No pressure. Your website is just everything, that’s all.
The first thing you learn when you float the term “freelance” is that having a portfolio site is not optional. Sure, maybe a smash-hit Instagram feed or YouTube channel will suffice for certain “influencer” types, but the scuttlebutt I hear is that type of gig is going the way of the dodo.
Most of us living in the wilds of creative freelancing use our sites to present our past work and sell ourselves to prospective clients. Obviously. It’s the first thing people look at when you get a referral (or is that your Instagram?), and if they like the cut of your jib, they might consider you for a job. Without a site, your chances tend to hover around zero-ish.
It sounds simple. In the age of Squarespace, it’s not even technically that hard (sometimes exasperating, yes, but not impenetrable). I figured it would take me a couple days, tops, to create mine, and I was right, but the mental legwork I did beforehand took closer to a month.
Among the revelations: Your site shouldn’t reflect everything you’ve done. Let’s say you’re a producer, and you’re proud of a shoot with so-and-so photographer. It’s tempting to go for volume—after all, space is cheap online—but posting every. single. shot. from the project could backfire. Picture yourself in the looky loo’s shoes. When you click through someone’s huge gallery, you may notice the great shots, the dialed designs, the on-point styling… but you’ll also notice the ones where the hair was off, or the color didn’t quite come through… and then you get bored sooner than later, you stop looking, and you probably come away with a mixed impression.
This is the time to go for quality above quantity. Only post examples of your work that are fantastic all around—even if your work was fantastic, but someone else was having a bad day, don’t let them drag you down. You probably only need two visual examples, max, of each project—and don’t forget to view them on the biggest screen you have access to. Nobody wants to see your pixels. The same goes for writers and graphic designers. Nobody has time to read all your clips, and there’s no point in advertising work that doesn’t meet your highest standards. Some of the most successful people I know in creative industries—people who work constantly, and could easily supply a library of archives—have a maddeningly small number of work samples on their sites. It’s like an air kiss of perfection, a subtle whiff of talent like so much natural essence in a LaCroix.
Achieving this Zen garden of minimalism is even more difficult when you work in various capacities. I spent the first chapter of my career working at a small media company. The staff was lean and we were constantly diversifying. As someone fresh out of college with a lot of enthusiasm and little decisiveness, it was ideal. Everyone did a little bit everything—normal editorial duties like writing and proofreading quickly came to include blogging and running social media platforms, and when we got to the point where we were creating original art, I added in-house photo producer and wardrobe stylist to my duties. Heck, most of the time I was art directing, too. Then there were the events I produced, doing everything from setting up the pipe-and-drape to emceeing.
Once I got out of that small company environment, I had to figure out how to present myself in streamlined fashion. I hope to preserve some of the variety I had, but I don’t want to look like I do too many things to do any of them well. I was forced to seriously assess my life’s work and be honest about what I do best, and what I want to keep doing. This meant a serious edit. I have pages devoted to writing, editing, and production on my site. In practice, I work mostly as a writer/editor who does wardrobe styling on the side. That’s why the most important page on my site is the “About” page, where I make the case for my own diversity.
I took the prevailing wisdom—“market yourself as a specialist”—under serious consideration, I really did. And I distilled myself into as few categories as I could. But at the end of the day I couldn’t limit myself to a single path. I’m not sure when the idea of well-roundedness fell out of fashion, but I’ve always thought the people who are able to cross-reference experiences are the most interesting and capable.
These early days of freelancing have been an emotional rollercoaster beyond anything I anticipated. I get some jobs, and others pass me by, my heart alternately breaking and soaring based on whatever happens in my inbox. I’ll never know how many opportunities I was denied because I was perceived as too scattered. What I do know is that I’ve been truthful, and I can’t see leading with any less than that into an unknown future.
Marjorie is a former Creative Circle candidate based in Portland who recently accepted a full-time offer for her dream job. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with someone like Marjorie, please contact your nearest Creative Circle office.