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How to build your portfolio when you’re just starting out

When you’re first starting out in business it can be hard to get clients. After all, you have no experience, no work samples and no evidence you can do what you say you can do. Therefore, building a portfolio of work is something you need to concentrate on – and fast!

Building your portfolio of work samples, testimonials and/or reviews isn’t something that can happen overnight. However, there is a relatively simple way to kick-start it, if you’re willing to put in the work and take the following tips on board.

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Don’t immediately offer to work for nothing

The most obvious solution is to offer to swap work skills with another colleague or to work for free, in return for a testimonial. This can be a great strategy – if done properly.

However offering free work and work swaps can also be detrimental for both parties. It can prevent either side from taking it seriously and/or not giving it their ‘all’, as well as implying lower quality and/or desperation.

To get round this, you need to have a clear strategy in place. Think very carefully before offering free work or work exchanges and, if at all possible, offer reduced prices instead (see below).

Register with job websites like PPH and Elance

These sites are notorious for low pay, however if you want to quickly build a portfolio, they’re ideal. People Per Hour will give you a better rate of pay, whereas Elance will give you a wider potential. You bid on jobs and, if you win, you complete the work and get a review in return.

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Contact local businesses and charities

The final tip I have is to contact local businesses and charities. They usually have little or low budget however, so this is one of the occasions you may need to look at offering free work. Look to approach it as a ‘win-win’ situation for both parties, rather than looking for a favour from the other party. Phrase it in a way that you’re looking to build your portfolio and reputation, get into a new niche and build your brand – rather than you have no brand, no customers and are a new business.

Before contacting the charity or business, research them and find out exactly HOW you can help them and how it will benefit them, as a result.

If offering free services, make it clear that you’re doing this only in exchange for reviews, testimonials and/or samples for your portfolio – so make sure you DON’T sign a non-disclosure agreement – and ensure they don’t divulge the fact that it was free work.

How do you feel about giving free work away in exchange for testimonials etc.? Do you think low priced is a better option? Do you have any tips on building a portfolio, for those just starting out? Why not share your thoughts and advice below!

Image © chrisdorney & Mike Thomas/Dollar Photo Club