What your portfolio says about you as a freelance designer

Your portfolio is what sets you apart from the thousands of other designers online.

Have you ever thought what it says about you?

Most of us have. But after we’ve created one, many of us take a “set it and forget it” attitude. We stop paying attention.

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Like our work, a portfolio should evolve over time.

Here are some common problems with online designer portfolios and the image it portrays about you as a designer.

If you’ve got too many self-promo projects

Let’s start with a common problem, especially for designers just starting out.

Want more? Have a listen.

Self-promotion projects are a good thing.  Complete creative freedom allows you to do whatever you want. Plus, you get a chance to showcase your design skills.

If you’re new, your portfolio will be small. And that’s ok.

When your portfolio contains too many self-promotion projects, it says:

  • You’re inexperienced. You give the appearance no one has hired you. Why would a client take a chance on you? Volunteer to do a free project or two to add some variety to your portfolio.
  • You’re incompetent. There must be a reason why you don’t have any clients. If your work is exceptional, then you must lack the necessary communication or business skills to get paying projects.

If your portfolio has bad links

Companies grow and change over time. This may include their design. If they close up shop or change their website address, you won’t get a memo.

Even worse is when a client scraps your design and you continue linking to the page because you don’t know your work is no longer there.

Broken links in your portfolio communicate these things about you as a designer:

  • You’re incompetent. I know we’ve used this one before. The number one thing you don’t want to communicate to your clients is that you don’t know what you’re doing. In a client’s eyes, broken links mean you don’t know how to create them. Why would they want your help with their site?
  • You lack attention to detail. Links are little things. But getting them wrong can have big consequences for your work.
  • You don’t have any current clients. If the links in your portfolio don’t work, your projects are outdated and you don’t have anything current.

If you link to your portfolio on a different site

Many designers share their work on sites like Behance and Deviantart. These sites are great for SEO . But some clients may not understand why you’re not hosting your portfolio on your own site.

They may think a portfolio somewhere else says:

  • You don’t know how to create one. This may not be a big deal for a print designer, but a web designer wants to showcase their ability to create different elements of a website.
  • You’re cheap. Clients think that you don’t want to pay for a larger website, although this usually doesn’t matter when you’re using your own domain.

If your site is only your portfolio

Portfolio websites are great for someone looking for work at an agency or a student showing off their skills. But a lack of information on your websites may tell people:

  • You lack communication skills. You can create beautiful projects. But how does your business work? What should potential clients expect when dealing with you?
  • You’re vain. You think you’re so awesome that people will flock to hire you when they see your work.

If you don’t have an online portfolio

There are tons of print designers who don’t see the need to create an online portfolio. There are other designers whose business is built on word of mouth and don’t even have a website.

It sounds strange, but it’s more common than you think.  Without an online portfolio to allow clients easy access to samples of your work, people may think:

  • You’re unprofessional. Designers risk looking like amateurs without a portfolio. It’s easier than ever to add one to your website.
  • Your work is low quality. If you’re proud of what you do, why wouldn’t you want to show it?
  • You’re dishonest. If you truly are a designer, why don’t you have anything to show?

What’s the solution?

A simple self-hosted website with a balanced portfolio is the easiest way to show clients that you are professional, competent and communicative.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but check your links every couple of months to make sure they’re current. Rotate projects a couple of times a year keeps it fresh.

How’s your portfolio? Have any tips and tricks for making one great?  Let us know about it in the comments!

For more about what your business says about you, check out:
What your pricing strategy says about you as a freelance designer

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About Sharon McElwee

Sharon McElwee is a copywriter and freelance business coach dedicated to help people get better at making real money doing what they love. Check out her free e-course to earn an extra $1000 in the next 30 days.


  1. He he, some rough love here, I see.

    And so, so true. I’m sure we can all benefit a lot from these tips, by making our portfolios more engaging, showcasing some real client work and providing a clear vision for prospective clients about what we can do to help their business online.

  2. A great post that a lot of freelancers should read!

    Fortunately or unfortunately, our online image says a lot about us.
    It’s necessary to have an online presence that looks professional.
    What’s good about websites and blogs is that they are not static, like a print brochure.
    They can be updated and improved whenever we like. And they should be.
    You can’t just have a “set it and forget it attitude”, as you say, because what looked perfect yesterday may look outdated today.

    Among others, the speed of our website should be checked regularly, especially when we have a lot of image files (which they should be optimized for web).
    According to Kissmetrics “40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load”.
    There are a lot of online tools to check website speed and broken links, 2 of them I use:

  3. Great and informative article!

    I recently had to update my business portfolio to include the process of each project more in detail. This has definitely helped translate to potential clients that the projects created took thorough skill, research and execution to complete. Which helps me reflect my company as what I desire it to be perceived as, professional and to be trusted with the client’s time and investment.

    • I think that’s a great point. We sometimes focus on the look and don’t reveal the process. Anything we can do to educate a client is a huge plus.

      Thanks, Dionna 🙂

  4. A clean portfolio is key no matter if you’re a writer or design freelancer. Not only does your portfolio showcase your work (and it should showcase your best work), it lets the client know not only what you offer, but how you present yourself in a business sense. Thank you for sharing such a great article that can be helpful to any freelancer!

    • Thanks, Robert 🙂

      I actually use Contently to host my portfolio because it shows the amount of social shares for my writing (which can be a double-edged sword).

  5. My web site name falls under this category.. How-ever it works for me..

    You’re vain. You think you’re so awesome that people will flock to hire you when they see your work.


  6. I’ve learned so much from this article and I thank God I subscribed to Millo’s newsletter some months ago. Online portfolios are the way to go as they give an artist better promotion and exposure. They also show the level of professionalism which is advantageous to an artist’s career.



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