How to showcase your work

You can tell clients that you’re brilliant, but to convince them, show them.  It could be anything from a list of your clients to a multi-widgeted interactive portfolio extravaganza.  Regardless, when you show your work, you do two things.

You give social proof

I covered social-proof in detail before, but to recap: when people are faced with a decision, they use other people’s experience as evidence. Here, it’s who you’ve worked with that matters.

You can go for the aura of the big-name association (‘Steve Jobs has us on his speed dial. Still.’).

You don’t have to play the big name game, though. It’s just as effective to work your niche. You can pursue the sense of reassurance that new clients get when they see you’ve worked with their people.  If your niche is ‘pensioners wanting to use Facebook’, then feature those pensioners.

In a handful of cases, your clients may have reservations about being named in public.  I’ve covered this scenario in detail here.

You demonstrate quality

Your showcase demonstrates quality. Here, it’s the work that counts. Letting people ‘see’ your work creates an immediacy that they respond to more instinctively than most marketing copy.  People can see your quality for themselves.

Sometimes you demonstrate quality through a visual showcase.  Photos of bathrooms you’ve renovated.  Websites you built. Newly buffed-up clients.

What if you’re a coach or a consultant?  Here, what you do probably can’t be tied up into a visual.  Instead, you can show your work through story-telling.  Write up a case study that puts readers in the picture. Describe where your clients were at when you started, and what difference you made.

What to include

If you’re going to showcase your work, here are the elements at your disposal.

Essential: the name of the client.  

This seems like an absolute no-brainer, but I see violations of this principle all the time.  And design agencies are repeat offenders.  Case in point:  ZOO advertising. The following is from their portfolio page. Note the images with no identifying details.

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ZOO are a multi-million dollar agency, so they are in no way losing sleep over this blog post.  They’re going to be okay.  But unless they’ve created their own zone in the time-space continuum where the normal rules of web marketing don’t apply, this tactic isn’t working for them.  It relies on the reader to immediately know what that cropped image means.  Who the client is.  What was done for them.  It’s expecting the visitor to do the work.

Useful: everything else

As long as you’ve named the client, everything else is gravy:

These other elements can be mixed and matched to taste. Find the right combination for your site.  I’ll often encourage clients to include logos of major customers on their homepage for immediate impact, with a more detailed run-through deeper in the site.

Multi-widgeted interactive portfolio extravaganzas: a word of caution

If you do decide to run with an interactive portfolio:  don’t make it too fiddly.

I often see portfolio pages which suffer from featuritis.  The developer/site owner are wowed  by the level of interactivity. The client is left wondering, ‘so how do I drive this thing?’

Here’s an example from Sydney web designers Digerati Solutions.  

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Coming at this from a user’s perspective, a few questions sprang to mind:

  • The budget tab is broken up by small, medium and large.  I have $5,000 to spend.  Where does that fit?
  • The ‘functions’ feel more like features to me.
  • Why are you telling me which office did what?
  • What did the job involve? (Text springs up when you hover over each item, but unless you stumble across this function, you won’t know it’s there)

A better approach for this site would’ve been to break up their work by sector. It’s easier for visitors to jump straight to the crucial stuff, like ‘how have they helped people like me?’

If you’re tempted to jump onto a portfolio showcase widget that whirrs and buzzes, come back to the purpose:  showing who you’ve worked with, and how you helped them.

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