The long-term impact of building your portfolio
Using case studies and quality content to improve your personal brand and streamline your sales process.
Ask any designer about their portfolio and they will tell you they are too busy to create, update or launch it. Portfolios are incredibly important and not just for showing off your visual design talents - it's arguably your greatest ambassador. It tells your story, showcases your work and closes leads while you are busy living your life.
Freelancing and agencies are a sales-based business where brand is everything. First impressions count for a lot, and the rest comes through in your case studies. Put yourself in the shoes of a lead - a visitor to your portfolio can only really judge you on your brand and case studies, so make them count.
Once you have enough great case studies, clients don't hesitate to reach out, or compare you with other agencies, as they can see that they will get a great results. While some clients are interested in creating something new and bold, many clients tend to want something contemporary, so a portfolio ripe with versatile, high-quality content can make that initial conversation a lot easier.
If it helps, think of it like a SaaS product: investing in Google Ads won't help if your homepage doesn't communicate that you can solve the problem they have. Your sales funnel becomes that of a leaky bucket - good marketing will fill it with more water (pushing more people through top-of-funnel) but you will lose them where it matters - deeper down in your sales funnel, near conversion or activation (which for us, means getting in touch or hiring us).
Stories are the foundation of how we communicate as a species. The insights and things we learn from stories we hear, tell and experience form who we are as a person. If you can tell a brilliant story, you will have your audience hooked. This is the power of a case study—not showing a finished, polished product but taking your reader on a journey, explaining the highs and lows, trials and tribulations, of a project.
But, if that is not measurable enough: long case studies are fantastic for SEO. At Jellypepper, case studies are the primary way we receive new visitors. The in-depth storytelling around how we created a brand, designed a website or built an app frequently contain popular keywords for Google searches.
Also, it is great when potential clients are searching for “who redesigned X”.
At the end of the day, your brand is all you have as a creative. Your name, reputation and body of work is definitively what positions you in the hierarchy of your competition and makes clients want to hire you to work on their products. Having confidence in your online portfolio can make talking to people much easier to sell yourself as you are not apologizing or hiding it.
The long-term effects of having an up-to-date portfolio are compounding and distinct. Over time, it can also help position you as an industry expert if your case studies are thoughtful and your work is brilliant. Running a business is a lot like having a brand. You're going to have one anyway, so you might as well invest in it and make it great.
Great case studies make it easier for bigger companies to hire you, as you are able to show the reasoning, results and context of your project, which shows that you know how to think. This is just as important (if not more) than being able to produce beautiful work.
Good clients will hire you because they have seen your past work and know you can design beautiful things. Great clients will hire you because they have read your past case study and know you have the ability to deconstruct complex problems, collaborate with others on a beautiful solution and balance intuition with standards and data when making decisions.
Typically, your best leads come as referrals from previous clients. But that does not immediately negate the usefulness of a portfolio in showing visually that you can not only do the job well, but that your thought process and your ability to solve problems is solid. It's not proof, but reassurance that you can do the job to a high standard.
So, where do you even find the time to produce case studies? It's like going to the gym or cleaning the house: you don't find the time, you make the time. It's a time-consuming investment that you'll only pursue if you structure your approach, carve out time and make a dedicated effort.
But if you're looking for a tip - start collecting documents, resources, pitch decks and meeting notes during your next gig. It's very difficult to remember the little details which made the project successful after the fact, so having a cache of content you can dig through helps immensely.
4 March 2020