Build portfolios that land jobs, not likes

As much as it can seem like it at times, pitching isn’t a dark art. There are formulas and systems you can follow to improve your success. There are many stages to the pitch, but something that is often overlooked is what clients actually want and expect, and how you can build something that doesn’t just look great, but that also aligns to client needs.. In this article I want to explore a tried and tested system to create the perfect portfolio that will win you work.

The word ‘portfolio’ has taken on a lot of meanings, but then I refer to a ‘portfolio’ I am talking about it as a form of pitch or proposal, a document with the specific purpose of landing work. It might be used in response to a specific job or it might be  used to pitch to potential clients who aren’t requesting a specific job be done. The key here is that we aren’t just trying to show a body of work, or a project for creative appraisal. This is a specific and targeted piece of content aimed at landing a job. 

With purpose comes content. Once you have a clearer understanding of why you are making a portfolio, it should become easier to know what to include. A classic mistake I see all the time is the inclusion of too much and irrelevant content for the job at hand. The more you put into a portfolio the more time the potential client has to spend looking at it and the less likely they’ll see what they want. This may go against your intuition  that if “I put more content in, then they’re more likely to find something they want”. Unfortunately portfolios don’t work like supermarkets. They work more like a delicatessen where you trust the shopkeeper to tell you what you’ll like. 

You can use UnderPinned to build portfolios most effectively, and it is built on the following principles to help you find work with ease. Let’s break this down into some actionable and easy to follow instructions to up your portfolio game.

You have ten seconds. Maybe less. 

When someone opens your portfolio they’ll make a decision about it in under 10 seconds. When you lovingly make a portfolio you hope that the potential client will look through all of your work, the truth is they’ll almost immediately make a decision. Either they’ll think, not interested, or they’ll think, I want to learn more. 

The very first thing they see needs to be the most relevant project to them, and one or two lines about why you’re the right person for them. If you can hook them in the first 10 seconds, then the rest of the portfolio becomes a negotiation. 

Speak to the person reading

If you’re sending someone a portfolio it is likely because of one of two reasons. The first, you are replying to a post about a specific job, or the second, you are sending to a client who may have a job for you. In either circumstance, you know who you’re talking to. So use that! Use the name of the company or person in that first ten seconds in your email, and even throughout the document. Make it relevant to them, use projects from similar companies, use language which shows you understand their industry, and show you’re interested in their company specifically! 

It might seem laborious to add in lots of specific language, but if you have a good portfolio template then it’s a matter of swapping out a few words. 

Focus on the task at hand 

Even if you’re sending a portfolio speculatively, it needs to be specific. You need to talk about one problem you can solve for the client and how you solve it. Including extra irrelevant material, even if it’s good work, is going to damage and not improve your portfolio. 

Work out what the client is looking for and pitch with a laser focus on that. If you want to include less relevant work then use links to direct them to more work. Keep the content of the portfolio focussed on one thing!

Create a template you can duplicate 

All this can seem like a lot to do every time you send a portfolio, but the truth is, once you establish a good system it can be quick and efficient and the time spent will pay for itself. One of the reasons we build a ‘duplicate’ feature into our portfolio system is that it is often only the first bit of a portfolio which needs to change each time (the ten second chunk). 

This also means you can easily create multiple portfolios for different parts of what you offer as a freelancer and then pick the most relevant one, duplicate, and then make it targeted. 

I could go on forever about the finer parts of making a brilliant portfolio, but the truth is, keeping it simple is always better and the best way to improve is to start pitching with better portfolios 

And you’ll quickly learn what works and what doesn’t! Get out there and do it.


The UnderPinned Virtual Office is the dream platform for freelancers looking to handle their admin, making it easy to make portfolios, contracts, and invoices in one streamlined and easy-to-use system.