June 5, 2009 by Guest Blogger

If you were a freelancer 10 years ago, how you presented yourself in person often determined whether or not you landed a gig. As a virtual freelancer, what you do and how well you do it takes center stage. An online portfolio can spotlight your talent, and can audition for new work while you make what you’re working a hit.

Portfolios aren’t just for artists and photographers. Software and web developers, network programmers and database designers, writers and translators, sales and marketing, business services providers—any one here at oDesk—can all benefit from an attractive portfolio. Surprisingly, several recent surveys revealed that the majority of freelancers don’t have web site portfolios. And that’s just silly when oDesk makes it easy for you to create one by adding them to your profile.

A good portfolio will convince clients of your talent, skills, and professionalism. In our recently published book, Undress For Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money At Home (Wiley, 2009) we include everything you need to know to make a living at home including these twenty tips specifically about portfolios:

  1. Treat your portfolio as an advertisement, and remember you’ll only have about seven seconds to catch someone’s attention, so position your best work at center stage. Portfolios are a teaser for your skills. Overdoing it will appear amateurish. Give them the sizzle, not the steak.
  2. If you include a downloadable portfolio—and you should if you’re an artist so they can print your material and take it to meetings—keep it simple. Samples of your work are the most important element.
  3. Your contact information should be in black type with a conventional typeface—nothing elaborate. Artists tend to use too much eye candy.
  4. Make your printed portfolio either 8.5 x 11 or 8.5 x 14 so pages can be easily printed and photocopied.
  5. Make sure that your work looks decent when it’s copied in black and white–yes, even website designs. Some people don’t have color printers or copiers.
  6. Some employers will want to see process, how you arrived at the final artwork—sketches on a napkin or notepaper, a snapshot of a building, plus intermediate sketches, and the finished product. For computer-based projects, they may want to know what programs you used.
  7. Unless you’re a writer, don’t make you’re portfolio a blog. Employers don’t want to dig through your bah, blah, blah to find out what you can really do.
  8. We repeat—make your work the centerpiece of the site. That’s what your customers want to see. Don’t make them dig for it.
  9. If a client owns the copyright to your work, be sure to secure the right to display their project in your portfolio.
  10. If you’re new to the business, consider doing some volunteer projects or discounted work to build your portfolio.
  11. Make sure your pages load quickly. Avoid Flash, JavaScript (unless they’re your specialty), and HTML frames.
  12. If you’re selling search engine optimization, public relations, or marketing services, be sure your web site is high in the rankings. This sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many self-proclaimed experts don’t make the grade. The same goes for ugly web designer sites, poorly written writer sites, malfunctioning e-commerce sites, and the like.
  13. Another ‘‘duh’’: avoid broken page links, spelling and grammar mistakes, political or religious commentary, or anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
  14. Do not run ads on your portfolio pages—they’re supposed to sell you, not printer ink, cell phones, or books (unless you wrote them, of course).
  15. Make sure your web page and keyword tags include all the terms that someone seeking your talents might use in their search.
  16. Include—feature!—testimonials from satisfied customers. Remember to ask for them as you complete projects.
  17. List your credentials including education, work history, skills, talents, specialties, expertise, and any certifications you’ve received.
  18. If you’ve won any awards, accolades, or (positive) news mentions, this is the place to blow your horn.
  19. Ask for the business, and make sure it’s easy for prospective clients to reach you.
  20. Think twice before you post that picture of you wearing a thong (especially you guys). Employers will search online to see what you’ve been, um, up to.

Kate Lister and Tom Harnish are the authors of the Undress for Success: The Naked Truth About Making Money At Home. They also run the Undress for Success blog.