Ask almost any designer about their portfolio and they will tell you they are too busy to create, update or launch it. I was asked recently by one of the freelancer I work with about the importance of having a portfolio in the first place:
How critical do you reckon case studies are for freelancers and independent contractors? Would you expect a contractor you hire to have written case studies on their portfolios? Would images only be a red flag?
In short - I think they are super important and not just for showing off your visual design talents to your next employer. Your portfolio is arguably your greatest ambassador – it tells your story, showcases your work and closes leads while you are busy doing other things. So, here is my full answer to that question.
Streamline your sales process
Freelancing and agencies are a sales-based business where brand is everything. First impressions count for a lot, and the rest comes through in your case studies. Put yourself in the shoes of a cold lead - a visitor to your portfolio can only really judge you on your brand and case studies, so make them count.
Once you have enough great case studies, clients don’t hesitate to reach out, or compare you with other agencies, as they can see that they will get a great results. Although it sucks, while some clients are interested in creating something new and bold, many clients tend to "want what they're having”, so a portfolio ripe with versatile, high-quality content can make that initial conversation a lot easier.
If it helps, think of it like a SaaS product: investing in Google Ads won’t help if your homepage doesn’t communicate that you can solve the problem they have. Your sales funnel becomes that of a leaky bucket – good marketing will fill it with more water (pushing more people through top-of-funnel) but you will lose them where it matters – deeper down in your sales funnel, near conversion or activation (which for us, means getting in touch or hiring us).
Quality content is key
Stories are the foundation of how we communicate as a species. The insights and things we learn from stories we hear, tell and experience form who we are as a person. If you can tell a brilliant story, you will have your audience hooked. This is the power of a case study – not showing a finished, polished product but taking your reader on a journey, explaining the highs and lows, trials and tribulations, of a project.
But, if that is not measurable enough: long case studies are fantastic for SEO. At Jellypepper, case studies are the primary way we receive new visitors. The in-depth storytelling around how we created a brand, designed a website or built an app frequently contain popular keywords for Google searches.
Also, it is great when potential clients are searching for “who redesigned X”.
Your personal brand
At the end of the day, your brand is all you have as a creative. Your name, reputation and body of work is definitively what positions you in the hierarchy of your competition and makes clients want to hire you to work on their products. Having confidence in your online portfolio can make talking to people much easier to sell yourself as you are not apologising or hiding it.
I talked a bit about the ROI of design in a previous article. The long-term effects of having an up-to-date portfolio are compounding and distinct. Over time, it can also help position you as an industry expert if your case studies are thoughtful and your work is brilliant.
There is a great quote from Run Studio Run about personal branding:
"Running a business is a lot like having a brand. You’re going to have one anyway, so you might as well invest in it and make it great." - Eli Altman
Show design thinking ability
Great case studies make it easier for bigger companies to hire you, as you are able to show the reasoning, results and context of your project, which shows that you know how to think. This is just as important (if not more) than being able to produce beautiful work.
Good clients will hire you because they have seen your past work and know you can design beautiful things. Great clients will hire you because they have read your past case study and know you have the ability to deconstruct complex problems, collaborate with others on a beautiful solution and balance intuition with standards and data when making decisions.
At Jellypepper, our best leads come from referrals from previous clients, but that does not immediately negate the usefulness of our portfolio in showing visually that not only can you do the job (case studies), but that your thought process is there and your ability to solve problems is solid. It’s not proof, but reasssurance that we can do the job to a high standard.
A few of the freelancers I work with have image-only portfolios. That’s fine for me if they are a brand / visual designer because I just need to know they can produce nice work, but I would be hesitant to lean on them for product, UX or strategy because it's not clear they can handle it. It does not mean you can’t do it, it just means that I can’t immediately peg you for it.
So, where do you even find the time to produce case studies? I find it's like going to the gym or cleaning the house: you don’t find the time, you make the time. It’s a time-consuming investment that you’ll only pursue if you structure your approach, carve out time and make a dedicated effort.
But if you're looking for a tip - start collecting documents, resources, pitch decks and meeting notes during your next gig. It's very difficult to remember the little details which made the project successful after the fact, so having a cache of content you can dig through helps immensely.
I hope this helps. We put a lot of time and effort into our case studies at Jellypepper, so if you want to discuss how to make your case studies amazing, just hit me up! I'd be happy to chat.
Remember: invest in your portfolio, not your marketing efforts.