Build a Better Portfolio

If you want to hit 2010 running, you may well be planning to update your portfolio over the next month or so. It can be tempting to just gather together all the projects you’ve done recently and drop them into your portfolio alongside everything else, but this is unlikely to be the best approach.

Instead, take this opportunity to review your pitching strategy and shape your portfolio accordingly.

How’s Your Portfolio Performing?

Has your portfolio landed you any jobs recently? If not, why not? If so, which seem to be the most compelling pieces or areas of work?

Discussing your portfolio with the clients or prospects who have reviewed it recently is a good starting point for working out which bits work best. But the success of different parts of your portfolio might already be obvious if you continue to secure projects in a particular area (e.g. web design) even though you regularly pitch for projects in print design as well.

Once you’ve identified which parts of your portfolio are the most compelling and successful, you’ll have some decisions to make.

Does Your Portfolio Fit Your Strategy?

Your portfolio is a tool to help you secure work, but will it help you secure the kind of work you want?

As you think about the kinds of projects or clients you’d like to do more work with in the coming year, you’ll formulate an idea of the work examples you’ll need to have in your folio.

If you can’t demonstrate your capabilities in the area you want to work in, you’ll find it hard to land jobs. If you can, then why include extraneous work examples from areas you’re not so interested in?

Consider who you want to work with (big clients? clients who pay over a certain hourly rate? clients with longer-term contracts?) and the kinds of work you want to do with them first. Then, it’s time to turn to your portfolio and make some changes.

Should You Remove Pieces That Aren’t Doing You Any Favors?

Of course, you should only include the pieces that you believe are truly outstanding, and display your abilities at their fullest. But reducing the size of a really great portfolio of work can help to more clearly communicate the types of jobs or clients you want to work with.

It might also make your body of work easier for prospects to digest. Larger online portfolios are often difficult to navigate, can overwhelm potential clients, and may dilute the strength of your offering. If your portfolio’s offline, you’ll have to consider the order and flow of pieces, and you’ll probably want to keep the number of pieces to around 10.

Should You Boost the Representation of Work In a Given Area?

If you want to shift your professional focus, or simply do more work in an area you particularly enjoy, you might want to put more examples of this type of work in your folio. Perhaps you’ll remove some older pieces to accommodate the new ones. Perhaps you’ll experiment by including your workings on a key project to illustrate your creative process. Maybe you’ll prepare some executions specifically for your portfolio, to show off your creativity and flare on a client-free exercise.

As you think about these issues, keep the strategy you want to pursue in the coming year top of mind. It will likely dictate the kinds of people who will be reviewing your portfolio, and what they’ll be looking for.

Should You Reorder or Re-categorize Your Work?

In a hardcopy, offline portfolio, the order of pieces is crucial, so each time you change the composition of your portfolio, you should reassess the order of pieces for flow.

Of course, a prospect’s movement through your online folio is usually determined by them, so you may not get to ensure they see pieces in a certain order. However, it may be handy as you review your portfolio’s contents to reassess your categorization.

What categories will make the greatest sense to your key prospect groups? Should you categorize your pieces by work type, industry, medium, audience or objective? There are plenty of options, so it’s worth giving some thought to categorization of your pieces, to ensure the folio you create really suits the target prospects you want to work with.

These are the main issues I’ll consider as I revise my portfolio to suit my strategy for the year ahead. What secrets do you use to prepare a truly stunning folio?