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The A+ Portfolio to Wow Clients And Bosses: Creating A Personal Brand With Your Portfolio. (Part 3)

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If you want to do something your love for a living, your portfolio is your most important investment. Not your tools, not business cards. Your portfolio.

Your portfolio is proof that you can do the job right -- even if you learned the skills by yourself.

While having a portfolio is awesome enough, making it UNIQUELY YOURS is the path to insane success. You have to stand out.

Your portfolio has to have your own ‘flavour’ or personality. A flavourless portfolio will sound / look just like WikiHow. No offense to WikiHow, but people don’t really get excited to read WikiHow articles.

A lot of people think that they have to sacrifice personality for professionalism. They’re reluctant to present themselves as they really are because they think it’s not professional enough. I’m here to say that you can have both, and you SHOULD have both.

The way to combine personality and professionalism perfectly together is with branding. You basically take YOUR identity and present it consistently to other people.

There are two ways you can present your identity -- and I recommend combining both ways to really create a brand that stands out.

1. Visually brand your portfolio.

Visual branding is basically about the visual details that people can see, like colours, typography, patterns and illustrations.

The simplest but most effective step you can take for this one is to just choose 1-2 colours that best reflect your personality and use them consistently in your portfolio.

Don't underestimate the power of colours. Just look at Tiffany & Co -- it has a whole colour called “Tiffany Blue” trademarked for itself!

2. Infuse your portfolio with your quirks.

A friend said that she recognized me from behind from the way I walk. While I still feel slightly paranoid (do I walk funny?), it is my quirk and part of my “brand”.

Your quirk can come from any aspect of your personality. Ask a friend or family member about what makes you distinctive.

Maybe they’d say, Hey yourname, you’re such a sunny person. I’ve never met someone who could cheer me up like you do. Then that’s what you gotta show in your portfolio!

 There’s no standard way to show a quirk. Just keep expressing that part of yourself that's unique and "quirky", and eventually you’ll find several things you can do to keep your portfolio uniquely yours. The kind of unique that no one can copy!

Personality + Professionalism = An A+ Portfolio

Remember, you don't need to be this whole new person to have an A+ portfolio. Just keep being yourself, but try to show off the BEST parts of you. You feelin' me? 😉

Now go out there and rock your portfolio!

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The A+ Portfolio to Wow Clients And Bosses: Your Creative Process. (Part 2)

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Other newsletters in the A+ Portfolio series:

It’s 100% possible to be paid or hired to do something you love. Even if you don’t have the qualifications for it.

I was offered a full-time graphic designer position at a company eventhough I didn’t have a degree for graphic design. (I still feel kinda flattered when I think of it.)

I'm not saying getting formal qualifications for something is a waste of time. Only that a lot of us didn't get to study the actual thing we want to be doing at school. BUT THERE'S STILL HOPE!

All you need to do is to put yourself out there and show that you’re a rocking __(insert title here)__ and you’re THE person people want to hire / pay in a truly A+ portfolio!

So in this email, we’re going to look at the second most important thing that you should put in your A+ portfolio:

Show off your creativity with your Creative Process.

OK, the term “creative process” is somewhat misleading. It’s hard to explain creativity. It’s a product of your thoughts. If you’re a visual person, it’s even harder to put the ‘magic’ into words.

But for your portfolio, what prospective customers and bosses want to see is how you apply creativity to the technical process.

They want to see how you do what you do. Not at the two-hour-documentary level, but this-person-knows-what-she’s-doing level.

I’ll give you an example so we’re on the same page.

Let’s say I’m a cake artist. (Sorry, I have a thing for cakes. If you want me to use other examples next time, let me know!)

My technical process when baking a cake is like this:

  1. Receive inquiry from client for a cake.
  2. Find out client’s needs and objectives. (This is the info-gathering process from the last email!)
  3. Prepare ingredients for cake batter.
  4. Mix ingredients.
  5. Bake cake batter.
  6. Measure and prepare cake frosting.
  7. Frost cake.
  8. Decorate!

How this could look like on my portfolio is something like this:

I got an email from Miss Nurul who wanted a cake for her bestfriend’s birthday party. I sent her a list of questions to find out what kind of cake will suit her party.

Among the questions I asked were:

  • Is there a theme for the party? Or theme colours?
  • What kind of flavours does your friend prefer?
  • Do you want a short cake or a tall cake?

After she replied with answers, I suggested my special Lemon Berry cake because it has wonderful strong flavours and looks great too! She agreed and I got to work.

I got started by preparing the ingredients. Since she wanted a tall, slim cake, I reduced the measurements by ⅓.

(Picture of ingredients)

.....

As you can see, I first explained my Info-Gathering Process by stating the questions that I asked the client.

Then, I wrote about how the client's answers influenced how I carry out the technical process of baking a cake. I explained how I used my creativity to make sure that the client will get the perfect cake for her party!

You don't even need that many words when you have photos. They'll do the talking too! Include as many photos as necessary to guide the reader through your process.

Should you include your Creative Process for EVERY work or project on your portfolio?

YES.

This is what you should put in your portfolio, every. single. time. you bake a new cake. (Or have a new work / project)

  • If the process is the same for every cake, why should I include it for every cake? Won't it be REPETITIVE and BORING?
  • Can’t I just say, “If you want to see me prepare the frosting, go to this other post!”?
  • Can’t I just say, "This is a photo of the cake I just baked. For the full process, go to my firrrrrssssst post. Thanks!"

My answer is NO, NO, and PLS NO.

Don't assume that people WANT and WILL click to other posts that you direct them to. Most people won't bother.

That means that if you don't explain your Info-Gathering Process + Creative Process in that exact post that they're reading, they're going to think that you don't have any process.

So it's safer and wiser to explain your process everytime you update your portfolio.

If people don't see you explain your process, the overall impression that they get from you would be very AVERAGE.

But if you DO explain your process every single time:

  1. You’ll look consistent, i.e. You do certain things the same way so that you achieve the same awesome results for every cake.
  2. You’ll look responsible, i.e. You put in the same effort for every cake.
  3. You’ll build a reputation, i.e. Certain things only YOU do or say will establish your very own personal brand as a cake artist. (More on this in the next email!)

In short, to look like you have some mad skills, you have to show off those mad skills!

I won’t lie, documenting your process in your portfolio needs more effort than just posting a SINGLE photo on social media. But the effort will be so worth it.

You'll build the reputation of being professional and skilled -- exactly the kind of person people want to pay / hire! 😉

We’ll look at how you can maximise your portfolio to build a personal brand next Friday. In the meantime, think about all the creative projects you can do when you’re rich and famous.

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The A+ Portfolio to Wow Clients And Bosses: Your Info-Gathering Process. (Part 1)

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How awesome would it be to one day get an email from a prospective client/boss like this?

Hello [your name]!

My name is [client / boss’ name] and I’m from [business / company/ background info].

I discovered your portfolio and would be interested to hire / commission you to [do something you love to do].

Let me know what you think about the idea. Thanks!

Regards,
[Client/Boss]

This really did happen to me.

I got an email from a company who wanted to hire me as a graphic designer after seeing my portfolio.

While it was a nice ego boost for me (#honest), what got me excited was the fact that YES, people really can make a living from their passion. And by people, I mean YOU.

You just have to put together a portfolio to show prospective clients/bosses how cool you are.

Today we’re going to look at the most important thing for your A+ portfolio, and NO, it’s not your art/work. 😉

 

Do you know what you really need to get paid or hired for your passion?

When I was doing my law degree, I was part of the client consultation team. Client consultation is basically a mock session where a “client” comes to the “legal firm”, dumps their problems on you, and asks for legal advice.

Some clients will ramble on and on and include family drama, love triangles, etc. Some just ask for advice outright without giving any background info.

My job as a “lawyer” at the time was to separate/identify the legal problem from the rest and advise accordingly. At the end of the session, the judges will rate me based on the accuracy of my advice and my ability to explain it to the client.

They’ll also ask the client this: Are you confident with the advice? Will you hire Ms Aina as your lawyer?

So to answer my question: What you really need for you to get paid or be hired is the client's / boss' CONFIDENCE in you.

 

To inspire confidence, you need to show your Info-Gathering Process.

Info-Gathering Process: The process of collecting info relating to the client’s needs and objectives in order to produce the right results.

Before the client / boss puts their money on you, they want to feel confident that you will do the job CORRECTLY.

Can you be trusted? Will you fulfill their request?

Or will you take their money, disappear for a few days/weeks, and reappear with something that they DO NOT want?

These are the questions that are bouncing around in their head. Their confidence has nothing to do with how “creative” or “artsy” you are.

Think about it: If you went to a tailor who you’ve never met before and asked her to sew your baju kurung for you…

...and she goes Uh-huh OK, takes your money and DOESN’T take your measurements…

What would you think? Ah, this is one magical tailor! She knows my measurements just by looking at me!

Heck. No. You’d start to doubt the tailor and her sewing skills. I’d take my fabric back, if I were you.

If you want to be paid/get hired doing something you love, you have to show people that you’re capable of doing the job right. Just like a professional.

Act like a professional, make money like a professional. *drops mic and walks away*

 
By the way, your blog can be your portfolio too! It doesn’t have to be on a portfolio website.
 

How you can show clients / bosses your Info-Gathering Process.

The best way to collect all this information and put your client's / boss' mind at ease is to ask questions.

By asking questions, you can figure out EXACTLY what they want and do the job right. They'll know that the results will be what they wanted, not something that you just throw together.

Here's what you need to do:

  1. Brainstorm as many questions as you can that will tell you about your client’s needs and objectives. For example, apart from taking the client’s measurements, the magical tailor could’ve asked about what kind of baju kurung that she wants, if she wants pockets or not and so on.
  2. Every time you update your portfolio with a new work, include these questions at the very beginning. Put them on your portfolio so that clients / bosses can see. This makes your work appear super thoughtful and full of detail.

How are you supposed to show your work if you don't have any clients yet?

It can be weird to include the Info-Gathering Process in the beginning if your work isn't for any specific person.

But you can make it easier for potential clients / bosses to relate to your work by posting as if it was for an IMAGINARY CLIENT.

I went into more detail in this blog post (How to Build A Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet), but basically, you make up imaginary clients with specific needs and objectives so that your work looks more professional.

Next week, we’re going to look at the second most important thing to include in your A+ portfolio.

P.S. If you need another brain to brainstorm your info-gathering questions with, shoot me an email! 😊

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The A+ Portfolio to Wow Clients And Bosses: My Portfolio Got Me a Job Offer.

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If you're content in your job and consider your passion 'a hobby', please feel free to skip this email.

But if you're even a tiny bit interested in doing something you ADORE for a living -- and make money from it -- stick around! I've got a personal story to share.

From 2014 to early 2015, my dream was to be a graphic designer eventhough I was studying law at the time. More specifically, I wanted to be a food illustrator, because I'm the kind of person that gets hungry just by looking at illustrations of food. 😁

I researched the industry and all the designers that I admired swore that they were able to get big projects and commissions from big clients because they had a portfolio.

And I thought, why not? Setting up a portfolio is free.

 

What's a portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of your work. It shows prospective clients and customers the kind of results that you're capable of producing.

Please don't think that portfolios are only for artists and graphic designers. If you're using creativity in your passion, that means you need a portfolio.

Heck, even lawyers can have a portfolio. They can fill it with their legal opinions!

Then by that definition, wouldn't a social media profile like my Instagram be a portfolio too?

You're 50% correct. Social media profiles are an extension of your portfolio. They're wonderful for letting people find you, but not so great at showing people how great you are at your passion.

Social media platforms paint an incomplete picture because they're LIMITING.

  • Twitter: Character limit
  • Instagram: Only one photo at a time
  • Snapchat: All posts disappear after 24 hours
  • Facebook: Competing with other people's posts

And one of the biggest risks in solely relying on social media as your portfolio is that your profiles don't really belong to you. Your Instagram account is owned by Instagram and your Facebook page is owned by Facebook.

What happens when they decide to change the rules like Instagram just did? Nowadays your home feed shows your followers what Instagram thinks they care about first, not in chronological order.

To protect your work and the reputation you have built with your portfolio, consider putting your work in platforms other than social media as well.

Back to my story. I got a job offer.

I checked my email one day and saw that I received an email from a company who saw my portfolio on Behance. They offered me a job as a full-time graphic designer and invited me to come to an interview as soon as possible.

CRAZY.

You know what's crazy? I didn't even remember I had a portfolio. Something that I created nearly two years got me a job offer TODAY.

And my portfolio only had 10 past projects. Just 10. It wasn't anything fancy. Just a collection of designs that I loved producing and that I explained a little bit on. Didn't even put in that much effort.

I didn't accept the offer because I don't plan to become a designer per se, but let's play a little 'Imagine' game here.

Imagine if I had produced one work every month for the past (nearly) 2 years and put them on my portfolio..........

Imagine if I had explained each of my projects from start to finish, showing prospective clients and bosses that how creative, organized and reliable I am..........

Imagine if I had promoted my portfolio on social media consistently and gave people the link so that they can check out my work themselves..........

Imagine if I had gotten better and better and my reputation starts to grow as a graphic designer.........

Where would I have been now? An okay-but-not-great portfolio got me a job offer, but what would a smashingly great one get me?

I want you to imagine what you can do with your great portfolio. Where you would be in one or two years from now if you start your portfolio today. The kind of job or business you could have if you took the time to build a reputation with your portfolio.

If you want to know what kind of things you should put in your portfolio to make it a great one, don't forget to open my email next Friday. 😉

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How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

Sometimes passion can seize you from the get-go. Sometimes it takes a few tries, a few dead ends before you find it.

Now you’ve found something that you’re 80%-90% sure could be your passion. But you’re the kind of person who wants to take action. Someone who’s not satisfied with daydreams and wishful thinking. You want to live your dreams. So you want to get started today.

But you’re seeing your role models or competitors being bombarded by orders and requests on social media, while it's hard for you to get ONE client.

At this stage, it’s easy to be discouraged by their success and popularity. But the reality is, they started out just like you -- with no clients to buy their product or service. And like you, they wanted to take the first step, and did.

The rest is history (or so people are so fond of saying). Wait, where’s the part where you can replicate and put into action??? They’ve probably mentioned it, but it sounded too vague to be actionable.

“I worked hard and invested my time into learning to sharpen my skill.”

 

You need to create a portfolio.

Yeah, yeah. You know you have to work hard, but to what end? The answer is towards building a great portfolio so that people can see your work. Portfolios aren’t just limited to artists and designers. With any product or service you want to be selling, a portfolio is the best structure for the effort that you will put in.

It doesn’t have to be on a portfolio platform like Behance. Social media accounts and blogs are great alternatives because that’s where other people are. (Be sure to create an account specifically for your portfolio -- don’t mix it with personal stuff!)

In this article, we’re going to show how you can build an awesome portfolio despite having no clients to sell to. Our imaginary friend, Nadia has volunteered to be the example for this post, so read on to find out how she does it!

 
How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants
 

1. Find your niche or specialty.

Do you have a friend who you can describe with just one word and people will instantly know who that is?

That friend probably has one thing about them or something that they always do. For example, Lisa has extremely curly hair. So people call her "Lisa Rambut Kerinting". That's how she's remembered.

It's normal, right?  People actually categorize other people all the time, especially with strangers. So how can you use this fact to create a memorable portfolio?

Action: Do only one thing at a time.

We're not saying you should do only one thing for the rest of your life. But in the beginning, keep things simple for you and other people. Focus on as few products / services as possible.

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

You may think that Nadia is limiting herself too much, but if she only said that:

  • She bakes: A lot of people bake. There's nothing special about that.
  • She makes French desserts: There's many types of French desserts, some of which are incredibly hard to pronounce, much less remember.

Her focusing on only French cakes makes it super easy for people to remember her. In fact, a one-line description is more than enough to get her noticed. Let's compare these two examples of how Nadia might be described by acquaintances:

  • "I know someone who bakes French cakes named Nadia."
  • "I know someone who bakes named Nadia."

Which one stands out more? The mention of “French cakes” is out of the ordinary and specific enough to pique the listener’s interest.

Focusing only on one thing when building your portfolio can also help you develop the skills to be an absolute boss at it. A professional is not a Jack of all trades, Master of none.

 

2. Create imaginary scenarios with imaginary clients.

It’s hard to create a product or perform a service if you don’t know what your objectives are. If there’s no box, how can you think outside of it?

When clients tell you their needs and objectives, they’re essentially giving you the chance to use your skill to solve their problem. You need to show that you're capable of solving the clients' problems.

Action: Create ten complete client profiles.

Look at your product or service and think about the kind of people that would be interested in it. For Nadia, cakes are a regular part of events, so her clients are most likely people who are hosting an event. This is what she created for her client profile:

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

The details are a bit sparse, so let’s add some more so that Nadia will have more material to work with:

  • The client’s dress could be purple.
  • The decorations could be in white and silver.
  • Other dishes served at the wedding could be Ayam Masak Merah and Daging Salai.
  • The wedding could be held in an air-conditioned hall.

Nadia will then have to design and bake a cake that fits with all these details. It’s much more challenging than just baking a cake for nobody. The next client profile could be someone who’s hosting a surprise birthday party for a dear friend. What will her objectives be?

Once you get down to it, creating client profiles is great fun. If you’re running out of ideas, get your friends to suggest details so that you’ll end up with different and interesting (imaginary) clients to work with.

You’ll never know if the next person browsing your portfolio is a potential client who identifies with the client profile. The effort you put in will show that you’d be perfect for the job that potential client had in mind.

Bonus: Eventually, you'll be able to attract the kind of appreciative clients you'd be happy to work with.

 

3. Update your portfolio regularly.

Promise stuff, and then deliver. In time, people are going to look forward to your presence because you’ve always shown up with a new creation. They’ll be sitting around and going “It’s Wednesday – X said she’s going to post today!” Being part of someone’s daily or weekly routine is a powerful thing.

Action: Come up with a schedule for updating your portfolio.

Set down a time where you can show up and show people your work every week, but don’t sabotage yourself by setting unrealistic expectations. If you can only work on your portfolio once a week, then do it once a week. Over time, you can increase the frequency as you’ll be able to do your work more efficiently.

To be even more organized, plan ahead on the types of product or service that you’ll be doing. This way, you can make the necessary preparations like buying ingredients ahead of time. That’s what Nadia does!

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

You can see that she’s repeating the cake in Week 1 for Week 5. Again, this is so that she’ll be able to bake an awesome croquembouche, not just an average one. Practice makes perfect!

Action: Tell people about your schedule.

It’s an ego thing. We break promises to ourselves all the time and don’t lose sleep over it. But what about promises to a big group of people over social media? Now that’s a whole lot harder to break. This is a method used to form habits called ‘accountability’.

If you tell people that you will do X, you'll feel like you HAVE to do X.

If you don’t show up, people will think that you’re not serious about your dreams. That you’re all talk and no walk. Painful, isn’t it? This pain is precisely the thing that will keep you going after the excitement has worn off. Nadia made this announcement using a Facebook status update:

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

Now there’s no going back. Come rain or shine, she made a public commitment and she will have to stick to it (for the better). She'll have to update her portfolio, even if she's feeling lazy!

If you want something a little less hardcore, 3-4 people will work well too. This awesome article on Zenhabit discusses the kind of people that will make suitable accountability partners.

 

4. Write a case study on every work you put out

A case study is a record or a tutorial of how you do things. It's the BEST way to show people that you're a trustworthy expert and that people should buy from you.

Action: Explain every element of the product you created or service you performed.

If you’re someone who guides people (or clients) on how you do stuff, you will always be their favourite. They'll trust you MORE because they can see how much work you put into your product or service.

Let’s see how Nadia explains her creations:

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

She’s explaining why she chose those particular flavours and colour. Similarly, your explanations on your portfolio can be as simple or as detailed as you want!

Nadia can go a little bit deeper by explaining why the berry flavours complement the other dishes. Is it because the sweet and sour taste work well with spicy Malaysian food?

It’s really up to you. If it’s necessary, take the time to explain why you make certain choices or do certain things. If it’s not necessary, keep it simple. Not everything has to be explained in detail.

Nadia can also talk about why she uses a particular technique to mix the cake batter or to make the frosting. People who read her case studies will come back to read more, because she’s being helpful and informative.

Action: Explain every step of your process.

If you want to get clients and collaborate with other businesses, it’s important to show that you have a working process. A working process is like a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP).

Your SOP doesn't have to be complicated. It just needs to be clear to you and other people.

People don't like uncertainty or unpredictability. They want to know that their time, money and energy will be worthwhile when they hire or collaborate with you on anything.

How is this different from the action that we talked about just now?

This action relates to 1) your preparation before starting the work and 2) how you get to know the client’s needs and objectives.

By making sure that the clients' needs and objectives are heard and acknowledged, they will be more likely to feel at ease and trust your judgement.

Nadia said that she has a few steps that she consistently follows before baking a cake:

How to Build A Great Portfolio Even If You Have No Clients Yet by Narrativity Consultants

Figuring out the steps is very much trial and error. Only experience will teach you what steps are crucial and what steps are just for decoration. But in the meantime, take a look at your role models and see how they do their work. Their steps would have been perfected through experience so they will be a helpful place to start.

 

We have a favourite Chinese proverb that goes something like this:

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."

Working on your portfolio doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing kind of adventure. A little goes a long way!

By the end of Month #1 you will already have four new creations to show off. By Month #5, you will have 20. Do the maths and see how rewarding it is to start today. Plan what you're going to do and then just do.

What platform (blog, website or social media) will you use for your portfolio?

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