Isabel Urbina Pena‘s portfolio site.
So let me ask you this: does your online home reflect your full body of work, and are you attracting the right audience with your existing website or blog? It might be time to create a separate portfolio website—but before you do, be sure to ask yourself these questions first.
Is your existing site good enough?
There’s something to be said for embracing simplicity. That is, it might not be necessary to create an entirely new website just because you’re working on a new project.
Your online home (your blog or business) may be a sufficient and successful way to showcase your work. Here’s an example: if you’re branching into publishing, why not just add a page on your website that showcases your published articles and books? When you’re pitching an editor, you can share a link to that specific webpage of writing clips.
For others, this is not ideal. If you find you’re constantly wishing to promote and discuss work that’s outside the realm of your current audience, perhaps it’s worth considering the creation of an additional site.
For me, this started to happen just as I began sending out a regular newsletter to fellow writers, makers, and interested readers on my monthly happenings in creative work. I could see that it didn’t make sense to lump this work on the same site as my handmade business. (They’re entirely different audiences.) It took about 6 months of growing pains—and segmented email lists—to realize that I was ready to launch a new site apart from my handmade brand to showcase my body of work.
Okay, you’re ready to branch out. What’s the purpose of your new site?
So: you’ve decided. The technical and design options are plenty, but before diving into any of that good stuff (which is not the focus of this article), consider the most important question of all: what’s your purpose?
It’s such a basic question, but it’s absolutely essential to your success with this new site. Let’s state it another way: whom are you trying to reach? Here are some ideas to get you going:
|Editors of books, magazines, and digital publications||land publishing contracts|
|Conference organizers or event producers||book speaking gigs or teaching jobs|
|Media||offer a downloadable press kit or answer frequently asked questions|
|Clients||detail the variety of services you provide|
|Shop||offer e-books, e-courses, or other digital or physical informational products|
It’s likely you’ll be marketing your work to multiple audiences—after all, that’s the whole point of a portfolio site, which acts as an umbrella of sorts to tie all of your projects together. You can send an editor a link to your clips, or send out photos of an original pattern or design to a company who may be interested in licensing your work.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the general public (such as your current customers) will be interested too, and that’s a good thing. Your portfolio can provide additional exposure to your existing business. That said, if the general public is truly the only audience you’re hoping to engage, you may want to reconsider the necessity for creating a separate website in the first place. No need to complicate things.
In my case, my purpose is to reach editors in the crafty and kid spaces, as well as creative grown-ups of kids. Make a sticky note of your key audiences and keep them at hand as you develop your site.
Next, think about what action you’ll want your audience to take when they’re visiting your site. My goals? First, for creatives and crafty grown-ups to opt-in to my newsletter, and second, to engage an editor enough to continue the conversation about a pitch, build trust, and ultimately land contracts.
Jason Ratliff‘s portfolio site.
What will you share?
Here’s the fun part: deciding on what content you’ll share on your new site. Keep your list of dream audiences and your goals close at hand while you work through your sitemap brainstorm.
A website can be as simple as a single page with an opt-in or much more complex. Here’s a running list of elements typically found in a portfolio site, but by no means do you need to include all of these elements:
- Home or Landing Page — This page is all about who you are in a line or two. Keep it short and sweet. You can also include any other breaking news like a book release or details of a talk you’re giving at an upcoming conference. Consider including photos of you and/or your best work, and keep it brief. Remember that half of your site visitors are consuming your site on a mobile device, so writing a book-length summary of your work and history will lose most visitors.
- About Page — Here’s where you can go deep, and provide more information about yourself alongside photos of you and your work.
- Your Work — This is the bread and butter of your site. Include links to your writing clips, a gallery of artwork or illustrations, photos of the products or designs you make, a list of all of the books you’ve authored and where you can buy them, or anything else that pertains to what you do.
- Highlighted Work — If you have a ton of things happening, consider creating a separate page or touch point for a key project or offering you want to spotlight, like a recently published book
- Your Services— If you offer services for hire, detail them on a separate page. Consider including frequently asked questions (like scope of work or rates). Testimonials are a great way to establish trust; include kind words from past customers or press mentions, if you can.
- A Newsletter Opt-in — A place where visitors can opt-in to be notified in their inbox of informational news or promotional offers.
- Free Resources — Consider creating a frequently updated space like a library, directory, or something of value or interest for visitors
- Blog — There is no greater way to improve your website’s SEO than to consistently write blog posts that draw upon your unique expertise. However, many of us who are developing a portfolio site may already be blogging for business elsewhere. Before you create an insurmountable workload for yourself by committing to an additional blog, circle back to your purpose. Chances are, you’re not looking to monetize a portfolio site with sponsored blog content (although there would be nothing inherently wrong with this if you’re up front about it). If you’re already reaching your audience through existing projects that direct back to your site (published books, an active Instagram feed, or a podcast, for example), a blog is not a must-have for both of your websites if you’re juggling multiple online spaces.
- Links to Social Media — Link to any social media accounts that you want to your visitors to follow. Be purposeful about this; if your goal is to drive visitors to your newsletter, don’t distract them with eight different social media handles. You’ll want to be sure you’re representing yourself on social media and not your business name. If this means separate social media accounts for an existing business and you as a person, consider your ability to manage this additional work. Maybe you can make it easy on yourself and hashtag a project as opposed to creating a separate account for something you’re working on. Every business owner, blogger, and craft professional will have a different approach to social media.
Lotta Jandsotter‘s portfolio site.
How do other people do it?
Whenever I work with friends to help them create a space online that’s representative of them and their work, I always ask them: what websites do you love? It’s so much easier to begin a project like this by looking at other successful sites in your industry (as well as outside your field). Choose a handful of sites that look and feel good, and model your own off the bits and pieces you like. Don’t reinvent the wheel—instead, look around online and start gathering ideas by pinning pages to a Pinterest board or clipping inspiration to an Evernote notebook.
Below is a collection of portfolio sites to get you started. A note of caution: don’t rely solely on a theme to deliver a dream website. This is only one slice of the picture. Instead, do the work of brainstorming and developing content first. And keep in mind that several of these artists, designers, and makers have hired out for web development (or have relied on their own professional “in-house” expertise, like Jessica).
Jen Hewett This site is a great example of a portfolio: clearly presented and simply designed. Jen has linked to her Etsy shop and highlights her e-course as something she wants us to pay attention to. Jen uses a custom WordPress theme created by Zoe Rooney for Jen Hewett.
Jessica Hische The most beautiful and design-y of this group of portfolio sites, perhaps. While most of us aren’t going to be launching sites that are this sophisticated, look at how Jessica has organized her site. Instead of a traditional blog, she maintains a “home for writing” and FAQs called “Thoughts.” Jessica uses the WordPress theme Starkers. For more information about how she has created her site, see the footer “About the Site” here.
Lisa Congdon Lisa used to manage her blog, Today Is Going to Be Awesome, separately from her portfolio site. It now redirects to her main portfolio site. Lisa uses the WordPress theme Sandbox.
Lotta Jandsotter Lotta’s focus is on wholesale, product design, workshops, and publishing. This is an example of a site that does not focus on retail sales or blogging. She uses the WordPress theme Headway.
Jean Jullien Jean’s site is the simplest of the group, but still as effective as the rest. He’s made his blog, comprised of short bursts of news about his happenings, his home page. Jean’s simple site appears to be hand-coded.
Isabel Urbina Pena This site gives a clear sense of what Isabel is all about: the first few headings describe her range of work. Isabel’s website is built with the Squarespace template Momentum.
Jason Ratliff Jason’s portfolio site showcases his artwork while letting various audiences know that he’s available for commissions, licensing, and distribution. Jason’s website is built with the Squarespace template Marquee.
Joyce Brown This is an example of a portfolio site that showcases a large body of work alongside information on the textile artist’s booked gigs and teaching schedule. This site was built with Wix.
Barbara H. Cline As a user, it’s frustrating to arrive at a site and having no idea what or whom it’s about. This quilter doesn’t keep us from guessing. Instead, it’s very clear who Barbara is: “Quilt designer, teacher, and author” appears on every page in the navigation. This site was built with Wix.