Tracey Halvorsen is a blogger, painter, author, speaker and Principal and Creative Director at Fastspot, a Baltimore, Maryland-based interactive agency. I had chance to speak with her about many aspects of running a design business, from social networking to determining budgets to the importance of failure.
Question: Getting jobs (freelance or full-time) without work in a portfolio is difficult, as is building a portfolio without jobs. How did you get your portfolio started and what advice would you give to others, especially those who do not have a portfolio from attending a design school?
You can always get a portfolio going without clients. In fact, it may be the favorite work you get to do for several years! Here’s how I built my initial portfolio, and I did this while attending art school, so I was not creating anything for school assignments, I was painting!
- Look at your current social networks. Do you know any friends or family members who are starting up a business who need a website? Offer to barter or even offer to give it away. Just get them to agree to let you do a site for them. If you are giving it away, you can always have an agreement that you get to do what you want, since it’s for free. That way you can hopefully avoid giving your time and effort away to someone who inadvertently forces you to make a crappy portfolio piece.
- Look at where you hang out or frequent. Does your local Yoga studio need a new site? Is your favorite local coffee shop in need of an upgrade? Offer your assistance, and be flexible and honest. Let people know you are trying to build a portfolio so you are willing to work for a barter or for a lower price. Many struggling or start up businesses will jump at the chance to get a lower cost website thanks to being in the right place at the right time.
- So you don’t go out much and can’t line up something from a friend or family member? Make something up. Redo that site that annoys the crap out of you for the local neighborhood association or create a fictional band and make a site for them. Get creative! There are no excuses to not having a portfolio of work, and it’s going to make or break your success. Prospective clients will look at one thing every time and often it’s the only thing they care about - and that is the past work you have done.
- Feeling uninspired? Do a search for local non-profits. Believe me, there are hundreds of organizations that are dying for some website assistance. You just have to reach out to them. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t hear back, because people working at these non-profits are incredibly busy and wearing multiple hats. You should do a follow up in one week and then a final follow up two weeks following that one. After that, leave it alone but don’t be surprised if you hear back from some of these groups in six months. If they are too busy to think about the website when you call or email, chances are they will file your info away (IF they like your work, professionalism, and follow-up) and get in touch when the timing is right for them.