Common mistakes in online portfolios
Print portfolios, neatly collated and filed into a glossy binder, are great for when you’re heading to a physical meeting with a prospective client. But when it comes to simply getting your name out there and promoting your work via reverse “cold calls,” an online portfolio is the dealbreaker.* The manner in which you present yourself and your work in your online portfolio can act as the critical point between a client hiring you and a client moving on to another prospective freelancer.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many freelance portfolios that aren’t just lackluster, but outright damaging to the freelancer’s reputation. It’s one thing to have a boring, simple portfolio. It’s another thing to have a portfolio that frustrates or irritates a client. You can help guard against this by watching for a few of the most common mistakes encountered when creating and publishing an online portfolio.
1. Hosting it on a free web host. Sure, everyone is trying to save money these days, but nothing makes you look more unprofessional than having your site hosted on a free blog or a free web host. Not only do such blogs or hosts generally come with some sort of indicator in the domain name (e.g. http://freehost.com/yourname) but they also often come populated with annoying advertisements and pop-ups. With domain names now costing less than the price of a Starbucks coffee (I pay just $4.99 for a full year), it’s time to register your own site.
2. Overloading the viewer with too much information. I’ve seen many online portfolios that feature every single piece that the freelancer has created since he or she started his career. I remember one that dated as far back as the 1980s. You don’t need to give the reader a list of every little thing you’ve created/written/edited/photographed. Instead, highlight just a couple pieces–ideally from within the past couple of years–that show the scope and breadth of what you can work on.
On a similar note, stay away from linking directly to PDF files. Although they can be a great way to show off a printed piece in a digital format, such files are often unwieldy and large. In my personal case, I notify people that PDFs are available upon request and email them to the prospective client as needed.
3. Practicing poor web design. Your online portfolio doesn’t need to win the next Webby awards, but it should have decent navigation that lets the reader get from Point A to Point B without being lost in your private interwebs. I’ve seen some portfolios that featured very catchy, trendy names for its navigation links that, while it looked cool, did nothing to tell the reader what he or she was clicking on. Similarly, I’ve encountered too many online portfolios with broken links. Invest time–and, if necessary, money–into making sure all your links work and are easy to navigate. Likewise, pay attention to how your work is actually presented. Dropping $100 for a professional-looking website template can do wonders. If you can’t afford that, at least avoid the common practice of using unreadable fonts. And please, please, please don’t put red font on a black background.
4. Providing no method for contact. Simply stated, if a client likes what he or she sees but can’t find how to easily contact you, you’ve just missed an opportunity. At the very least, offer an email address for them to write to. Other people have had success including a mailing address, telephone number, and social media contacts like Twitter or Facebook.
*And these days, with iPads, iPhones and Androids, you can even show your online portfolio during a physical meeting.