and they want to see more, they’ll pick up the phone.
Is your job title too confusing?
Let’s face it, everybody wants to sound fancy. One of the fun things about being a freelancer is choosing your own job title.
No longer are you stuck with a corporation-mandated title such as “Phone Operator #4237”, you can let your imagination soar and appoint yourself Captain of the World if you want. However, at what point does a fancy job title stop making you sound exciting, and start confusing your potential clients?
Social Media consultants are particularly regular offenders in the field of confusing job titles. Social Media is such a new and fluid industry (and there are so many snake oil salesmen at work), that using words such as “Holistic” and “Trans-Medial” will mean your CV will end up in the bin more often than not.
It’s a mundane but pertinent fact that corporate job titles are boring because they’re purely functional. You want to speak to the person in charge of marketing, you find out who the Marketing Manager is. You can use this established structure to your advantage – if you want to add a bit of gravitas to your persona, call yourself a “Manager”, “Director of”, or “Head of”.
Your CV can be rejected for any number of reasons. Your job title will be the first thing a client reads after your name, so don’t fall at the first hurdle.
Ease of Access
If you’re going to use a website to display your portfolio (and you probably should!) then you need to ensure you choose the right technology. Web design is constantly evolving, much like fashion, and modern, responsive design is what most people expect – but that can bring problems if you want to control how something looks.
You can’t be sure your prospective clients will view your portfolio on a huge glossy iMac screen, they may look on a phone or tablet. You may find one platform displays your work perfectly, but is it accessible to the average user? Choosing how to display your work is crucial, and can make the difference between your work being loved or ignored.
Alternatively, you could look at some of the options out there for web builders such as Squarespace or Wix who have some beautiful designs for portfolio sites, or some of the better looking WordPress themes – it doesn’t need to cost a fortune or take too much of your time.
As a 21st century freelancer, you’re probably adept at finding your way around any website. You know computers don’t bite and you have a good idea of where everything should be.
Your audience, however, may not be au fait with the internet or snazzy websites, and they just want to view your work before making a decision. Keep it simple, keep it well-labelled. Test it on an elderly friend or relative. If they can find their way to the end, you have a winner.
Show AND Tell
Of course, the visuals are important, but you also need to tell the visitor what you’d like them to do next. Would you like them to contact you via phone? Email? Visit another website, view your testimonials, and buy a service?
Unless you include instructions and clear calls to action (CTA) in your portfolio site, your visitors aren’t going to know what they need to do next. It only takes a second: simply add to each example something such as, “if you like this style or think your business could benefit from my design, please contact me on…”
Your contact details should be easily available on every single page of your site, so as soon as a client sees something they like, they don’t have to search to find how to contact you.
When you have your own website, it can be tempting to see it as an extra source of revenue on its own. Advertisements and affiliate schemes can bring in money, but they may dilute the message you’re trying to get across. You might also find that others want to partner with you or exchange links, which can be mutually beneficial but again it takes the spotlight away from your work.
There are a lot of freelancers out there and a lot of competition. In order to make sure your portfolio site stands out, make sure it relays quality, not quantity. You have just five seconds to make that all important first impression and this may become impossible if visitors are faced with an ad for Tesco, or a link to an irrelevant partner site.
Your perfect freelancer or contractor CV
The CV is still the predominant means by which freelancers, contractors and consultants are asked to apply for roles. A single piece of paper, or two (no more, please) in which to condense all the molecules that combine to form you.
Ask yourself why are you’re creating and sending your CV? Is it to capture and share everything you’ve done, to enable the recipient to make a decision there and then, OR are you aiming to try to get a meeting with that person.
If, we assume, the latter – think about what that means you should or shouldn’t include. What will get you that meeting? Put yourself in your reader’s shoes.
Employers average about 30 seconds to 120 seconds per CV. Make it as easy as possible for people to find the information they need. Enable the reader to understand, instantly, how good you are. Make it quantitative, not qualitative. Here are a couple of examples of a make-believe freelancer:
GOOD: In the three consecutive years I’ve freelanced, I’ve been rehired by 9 out of the 10 clients I’ve worked for. I’ve been careful to analyze my contribution, which has resulted, single-handedly, in a 34% increase in sales, totalling £567k in increased revenue per annum. I’ve managed teams of 4 people and my average budget size is £67k.
NOT GOOD: People always rehire me and I produce consistently fantastic results and great revenue. I’ve been asked to manage teams of people and large budgets.
Designers, this means you too. Do you always finish ahead of schedule? What can you quantify? Everyone should use specific examples to enable the reader to understand how you’re going to help make their lives easier.
If you’re a freelancer, indicate where you’ve worked and enable people to contact your previous employers. They’ll likely not, but it demonstrates confidence.
- Always tailor your CV to the job description/industry you’re going for. Print the job ad out and go through with a highlighter marking the key skills and experience they want. Make sure you have all the skills required and that it’s clearly evident on the first page of your CV.
- Ideally, a CV should just be two pages. Its sole job is to get you an interview so always focus on “who’s going to read this and what do they want to know?”. Then tell them just that.
- Put all the good stuff on the first page. Recruiters decide within six seconds if your CV is worth reading to the end, so make sure they know by halfway down the first page that you have what they need. The best way to do this is to have a ‘key skills’ section where you summarise your abilities.
- It’s also a good idea to list your technical proficiencies at the top of page one if they’re vital for the recruiter. Don’t make them work to find your information! The company might use keyword software to scan your CV before a person even reads it.
- If you’re uploading your CV online or emailing it directly to a company then save it as a PDF so the formatting doesn’t get knocked out if they’re using a different version of Word than you.
Know when to send it
Put yourself in the shoes of the recruiter. They’ve posted an ad and this has resulted in a flood of applications, each with a cover letter and CV. Do you want to be part of that flood, or arrive when the person has more time?
Even if they’re not hiring at the moment, catch them when they do have time – they’re more likely to remember you later during the flood.
What should accompany your CV?
Cover letters take an age and it’s very difficult to make yours any different to anyone else’s. We’d recommend using bullets and being very specific about where you can help.
Spellcheck, spellcheck, spellcheck
No matter how good the CV, if there are errors within, it goes to the bin.
You’ve been warned!
New to freelancing?
Freelancing can be the best way to work in the world, giving you the freedom and flexibility to do what you love, whilst living life to the full.
This guide will help you to look at the situation objectively, giving practical tips and advice on how to succeed as a freelancing newbie.