What to do with a limited portfolio?

I started designing and building web sites in 1996. Since then I’ve had positions as a designer, a developer, and an all-around “webmaster” - I know my stuff, I keep up with as much current knowledge as I can, and I know the ins and outs of planning, building, and maintaining a web site through its entire life cycle. I am now looking to move into freelancing or consulting, and I’d like to drum up enough business to be able to do it full-time. Unfortunately, I don’t have much to show people in the way of a portfolio that proves I know what I’m doing. For the last 10 years, my full-time day job has been the in-house web site manager for a company, so for that large part of my career all I have to show for my work is one company portal and a few smaller satellite sites. On top of that, a lot of my current job involves behind-the-scenes stuff like Information Architecture and Usability Testing - things that you can’t really demonstrate with a screenshot or a link.

Prior to that, I did a lot of work designing sites for clients, but those sites are either offline or they’re dated and I don’t think I’d want to display them as evidence of my current knowledge. I have done a few freelance jobs recently, but I don’t know if I have enough of them to make a good impression.

I know potential clients like to see visuals, and they like to see actual websites when they’re judging a freelancer or consultant. I don’t think what I have to show is “meaty” enough… I feel like if I show my best work, a client would ask “is that it?” just because I don’t have a huge number of functional web sites that I can show them.

Does anyone have any advice for someone in my position? Should I wait and work on some more portfolio-building before taking the plunge? Is there a better approach to presenting my work that will satisfy potential clients? Is there something other than a traditional web portfolio that I can use to demonstrate my skills?

You can also add that information to your proposal, customized for the needs of your client.

Good advice from everyone else here, but I’ll just add that I think how large a portfolio you need depends partly on how you’re getting new business.

When I first started I did 3 or 4 small pro bono jobs to get the ball rolling, but once I got that first client I was fortunate to get good referrals to other projects from them. Since a referral is at least somewhat “pre sold” on the idea of working with you, I think your portfolio matters less to them than it would to someone who you’ve just met and is deciding whether or not to hire you.

Good luck with what you’re doing and welcome to Sitepoint!


I like CreativHost’s suggestion. Instead of just screenshots in a portfolio, do case studies. Certainly requirements of today’s web sites have dramatically changed over the years. In your portfolio, show what was required and what you did to satisfy the requirements of the time. That’s really what clients want to see – what you can do to satisfy their requirements.

Welcome to Sitepoint!

You could always add some things like sample mockups to demonstrate your skills.

Personally, a client would want to see a portfolio RELEVANT to what they want / need you to design for them … so, essentially, you CANNOT cater for each and every scenario to start with … however, put on display what you have done so far, in order of recency, even if it means showing “older” designs / work which is still hosted online.

Secondly, IF you simply put a short “explanation”, describing your experience, etc., it would make alot of difference to a client who is serious in engaging your services …

All the best!

The partners and people I know that does web design (I myself is backend system developer) usually do very low payed or free jobs for big companies to build up portfolio. It sucks to do free and low payed work, but if you can get a good brand to your portfolio it can really help your sales.

But the competition can be brutal, you really have to be amazing to get the job.

Hope this can give you an idea.

I myself offer to do a smaller sample job for people before I do big projects. But this is also actual system development, so it might be a whole other topic.

In addition to case studies, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with detailing your process (in-depth) to give clients and employers what they need to be able to calculate how their project will go through the motions. Producing a booklet or something “for clients” stating how you go about your job, what services you offer, the benefits of those and the features of such bits and pieces can really make a difference! - And it also highlights your true experience level. :slight_smile:

Thanks everyone for the advice - it’s helped me get some good ideas in mind.

I think the idea of case studies is a good way to frame my work. Instead of showing a page full of thumbnails and then giving more info on each and every project, I can start with a more limited set that’s organized by the “type” of project (whether it was design, development, usability, or whatever) and then include my best sample of that particular type, with screenshots, documentation, and other deliverables.

That way I can pick four or five scenarios that I think my potential clients might be interested in, and showcase a sample for each one.

Thanks again, I think I can make that work!


if you are skilled in managing the whole lifecycle and all the behind the scenes stuff - why now try to push out flashy looking screenshots in fast succession. Your skills are much more valuable than normal web design skills, so I would market them accordingly.

We are in a similar position and while I’m not happy with it, our 1 pager website works much better for us than the previous bigger one. You may need to market such services through relationships in any case, which means the website will be checked after you have gained interest with someone to check out:

  • if your legit
  • what else you do

HTH, Jochen