The next step in building my design business: what makes a great portfolio site?

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Designers often work so diligently for clients, we often forget to work for ourselves.

Our own logos, collateral such as business cards and websites, and marketing campaigns suffer a bit of (okay, a fair amount of) neglect as we delegate all of our creative energies to our clients’ projects.

What finally got me off my duff and devoting serious time and effort to my portfolio website was finishing the design of my business card.

I’ve been asked for business cards and had to explain why I don’t have any at the moment. (Because my business card has my website address on it, and I can’t very well hand out business cards with a non-existent website. Ouch, that hurts to say!)

So today I’d like to talk about this all-important question that will improve your understanding (and mine) of what content to put on a design business website and why:

What’s in a design business website?

Sure, every design business needs at the very least a home page, some information about the business, samples of past work, and a method for contact. But what else?

This is a HUGE question, so I’ve broken it down into three main sub-questions.

#1 Who is my audience?

Before I can determine what information to put on my website, I need to know who will be reading it and what they’ll find interesting and useful.

The obvious answers are clients, peers, and family. (I’ll add I feel really proud and loved that I have enough family that reads my blog posts to add them in this category.)

My primary focus is on clients (no offense, non-client peers and family) as I want to sell my service of graphic and web design.

#2: What information does my primary audience want to know?

To assess how to present the information, first I need to know what information my clients want to know.

Capabilities: Clients want to know how I can help them. I need to tell them what services I offer and how those services can help their business increase exposure and sales.

Price: Clients want to know how much my services cost. I need to give ballpark figures for my services as a starting point for clients (and a caveat that each project is unique and we’ll need to talk).

Since this is such a controversial issue, I’d like to explore this a bit further (read here for more on this topic). Personally, if the only way to get a price range is to contact the company, I leave the website and look for someone else. Furthermore, I don’t want to waste our time talking about their project if a client can’t afford my services.

Side note: Americans are stereotypically very secretive about money. GDB international community members – is this true in your country as well?

Portfolio: Clients want to see the quality and types of projects I’ve worked on in the past.

Contact Information: Clients want to be able to contact me directly by phone and email as well as possibly view my profiles and information on social media.

Qualifications: More informed clients such as design agencies want to know more about my skill set and how I acquired such knowledge.

Testimonials: Clients want to know that others have been highly satisfied and recommend me.

Tertiary Information: A few clients (and any peers that visit) might be interested in personal information about me, professional updates, and/or links to nifty things. This is primarily flavor text to give the website more character and life.

Can you think of anything else? Leave a comment below!

#3 How do I present this information clearly?

That’s a fair amount of information to organize thoughtfully and artfully enough to entice clients to hire me. Therefore, I’m putting serious effort into this question, as for me it has been the most challenging to answer.

The Header

The header contains the most prized real-estate – the top of every page. Obviously my logo belongs there with a link to my portfolio on Behance – see below – as well as contact information and social media links.

The Sidebar

I’m using a two column layout with a static sidebar. In that sidebar I’ve put my 15-second pitch as well as links to external sites I find educational or inspirational. I’ve also added some flavor text.

The Home Page

In particular, I’m having trouble with the home page. What belongs on my home page and how do I arrange it? Most important, I believe, is a strong call to action. Without being cheesy or a slimy used-car salesman, I need to make a strong case for hiring me and an easy way to do it. This involves selling my services and myself as a knowledgeable designer and great person to work with as well as a very obvious way to contact me.

Portfolio

Ahh yes. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on this subject and I believe I’ve found a suitable solution to my conundrum.

You see, I already have a Behance portfolio, and I REALLY, REALLY want to avoid having to update two separate portfolios for every project. So much so that I’ve weighed the merits of paying for the Behance ProSite (at $11/month) and adding static pages. However, I’m also toying with the idea of using the WordPress blog feature – more on this below.

Back to the solution I’m pretty happy with. All of the thumbnails and imagery of my work I use on the Greer Genius site will link directly to their respective project in my Behance portfolio. For now, that satisfies me…it remains to be seen how my audience will react.

Static Pages

The rest of the pages on my website seem fairly straightforward – devoted to their respective topics. These include the contact form, an about page, and pricing information.

I’ve also settled on a resume page even though it’s not strictly necessary. Originally I simply copied my resume onto the page, but I’ve decided to make it more interesting by summarizing my skill sets and achievements by general design topic and providing a link to my resume.

Extras

So where does all the rest go – blog, testimonials, anything else?

While a blog is useful for communicating information and current events at Greer Genius as well as neat things I find on the internet, my primary audience – clients – probably don’t care much (just being honest).

Therefore for now this will be a secondary element as my thoughts will impact a much larger audience if posted here at GDB or elsewhere. In the future I’d like to add some information I’ve yet to write about the basics of good <insert design item here> (business cards, websites, logos, etc.).

Testimonials are probably best served either on the home page, the side bar, or scattered throughout.

Are we done yet?

Whew! Thanks for sticking with me through all of that – there’s a lot of information to be digested.

Now I’d like your input, GDB readers. Leave a comment and discuss the following questions with me: What’s missing from my website? Would you organize information differently? Let’s talk about it and improve our design business websites!

PS – The design of the Greer Genius website is done, but I’ve found the content a bit more challenging. While I haven’t yet finished, I’ll be sure to post a follow-up when the site is live! (Don’t know what Greer Genius is? GDB readers have been following me as I use Preston’s ebook to launch my design business the right way! Read about the naming of this business as well as the logo development.)

 

About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. While I’ve had a website up for several years, I’ve revamped it so many times I feel a little fickle. I just couldn’t decide on the look I was going for, and that’s probably because I hadn’t completely defined my niche and my target yet. And it took me until just this month to finally decide on a logo for myself, after finally defining my niche about a year ago.
    I don’t put my pricing on my website however. After working with a marketing expert early in 2011, I decided that I want people to want to work with me because I provide what they want and need, not because I’m the cheapest. Which I’m not, nor do I want to be. I want clients that are serious about getting quality work from someone who can deliver, not clients whose first concern is how much will it cost. So far, this approach has worked well for me. I love my clients. I can’t wait to see your website when it’s live!

  2. Hi April,

    I’m currently working on all of these things and just made my new site “live.” I’m not fully satisfied with it yet, but it is a million times better than what I had previously. I hadn’t considered putting prices on there – but you’ve made me change my thoughts about it. Thanks for the great post!

    Melissa

    • Melissa,

      You’re welcome! Glad you found it interesting and insightful!

      I really love your strong call to action right up front on the home page. I think far too many designers show great portfolios but never ask people to hire them! They have a contact link, but don’t promote that they’re looking for work. You do a great job of getting people involved right from the get-go on your site.

      Thanks for sharing!

  3. Theresa,

    Great job on finding your niche and promoting yourself that way! It looks really good.

    Pricing is a very controversial matter for designers (and most everyone else!). I certainly understand some people prefer not to list it, while others do. I specifically addressed that to get some dialogue and conversation about it and see what others think.

    Thanks for sharing, and I will certainly show it in the near future!

  4. I’ve gone through so many websites it is not even funny. I finally settled on my current site design, and I am actually content with it…as long as I don’t stare at it to long anyways…lol.
    My clients love it though, part of the reason I stay with it.

    While working on my website, I had probably 10-20 tabs opened comparing other designer portfolios.

    I agonized over and over about putting prices up. I even thought about this the other day and so it’s ironic for me that you brought this up.

    I finally decided not to place my prices on the web. I decided this for a few reasons, the first being that when placing a price on your website, the client is seeing quantity. However if I give the client a price after speaking with them either via phone or email, more then likely they’ll start seeing quality. I’m not a company that will whip out a logo for you in 24 hours for $100. No, I take time and research the industry of the company and the company it self. I invest myself into their brand. If I place “$$$ Starting Costs for Logo Design” on my website, then they won’t see the investment I place personally into their company. I don’t create stock quality logos, I create brands.

    The second is that all projects are differently and so is pricing. Before I offer any of my clients a price, I ask them to give me a detailed scope of the project at hand. This right here takes out any clients that are just price shopping. If your client doesn’t have its facts straight, they aren’t ready to begin and therefore wasting your time.

    In the end, I can’t say if I lost a lot of clients due to not having a price up, I can say though is that I’m happy with what I decided, and the only thing that changes on my website is my services page and my about me area (on my homepage).

    I will never claim though for my website to done. We are designers after all…

    • Laura,

      A designer’s website is never done – couldn’t agree with you more!

      I struggled with how to price items as well because all projects are different, so I’m using a price range and also stating multiple times that the pricing is an estimation.

      I’m glad that you put significant thought into your choice, and that you’re pleased with your decision. That’s the most important aspect – feeling comfortable in your solution with reasoning that makes sense to you.

      I love your mini-contact form! Excellent way to keep your clients a click away from contacting you!

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Somehow I think a graphic designer’s website is always a work in progress. In a way, this is a good thing. It shows you are innovative, creative and never satisfied to stay status quo. I think you’ve done a great job so far.

  6. definitely helpful, thanks for sharing!

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  1. [...] The next step in building my design business: what makes a great …By April Greer(I'll add I feel really proud and loved that I have enough family that reads my blog posts to add them in this category.) My primary focus is on clients (no offense, non-client peers and family) as I want to sell my service of graphic and web design.Graphic Design Blender [...]

  2. [...] The next step in building my design business: what makes a great portfolio site? – So today I’d like to talk about this all-important question that will improve your understanding (and mine) of what content to put on a design business website and why. [...]

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