May 18

How to build a portfolio


Digital portfolio pieces are basically documents and tools that you have and own that display your skill or competency for a certain topic. 

For example, and artist generally has hundreds, if not thousands of art pieces drawn and created in varying mediums to display their competency and skill in art.

In gaming companies, it could be the titles of games that they've produced. The more successful the game, the stronger it is as a portfolio piece.

Even for bankers, the financial portfolio that they built for customers can even be their customers' testimonials, who endorse said banker's skill and prowess at making their customers money.

Digital portfolios are basically one of the most important tools for anyone's (or any company's) success.

This works very similarly to the idea of word of mouth marketing, except in this case, it's more than just a testimonial.


Simply put, it shows your future clients and anyone who seek to validate your credentials that you are capable of doing the work, and are skilled enough to give clients what they want.

And in this day and age, it's far more important for you to show AND tell of your capabilities.

A recent study showed that humans process images 60,000 times faster than text - a staggering improvement in speed.

What this means is that your ability to create a compelling visual story of your skills and capabilities in executing your services are of the biggest importance today.

Let's get started.


First things first - if you're brand new and have no work portfolio to your name, go ahead and create one for yourself.

It could be anything - you could see some information online and start designing an infographic to increase the visual quality of the data.

Then you can post that infographic online.

an example infographic for easier processing

Click for full size image!

Who knows, in doing so, you might attract the original owner of the data and they may want to credit and pay you for helping make that data much easier to read and review.

You could also email the owner and give it to them for free, in exchange for a testimonial or credits (see next topic below)

Or perhaps you want to create your own website, or start creating websites for people. 

In that case you can start your digital portfolio by designing your own WordPress sites, complete with the landing pages and blogs.

You can use WordPress to learn how to develop a portfolio, whilst at the same time learn how to display it well!

NOTE: Learning to create your own WordPress site is one of the most important skills you'll ever learn in creating any form of digital portfolio.

It's also the one thing that will help you generate loads of money online, if you do it right!


This one is big.

If you have any friends and family who are willing to get any work free from you, this will be one of the easiest ways you can start to build your digital portfolio.

Let's for a moment imagine you are an artist.

If you have a friend who wants a new art piece in their home, you can create one and give it for free.

Here's the important part:

Your artwork will be prominently displayed in their homes. If they have guests over, it can serve as a conversation starter (a win for them)

However, this can also lead to their friends CALLING YOU for a commissioned piece in their homes (a big win for you!)

In another example, imagine you're a web designer, or an expert in creative design.

If you have friends and family in business, you'll definitely be invaluable to them.

For one, you can design and create a website for free for them to use.

[EDIT: During this COVID-19 times, bringing ANY business to the online world is a highly sought-after skill]

You create a beautifully designed website, and they start telling their customers that they now have an online presence.

Some of their customers might also have their own businesses in their own industries.

Seeing how your friends and family have praised your skill and ethic, they also recommend you to their friends.

This in turn gets them to contact you, and them asking for your prices.

See how sometimes starting businesses is as simple as that?


Yes, most of the times it's not nearly as easy as that. Sometimes you don't have anyone you know doing business, or in business.

That's okay!

You can still revert back to creating your own digital portfolio with WordPress, and continue creating your own assets.

You can also then promote it yourself by other means.

The only downside to this is that your initial starting phase will be slightly slower, but you won't be far behind from those who have the initial push either.


For anyone wanting to build a business, this step is very important.

Collecting testimonials is the very first step in building your digital portfolio, and in so doing, will start creating your personal brand as well.

When you collect strong testimonials, your professional image will increase tremendously, as well as your personal brand (whatever you want to brand yourself as)

The best kinds of testimonials are the ones that are connected to social media - especially Facebook.

The reason being that it's a real person, along with a real image and real testimony. 

This gives your testimonial far more power, because it looks far more human than a lot of other types of testimonials.

example of a testimonial

Testimonials with actual images and people work best. If not, people might think you're making up your own testimonials!

If you're just starting out creating your digital or work portfolio, don't worry, you'll get your opportunity to collect testimonials soon.

Note: For some, there will be projects that you work on that is under an NDA (non-disclosure agreement):

A non-disclosure agreement, s a legal contract between at least two parties that outlines confidential material, knowledge, or information that the parties wish to share with one another for certain purposes, but wish to restrict access to.

This can usually come in the form of documents and data that is for internal company circulation only, or when working for large corporations and governments.

In that case, caution is advised when you share these in your work portfolio.

A good way to spin it is that you're sworn to secrecy for that project, and that you understand and know how to work with companies that require such discretion.

In that way, you're also branding yourself as someone who can safely handle confidential data as part of your professional, personal branding.


This can go about a few ways:

1. You've already established yourself with your free work for family and friends, and have a small digital portfolio.

2. You immediately got commissioned or a sale from someone without a work portfolio.

Either way, congratulations on getting your client! It's an achievement and should be celebrated.

For this way, you're already well on your way to getting somewhere with your portfolio - and with a lower price point, you can certainly gain more clients as well.

However, the whole point of having a good working portfolio is to NOT be stuck at low hanging fruit - you should eventually target the higher paying services, or else you'll be a slave to your own work.

Being cheap only works when you're starting out - being cheap when you're experienced with clients under your belt will not do well for your sanity, nor your bottom line.


Remember, the whole idea of building a portfolio is to showcase your best work - your work done for your customers and clients, as well as your personal own work.

Adding a personal flair to your work is also a great addition to your digital portfolio:​

It distinguishes your work from others (much like having a unique art style), and it makes you more personable - meaning people can see the love and effort you put into your work.

Also as important, you need to have intent for showing your work on your portfolio - what are you trying to achieve with that piece?

using gifs can be great for portfolio too

Moving portfolios (gifs) can be great for focusing client attention.

For example, are you using that in your portfolio solely to pad your resume, or using it to draw in new clients?

For those examples above, you'll need to display different things:

For padding your resume, you'll probably focus more on adding your paper qualifications in the work.

For clients, it'll be more on the projects you've handled for other people (best is if you have a client you worked for in a related industry)


When showing off your digital portfolio, less is more.

This is especially the case in portfolios that are visual in nature - show, not tell.

showcasing the bast templates

awwwards showcases the best sites, great for inspiration

People want to see your design and your unique flair to them, and you don't need to explain yourself.

In such cases, the lesser the captions, the more attention is drawn toward each piece.

For portfolios that are of less visual nature, you can still use visuals - beautify your copy, or your stories and words with infographics (keeping in line with the above statement for the visual brain)

Have a look at this website by Clement Merouani of Paris - it's a very simple looking website, with a short caption: "for the gram".

Everywhere you move your mouse, it's a photo in the loading page.

Nothing needs explaining - you understand through visual movements and photography.

Color scheme is simple - black. Nothing else. It brings attention to his work, instead of distracting users.

use of visual elements for portfolio


To make your work portfolios easily navigable, add in categories of your work - you can separate your commissioned pieces from your personal ones and add a little story to them.

Or, you can also simply display them in a way that showcases a snippet of it, only expanding when they click on the ones they are interested in.

Ultimately, you want your potential clients, partners and fans have a look at how easy it is for you to navigate around and explore your content.


Last but not least, social media is also an excellent (and free) way to get started with your portfolio.

Frankly, this could be a separate piece all it's own, but we'll briefly cover using Instagram as your digital portfolio.

Let's say you're a professional photographer making your mark in the world.

For bigger names to employ you (let's say, National Geographic, you need to show your skills and what you can do.

Instagram can be a perfect starting place - you get to publish high-end photography shots, as well as tag National Geographic in your work, bringing their attention to your capabilities.

Dylan Furst does this exceptionally well.

instagram curated post

His instagram posts are curated to a specific color theme, and at his description, it links back to his own website, with more curated photographs, further cementing his portfolio, and personal brand.

website color curation

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below if we did, or if you think there are points to improve. 


about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and helping people make money online.

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