We’ve all been there… starting over (or pivoting)… even me. 25 years ago, 19 years ago, 5 years ago… I’ve started over several times in my design career. Even now, I’m thinking about making a change in the clients I’d like to work with. I want to tailor my portfolio to attract my desired client, but my existing work isn’t going to be that relevant.

How do you showcase your work, when you don’t have much to show?

I’ve got a couple tips for showcasing a small portfolio…

Your website is your best portfolio example

A while back, Michelle reminded us that the quality of our website is directly linked to the quality of the clients we attract. Your website is your very best portfolio example. It’s not uncommon for potential clients to fill out an inquiry… and completely bypass your portfolio. They might just be there to verify what they’ve already heard about you.

When your own website is executed well – branding, positioning, photography, copywriting – the assumption of quality will translate to an assumption about your own design ability. They’ll assume you execute all things well.

If your own website isn’t up to snuff, then start by bringing it up to the level of quality you expect in your future clients.

Case studies can showcase the *value* of your work

Maybe you’ve only got 1-2 projects under your belt. Use case studies to showcase the value of your work. Designers solve problems for their clients every day – whether it’s increased credibility through a new aesthetic, more conversions through a better site flow or better functionality through solid development.

Think about the before and after in the few projects you’ve done. What problems did you solve? What was your approach? What was the scope of the work? How did the client feel before working with you? What results have they had since?

Share the story of working with you through case studies. When you only have a few clients, case studies are a great way to leverage the results of a single project. Break up the case study and sprinkle the visuals + results throughout your social media accounts.

Not sure where to get started in creating case studies? Check out this post on the topic.

Client lists demonstrate expertise

I’ve “been there, done that” a few times with this next one and will be there again soon as I take my design business up another notch.

You might recognize this: You have experience but you’ve switched industries, or ideal clients, and much of your old work no longer is relevant. If you don’t have relevant work to showcase at the moment, utilize a list of clients to boost your work experience claims.

Think of this as similar to “as seen in” logos for designers. I find this tactic also works when you’ve worked with a client, but don’t have a cohesive or complete project to showcase. You still might have solved problems and gotten results. Or the work could be too old to be relevant. Go ahead and list them.

Rejected concepts, templates and student work can fill in the gap

A few years back, before I established my new design process, I’d work up several design concepts for each client. Some were accepted, others rejected. In 2013, when I’d just shifted my work to online entrepreneurs, I didn’t have a lot of relevant work to show. I’d fill in the gaps with rejected design concepts from the few clients I did have. You can do the same with student work or template work.

Showcase your non-client work the same as you would regular work, but remember to describe the context. You can also use these as visual testimonials (see last tip).

Coming soon carries almost the same street cred as completed projects

I’ve used this one too. If you’ve got projects that are looking amazing but might take a while to launch – show a sneak peek in your portfolio as a “coming soon” client. A logo, styling or a screen capture of the homepage – show just enough to demonstrate you’ve got the design chops without giving the project completely away.

If you’ve got 2 projects and a coming soon project in your portfolio, this registers as 3 legit projects to your potential client.

Showcase “coming soon” just as you would your other work. You can even start a case study… let your prospects know the objective of the project, a sneak peek, and roughly when to check back (make sure you stick with any dates you give).

Snippets of your work act as visual testimonials

Pull out the best pieces of the projects you’ve done and use them throughout your copy like visual testimonials. Maybe you’ve got a small project that’s hard to create a case study for, a favorite element or a standalone logo. Use mockups to showcase these and feature them throughout your website.

Think about where you make claims of experience or ability in your content. Reinforce those claims with a visual. I wouldn’t go crazy here – too many makes them less effective. Maybe 2-4 sitewide, depending on the size of your website.

If you are feeling limited by a small portfolio, don’t. We’ve all been there, even the most experienced among us. If you do this for any length of time, it won’t be the last time you are in this place as your business evolves.

Tell me, how does your portfolio feel right now? Inadequate, outdated, amazing? Will you use any of these tips in updating your work? Head on over to the Drama-Free Design Collective and tag me. I love to talk about this stuff.

How to organize and display a small freelance design portfolio.
Author: Christine Thatcher

Christine Thatcher is the founder of Christine Marie Studio, a boutique design agency dedicated to helping visionary entrepreneurs infuse their personalities into profitable virtual platforms. She combines 27 years of design experience to guide her clients through the web design process. Also the creator of Designing to Delight, a brand dedicated to teaching designers how to build collaborative client relationships so they can charge more for their work.