Is your website portfolio hurting your business?

Blog Audio: Read/listen time: 8 minutes

In a departure from the regular ‘how-to’ kind of blog posts that I write, I thought that I would (for a change) cover something about website content.

  1. Do you use your website to generate sales or enquiries?
  2. Do you have a portfolio on your website?

Today we discuss:

Why might you generate better enquiries WITHOUT a portfolio on your website?

A bit of a provocative question? Perhaps, but bear with me for a moment.

Let’s clear this up now. In a vast number of cases, possibly yours too, portfolios are a good thing. However, for businesses like mine (and possibly yours) which work with a wide variety of client types and produce a wide variety of output types a portfolio can be directly harmful to both the number and type of enquiries generated by the website.

Portfolios tend to generate more of the same

You may be thinking “excellent” and if that is the case, then don’t let me waste any more of your time. However, if you or your business have multiple client types rather than a highly targeted narrow client base your portfolio might be losing you enquiries or attracting clients which don’t match your future goals.

If you have largely worked for small businesses and sole traders but want to move towards a different client base made up of say, legal professionals, your portfolio may be slowing you down or potentially even stopping you from reaching your goals.

Essentially your portfolio may keep you continuing down a path that you want to deviate from. It develops a life of its own filtering out opportunities that you may have wanted to take.

‘Cliques’ but not of the conversion kind

People tend to be drawn to those that are similar to them. Similar traits make people feel more comfortable with each other as it reduces risk, reduces the chance of surprises and also simply takes less effort to communicate.

If you were looking for a contractor for work, would you pick someone with a history of working for people just like you or a contractor that appeared to do an unrelated kind of work?

The work you display in a portfolio will likely be what you consider your best work but is it the kind of work you want to generate more of? Human nature is going to deliver you more of the same so quite honestly if you have a wide client base you may be better off not displaying a portfolio at all.

How to turn a lack of portfolio into a hook for the right kind of client

People are suspicious animals. If you don’t display a portfolio there can be the immediate assumption that:

  • you are inexperienced
  • you are likely bad at your job
  • you have ‘just started out’
  • all of the above

The reality is though that there are many reasons why you may not display a portfolio:

  • You white label work for other agencies and designers and it would be damaging to your relationships to reveal you did the work
  • You signed agreements or NDA (non-disclosure agreements) that prohibit you from revealing the work you did
  • You don’t want your company to be linked to the client for negative publicity reasons
  • You may not have done the visible design work for the project
  • The projects may no longer be live to ‘show’
  • You don’t frequently edit your site and are unlikely to keep your portfolio up to date

The key is to ensure that you carry out some objection handling so that answer any worries the potential client may have before they fully form.

If you white label for others and cant reveal work, say so. If you work under NDA, say so.

Communicate in your content that you have a portfolio of work and that you will be happy to send any prospective client a list of ‘recent’ work that you have carried out on the basis that they will be discreet. To do this I normally agree with my agency clients on a shortlist of works that I can show people on a one-to-one basis but which I wouldn’t widely publish online so as to not cause any embarrassment. Most agencies who employ a freelancer to carry out works don’t tell the client that they are doing this.

Respond to enquiries in a way that makes you the solution

The reality is that potfolios are lazy. Portfolios are impersonal and put the burden on the client to carry out work to assess you.

If a prospect contacts you and asks why you don’t have a portfolio, or if they contact you because you said you could show them some work, do so. Make sure however that you do your homework to find out what kind of business the prospect runs. When you have a firm idea of what the project is going to be, simply return a tailored list of previous projects that match that client’s industry or sector.

Such an approach really does work because:

  • it is personal
  • it is tailored
  • it starts a conversation offline

If you don’t have a perfect match in your history of completed works to show the client, try and look for a common denominator between what the prospect is telling you about and another project you have completed. The work may have been for a different type of client, or in a different field but if it has a common issue or goal then you can talk about how you solved that issue.

Often a prospect will dismiss portfolio work based on industry or client type which actually would, with closer examination, show that you can solve their problem efficiently.

Why don’t I use a portfolio?

For every enquiry I do not get because I don’t have a visible portfolio I get an enquiry that I wouldn’t have got with a wide unfocused portfolio. Allowing potential clients to view your online portfolio means that you aren’t there to explain your involvement fully. It is very easy for a client to misunderstand your role in a project, even if you include explanations alongside any links and images. The client may not know that you built the project to another person’s design, or that you only got involved on a particular component of the project. You will always convert more leads to sales if you are the one talking to the client about the project, explaining how you added value and how you can do the same for the prospect.

When I respond to a lead I respond with a positive tailored list of prior work which resonates with that client and the kind of work they are looking to complete. I really do believe that responding to a client in that way opens up early communication and helps you see if you are a good fit personality-wise.

Most jobs are won because a client thinks that you will complement them well in terms of skills, that they get on with you and that they trust you. The portfolio becomes less and less important the longer your offline conversation continues.

I firmly believe that I have lost more work from having a portfolio than I have lost enquiries from not having one. For me, the lack of a portfolio is an opportunity.

Are portfolios bad?

No of course not, when carefully focused and curated they can be a huge benefit but do be open to the fact that a portfolio is not always appropriate or helping your business get to its destination. For many of us, a visual portfolio does not allow us to effectively showcase how we can help our clients. That comes from engaging and having a focused discussion offline.

The assisted portfolio ( a compromise )

For many, the thought of not having a portfolio is unbearable. The joy of having a website is that you and I can use whatever approach works for us. If you arent comfortable with abandoning a portfolio entirely there are many compromises that you can make to try and get the best out of the content you do already have online.

You could:

  • Use a portfolio page that allows clients to filter your projects by type, function or industry
  • Have one detailed project deep dive and encourage visitors to contact you to learn about other works you have completed
  • Explain your methods and then apply those methods to a hypothetical project to show your approach
  • Use video content of yourself explaining why you don’t have projects on your portfolio page and encourage a conversation to take place
  • Have a form on your portfolio page that allows visitors to contact you in order to receive a tailored list of projects you have completed that relate to their industry or project goals.

If you want to talk about this in more depth feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to discuss ways of helping your business reach its goals. Contact me directly on 01903 527927. Thanks for your time.