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Building a Portfolio as a Contractor: Fundamentals and Examples

May 21, 2023

Blog written by Kyrstin Kempf.

A white woman with shoulder-length brown hair smiles closed-lipped at the camera wearing a teal shirt with white polka-dots and gold dangle earrings. She stands in front of a blurred background of a city bike path and trees.
Kyrstin Kempf

When building a small business or providing freelance services, a portfolio is an important part of that process. In fact, the second most common way freelancers bring in work assignments is through a personal website or portfolio [1].

What exactly is a portfolio?

A portfolio is your story; it’s a living, breathing body of work that showcases your skills and your voice.

It’s also a way to provide your contact information and illustrate your network by showing who you’ve worked with.

One of the key benefits of creating a portfolio is being able to control the narrative around what you do [2]. If you have more experience in graphic design than in photography but you prefer photography assignments, a portfolio can be used to focus on what type of projects you want to attract in the future.

If you like lots of color or a minimalist look, this can be portrayed by your work as well. By creating a portfolio that focuses on what you enjoy doing and creating, you attract clients that align with your work interests and style.

When you think of a portfolio, there are several formats that may come to mind: deck, social media, website, etc. The format of your portfolio is entirely up to you; however, your portfolio should be continually updated to add your best work. Approaching your portfolio with an open-ended approach can make the entire process less intimidating. It’s a snapshot of what you offer now, with room to grow and change.

What should be included in a portfolio?

On a basic level, your portfolio should have your contact information and work examples. However, it’s important that your portfolio conveys:

  • who you’ve worked for,
  • context for each example,
  • your artistic style or technique,
  • and your story with pictures of your work process.

For example, if you created a marketing video for a client, you could include a paragraph with information on the goal of the project and mention the company you worked with. Along with the finished video, you could also include snapshots of the editing process showcasing your story and your artistic style.

Even if you feel unsure about your portfolio pieces, put your work out there for clients to see! Going back to the open-ended portfolio approach - see your portfolio as a current snapshot, not as a permanent definition of your work. Plus, by showing your process clients can get a better idea of what you do and be a part of your growth as an artist and freelancer/business owner.

What Are Some Examples?

Youmee Lee, Chris Hamilton, and Meeya Tjiang are all deaf freelancers/business owners that benefit from having a portfolio. Seeing how they set-up and manage their portfolios may help guide you.

Youmee Lee, a designer, filmmaker, printmaker, artist, and teacher, use Instagram with a link in her bio to a website with more details on her work.

Chris Hamilton, a photographer and retoucher has his website home page set to his food gallery. This focuses the narrative on food photography with less focus on his initial work - wedding photography.

Meeya Tjiang, a visual designer and illustrator uses her Instagram to display her most recent work including a Google Doodle - showing who she has worked with.

Where Can I Learn More?

Check out this webinar led by Brian Milburn, co-founder of Design To Glow. He walks through the best practices of building a portfolio and uses examples from Sheena Stuart-Milburn’s portfolio – co-founder and creative director of Design To Glow.