How to fill your website design portfolio if you don't have clients yet

Let’s face it, most clients along with getting on a call with you WILL check out your portfolio to see your past work. They want to see things like quality, style, ability, and generally that you know what you’re doing and have a reason to charge what you’re asking.

So how do you fill up your portfolio if you’re new, or if you’re switching up services, adding services, or maybe your style has changed over time and you prefer to work with different clients now?

Create a test project.

Here’s how I recommend you approach this. This is not the time to dump every idea you ever had into one project.

You need to be strategic if you’re going to spend your time on this. The time spent on this can and should pay off, so give yourself space and put good effort into it. 

What should you build as a portfolio website project? 

Choose an industry you’re excited about!

Niching by industry isn’t the only way to do things, but it’s often easy to create for a “fake” client if you have an idea of what someone in that industry would want and need. 

Choose a project you’d like to do more of.

If you’ve always worked with Lawn Care companies but you’d like to work with more professionals in the health field, don’t design more lawn care examples for your test project. Start with a therapist, a stylist, nutritionist, etc. 

One great thing to keep in mind here is that you will likely build pieces you can then use on future projects. Especially if you’re using something like Webflow that lets you easily copy and paste between websites.

Start with showing off your current skills. 

Are you really good at blog design? Make sure this design includes a killer blog layout. If you design awesome sales pages that wow clients, make sure this website has a sales page even better than what you’ve already done!

Do something new for you, and challenge yourself.

Sure you could fill this site with things you’re already confident in building and designing. But I’d challenge you to choose small aspects that will challenge you to expand your skills as well. If you’re typically not great at sliders, or complex forms, choose just one or two of these “challenging” or “uncommon” blocks to design and add to this website. This will allow future clients to see more of what you’re capable of instead of the same types of things over and over.

Example: If you’re doing a test site for a food blogger but you’d normally just input a space for a video because you’re not familiar with custom post types, try those out for the recipes this time. 

Creating a test project can be a great use of your time. But you have to go beyond just “building a pretty website.” 

You have to see it as basically building a template for you to pull from, show off, use parts of later, and an all-over skill-building exercise. 

One bonus tip: If you’re still wanting to do some of these things (build skills, try new things out, make sections to pull from) but you’ve got a portfolio you’re pretty happy with already… try recreating a website that you’ve already built in another platform, or rebuild a website that is already live and see if you can recreate it. Clearly, if it’s not yours and you rebuild it for practice don’t put that in your portfolio :) but it would still build your skills for sure! 

You've been looking for the "right way" to design a website.

Lacking some confidence in your design skills? Wanting to start designing websites for clients but not sure where to start?
What if you knew every step (in the right order) to go from idea to development... and clients actually love their final website?

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