Hi, I'm Ashlie. Owner and lead designer at Wolf & Willow Design! I'm a 12 year corporate accountant turned full-time designer helping other small-business entrepreneurs chase their dreams. I'm also a wife, #girlmom, and Air Force veteran.
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You hear it all the time: the first step to getting clients is having a portfolio. This makes sense because to convince someone to hire you, you want to show off your unique value through your portfolio.
But… What if you don’t have any client work to showcase in your portfolio?
Luckily, there are several creative ways you can build that portfolio, even when you don’t have clients.
Here are five ways to do that!
Sure, we live in a world of algorithms, but one of the tried-and-true, steady, sure-fire strategies to get your services out there? Word-of-mouth. But how when you don’t have clients? One of the BEST ways to hit the ground running and to start earning those referrals is to do a service swap with fellow entrepreneurs.
For example, if you’re a graphic designer and you know a web developer, you could offer to design a website for them in exchange for them providing coding work for you.
Service swaps are great because it allows you to demonstrate your work, build your portfolio, get some great testimonials out of it, and earn some referrals. And while I know you’re probably thinking that this isn’t the most financially viable option, I would argue at the beginning, it’s just as important to build your portfolio and reputation as it is your income because it will pay you back in the long term.
Pro-tip: Find someone who has a service that you need. For example, if you’re a Virtual Assistant in need of branding and/or a website, find a designer you admire and offer your services in exchange for theirs. This way, it’s also mutually beneficial!
A great way to market yourself and your services is to offer useful content that’s related to your market in relevant Facebook Groups. This will help you build relationships with potential clients and get your business’s name out there. Value is always the name of the game.
While it may feel like you’re giving “secrets” away, the truth is, the more value you provide, the more people will trust you and see your expertise.
Additionally, being helpful and responsive in these groups can make you seem like a reliable and engaging resource, which can lead to more business. Watch for questions you can help answer and offer tips and best practices as you come across them.
Another added benefit is making genuine connections with other like-minded business owners. I’m a huge fan of leveraging Facebook groups to connect and build your network. The key here is not to continuously pitch your services but to recognize where you can provide value to others. Eventually, you become known for your expertise, and others will reach out to you when they know you’re someone they can trust.
My tip for finding the best Facebook groups to join is to do some research to find a good mixture of Facebook groups that are in your industry, and also groups where your ideal clients are likely to be. This was a strategy I used early on to find my first clients. (One of them booked me before our website launched!)
Start by creating sample content of your work that you can share on social media, your website, or even in email campaigns. This will help potential clients get an idea of your skills and abilities. Providing sample content is one of the easiest ways to help demonstrate the type of work you do, and it puts your offerings on display.
For example, if you’re a web designer, spend some time creating mockups and design layouts. Same thing with brand designers. If you’re a copywriter, blog posts and social media captions (either samples or your own) can be great ways to put your work out there.
Whatever work it is you are wanting to do, spend some time working on passion projects and use them to fill up your portfolio to help you build a client base.
One of the quickest ways to turn off a potential client is not taking the time to ensure your own content stands out and represents the quality of work you want to provide.
Make sure your website design, copywriting, and social media content are all on point so you’re leaving a lasting impression.
For example, if you are a web designer, your website (or other visual representations of your business) should be reflective of the quality of work you want potential clients to see you are capable of. Same with any other type of designer or creative entrepreneur. Your own business can serve as a sort of portfolio by itself!
Offering a discounted rate can be approached from many different angles, but one popular way is to offer a discount during your free consultation with a potential client. I know, I know — this is a controversial topic because of the “charge what you’re worth” mentality. And while I whole-heartedly believe in that myself, I also know that finding clients when you’re just starting can be hella hard.
I will caveat this by saying that I don’t agree with just offering up free work. You’re more likely to connect with less-than-ideal clients this way and you always want to make sure that it’s a mutually beneficial partnership. So even if you decide to ‘discount’ down to ‘free’, make sure there’s something in it for you.
For example, make sure that your contract states that they must provide you with a testimonial to fill out a questionnaire about your time working together. Or, you can start with a free sample of the work and if they’re happy with it you can continue at a discounted price.
At the end of the day, don’t get too hung up on not having a portfolio when you’re just starting. It’s important to remember that everyone started right where you are. Just remember to be creative, hustle, and always put your clients’ best interests first. Success will follow.
Till next time,