Designer working in his office

How to Create an Online Portfolio That Shines

10+ min read • Mar 21, 2021 • Grant Olsen

Imagine realizing one day that you desperately want a life-sized painting of your family standing in front of a castle. Yeah, it’s probably not something you’re ever going to crave, but for the sake of this analogy, just go with it.

In preparation for your epic painting, you buy your son a dapper little suit that makes him look like “The Blue Boy.” Your daughter finds a flowing gown that would’ve fit right at home in Versaille.

Now, you need to commission a painter. There’s no way on earth that you’re just going to do a quick Google search and choose a random painter who lives nearby. More likely, you’ll scour many painters’ websites to learn more about them. Each painter’s website portfolio and social media portfolio would become windows into their world, allowing you to discover an artist who not only has rates you can afford but also possesses a unique style that will perfectly capture your dream.

The Case for Business Portfolios

Designer focusing on portfolio

While my example of the family portrait might be far-fetched, it highlights the importance of online portfolio design. If you are a designer, photographer, writer, or other type of creative, you’d better have one—this way, prospective clients can see your talents and confirm that your style aligns with their preferences.

“These days, a professional online presence is an absolute must for designers and creatives,” explains a small business report from Wix. “An online portfolio with spot-on website design is the modern-day version of a business card, a resume, and a project showcase all in one. After all, it’s the go-to place for all potential clients and employers looking to hire you. Creating a portfolio website is an opportunity to make something that shows off your skills and conveys your unique voice while looking just as crisp and professional as any of your other work. With the right tools, you can go beyond technological constraints and artistic compromises and build a powerful online presence.”

Right now, freelancing is more popular than your favorite Netflix show. In America, about 57 million professionals work as freelancers each year. (True, your favorite show might’ve gotten 64 million views on Netflix’s platform, but their metrics are based on just 120 seconds of watching. That’s baloney.)

As freelancing has risen in popularity, so has the competition. Potential clients don’t have time to take you out to lunch and listen to your life story—with hundreds of freelancers banging on their door looking for work, the best they can do is spend 5 minutes perusing each online or social media portfolio. If they don’t like what they see, it’s on to the next. If they see quality that resonates with their brand, you might just get that lunchtime chat after all.

Entrepreneurs often dream about passive income. For example, a friend of mine created a popular ebook and brings in between $1,000 and $3,000 a month selling it on his website. Your portfolio can work for you in a similar way. Even when you’re sleeping, grocery shopping, or watching your favorite Netflix show, that loyal portfolio is out there interfacing with clients and making you look as good as possible.

Knowing How to Create an Online Business Portfolio

Designer focusing on the details

So what does a portfolio look like? That depends entirely on you. What does your work look like? What does your personality feel like? By creating an online or social media portfolio that reflects all the incredible uniqueness that makes you you, there will always be a way for clients to learn more and then hopefully make you an offer.

Your portfolio should answer a key question: Why should I hire you? At the top of the page, you’ll include an elevator pitch that details the experience and insights you bring to every job. Then you’ll let the work shine through in the clearest and most compelling way possible.

Did you know that you can create a free online portfolio? We’ll cover that process later in this guide, but you don’t need to spend a fortune getting your portfolio out thereyou just need to make sure that it stands out.

Let’s start with the basics. Here are the 7 things that your portfolio needs in order to reach its full potential:

1. A Solid Domain Name

Don’t speed through this step of the process. The most beautiful and persuasive online portfolio in the world won’t matter much if people can’t find it. Make your domain easy to discern and easier to remember. Resist the temptation to use bizarre domains like “www.stevesamazingcreationsyouhavetosee.com.”

In college, a professor assigned my class to write a personal essay about a topic that we were passionate about. The next day, a fellow student came into class and exclaimed, “There is so much filth on the internet! I was researching for this paper, and I did an image search for ‘passion’ and saw all kinds of gross stuff.”

While it’s definitely unfortunate that my classmate was exposed to images she didn’t want to see, the most ridiculous aspect of the story was that she thought she could search for “passionate” images and magically find things relating to her passion for ballet. You need to search with specificity if you care at all about what you’re going to find—and as a domain creator, you need to make it easy for people to find your business portfolio.

2. A Homepage

This page will likely be the only thing that the majority of your visitors see. In a perfect world, everyone would spend the day exploring your portfolio and celebrating your greatness. But realistically, most people will check out the homepage and then bounce off to watch cat videos or find a recipe for dinner.

Make sure your homepage introduces who you are and exactly what you do. When you take the time to create portfolio websites, you should also consider the SEO element. Conduct a keyword analysis and then include those keywords in your homepage copy.

3. A Work Page

This page is where your online portfolio design really should sparkle. Your goal should be not only to show the nuts and bolts of what you do but also to share the distinct style you bring to everything you touch. Thus, you’ll want to make quality your watchword.

“Not only photography portfolios require high-quality images,” says Wix. “To ensure that your work looks as impressive online as it does in real life, invest time and effort into photographing your work, your process, and your products. In cases when a professional photoshoot is not feasible, work with mockups to bring your visuals to life. When showcasing your images, the Wix Pro Gallery will offer you a professional look with customizable layouts, edits, and effects.”

Choose only your most remarkable work for this page. Include a description with each inclusion, offering context and showing how you developed distinct content for each client. It’s also helpful to discuss the impact of your work when that type of information is available.

You might consider merging your homepage and work page—a fine strategy so long as you maintain the crucial elements of each. For example, there could be a welcome message at the homepage’s top, followed by your portfolio.

4. An About Me Page 

You have a lot of latitude in the creation of this page. Perhaps you’ll want to write a fun story that captures the highlights of your creative journey, or you might just include bullet points that illuminate your creative values and strengths.

This page shouldn’t just be a duplicate of your LinkedIn page. Content can overlap, but don’t make your about me page simply a chronology of your careeryou should also include insights such as your personal interests, motivations, and goals.

5. A Contact Me Page 

You never want to leave clients hanging, so make sure your contact information is easily accessible from every page. You should also have a dedicated page where your contact information is included in detail.

Your contact page will likely include your business address, phone number, and email. If you prefer to communicate through text, mention that here—the more options, the better. Never include any forms of communication that you don’t check on a regular basis.

Additional inclusions for this page might be freelancing website links, social media links, and other relevant websites.

6. Your Blog

If you want your portfolio to remain fresh and engaging to clients, include a blog section where you can post articles, reviews, observations, and other relevant content.

In addition to distinguishing you as a subject-matter expert, this section will also boost your SEO performance. Search engines love recent content that covers relevant topics and includes links to other players within your industry.

7. Your Pricing

Many professionals prefer to have private conversations about pricing rather than providing it on their website. This approach makes sense, as it allows you to get to know the client a bit before bringing up the potential difficult topic of price.

The problem you may encounter: by avoiding pricing on your website, you won’t be able to screen out lower-paying clients. When you’re a busy professional, the last thing you want to do is make time for potential clients who run for the hills when you disclose your rates to them over the phone.

Where to Build Your Paid—or Free—Online Portfolio

Designer ironing out some of the details

Knowing where to make your portfolio is just as important as knowing how to make one. Website options run the gamut, so it’s important to do your research and figure out which of them best align with your goals and preferences. You’ll find that certain platforms are popular within your industry, but don’t feel compelled to go with any options unless they work for you.

Let’s look at some of the prime choices:

  • LinkedIn: Say hello to your low-hanging fruit. LinkedIn is an excellent platform from which to base a portfolio. Whether you’re adding photos, videos, or writing samples, it allows you to share them with a vast audience.

One benefit of showcasing your work on LinkedIn is that it already has sections dedicated to your career experiences, personal bio, and contact information. In other words, it’s a free and convenient way to display your portfolio online.

  • Instagram: Here’s another free platform structured in a way that makes portfolio sharing simple. Videographers, photographers, painters, animators, and other professionals can upload stunning samples of their creations.

The main drawback with Instagram: it doesn’t have the navigation to allow for a lot of supporting content related to your business. So you should leverage this streamlined platform to share your work, using the captions wisely.

  • WordPress.org: This is a popular—and nearly free—portfolio solution. WordPress is open source and costs no money to use, though you’ll need to pay for web hosting and your domain name.

In addition to being a cost-free platform, WordPress provides a staggeringly large collection of templates to choose from. This feature is important, as some website builders have such limited design options that their websites all start to look like clones of each other.

  • Wix: This user-friendly portfolio solution is gaining traction among small business owners. It’s easy to create a polished website with all the sections you need. There are hundreds of templates—you just grab what you want and place it wherever it looks best.

You can get started with the free version, then upgrade to a paid tier once you know what features you’re craving.

  • Jimdo: This portfolio builder gives you lots of different formats from which to showcase your work. Since it’s specifically designed with portfolios in mind, it looks amazing and enhances your natural style.

There’s a free version of Jimdo that provides an array of basic features and a .jimdosite.com subdomain. If you decide you need more support (such as SEO and dedicated support), you can consider a paid tier.

  • Squarespace: This is another drag-and-drop site builder that makes creating a high-quality portfolio a breeze. Wix provides more versatility, but some users find that Squarespace is simpler to use—so if you’re new to the world of site builders, this option might be ideal for you.

Check out the various payment tiers that Squarespace offers. As with the other options on this list, it’s advisable to start small and then upgrade later once you know which features are most important to your success.

  • Bēhance: If you’re a visual artist, you’ve probably heard of Bēhance. It’s a top-notch portfolio site that also offers networking functions. The work you share can be commented on by other users, and as the feedback and “likes” grow, so will your clout. In this way, Bēhance serves as an Instagram/business website hybrid that provides the best of both worlds.

You’ll probably want to use Bēhance as a supplement to your other business promotion efforts rather than using it as your exclusive portfolio.

Get an Unbiased Opinion Before You Go Live

Designer satisfied with portfolio and smiling

Your completed portfolio will likely be close to your heart because it’s an online gallery showcasing your best work—your blood, sweat, and tears on public display. Given your proximity to the content, it’s crucial that you seek out feedback.

“We all know the feeling of getting lost in a project until we lose sight of what it really looks like,” say the online portfolio design experts from Wix. “That’s why it’s always best to run your website by a second set of eyes for some insight and fresh ideas. Ask your trusted friends what they have to say about your portfolio’s content and visuals. Did they think your portfolio was missing information? What did they like or dislike about your site’s appearance? Was it easy to navigate? Even if it means making adjustments, critical feedback from your peers can help you fine-tune the details of your site.”

Carefully record the feedback you receive, then do your best to implement it. At its best, your website will be saturated with your personality and style while also being so intuitive and easy to peruse that it’s obvious to clients that you conducted user testing. What’s more impressive than an expert so serious about their craft that they collaborate with other experts to make things better for their clients?

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Grant Olsen

Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.