What Do I Put In My Portfolio?


So here’s one major problem a beginning designer is faced with: what do I put in my portfolio if I don’t have projects yet; but then again, how can I get clients without a portfolio? When you look at it closely, though, it’s not really a problem. You can have projects to work on and include in your portfolio and you can also have clients to start with.


■ What clients? You can always start with yourself. Why not create a logo for your design business, and while you’re at it, design your business cards, letterhead and website too. You can even create a brochure, print ad or poster advertising your services.

■ Someone (or more) from your family can also be your client. Maybe a relative has a small business you could do some designs for. Offer him your services. Advise him to act like a regular client and be critical if need be. This way, you get a taste of working with a real life client who will not always agree with you.

■ You have 543 friends on your Facebook account, 436 followers on Twitter. Why not tell everyone that you are offering your design services (for free, cheap, pay what you can, whatever) to the first five people who contacts you. Even if you have less friends or followers, someone is likely to be interested.

■ Another thing, go around your neighborhood and talk with friends, small business owners, churches and charities and offer them your services. In doing this, you could even learn some communication and social skills which will help you get clients to hire you later on.

■ These projects should keep you busy for the next few weeks. If you feel you need more in your portfolio, it doesn’t hurt to create some personal/fictional projects. They can even be tutorial projects. You can of course include your student projects too. These kinds of projects, although they may not have been for real clients, demonstrate your skills in drawing, illustration, photo manipulation, etc., and your proficiency in design software. However, I believe it’s just fair to put a note that these are personal or student projects.

As we improve our skills and gain “real” clients, let’s not forget to update our portfolio to reflect our strengths more and the kind of projects we are aiming for.

How about you, what portfolio projects did you start with?


  • September 26th, 2011 /

7 Comments to “What Do I Put In My Portfolio?”

  1. I started out long ago by offering my services to local charities and non-profits.

    Rather than just walk in and announce that I was giving my services away, I would volunteer to work for an organization, then work to get on a committee for an event. “Need t-shirts & brochures designed for an event? Sure, I can do that.”

    I did eventually get paid projects from the non-profits, but more importantly I networked with important local business people that also served on the committees. They saw the creative ideas I brought to the table, how hard I worked to produce (even though I knew there was no pay involved), and how professional I was.

    This helped me create portfolio-worthy projects that were recognized by others in the local market (they had seen the promotional pieces circulating in the local media), another win.

  2. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Sherm. It’s encouraging to hear that working pro bono has worked well for you too—networking, portfolio pieces and paid projects—all great takeaways!

  3. Jim Gallaher says:

    If you’re looking to put together a portfolio and you have nothing to start with your best bet is taking some college classes in design to build up your skills and get some work together.

    College design programs will also help you decide what should go into your portfolio.

    Whatever you do though, don’t offer your work for free or cheap. If you don’t value your own work, your clients won’t either.

  4. Grace Oris says:

    Good point, Jim. Thanks. However, I doubt clients are willing to hire and pay a lot for a designer with no experience and only student projects in his/her portfolio. Indeed, let’s value our work, but reasonably. Charge cheap for maybe the first 1 or 2 projects then move up prices fast.

  5. Dyah Tri Wulandari says:

    Thank you for sharing! It reminds me I really need to update my portfolio very soon! 😀

  6. Amy Williams says:

    Thanks for sharing. I really needed this. I got an undergraduate degree in graphic design but I didn’t do anything with it. I finally made up my mind to take the plunge into the field but I no longer have a portfolio. thanks for the tip and I love your blog

  7. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks Amy!

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