How to Prepare a Job-winning Folio

Georgina Laidlaw

notebookIf you’re a creative, your folio could mean the difference between your winning or missing out on a job.

Folios represent your work; like a product sample, your folio makes a clear statement about your skills. It also says something about the kinds of work that interest you, the clients who put their trust in you, your creative process, and how committed you are to quality output.

There are a few golden rules you should follow as you put together a folio of your work. These are the ones I try to stick to in compiling my folio.

1. Choosing the work

In choosing which pieces to put into your folio, consider the job and the work it entails, then match the folio pieces you have to the job requirements.

If you’re compiling an online folio for your business, you may not have a specific job in mind. That’s fine; identify the types of work you want to do and choose pieces that reflect your experience with that kind of work. If you’re trying to move into a new area, try to choose folio pieces that  indicate that you have the skills to work in that area, even if you haven’t yet.

In selecting pieces, make sure:

  • you’ve included a range of executions (for example, if the project is designing a membership-based web service, you might include a range of examples of membership-based sites you’ve designed)
  • you can explain the creative process and rationale for each piece you’ve included
  • you’re proud of every piece in the context of the current creative and technical environment

How many pieces should you include? For a folio presented in person, for a specific project, the rule of thumb seems to be that you should include around 10 pieces — no more; possibly fewer. In some creative disciplines, prospects may want to see a concept’s development, so initial and developmental sketches and drafts may be appropriate. Consider this as you formulate your folio.

2. Arranging the work

The way in which you order the work within your folio will depend, at least in part, on whether or not you’re preparing a folio for a specific job. But the key considerations for arranging your work apply in both cases.

Project Type
In many cases, it’ll make sense to arrange the projects by type; for example, I might arrange my folio into content I’ve produced for print, for electronic media, and for voice.

Client Type
You may group pieces by industry, or some other client-based factor (such as separating work you’ve done for corporate clients from that you’ve completed for small business clients). These kinds of groupings are likely to be dictated by the needs of the prospect you’re pitching to; if, for example, they deal with both corporate and small business clients, they may want to easily compare executions you’ve produced for both groups.

Strength of the Piece
It’s good advice to start and end your folio with your strongest pieces. Once you’ve chosen those, you may want to choose the less-stunning of the  pieces you’re including and ensure these are scattered, not lumped together in your folio. Consider breaking them up with other items that are guaranteed to wow your prospect.

Note that by “less-stunning” I’m referring to those pieces which aren’t the strongest! For example, you might include a piece that reflects your skills in a certain area, but may not be reflect the target audience of the prospect you’re pitching to. Again, you should only include pieces that you feel are amazing examples of your brilliant talent — pieces you’re extremely proud of. If a piece doesn’t fit the bill, leave it out of your folio.

Flow and Suspense
I’ve found this the most difficult factor to address in compiling a folio. But to me, it means trying to avoid chopping and changing too much or too quickly, and trying to create a natural flow.

So, for example, in my copywriting folios, I try to move gradually from long copy items to short executions, rather than jarring my prospect by skipping from one to another and back again. I might try to mix executions, client types, or media within a certain grouping or work, to maintain the prospect’s interest.

Ultimately, I think intrigue — the What’s Next? factor — is what will keep the prospect turning the pages of your folio, so it’s important that each piece leads on from the one that came before, and inspires the prospect to want to see the one that follows.

How — and how well — you achieve this will depend entirely on the nature of the work you’ve done, and how you put it together. You might try compiling a couple of different folios for a given project, and running them past a friend or colleague to see which may be the better option. While it’s true that viewing a folio is a fairly personal experience, and it’s difficult to predict your prospect’s reactions to your compiled pieces, showing the folios to another party first will help you identify any glaring issues, gaps, or overloads.

3. Presenting your folio

If you’re prepared a folio for a specific project or role, you may well end up presenting it to the prospect. I find more and more that I’m sending folios via email, and if your folio’s online, it really will need to speak for itself. However, you won’t always have the luxury of hiding behind your folio: someday, you’ll need to present those pieces in person, so it’s important to make sure you can do that when the time comes.

Consider each piece in your folio, and think about the projects, the job constraints, the brief you took, and how effectively you met it. If you’ve included drafts of a project that help illustrate your creative process, ensure you can speak about those, too, and explain how your ideas evolved as you worked.

I usually prepare a little story in my mind about each piece in my folio that includes who it was for, what the purpose of the communication was, any hurdles I faced in creating the concept and any inputs or client feedback that helped shape the final result. Wherever I can, I try to have information about the success of the campaign or execution to provide as well.

If you’re presenting a folio online, think about including “vital stats” about each project: the client, project date, and project goals and outcomes make a nice starting point, and should give your prospects a solid context in which to view each piece.

Again, running your folio past an associate prior to your meeting with the prospect will give you the chance to practice explaining your work to them, and speaking with passion and intelligence about the work you’ve produced so far in your career.

These are the factors I consider when I put together a folio of my work. What tips can you share form your own experiences with folio preparation?