How to Build a Portfolio When You Don’t Have Clients

You need a portfolio to get new web design and SEO clients but how do you build a portfolio without clients?

So how do you handle this? In this video I cover 5 different ways to build your portfolio even if you don’t have your first client yet.

#1 Create fake work

There is no rule that everything has to be for a real paying client. The purpose of a portfolio is to demonstrate your abilities. We’re not talking about presenting work that is not actually your own but when you don’t have your own you can create images or actual working websites so potential clients can see your actual abilities and know you will be able to get the job done.

Another thing you can do to take this a step further is to go out and find a business that is in the niche you want to serve that needs a redesign or marketing. Now let’s say you offer web design. What you can do is take their website, redesign it and now you’ll have a case study where you can show the before and after. This way you can walk new potential clients through your design and explaining the strategy behind it.  This will show them how you can take a website from A to B.

Now what you can also do is take this design and go back to that business and see if they are interested in the design and working with you. If they say no, that’s okay. You have a portfolio example but you can also take the design, swap out the logo and present it to another company until you have someone who is interested.

#2 Work for free

Now there is a lot of debate out there as some people think it’s a great way to get started and others thing you should never work for free so I’m going to share a few thoughts on this. The biggest thing is if you choose to do this, make sure the free work you do is going to pay off for you. So this means once you know who your ideal client is, that is who you want to serve, only do free work for them. If you want to work with plumbers, don’t do free work for a dog trainer. That won’t do anything for your portfolio.

Another option is to offer a smaller service for free. You don’t always have to offer a full web design or SEO package. So if you want to offer SEO, consider ranking a local video, a long tail keyword with low competition, citation building or local pack rankings. These are things you can do relatively quickly and easily and it’s a great way to build trust with a company because you’re showing them results. Again, if all you walk away with is a portfolio builder, that’s great as that is what you’re doing this for, however, don’t be surprised if some of these clients become paying clients as you’ve been able to show them results for their business.

#3 Work for a discount

What you can do here is approach potential clients in your niche or industry, let them know that you are working on building a portfolio with companies just like theirs and what you’d like to do is offer them a discount on your service. Just as with any client, you want to show them the value you can provide and make it a no brainer deal for them. This option is going to allow you to still get paid and it’s going to help the client get results without having to pay full price.

Keep in mind, when I say lower price that doesn’t mean you now have to do a $1,000 or $2,000 job for $100. You can really think about that and offer a $1500 package for $700. You don’t have to use these numbers. They’re just examples but you can use this option to build up some initial clients and once you’re getting them some results it will be easier to sell them on your full priced services as well.

#4 Consider other work

Another option is to think about what else you can share within your portfolio. Some options can be presentations you’ve done or put together, awards, previous experience, links to sites you’ve contributed to, certificates and so on. So think about some other things you can include in your portfolio and even show a little bit of variety as well.

#5 Barter your services

Let’s use the plumber industry as an example again. If you are in need of some plumbing services you can barter your web design or SEO services in exchange for the work you need done. Same if you’re serving landscaping companies. You can exchange your services for theirs. This helps both parties get the services they need and at the same time you are building your portfolio.

So there you have it!

But before you go there are a few things I want you to think about.

Take your portfolio very seriously. Quality over quantity. A client can only expect for their site to be as good as the worst example in your portfolio. Don’t ever put anything in your portfolio that is just ok or is not your best work. I’d rather see you have less examples in your portfolio than more examples that aren’t your best work. Always put your best work out there!

More importantly, set a deadline. Know when you are going to have this work done by. What happens is we can get very paralyzed in this stage and it can prevent us from taking action. It’s easy to start worrying about what portfolio example we’ll have, how we’ll get it done and so on. So set a date for this to get done that way you get that momentum going. Once you get the first example done, the rest will happen even faster.

This way you move forward with your business and start getting real paying clients. You can always continue to build your portfolio as you grow.

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