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Every time you talk to prospective clients, they'll want to know why they should trust you. Remember, it's not just money. If someone does a bad job for them, they might not have the time to get it done right. So, the stakes are high. Your past work is one of the strongest ways to show that you're right for the job. Collecting it in a portfolio is one way to convey this information. The first step in building one is to have evidence of what you've done. If you're a writer, a graphic artist or other creative professional whose work ends up online or on the page, your pieces can go straight into your portfolio.
If on the other hand, you create works that aren't packaged so well, you'll have to package them. For example, a make-up artist could take before and after pictures of clients; and an architect could include drawings and photographs of the work. What if you're something like a massage therapist or a business consultant? In that case, you'll have to devise ways to depict your work that are true, relevant and convincing. Here, recommendations from past clients are especially important, but you can create an impressive portfolio as well.
Photographs of a well-appointed and spotless massage studio tell a tale of competence, as to a description of your methods, materials and clientele. And a business consultant can show figures and charts that demonstrate good work. You should anonymize details about past clients or contact them to be sure it's okay to mention them by name. Once you have all the pieces in one place, you need a way to display them. Nowadays, the usual place is a portfolio website. lynda.com has plenty of videos about creating websites, including a few specifically for portfolios.
If your potential clients live more in the off-line world, or if you expect to meet a lot of them face to face, you might also want to have a printed version of your portfolio. We've assumed that you have work to show. What if you're trying to freelance in an area where you don't yet? Frankly, I'd recommend you reconsider your choice, because the lack of a portfolio is really going to hamper your efforts. One other option is to plan to start with forms of marketing that don't require a portfolio. For example, advertising.
Another is to do some jobs for low pay or even for no pay to build up your portfolio. This is a good opportunity to do favors for family, friends and non-profit organizations that you support. Finally, it's a good idea to create two other pieces to complement your portfolio. The first is a brief text that summarizes your experience, maybe a hundred words or so. You'll use that in e-mails, applications and marketing materials. Eventually, you'll have several versions of it for various purposes.
I personally keep a plain text file on my computer so that they're always at hand. You'll also want to create a resume. lynda.com has several courses that will help you out with that. It'd be nice if others could intuitively sense that you're right for a job, but they can't. They need to be shown and nothing convinces as well as a clearly presented record of success. That's what a well- prepared portfolio does for you.
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