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A designer’s portfolio is perhaps the single most powerful weapon in their arsenal. For most designers having a good portfolio can be one of the most important factors in whether or not they get new business. An ideal portfolio is like a designer’s calling card, effectively and easily letting potential clients know what the designer is capable of and their level of expertise.

However, just as a good portfolio can be a designer’s biggest asset a bad portfolio can easily become his or her biggest liability. By the same token a solid port won’t do the designer any good if no one sees it. Let’s take a look at some of the most common errors that designers make when it comes to creating and promoting their design portfolios, and what they can do to fix these mistakes.

Hustle, Don’t Beg

Hustle, Don't Beg

One of the most common mistakes made is misunderstanding the difference between actively promoting your portfolio and wearing people out with constant self-serving announcements. Walking the line between these two behaviors can often be tricky and in many ways is more art than science. However, there are a couple of common pitfalls to be aware of and avoid.

First of all, don’t make low quality spammy posts, blog entries, or tweets. Promoting yourself within the design community, on your blog, and through your social media is a vital part of marketing success, but be aware of what you’re doing and how you’re coming across. Did you join an online design community for the sole purpose of posting links? Has your blog degraded into non-stop advertising? Are your tweets nothing but transparent marketing ploys? If so then you need to pump the breaks and get back on track immediately. Remember that while it’s definitely okay to mention your services, your community posts should stay on topic and add something to the discussion. As they say with blogging, content is king; don’t just post to push yourself on your readers, make quality posts that offer value to your readers. When it comes to social media like Twitter try to include other industry news and factoids so that people have an actual reason to follow you.

Another common marketing problem relates to poor targeting practices. Are you sharing your Photoshop creations to an audience that prefers vector based designs? Is your portfolio heavy on band and music designs yet you’re pitching it to the corporate business world? Bottom line, get your portfolio in front of the right people to begin with. You will increase the likelihood of a conversion to the result you are trying to achieve whether that be a new relationship, paid work, or accolades.

Living Behind an Avatar

Living Behind an Avatar

One common problem that designers often have is failing to connect with their potential clients or the general design community because of the missing human interaction. Unless you really are a superhero out to fight crime, you are more than your online persona. Go ahead and include that personal, human touch. That means having the basics on your portfolio such as a phone number, email address, etc., but also making sure to include links to your various social profiles. Share your Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. with your clients to serve as trust factors proving you won’t vanish midway through a project.

Another important step to take is to update the info in your portfolio on a regular basis. There’s no excuse for leaving a phone number or email on the portfolio that you haven’t used for years. By the same token, make sure to update your hours and availability as they change. At different points in your career you may be working more, less, or simply at different times. Go ahead and let your clients in on that secret so that they know the best time to reach you. Another important factor that will change overtime is your skill-set and proficiencies. This can be something fairly obvious like a new design technique or approach that your work now tends to take. Or it can be something more subtle like different versions of design software and programs that you’re now using. A lot of clients are curious about this type of thing, make sure they have that info available. Bottom line: update, update, update!

One more piece of contact information that you’ll want to make sure to include in your design portfolio is a link to your homepage. If you don’t have a homepage, get one! It is vital to have one central, online presence where people can always go to find you. Social media and applications change with the times as trends come and go. It will do you no good to have an awesome Facebook page if in ten years no one is on Facebook anymore (not likely, but possible). Give your clients one central website that they can always go to to see your work and find you. It will also add another layer of professionalism and help potential clients take you more seriously.

Poor Presentation

Poor Presentation

As with all things in life it is essential to put your best foot forward when it comes to your portfolio. Logically this means including only your best work. It may sound like an obvious thing to do, but a lot of designers forget to update their portfolio to add their latest and greatest. This will also help keep your work looking fresh and vital instead of like something that was popular three to five years ago – when you may actually have first created your portfolio.

The navigation, theme and overall look of the portfolio can be just as crucial as the designs themselves. It can be a reflection of your work and should encourage a viewer to continue browsing as opposed to turning them away. Take it as an opportunity to really show off. After all, it does the talking for you when you can’t.

Remember to also be aware of the message you’re trying to send with your work. You may have had quite a varied, diverse career and tackled projects in different areas. That’s a good thing and it shows your range of skills. However, it may be a bad idea to include some of your more provocative, sexy work if you’re trying to market yourself to religious organizations or schools. By the same token there isn’t a good reason to include samples of your grunge, or punk work if you’re trying to land a deal with a company that specializes in sophisticated fashion. Be aware of your goals and design your portfolio accordingly.

One more important, final thing to check for before you push that portfolio is the obvious errors. Maybe as a designer things like spelling, punctuation, and grammar aren’t a big part of your daily world, and true enough they may not have a great deal of bearing on your actual skills. Nevertheless, it looks very unprofessional to have a portfolio with these types of errors. Proofread carefully or get a capable friend or colleague to check things over for you.

Have A Voice

Have A Voice

Earlier we discussed not going overboard and turning yourself in a raging spambot. That’s definitely very important, but it’s equally important to not be silent. Make sure that people hear the noise you’re making and are aware of what you have to offer. It’s a huge mistake to not take advantage of the many wonderful marketing and promotional opportunities that social media creates for designers. Remember also that social media doesn’t take the place of real, in person networking. People remember people, so get out there and do some personal networking as well. Bottom line: don’t expect your audience to come to you; go find them instead.

As with updating your profile also make sure that your promotion efforts stay current. This can mean obvious things like shifting your efforts from MySpace to Facebook or Twitter while their popularity was growing. Make sure you are keeping a finger on the pulse of your industry in general. Is there one application or program that is particularly popular in your field? If so make sure you get on board and embrace it.

One final thing to do so that your portfolio will get the attention it deserves is to make sure to set it apart from the pack. It’s good to stay current and in touch with the trends, but don’t let that destroy the personal touch with makes your work your own. The main thing that sets you apart from other designers is YOU. You’re the one who will be doing the design work and giving it your own personal flare. Make sure your portfolio reflects that.

Creating the perfect portfolio can be a very daunting task and actually it’s a task that is never truly completed. However, that definitely does not mean that it is something that can be ignored. I hope this article has helped you become aware of some of the common pitfalls that might stand in the way of your success so that you can now safely avoid them.