A professional portfolio is a tool that can help you find new clients, land a better job or sell more of your goods and services to those you’ve already connected with. But outside of obvious arenas like writing and art, people don’t always realize the importance of a professional portfolio or know how to make one.
And even if individuals do know a professional portfolio could help, they may struggle to build one while also making money. It can be a balancing act to make money for today while building something that can help you make money in the future. Find out more about professional portfolios below, including some tips for how you can make money while building yours.
What Is a Professional Portfolio?
A professional portfolio is a collection of items and information that demonstrate your capability to do a job or provide a service. It’s usually a selection of your best work in a specific arena or items that speak to your best work if that work isn’t something that can be illustrated in a portfolio.
While most people are aware of the type of portfolio a writer or artist might have, the truth is that almost any professional can have a portfolio. Here are some examples of the types of portfolios various professionals might have:
- Writers, artists and photographers typically have portfolios that show off some of their best work. A journalist might gather the top 10 articles they’ve written while a wedding photographer might create a gallery of past photos.
- An event planner could also use photographs to show off what their past events looked like alongside items, including reviews from past clients and infographics detailing some statistics about events they’ve managed. For example, each event in the portfolio might come with a page that notes what niche it was in, how many people attended, special services provided and any challenges overcome.
- A clinical professional such as a doctor might create a portfolio that discusses what types of treatments, disease processes and patient populations they’re familiar with. While names and personal data of patients can’t be revealed without permission, doctors can still express in general the types of wins they’ve had, such as “experience treating pediatric patients with severe asthma with 98% positive outcomes.”
- A software developer could include examples of development projects in their portfolio as well as a list of past companies and projects. If any of the dev work is available as a free app or open-source download, linking to that can also be a good idea.
As you can see, you can create a professional portfolio in almost any niche. Be creative and think about what potential clients or employers may want to see when making a decision about whether or not to work with you.
5 Tips for Building Your Professional Portfolio
Here’s a piece of bad advice that’s often bandied about when people discuss building portfolios: Do stuff for free to get exposure. Giving away your time and skills for free can actually devalue them, so you may want to avoid that.
Instead, check out these five tips for building a professional portfolio while still making money, no matter where you are in your career.
1. Create a Mock or Sample of New Items You Can Sell or Leverage for Sales
You don’t get paid upfront for samples or mockups, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make money from them. Use them as sales collateral to get new clients or put the samples up for sale to cover the cost of your time in making them.
Here are just a few examples of how this can work:
- A graphic designer who wants to make book covers for indie authors can create a portfolio of designs. That helps them demonstrate to potential clients that they have the right skills. But those designs can also be sold. The designer simply has to attach a price and let people know the title and author can be customized.
- A photographer might take a variety of photographs that can be sold as prints or as designs on bags or cell phone cases. This is true even if the photographer wants to gain clients for other types of work, such as family portraits. Their portfolio could show off past family portraits or other marketable art pieces.
- A virtual assistant could create a portfolio of templates or other tools that would be helpful to clients. Some could be offered as free downloads in exchange for an email address to be used for marketing purposes while others might be sold as a digital package to make some extra money.
2. Connect With Small Businesses That Need Affordable Services
Sometimes you actually need a client to provide you with work opportunities so you have more to put in your portfolio. Think back to the event planner who might include information about past events, for example. It would be prohibitively expensive to stage mockup events, so the professional relies on clients for those opportunities.
But how do you get those clients and make some money doing work if you don’t already have a professional portfolio? Instead of jumping directly to doing work for free, consider connecting with smaller businesses or individuals that need your services and are willing to pay for them. These individuals may need an affordable option, and as a newcomer, you can provide a small discount in exchange for the opportunity to build your portfolio.
Make sure you’re upfront that you’d like to use this work for your portfolio and get sign off in advance for doing so. Or, at the very least, make sure you’re not signing a nondisclosure agreement or other contract that keeps you from talking about or sharing your work.
3. Collect Reference Letters, Work Performance Data and Other Relevant Information as You Work
Whether you’re working for others or running your own business and serving clients, collect everything that might be valuable for your portfolio. Look at each opportunity you have as “paying you” in two ways. First is the monetary compensation you receive from your work. Second is the value you can get for your portfolio.
- Reference letters can be saved as digital documents or images in your portfolio for future employers or clients to read.
- Reviews and testimonials can be formatted into call-out quotes for your website or portfolio pages.
- Images of your work or the fruits of your work can form an engaging gallery that tells the story of your skills and accomplishments.
- Lists of your previous work performance and wins might be gathered in resume-like lists of concise bullets people can browse on your portfolio page.
4. Work on Developing Your Portfolio While You Have a Day Job
One way to ensure you’re making money while building your professional portfolio is to work a day job. You might work a job that has little to do with your career goals and portfolio as you do side-gigs to build experience, for example. Or, you might get your foot in the door with an entry-level job that ensures a wage while providing some opportunities to collect things for your portfolio. Whatever the case, make sure you remain on the lookout for creative ways to add to your portfolio to make the most of all your opportunities.
5. Use Introducely to Connect With Portfolio-Building Opportunities
Building your portfolio can be a lot of work, and it’s easy to think that your resources are more limited than they actually are. For example, you can use Introducely to find opportunities for portfolio-building activities, including guest speaking opportunities, becoming a mentor, connecting with clients for your freelance services or even getting people to review your products.
As a Requester on Introducely, you can ask to be introduced to all types of people, and you can post an unlimited number of requests for free. That lets you take a trial-and-error approach to connecting with the right people to help build your portfolio while making some money. You only pay a small fee (if you offer one) whenever you’re successfully introduced to someone who meets your request, making this a low-cost way to build on your portfolio.
And while you’re on Introducely, you might consider signing up as an Introducer. That way, you can earn money making introductions, helping others connect with opportunities and solutions too. Sign up today as a Requester, an Introducer or both! Within minutes, you can be posting requests for connections to help build your portfolio or making a little more cash using your existing network to introduce others.
About the Author
Nick Chasinov is the founder of Introducely and covers topics regarding sales, marketing, technology, networking, career growth, and all things Introducely related.