The client-converting portfolio: 17-point checklist

The client-converting portfolio: 17-point checklist

Preston Lee's Layout avatar

There are primarily two philosophies regarding portfolios I’ve seen among agencies and freelancers in my experience over the last decade.

First are agencies who have a portfolio primarily because they believe they should. Their portfolio looks nice, makes them feel good about their work, and gives them something simple to send clients who happen to ask for examples of former work.

I’ll call this a “showcase portfolio”.

Second are agencies who use their portfolio as a way to get clients, as a sales tool—not a place to highlight how talented they are. These agencies focus the content and structure of their portfolio entirely on what clients want to see and hear in order to hire the agency.

I’ll call this a “conversion portfolio”.

Showcasing vs. converting

Where the “showcase” agency spends entire afternoons working on the JavaScript animations to make their images slide onto the page in a really slick way, the “conversion” agency spends the afternoon honing the copywriting that convinces a client to sign a check.

Two web designers discussing what to include in their web design portfolios

Where the “showcase portfolio” includes dozens of projects from the agency’s history, the “conversion portfolio” focuses on just a handful of the most applicable projects to their core target client.

The “showcase portfolio” says “we or I” a lot. The “conversion portfolio” says “you,” speaking to and about the client.

The “showcase portfolio” is used as a way to get more blog readers, email subscribers, or Instagram followers in addition to new clients. The “conversion portfolio” has one goal: getting more clients.

Why “showcasing” is the default

You’ve seen examples of what I’m talking about—portfolios that focus way more on their looks than they do on their ability to convert a client.

But it’s not like anyone intentionally says to themselves or their boss “let’s design a portfolio that looks really amazing, but has a terrible conversion rate.”

There’s another reason “showcasing” seems to be the status quo in portfolio design.

If I were to ask you to brainstorm ideas for a new portfolio right now, what would you do?

You’d ask Google.

How do I know? Because I’ve personally seen millions of you reach this post about portfolios by searching terms like “portfolios for inspiration.”

While asking Google may be a fine starting place, what happens far too often is an agency then pieces together the “perfect” portfolio from a wishlist generated by looking at dozens of other portfolio sites.

One designer deciding what to add to his client portfolio

So if a fancy “showcase portfolio” you find through a Google search has social media buttons to build their following, it’s only natural to say “ah, yes. We should include our social buttons too.”

And thus continues the cycle of focusing on features and aesthetics instead of conversion.

Doing better than the status quo

Thus my mission today is to help you and your agency stand out from the status quo.

I’ll do that by sharing a simple client-converting portfolio checklist complete with everything you should (and shouldn’t) do when designing a “conversion portfolio” and winning more clients.

For more ideas on leveling up your portfolio, download our ebook Six steps to building the perfect portfolio.

The checklist

The checklist is broken down into a few key factors that will impact how successful your portfolio is at converting visitors into paying clients. These factors, in my experience, have the biggest impact on conversion. They are:

  • Structure and flow: How your portfolio site is organized and the journey you take a site visitor on.
  • Project presentation: How your work is displayed.
  • Copywriting and messaging: The words (copywriting) and images you use to convey your brand message.
  • Contact and conversion: How your site visitors contact you and how well these methods convert.
  • Design, UX, and brand: What the user sees and how the user interacts with your portfolio site.

Structure and flow

  • All information your client needs to hire you can be found on the homepage. The more pages you have on your site, the less control you have over the prospect’s journey toward hiring you. Keep it to 1-3 pages where possible. Here are some tips for better landing pages.
  • All pages point toward conversion. There should be no pages that are “dead-end” (leaving the visitor wondering where to go next) or “offramp” (taking visitors away from your conversion flow).
  • Your site looks more like a funnel than a web. Remember, the more control you have over what a user sees and when, the more likely you are to convert them.
  • All links point “down funnel” not away from the page. The point of your portfolio is not to grow blog readers, get instagram followers, or build an email list. Remove all links that promote other marketing channels—you’ve already got the visitor where you want them: in your portfolio funnel.

Project presentation

  • The projects you display focus on results. This is not a beauty contest. Your projects should focus less on how great you are and more on how much good they did for your client. Actual numbers from your clients (sales, leads, etc.) are ideal.
A saleswoman chatting with a potential web design client
  • You’ve presented only 3-5 of your best projects. Your site visitors aren’t going to look at 25 different projects. If you choose to include that many, they will invariably view the projects you’re least proud of.
  • Critical information is available without a click or hover. The more you rely on clients to click their way around your site, the less likely you are to convert them. Instead, make critical information (results, remember?) as easy-to-access as possible.
  • Each project is displayed with the goal of conversion. Project pages, if you choose to have them, should not “dead-end,” forcing the client to hit the back button in order to contact or hire you. Each project should have a call-to-action.

Copywriting and messaging

  • Your site employs quality conversion-focused copywriting. Everything on the site is persuasive and compelling. If you don’t have experience in copywriting jobs, this is one portion worth hiring out. Words convert far more than images or design.
  • You avoid the use of the word “I” or “we.” This portfolio is not about you. It’s about your client and the success they’ll have after hiring you.
  • You’re brief. People don’t read, they skim.

Contact and conversion

  • Contact info on every page. Getting to a contact form, phone number, email address, or chat window is utterly simple from anywhere on the site.
  • There are no barriers to contacting you. Unless you are receiving way too many requests, you don’t need to “filter out bad clients” with your contact form. No onboarding questions. Just basic name, email, and message. The fewer fields, the higher the conversion rate.
  • You track visitor flow and conversion rates. You can’t improve what you’re not tracking. Determine what a “successful conversion” looks like and then use technology like Google Analytics to track total conversions/visits to get your conversion rate.

Design, UX, and brand

  • Your site design is simple, clean, and professional. It loads fast, uses basic fonts, and wasn’t designed by your brother-in-law who’s “learning to code.”
  • Your site follows basic UX principles. In short, buttons look and act like buttons. Links look and act like links. Etc. It looks great on a mobile device.
  • Your brand is clear, but not overpowering. This site is not about you, it’s about your clients.

One last detail…

Of course, none of these important details will make any difference if you can’t get people to visit your portfolio in the first place.

If you already have visitors to your portfolio website on a regular basis, expect this checklist to improve your conversion rates almost immediately.

But if you’re struggling to get traffic to your portfolio site, work simultaneously on these improvements and marketing techniques to build traffic.

A marketer deciding what to include on her portfolio site.

Although helpful how-tos for getting traffic to your portfolio site fall far outside the scope of this article, here are a few follow-up articles from brands I personally trust to help you get more traffic to your portfolio site:

Eight ways to increase traffic to your portfolio site by Creative Bloq

11 Proven Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Website by Ahrefs

Using this checklist to get more clients

The items presented here are not an exhaustive list of the elements you’ll need for a successful portfolio, but if you follow them you’ll find yourself leaps ahead of the competition who insists on sticking to the status quo.

Instead of having a portfolio that’s overcrowded with outdated projects, you’ll put your best foot forward with only your best work.

In place of long-winded copy that no one will actually read, you’ll have short, compelling copy that convinces clients to work with you.

Instead of leaving visitors frustrated because they can’t figure out how to contact you, you’ll start getting inbound leads in no time.

Getting clients through your portfolio is not luck or chance—it comes down to hard work, testing, persistence, and following basic laws of conversion.

With the checklist shared here, you’ll be that much closer to getting that next great client.


Free checklist

Looking for a checklist to save for later? We’ve got you covered! Check out this checklist on how to create the perfect client-converting portfolio. Download it below!

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