OCTOBER 15TH, 2013
Whether you’re a freelance eLearning designer or not, having a strong portfolio is critical to your long-term success. Portfolios act as an extension of your formal resume, which allow potential clients and/or employers to see tangible examples of your work, skills and level of experience.
Many people associate portfolios strictly for freelancers or those only with above-average levels of experience and creativity. Although this may have been true several years ago; in today’s world, having a portfolio is expected (and sometimes required) by some employers.
The truth is, having a strong portfolio can help you build confidence, make you memorable and set you apart from the crowd - all things that can help you land your next job.
Focus is Key
It was just six months ago when I first launched my online portfolio (this website), and if you’ve been to my website before, you know it looked a lot different from what you see now. Over the past six months, the single most important thing I learned more than anything else, is that focus is key.
Your portfolio must have a focus if you expect people (employers) to understand your intent - and more importantly, understand your usefulness to them.
When I first designed my online portfolio, my focus was to generate work - specifically freelance work. Although this should be the intent behind any portfolio; what I failed to do, was put focus on the type of work I wanted to generate.
On my old online portfolio, I marketed myself as not only an eLearning designer, but also a presentation designer and desktop publishing designer. Furthermore, I had a mishmash of various work examples to go along with it.
Although eLearning design, presentation design and desktop publishing are all things that I am very skilled in, they’re ultimately representative of similar industries, but with very different types of clients. Because of this, my biggest concern was that a potential client may visit my site and ultimately not know how to use my skills or understand my focus.
At the end of the day, less is more - keep the content of your portfolio focused.
As you can see, I’ve since redesigned my online portfolio into what you see now, which is focused purely on eLearning.
Here are a few key questions to ask yourself to help focus your portfolio:
- Who is your audience?
- What does your audience what to see in your portfolio?
- What is your brand and how do you want to communicate it?
- How do you want to represent yourself?
- What do you want to accomplish?
The Power of a Portfolio
Portfolios can come in almost any form. In today’s world, the most common form factor for a portfolio, is an online one.
Online portfolios are popular because their versatile, easily updated and can be shared and accessed by anyone at anytime. The interesting thing about online portfolios, is that although they’re very popular, so few people actually take the time to create one.
In my short time freelancing, I’ve spoken to many people who’ve expressed their frustration finding freelance work. My first response to these people, is a request to see their portfolio - and sadly most of them don’t have one.
The power of having an online portfolio, is that it can find the work for you. In the short time I’ve had my online portfolio and blog, I’ve never once had to “look” for freelance work - no cold calls, no emails to prospective clients searching for work, nothing. All of the projects have come to me - they’ve literally fallen into my lap.
I attribute this success to a few simple things: first, having an online portfolio; and secondly having a blog and a social media presence, which I’ll expand on later in this post.
How to Build a Portfolio
So, the first hurdle I’d like to address, is the concern that building an online portfolio is hard. I think many people shy away from building something online, because they think the process of building a website will require some sort of programming or web design knowledge. This is simply not true.
An online portfolio can be as simple or as advanced as you like. When you keep the idea of “less is more” in your thought process, it will help keep things easy.
Here are a few popular, no-programming-required solutions for creating an online portfolio:
Behance: Behance is a free, social-media centric, online tool to easy showcase and discover creative work. Behance allows you to quickly and easily create a simple portfolio where you can upload images, videos and audio to be displayed on your page. You can go further by organizing your media into separate “projects” and add a list of work experience, which helps bring a sense of organization and purpose to your portfolio.
Lastly, Behance makes it super easy to share your portfolio with the world. Within the site itself, you can easily share your portfolio on all of the major social networking sites.
Wordpress.com: Wordpress, although meant to be a blogging platform, can easily be used to create a portfolio. Like Behance, Wordpress is free and allows you to easily setup and customize a page (or several pages) with zero programming knowledge.
Using Wordpress as a platform to create your portfolio has the added benefit of being a blogging tool, which can allow you to publish blog content along with your portfolio content. This will help you generate more visibility to your page.
Articulate Storyline: Because I am talking about online portfolios as they relate to the field of eLearning, it would be remiss of me not to discuss how Articulate Storyline can be used to create an online portfolio.
If you’ve used Storyline before, you know that you can easily create highly-interactive elements with ease. If you think about the process of creating an interactive eLearning course, you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t too different from the concepts of creating a well designed website.
If you’re willing to purchase your own domain (which is easy and highly recommended), you can easily create an interactive eLearning/website, which allows people to learn about you and explore some examples of your work.
A great example of this, is what Stephanie Harnett has done to create her website and online portfolio with Articulate Storyline.
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"I would say that I built my portfolio-based site using Storyline for two reasons; firstly to demonstrate that Storyline can be used for purposes other than eLearning, including websites and communication; and secondly to demonstrate my own skills using Storyline – it is my authoring tool of choice, so why not create a portfolio showcasing the work I do using the tool I do it in?
I also created my original portfolio site a few years ago using Studio ’09 at the time, again for the same purposes (see blog about that here)."
I spoke with Stephanie recently, and this is what she had to say about it...
Adobe Muse: The last method I’d like to offer as a solution for easily creating an online portfolio, is using a program called Adobe Muse - which is what I’ve used to build this website, blog and online portfolio.
Adobe Muse is an incredibly easy to use tool, which allows you to design, publish and manage a website within Adobe’s online ecosystem, which they call “Business Catalyst.” What I love about Adobe Muse, is that it requires zero programming knowledge to design and manage a website - and the results speak for themselves.
What makes Adobe Muse so simple to use, is that it allows you to build your website using the design tool most of us are already familiar with.
And again, I can’t emphasize this enough, but Adobe Muse requires no programming knowledge. This is a huge benefit for those of you, like me, who are design-centric and don’t want anything to do with code!
So, once you’ve taken the time to build an online portfolio, how do you get people to visit it and ultimately generate work? This can be the toughest part, but with some persistence, it can easily pay off - literally.
As I mentioned, I originally designed my website and online portfolio for the purpose of generating freelance work. So, the big question is, did I get any? Well yes, I’ve actually generated a lot of work in the past six months - but surprisingly, it wasn’t from my online portfolio.
When I launched my online portfolio back in March, I also launched a Wordpress.com blog. My thought process at the time was that I’d have a blog for me to discuss various eLearning topics, which would ultimately send people to my online portfolio, and then directly to me for work.
I soon discovered that my blog was getting several times more visitors than my portfolio. So, when the work started to roll in, the vast majority of people would state that they found me through my blog. Shockingly, many of them hadn’t even been to my portfolio prior to contacting me.
So, I decided to redesign my online portfolio and incorporate my blog into it. Now their one and people who visit my blog will be on the same website as my online portfolio. For me, the lesson for sustaining success was: cohesion. Whatever you decide to create, your brand, messaging and content must be cohesive.
Here are a few other quick tips to sustain success with your online portfolio:
Start a Blog: As you know, because you’re reading it now, in addition to my online portfolio, I also maintain a blog. I blog, not only because I enjoy it, but because it’s also strategic. Blogging allows me to regularly post content relevant to eLearning, which draws new people to my site and keep existing visitors coming back.
Blogging also provides you a platform to demonstrate your knowledge, which can help potential employers or clients see the value of working with you.
Get Social: I once came across an online portfolio of a really talented freelance eLearning designer, and so I went to Twitter to share their portfolio with the world. Long story short, I wasn’t able to locate this person's Twitter handle, which ultimately lead me to contacting them directly to ask for it. The response I got left me completely dumbfounded.
The individual explained to me that they didn’t have time for any sort of social networking and didn’t really get the point of it.
Now, I don’t know how successful this individual was as a freelance eLearning designer, but I highly doubt they generated as much work as they would have if they were more involved with the various social networks.
So, if you haven’t already, get yourself involved in Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest and the various online forums out there, such as Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes Community.
The point here is, see and be seen. Start connecting with others!
Buy Your URL: The last tip I’ll provide for sustaining success, is to buy your URL. As you know, the URL for my website is Tim-Slade.com. To be honest, this wasn’t my first choice, and I ended up having to take this URL because of a mistake I made in my past.
Several year ago, I purchased the URL to TimSlade.com. I was young and I did it simply because I thought it would be cool to say I owned it. However, at the time, I wasn’t in the field of eLearning and I never thought that I’d be working as a freelancer. So, when my ownership to it expired, I didn’t renew. Today, a photographer in Australia own the rights to TimSlade.com - and I don’t think he’s giving it up anytime soon.
So, the lesson here is, if it’s available, buy your URL and don’t hesitate. The cost is minimal and when/if you decided to use it, you’ll be happy that you got the one you wanted.
To Sum It All Up
So, to sum it all up, having a solid online portfolio can be endlessly valuable in your career. Whether you're a freelance eLearning designer or not, a portfolio is just another tool to have in your back pocket, which will help elevate you in the eyes of your peers, and more importantly, future employers.
Remember that your portfolio should be focused and communicate a clear message about who you are, what you do and what you want to accomplish. Creating a portfolio doesn’t have to be rocket science, and it certainly doesn’t require any programming.
And lastly, make sure you find a way to get people to visit your portfolio - get social, start a blog and do whatever it takes to get your name out there.
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