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Your Portfolio Site Sucks, Here's How to Fix It
Louisa Levit March 31, 2021 · 10 min read
Preparing Your “Client Magnet” WebsiteThe first thing you need to do is the thing I see missing most: address your market’s problems, and talk about how you solve them. That’s the goal of your website: to convince your market that you’re capable of helping them solve their problems. If you do that, you win their business. That’s how it works. The first step to that is to know what their problems are in the first place. Think back to your past clients. What were their goals? What problems did they face with other designers? What did they really want from your services? Ponder this over for a while, and write out a list of these problems. Then set it aside. It’s going to come in handy in every piece of marketing you ever do to promote yourself.
What Pages Do I Need?Let’s talk about the overview of your portfolio site. Then I’ll go into the “nitty gritty” and give you concrete steps for creating content that sells. Unless you’re mega-famous and power the world’s top brands, you need to dedicate a good portion of your site to selling yourself. I’ve found that the following pages work best:
- Service 1
- Service 2
- Service 3
The Portfolio: A: Provide BackgroundIf design is function + form, then the only way you can know if the “function” side of things is up to par is to know what problems it’s attempting to solve. Basically, in each of your portfolio pieces, present what challenges / problems / goals your clients faced for the particular projects you’re highlighting. What was going on that they needed to hire you in the first place? Start each portfolio piece off with a short paragraph that discusses this. State who the client is, and what they wanted to accomplish. Here’s a great example from agency Zumeo: OpentoHope.com is an online community where individuals can share inspirational stories of loss and love… Open to Hope was faced with the challenge of providing users with a safe place to share, as well as discovering and contributing helpful resources.
The Portfolio: B: Images Aren’t EnoughDesign is about choices. Why that color? Why that shape? Why that font? In each of your portfolio pieces, discuss the choices you made along the way. This is your chance to show off how thoughtful you are. Break down elements of your pieces that aren’t so obvious, and explain how they helped your client achieve their goals. Discuss the mood the colors create, the message the font conveys, the feeling the photography portrays. Show off how smart you are, and that your design comes packaged with a whole lot more than just beauty. Here’s another great example from Zumeo on a campaign they did for Adidas: “… Our goal was to create a single, responsive web page highlighting top shoes. The page would include audio, video, text, and ‘tech specs’. Each page would match the shoe color and style and tell a story. We chose to highlight the Adidas Roundhouse from Journeys. In this case, we wanted to think outside of the traditional sports box and focus on the fashionable side of the shoe…” And one more example from these guys from another campaign for Incase: “In order to showcase multiple products in a simple way, we created a Parallax scrolling system with new products at the forefront. The two product rows would scroll faster than the campaign, and in turn, the campaign would collapse with the scroll.”
The Portfolio: C: Quality Over QuantityYour portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece. Leave out anything that brings the group down as a whole. Studio “Design Embraced” has only 5 portfolio pieces, though each one powerfully shows what they’re capable of:
The Portfolio: D: Incorporate TestimonialsNow that you’ve discussed your clients’ problems and how you overcame them, drive this home with a short snippet of a testimonial. Just a fragment of a sentence, a single sentence, or a few very short sentences of your client expressing their gratitude will do. Testimonials that discuss the following get you extra brownie points:
- How easy you are to work with
- How much extra revenue the client generated because of your design (a percentage or even just a vague statement works too)
- How happy your client’s customers are with the work
The Portfolio: E: Big ImagesDisplay your work big, bold, and beautifully. (It probably goes without saying, but I’ve come across many designer portfolios that featured thumbnails and nothing else.)
ServicesAn “easy” way to create the content for your services pages is to go through this exercise: List out all the steps you take for each service. Then list why you take that step, and how it helps your clients in the end. For example: Do you do market research? Why? How does it help? Our website is currently under construction, but up until recently, this was a blurb on our “Websites” page that outlined one unique benefit: That page listed our key benefits, as well as key parts of our process.
ContactUnless you’re overflowing with leads, you want to make contacting you feel as easy as possible. Here’s what you don’t want to do:
- Make it feel “risky,” or like you’re going to have a “heavy” or lengthy conversation
- Make it feel burdensome
- Make it feel time-consuming
- First & Last Name
- Phone Number
- What are you looking for help with? (Have a checkbox for each of your services)
- When’s a good time to talk? (Message box with something like “Thursday at 2pm” pre-filled in)
Some Closing ThoughtsIt might take time to really get your website down, but it’s the centerpiece of your marketing, so it’s worth it. Start with these tips, and then grow and evolve your site based on the feedback you get from customers. Don’t get bogged down with what other designers say. There’s only one audience whose input into your site matters: your market. Your market is giving you good feedback when they contact you after viewing your site. They’re giving you bad feedback when they don’t. It’s as simple as that.
Questions? Thoughts? Leave Them BelowFeel free to leave a comment below and ask any questions you might have. I’d love to help in any way that I can.
David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to WordPress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and business partner, Lou Levit.
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