It can be easy to get swept up in the momentum of your creative projects and forget to share your process with the creative community. However, if you’re trying to make a living off of your work, it only behooves you to share your work with others. Some will be inspired, others will learn something, and then you’ll have the potential to bring new projects your way. The best (and least risky) place to begin sharing your work is online.
Maybe you’ve been thinking about creating a portfolio site for some time. You might have read articles about best practices for building a portfolio site by the minds behind 99U or smart designers like Frank Chimero. While I find their thoughts on the topic to be valuable, I think there are a few additional pieces to ponder before you begin putting your site together.
The effort you put into designing your portfolio site will be reflected in how well your visitors enjoy it and understand it. To help others understand your work you need to understand it better. Creating a portfolio site requires self-reflection. You want to think beyond chronological order, medium type or subject matter. Your work carries a narrative and the better you are able to convey it the more likely others will gravitate towards it. Here are some effective ways to assess your work, site, and creative self in this way:
1. Set down goals for your site
Goals play a big role in any project. They provide a measurement to apply when assessing whether your website is complete. Without goals it is hard to determine when your site is ready to share with others. A measurement enables you to know what finished looks like before you’ve done all the work.
Goals can keep you in line. Throughout the portfolio design decision-making process, you can rely on your goals to keep you heading in the right direction. Ask yourself, after each decision, ‘how does this support my goals for this site?’ If your answer to that question is it doesn’t support your goals, then you either need to reestablish your goals or nix the decision completely.
2. Take a comprehensive look at your creative career
Your portfolio site is a composition of all your work and experiences — each piece relates to the others. Get out your preferred writing utensil and think back to the earliest experience that shaped who you are as creative person today. Write that down — you can be as descriptive (or not) as you like. Carry your thoughts forward from that experience to the present, noting remarkable projects, relationships and accomplishments.
Once you’ve made your list, begin drawing lines connecting the pieces that are directly dependent on each other. This may work best if you turn your list into a diagram. From here, think further on why those pieces are dependent. You’ll begin to see a narrative running through your creative career. This narrative ties your work together and will enable you to present it coherently on your site.
3. Tap into your marketing mind
Marketing does not always have the best reputation, especially when it comes to marketing yourself. Many entrepreneurs and creatives struggle with marketing themselves because they are afraid of sounding fake or self-congratulatory. However, at it’s most basic nature, marketing “is the study and management of exchange relationships.”1 From the perspective of your site, that means when a person makes the effort to use their time visiting your site you need to make it seem valuable to them. They will want to get something in return for their time. That something they get can be inspiration, delight, motivation, a new purchase, etc. Everyone measures value differently, but if a person finds no value in something, they are less likely to engage with that thing again in the future.
You’ll want a person’s encounter with your website to be the first of many engagements. When you’re thinking about marketing on your site, you can ask yourself:
- What is the motivation for someone to visit my site?
- What do they want to get out their experience?
- What will keep them coming back?
4. Surface your personality
After you’ve gone through all these exercises, look back through what you’ve written down. Does it represent you? Is it unique to you? Be honest with yourself. Nothing is more attractive in creative work then a genuine representation of a person’s creativity. If you don’t see yourself in the material you produced through this exercise, go back and question those areas that don’t align with your gut. Being genuine sets you apart from others. No one can be a more authentic you than you. Your own authenticity will do your marketing for you.
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