How to create an outstanding freelance portfolio

John Sirrine
As a freelancer, your portfolio is the center of your brand and marketing efforts. Surprisingly, excellent freelance portfolios are few and far between. This is a comprehensive guide to understanding the elements of a great portfolio. Follow these principles, and you’ll have a top-tier freelancer portfolio that your future clients won’t be able to resist.


As a freelancer, you are a brand, and brands are stories. You sell yourself and your services by telling a compelling story, and that’s exactly what a portfolio does: it combines visuals and text to tell a powerful story.

Sure, you can try to explain to a potential client that you are highly skilled, detail oriented, and delightful to work with… but anyone can say that. Not everyone can prove it. 

So don’t just tell the world who you are - show them. That’s the essence of a portfolio.


Every business has made bad hires. Your future clients just want to feel confident that their next hire won’t be that mistake. How do you convince them that you are the right choice? Your portfolio.

A spectacular portfolio ensures you aren’t just making promises, but demonstrating credibility.

A portfolio allows you to do two things:

  1. Make your value proposition compelling and captivating through visuals and storytelling.
  2. Provide proof that you can deliver on that value proposition.

If you can do those two things, you’re going to make a killer first impression. 


Building a portfolio from scratch can seem overwhelming at first, especially if you are newer to web design and don’t have a lot of experience. Yes, it’s scary, and sounds like a lot of work, but let that excite you. 

That feeling tells you that there’s an opportunity: you see, every other freelance designer has the same fears, and as a result, most of them haven’t faced the discomfort and taken the time to learn how to make a good portfolio.

Brilliant portfolios are rare to find, so this is an area where you can immediately stand out from the crowd and be perceived as top talent right away.

You ready for that? Let’s dive in.


It’s crucial that you speak to a specific niche when sharing your brand. 

In my early days of freelancing, I found a big client that massively accelerated my career browsing jobs on Upwork. I saw a project to build a website for a carpet cleaning company, and I jumped right on it. It seemed like a great project, but my heart sank when I noticed that the job already had 50+ proposals.

As a rule, I only bid on jobs with less than 15 proposals (if there are more than that, there’s simply too much competition, and the odds of you being interviewed are abysmal).

For this job, I decided to ignore that rule. I applied. 

Here was the first sentence of my proposal:

“Hi there! Fun fact: I used to own a carpet cleaning business.”

I got the job. 

What are the odds of that happening? I was brand-new on Upwork, with only one previous job on the platform (which totaled $55), and I had applied to a massively competitive job with over fifty other applicants, many of which were sure to be “Top Rated” Upwork freelancers.

Do you think I would have gotten the job if I didn’t share the connection of being a former carpet cleaner? No way. People listen when you speak to them, instead of speaking to a general crowd.

Targeting a niche with your portfolio is an unfair advantage for two reasons:

  1. You will immediately grab the attention of the right clients and gain their trust and confidence, literally even before you speak. Think about it: as a freelance designer, which of the following courses are you more likely to check into: 
  1. A business course called “Entrepreneurship 101: How to Launch A Business”.
  2. A business course called “The 6-Figure Freelance Designer”.

Doesn’t the more targeted and specific one seem far more useful?

  1. You will be a better designer if you stick to a niche. To succeed as a freelancer, you need to be excellent. Being a top-talent designer for a single niche is actually not at all difficult, trust me (because all your competitors are making the same mistake of being generic)! But it is extremely difficult and will take a long time to become a top-talent generic designer. 

For example, let’s say you specialise in building websites for veterinary clinics. How long will it take you to have more expertise in building veterinarian sites than 99% of designers? It would just take one website!

If, however, you build sites for any niche out there, you will be a total beginner every time you take on a new project.

Pick a niche. Don’t be afraid of missing out on customers outside of your niche. It’s better to be prolific in a niche than to always struggle getting clients because you wanted to talk to everybody.

If you’re struggling to commit to a niche, give this video a look and do some soul-searching:


What do you do if you don’t have a bunch of portfolio items to show? Make your own projects. Presumably you have designed something

You only really need a few projects to show. If you don’t have enough, ask your friends and family if any of them need a website or graphics material. If you’re confident enough, you can get paid for these projects, but even if you offer them for free, don’t shy away from this process. 

Trust me, if you don’t currently have a handful of finished projects to display on your portfolio, it’s worth spending some time to get there. You will learn valuable lessons from going through this process a few times before approaching potential clients.


Describing your design process is a massive opportunity to distinguish yourself from other freelancers. Showing your process demonstrates that you are confident, organised, and precise. 

The “Process” section of your portfolio is a powerful way to talk about the features and benefits of your service. It’s an easy way to tell potential clients about how much value you’re going to provide before even trying to have a sales conversation.

Tip: Try coining a phrase to describe your process. A process with a name feels more special and proprietary than simply saying “here’s my process”.

For example, I talk about my “4-D Process” for building a killer website. On my portfolio, I describe each of these phases:

  1. Define
  2. Design
  3. Develop
  4. Deliver
A screenshot of the “Process” section on my first portfolio

The process has a catchy name and gives me a chance to differentiate myself. In particular, the “Define” (strategy & branding) phase is something that most freelancers and even agencies don’t really do. The process section helps me explain why my websites end up being highly effective at traffic conversion.

If you aren’t sure what your design process is, check out this video for some help or  this course for a deep-dive.


Let people know what kind of projects you are looking for. This is the same concept as defining your niche. By clarifying who you serve, you’ll get to work on the projects you enjoy most and you’ll be more persuasive in selling prospects. 

If a visitor to your portfolio sees you describe a project just like the one they need, they’ll hire you before hiring more experienced and credentialed freelancers.

In addition to explicitly describing your ideal project, you can target specific types of work simply by making sure that’s the type of work you show on your portfolio. 

You don’t need to list all of your past projects. Start by showing 3-5 of your projects that are most similar to the type of work you would love to do consistently. Follow the tips in the next section, and just a couple of projects will go a long way.


If you have past client work, spend the time to present it beautifully and intentionally in your portfolio. 

Where possible, include an element of story with every client project:

  • What was the primary problem you were helping the client solve? 
  • How was this problem affecting their business? 
  • How did you go about solving their problem? 
  • What was the client’s reaction, and how did your work affect their business?

Some of these questions aren’t always easy to answer, especially describing how your work changed their business after ending the contract - in order to know that, you’ll have to keep in touch with former clients and collect this data.

I find that updating my portfolio always sparks good thoughts on how I can run my business better. When you realise that you can’t articulate how your work changed a client’s business, don’t be discouraged, but pay attention to that! Maybe you can implement surveys or other touch points with former clients to keep that relationship alive and learn how working with you has affected their business.


Don’t forget to describe your history with schooling, courses, certifications, and any experiences that highlight who you are. Remember, you are your brand.

From a client’s perspective, hiring you as a freelancer is not only about your industry-relevant skills. Soft skills like communication, punctuality, generosity, humour, and positive energy all factor into how much someone wants to work with you. 

List your industry-relevant skills and education first, but your portfolio is your own. In addition to being a great professional, what makes you a great person? Businesses want to hire freelancers that are skilled, sharp, and pleasant to work with. Turns out, clients are people, too ;)


Social proof shouldn’t just be a section on your portfolio - it should be sprinkled throughout its entirety. Just like the seasoning on your popcorn…don’t let it all fall to the bottom.

Social indicators of trust are the most important portfolio items you have. Ideally, you want social proof to come in as many form factors as possible: written testimonials, video testimonials, references, and case studies.

This was my first testimonial… I built a website for my sister’s business!

Written testimonials

At first, you may not have many. That’s okay. Just make sure you begin asking for testimonials after every single client project.

Video testimonials

Videos are much harder to get, because most people aren’t comfortable on video. 

Tip: An extremely effective “hack” for getting video testimonials is to conduct a research interview over Zoom with your clients as you are wrapping up your contract. Let them know you’d like to have a video chat conversation to ask what went well with your project and what feedback they have for how you can improve. 

If they have positive things to say about your work edit out a clip of it afterwards and send it to them. Ask if they would be comfortable with you including that clip in your portfolio.

If they aren’t comfortable with it, ask them about just using the audio with no video! 

Case Studies

The Case Study is always a great way to showcase a project - it really just means adding story and context to the visuals. 

The Testimonial Case Study is the same concept, but the client narrates the story, making it even more powerful.


Where possible, provide live links to your work. Make sure these links are easily accessible to everyone (don’t link them to a platform where they’ll have to create an account to access it).


That’s it! Building a good freelance portfolio is an incredible advantage in marketing yourself. Excellent portfolios are not common to see… If you follow the principles in this guide, you will easily have a top-tier portfolio that will convert potential clients into former clients like clockwork.

Want to see some incredible freelance portfolio examples? Check out these 7 portfolios!


That’s exactly the result Ran Segall breaks down for you in The 6-Figure Freelancer. It’s a course that teaches you literally step by step precisely what it takes to attract great clients, close sales, and smash your income goals.

Before I joined The 6-Figure Freelancer, I had built a few personal websites, a website for my sister, and one paid client website. A year later, I’m now a full-time web designer with exciting new projects coming to me every month!

Click here to see all the details. You’ll be blown away by the depth and comprehensiveness of this course.

Thanks for reading :) Now you know how to build a portfolio that sells like snow cones on the hottest day of the year. Happy designing!

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