Forget your portfolio. Build a resource site.
When I think of a successful freelancer the first thing that comes to mind is an impeccable portfolio. A lucious, pixel-rich Dribbble profile or a Github contributions count overflowing with little green squares.
As with all fantasies though, it’s not very realistic. After all, it takes quite a bit of work to build a state of the art portfolio and maintain it over time. Not to mention all the projects you aren’t allowed to talk about because of all the NDAs you had signed.
Even if you do have all your work neatly catalogued and available online you’re still facing one big problem — getting people to discover it. Not those who are already considering hiring you but people who have never heard of you before.
It’s probably safe to say then that well-crafted, up-to-date portfolios are: (a) hard to pull off even for the most accomplished pros and (b) a relatively ineffective marketing tool anyway.
There is one idea, though, that I suspect works better than most classic portfolios: a resource site.
A resource site is a vessel not only for your past work but for resources: tutorials, templates, code snippets, presentations, spreadsheets. It’s a place where you offer tools and actionable advice in a form that’s both relevant and useful to your potential clients and others in your industry.
The point of such a site is to give people reasons to visit other than, well, to marvel at your past work. To showcase your expertise and talents by providing something valuable. And by doing so to increase the chances of people sharing your work and referring you to others.
Here are two examples I love. Look at them closely.
First, the site of the former digital design agency Teenhan+Lax (acquired by Facebook in 2015):
And second, the current site of UX designer Samuel Hulick, UserOnboard:
Both sites are built around resources, not just their owners’ past work. In case of Teehan+Lax it’s the industry standard iPhone GUI template (at the time). For UserOnboard it’s the very informative (and entertaining 😂) onboarding “teardowns”.
I lost count how many times I recommended both of them to clients, colleagues and random people at startup events. And now I’m writing about them.
The key part: I am sure I am not the only one.
This whole thing begs the question, though: how do you create all these resources? Surely it will take far more time to craft and publish this kind of content than to just share your work online, right?
“I don’t have time for this BS”, you will rightfully interject.
But what if you work on resources that will be useful for your own day-to-day productivity in the first place? Such that when the initial investment is complete, you are able to recover that time in productivity gains later down the road?
Like the iPhone GUI templates by Teehan+Lax which undoubtedly saved them hours in client work or the onboarding teardowns that Samuel Hulick can now reference in all his UserOnboard workshops—without any extra effort.
Setting up a classic portfolio may not be the best way to win new clients. Try a resource site instead. Yes, it will require more effort initially. But over time it can pay for itself, getting your work in front of more people than even the most polished portfolio would.