How to decide which CMS to use for your Online Portfolio

This episode is part of a series called Portfolio Principles. In this series, I help people to build a more effective portfolio. Get weekly portfolio building tips.
All opinions my own.


Your Content Management System (CMS) is not just the backbone of your portfolio, it is the beating heart. It keeps your portfolio alive. And keeping your portfolio alive is crucial. You don’t just want to get visitors, you want to get returning visitors. Visitors will only return if they expect new content.

So a CMS is important, but choosing the right CMS is even more important. It will directly impact your building process. Your decision can make the difference between launching a portfolio within a week and never launching. It can make the difference between landing a job or being rejected.

With so many options available, it is easy to get overwhelmed. You don’t want to invest a lot of time in setting up a particular CMS only to find out it does not satisfy your needs.

So how do you decide which CMS to use? Do you go for the most popular CMS? The CMS with the largest community? Perhaps the CMS that your friends recommended to you?

Rather than bombarding you with options right away, I want to take a slightly different approach. I hope to give you a framework that enables you to choose the best fit for you. This will help you decide by yourself what is the best fit for you. It also ensures that this article stays relevant for future readers. The landscape of CMS is changing so fast that a CMS that would be the best option for you today, could be different tomorrow.

The best CMS for you enables you to focus on what you can do best. Whether that is designing, developing, both designing and developing or neither of the two.

A CMS for Designers
So if you are skilled as a designer, you should be looking for a CMS which gives you a lot of freedom to design. Because you have the skills to stand out by creating a unique design, you should be making use of this. However, on the other hand, you probably don’t want to develop a theme from scratch. As a designer, a lot of freedom to develop may overwhelm you.

For designers, a popular CMS like Squarespace would be a bad option. Squarespace offers a limited number of themes, with very limited freedom to design. Of course you can get the job done with Squarespace, but you won’t be using your unique skills to your advantage. The limited creative freedom might even start to frustrate you.

A CMS that I would suggest to designers to look at would be Semplice. Their slogan: “Templates are yesterday — You need freedom.“ must sound great to every designer. Semplice enables you to create pixel perfect designs in the form of a visual editor, but it does not require any coding. It was created by Tobias Von Schneider, a former designer at Spotify. A free alternative to Semplice for designers could be Webflow, which also promises no need to code.

A CMS for Developers
If you are skilled as a developer, you should be looking for a CMS that gives you a lot of freedom to develop. However, you might not feel like having to worry about the design. An open source, community driven CMS like Bolt.cm would be a good option. Another safe choice would be Wordpress. Thanks to the wide availability of premium themes you won’t have to be concerned about the design.

A CMS for Beginners
Squarespace is a good option if neither design nor development is your cup of tea. Maybe you have no ambition to customize your portfolio but just want to produce a high-quality product fast. This is totally fine. Remember that the best CMS enables you to focus on what you can do best? This even applies if you are not a designer nor developer. For example as a photographer, you are best at taking photos. In that case, the CMS that gets the job done quickly would be best.

Conclusion
I think that every CMS can be rated on two variables: freedom to design and freedom to develop. Mind you that freedom always comes with a price. Especially for beginners, a high amount of freedom can be overwhelming.

In order to decide which CMS fits you best you need to understand your own skills and research whether the CMS enables you to take advantage of this. Remember that the right CMS for you gives you just the right amount of freedom so you can focus on what you do best, without overwhelming you.


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