14-Point Checklist: Creating a Website Portfolio That Gets You Clients

As our reliance on mobile and smart devices grows year after year, there’s going to be a greater need for coding experts to create more digital applications for us. In fact, estimates say that the number of web developers will grow by 13% between now and 2026.

What will do with all that extra competition flooding the job market?

Well, the first thing you’ll need to do is hone and enhance your skills. That’s priority number one. But marketing will play a big part in this as well. If you’re not out there right now, putting your best face forward, showing prospective clients what you’re capable of doing, then you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Step number two once you’ve ironed out your WordPress development skills? Create a portfolio for your WordPress business. And make it so good that you barely need to make a call, send an email, or post a self-promotional tweet in order to convince someone of how good you really are. Your portfolio will speak for itself and will let others know that you’re worth more of a shot than the lookalike competition surrounding you.

A Quick Note About Creating a WordPress Portfolio

We’re living in an age where we’re all able to use the Internet as a sort of background check–for potential employers, dates, and even adoptable puppies. So, you better believe that clients are looking at your previous work to see if you have what it takes to create the WordPress site they believe their business deserves.

Of course, creating a portfolio isn’t as simple as throwing a gallery plugin onto your site or creating a list of links out to client sites you developed. Those might work as an interim solution, but you need to take time to create a well-balanced and impressive portfolio that’s truly representative of your WordPress work.

Your portfolio should be able to stand alone and speak volumes about:

  • You: your personal style, professionalism, and attention to detail
  • Your niche: what industry, type of website design, device, or geographic region you specialize in, among other things
  • Your process: this is as much about showing off the finished product as it is about telling a story for each project and revealing details about what happens behind the scenes

This is your chance to create a truly up-close-and-personal look at what you do, the decisions made, and the outcomes for your clients. While a site like Dribbble is good for showing off your samples and you can use social media to share snippets of your web designs, those require people to discover your work outside of your brand.

If you really want to win new business, you need to impress them with your portfolio.

Tips for Creating a Portfolio for Your WordPress Business

If you’re a WordPress developer (or designer), then you obviously need to have your own website that runs on the CMS. Your website should then be fairly light on text:

  • A short introduction to who you are on the home page
  • A paragraph or two on the About page
  • A Contact page with details on how to reach you, including social media links, a contact form, etc.

Outside of the basics, however, you should have a fully-formed portfolio that truly demonstrates what you can do. The following tips will guide you through the process of creating a dedicated space for a portfolio on your site.

1. Find a Portfolio Theme

To begin, find a theme that caters to the portfolio website. There is a good selection of high-quality portfolio themes out there, so find one that gives you a good place to start from in terms of portfolio type, layout options, and built-in features like animation, lightboxes, and simplified navigation.

2. Use Optimization Plugins

Since your portfolio will be comprised of images, maybe some video, and perhaps even animation (as the below examples may inspire you to do), optimization plugins are a must.

WP Smush Pro can take care of compressing your images, while Hummingbird will handle the caching, minification, and other speed optimization tasks.

3. Add a Picture of Yourself

Don’t be shy! As part of the whole trust-building process, you should expect that clients want to see what you look like. They’ll also want to know more about you and why you’re qualified to design their site.

Marina Aisa has tackled this point in a really cool way:

Create a Portfolio - Marina Aisa
The portfolio of Marina Aisa.

Her photo is right there, above-of-the-fold. However, rather than write out a paragraph or two about who she is, she’s included a fun little animation that explains what she does. It’s attention-grabbing and succinct.

4. Get Client Permission

Unless you have something specific built into your client contract that gives you express permission to use images of or code from your clients’ sites within your own, you’ll want to reach out to each of the site owners before publishing anything to your portfolio. While they might be thrilled about the backlink, they might not like the idea of people seeing how poorly made their site was before.

5. Use Relevant Samples

Your portfolio doesn’t need to include samples from every website you’ve built (unless you’re just starting out and only have a few under your belt). This is about quality over quantity. Prospective clients want to see an accurate representation of what you can do.

So, if you haven’t found your niche yet, feel free to include a breadth of work that shows off your many talents. If you have carved out a clear niche for yourself, then use only those specialized examples. This’ll ensure you attract the right type of client.

6. Dress to Impress

Don’t be afraid to show off here. In fact, I’d urge you not to be humble when it comes to your portfolio. This means never use anything:

  • Low resolution
  • Outdated (i.e. more than a year old)
  • Broken (if the link isn’t live anymore, this is a no go)
  • The client wasn’t 110% thrilled about
  • You weren’t 110% thrilled about
Create a Portfolio - Tim Roussilhe
The portfolio of Tim Roussilhe.

Tim Roussilhe calls himself a “creative developer” and you can see why in the samples on his site. Nothing here looks old or out of touch with what we know to be effective and modern design.

7. Provide Context

Although most of your clients won’t understand your process of researching, wireframing, staging, and so on, they’ll appreciate extra transparency about what you did to bring a project from point A to point B. When telling each sample’s story, be sure to include little details about your process along with photos or videos that capture each step of the way so they can see this.

Create a Portfolio - Neil Carpenter
The portfolio of Neil Carpenter.

If you’re looking for inspiration, check out how Neil Carpenter handled this on his own portfolio.

8. Add a CTA

A call-to-action isn’t necessary, but it really is something you should consider adding to the bottom of your portfolio and each individual sample’s page. After all, you’re not showing off your work just so people can say, “Wow!” You want them to be so impressed with your work that they’re dying to reach out and start working with you now.

9. Create Case Studies

More robust case studies are also a great way to show context. The main difference is that context can be as simple as “Client X needed a responsive website and simplified menu structure. Here is what we did.” Case studies take you through absolutely every part of the process and will often educate readers on something they might not have been aware of before.

Once you’ve worked for enough clients, amassed a large enough portfolio, and set aside time to take care of business-building tasks, you can start creating case studies for your portfolio as the following designers have done:

Ian Lunn:

Create a Portfolio - Ian Lunn
The portfolio of Ian Lunn.

Adham Dannaway:

Create a Portfolio - Adham Dannaway
The portfolio of Adham Dannaway.

Haraldur Thorleifsson:

Create a Portfolio - Haraldur Thorleifsson
The portfolio of Haraldur Thorleifsson.

10. Add Testimonials

When you’re reaching out to clients to ask permission to use their website in your portfolio, don’t forget to ask for a testimonial at that time. Like any other kind of user-generated content, this will give prospective clients a face and name to relate to as well as a sense of what it will be like to work with you.

Take, for instance, the portfolio samples used by Seb Kay.

Create a Portfolio - Seb Kay
The portfolio of Seb Kay.

Most sample and case study pages include a strong personal quote from the client.

11. Use Other Trust Marks

Speaking of trust marks, don’t forget to include other types in support of your portfolio too (so long as they don’t interrupt the experience).

Create a Portfolio - Jeremy Thomas
The portfolio of Jeremy Thomas.

You could do as Jeremy Thomas does and call out big-name clients whose association will instantly make you more attractive to work with. Or you could include other relevant trust marks like web development or Google certifications to add credibility to your work.

12. Stay Organized

If you’re just starting out, I’d urge you to find a simple and well-organized layout and be consistent about applying it, like Emily Ridge does with hers:

Create a Portfolio - Emily Ridge
The portfolio of Emily Ridge.

As your business grows and you amass more and more samples for your portfolio, you may find that it makes sense to include more than just a small handful. This will especially be the case if you decide to turn your freelance business into a full-grown WordPress agency. Agencies can handle multiple niches, so your portfolios in that case should reflect that.

There are a few ways to handle this:

  • Create a sub-menu for your portfolio so it’s easier to navigate with different pages dedicated to each specialty.
  • Use a system of categories and tags so users can filter through to relevant samples.
  • Add clear labels to each item in your portfolio for easier scanning.
  • Include a search bar at the top of your portfolio page.

13. Update Often

I know that adding to and revising your portfolio takes time, especially if you’re writing a short “story” for each one. However, keeping your portfolio up-to-date ensures that prospective clients can see you at your current and best skill level (since you should never stop learning as a WordPress developer).

Create a Portfolio - Simon Evans
The portfolio of Simon Evans.

Simon Evans actually talks about this very thing within his own portfolio, which is a nice addition since it isn’t just about how great the site looks, but about how he learned from the experience too.

14. Include Other Work

Even if you spend eight-plus hours every day building WordPress websites, you likely have other projects you’re working on that prospective clients might find interesting. Maybe you design icons or fonts? Perhaps you’re into building JavaScript libraries? Or you might just enjoy taking photos in your spare time? Whatever other creative pursuits you enjoy–and that you can use to impress your clients even further–don’t be afraid to include them on your site.

Create a Portfolio - Matt Farley
The portfolio of Matt Farley.

Matt Farley is a UX/UI designer who also happens to do open source work, mentor designers, and work on other personal projects.

Wrapping Up

Whether your WordPress business is brand new and you’re looking for a way to demonstrate that you actually know what you’re doing, or you’re running a WordPress agency that wants to demonstrate a track record of consistency, quality, and success, a portfolio is a must. And, when done correctly, it should speak entirely for itself, letting prospective clients know that yours is a brand they can trust and a service they can depend upon to deliver top results.

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