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What is a portfolio? A guide for freelance creatives

4-minute read

An artist taking pictures of their work for their design portfolio
Rosanna Parrish

Rosanna Parrish

24 January 2024

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A portfolio is a collection of your work that showcases your professional skills, achievements, and unique style. Portfolios are used across many different types of work – but are especially common in creative industries.

A creative portfolio typically includes examples of your previous projects. This provides tangible evidence of your abilities and experience, helping to show any potential clients what you’re capable of. It’s quite common for a client to ask to see a portfolio before hiring someone.

Overall, a creative portfolio is a powerful tool for visually showcasing your capabilities. If you’re a freelance creative looking for work, keep reading to learn more about how to make a portfolio.

Do I need a portfolio?

If it’s between you and another client, a good portfolio may be what sets you apart from the competition. So when your making a portfolio, make sure that it meets the following criteria:

Include relevant work

When thinking of portfolios, one size doesn’t fit all. Whilst it’s okay to have a generic portfolio of your work, it’s a good idea to tweak it to the job or industry you’re applying for. Clients will want to see that your work aligns with their needs.

Show the best of the best

Your portfolio is what represents your capabilities – so make sure you’re including the work that reflects your skills and creativity. Only include your best projects – even if that means leaving out your personal favourites.

Keep it consistent

A consistent style or theme in your portfolio can be a good thing – helping clients understand your aesthetic and giving them a better understanding of what they can expect from your work.

However, it’s also a good idea to show a range of projects to demonstrate your versatility and that you can adapt to meet a brief.

Include additional information

Whilst your work should be able to speak for itself, providing some additional context can be beneficial. Explain any challenges you faced and the results you achieved. Showing your way of working or your problem solving skills can help potential clients get to know you better.

Provide testimonials or case studies

Looking to add an extra layer of credibility to your work? Including feedback from previous clients can offer valuable insight into your working relationships.

Make it accessible

While there are many options for online portfolio hosting services, some clients may prefer their own digital copy of your work so they can keep it on file. Using an online portfolio is fine, but it may be a good idea to provide a downloadable version too.

If you do choose to send a digital copy to a client, make sure the file size isn’t too large to be easily downloaded. The simpler it is for people to access your portfolio, the better.

How to make a portfolio

Now you know the basics of what to include in your portfolio, it’s time to get into the specifics. Your portfolio will differ depending on your profession and your clients’ needs, but here’s a few things to help you get started when creating your first portfolio.

Graphic design portfolio

When creating a graphic design portfolio, you should include a range of projects that cover different design styles, mediums, and industries to demonstrate your adaptability.

Process work is another key thing to include in a graphic design portfolio – it’s not all about the finished product. Potential clients will be interested to see how you got to the final conclusion, so include sketches, wireframes, or any work that gives insight into your creative process.

As a highly visual role, the layout of your design portfolio can be just as important as the projects shown within. Make sure everything is laid out in an appealing way – think about everything from the story you’re telling to the quality of the images you use.

Architecture portfolio

Architects really value details, so it’s important that your architecture portfolio highlights these. High resolution images, renderings, and drawings can help potential clients understand the quality of your designs.

Try to showcase your problem solving skills alongside your architectural skills by showing the full process of coming up with your designs. Try to include a mixture of sketches, models, and photos of your work. Including technical drawings will help to show your ability in the technical aspects of the role.

Art portfolio

When compiling your best artwork into an art portfolio, it’s important to keep to a theme. However, this theme can be anything you choose. The portfolio could be organised by topic, art medium, or even by showing a timeline of how your work progresses.

One way to stand out is by including an introduction or artist statement, which is a great place to show potential clients what inspires and motivates you as an artist.

Design portfolio

There are many different skills you can highlight in a fashion design portfolio. As well as showing a variety of different finished designs in a range of styles and garment types, it’s important to show your skills in concept development. Try to show the entire design process, from initial concepts to final products.

You should also highlight your technical skills by showing your abilities in pattern making, fabric selection, and construction.

Fashion design can be about more than just designing, so also demonstrate your understanding of the fashion and retail markets. Impress potential clients by showing that you understand their target audience and any relevant market trends.

Photography portfolio

When creating your photography portfolio, it’s important to not just highlight your favourite work – but the work that best shows what you can offer your clients.

You should also highlight your technical proficiency such as your skills in composition, lighting, and post-production. You’ll likely be responsible for the editing of the images, so your editing skills should also be included in your portfolio.

If you’re a photographer with a presence on Instagram, then you can include links to your social media so potential clients can explore more of your work.

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Photo: Siphosethu Fanti/
Rosanna Parrish

Written by

Rosanna Parrish

Rosanna Parrish is a Copywriter at Simply Business specialising in side hustles – as well as all things freelance, social media, and ecommerce. She’s been writing professionally for nine years. Starting her career in health insurance, she also worked in education marketing before returning to the insurance world.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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