How to Create a Web Design Portfolio With No Job Experience

Building a web design portfolio can feel like a daunting task but not anymore! We’re going to look at 13 options for creating a web design portfolio with no experience and no clients.

#1 Work for Free

One of the most common options you’ve likely heard about to build your web design portfolio is to work for free. This is partly because brand new web designers are not confident in the value they can offer and also because it feels as though finding someone to take you up on a free offer is going to be a lot easier.

Now there are definitely pros and cons to this option to consider.  To start off, working with a business for free dramatically reduces the amount of pressure you may put on yourself that you may experience when you are charging a client. This will allow you to provide value and increase your self-confidence.

There are definitely some things to consider if you want to go this route. First I would encourage you to explore some of the options below and in the next section I’m going to share some specific tips that will help make your time spent doing free work worthwhile.

2. Work for a Discount

Alternatively to working for free you can consider offering businesses a discount on your work. What this discount is, is entirely up to you. Let’s say you offer a 50% discount. Now you can create an offer of what service you will provide, what the discount will be and the limited number of businesses you will offer this to. What this does is create a bit of scarcity to help clients that may otherwise be doubtful, want to participate because they know they will miss out if they don’t jump on the opportunity.

By working for a discount, you still are paid for your work at the same time that you are building your portfolio.

3. Work for Full Price

Many web designers hesitate to charge full price for their work when they first get started. This is often because they’ve told themselves no one will pay full price if they don’t have a portfolio and there are lots of people giving me advice to work for free to get started.

The truth is a portfolio is actually not required in order to land a full price web design client. Yet if you don’t believe this, you will not even attempt to find a client who will pay you what you’re asking without a discount.

Worst case scenarios are unlikely to happen.  I find most web designers really care about providing excellent results for their clients which means even if they don’t know exactly how to do something they will work really hard to figure it out in order to please the client and to be able to add the project to their portfolio.

But let’s pretend for a moment the worst case scenario did happen and you are unable to determine how to make the project work as you expected. You can simply refund the client’s money, later determine what went wrong, how you can improve for the next client and then move on to the next.

4. Fake Projects

Another option is to use fake projects. This simply means you make up a project, create the website and add it to your portfolio. Now these fake projects are intended to look real and represent what a future client can expect to receive when they work with you.

There are different ways to display this work depending on the amount of work you want to do. For example, you can simply create the design in Photoshop and add a screenshot of it to your website portfolio.  If you want to make the work look even more real, you can purchase a domain, hosting and create an actual live website to display.

This doesn’t mean you need to lie to a potential client about your portfolio if they ask but it does help them better understand what to expect and what your abilities are.

5. Build Concept Sites

A concept site is simply taking an existing, popular website and considering if you were given the job how you would go about improving the website. Then you would create the mock-up of the website, display the before and after pictures of your work along with an explanation of what went into the work and what your thought process was for changing key elements.

Concept sites can really set you apart as they not only display your web design abilities, they also allow potential clients to see the amount of thought that goes into your work and how you make specific design decisions.

6. Specific Community Participation

When you know who your ideal client is, you can start looking for some specific online communities where these types of people spend time. This will allow you to provide resources to that community, contribute to conversations and add value where you can.

This technique can work well as people will start to recognize the value. When they have questions they want to go to the person who provides that value and knows what they are talking about.

 This is not a technique that will work if you are doing a lot of self-promotion. Rather simply not selling and focusing on how you can add value is actually what will sell people on working with you.

7. Offer Website Maintenance

As web designers we often want to start with a full web design project. When you’re first getting started an option is to work with clients who don’t necessarily need a brand new website or a website redesign but simply need their websites maintained. Perhaps they have:

  • an error on their website
  • content to add
  • a slow running website
  • a website that isn’t secure
  • or several other types of work that could fall under website maintenance

By providing the service you are also at the same time building trust with this particular client so when they need additional work and bigger projects they’re going to come to you.  Since they know you, have worked with you and trust you they’re just going to ask you to do the work and many will not look for your portfolio.

8. Offer Work Around a Specific Theme

It’s easy to want to do what most web designers do and just offer any web design service you can to any type of company.  At the same time this makes your work look the same as everyone elses.

So if you want to jump start your work, consider only working with websites who use a particular theme like Divi, Thrive Themes, Elementor or Visual Composer.

Then you can combine some of the ideas we’ve already covered and jump into communities that specifically talk about these themes and page builders to add value. Your offer can be to help maintain these websites and this can also lead to additional work as well as people who want someone to help build their sight on a particular theme coming from within these communities.

9. Take a Class

If you’re not sure who you serve and you just want to try some projects, build your skills and confidence, take a class. Many web design classes have a project or at least walk you through a step-by-step process that you can follow as you go.  By the end of the class you will have learned some additional skills, received some new tips and insights and most importantly you will have a completed project you can add to your portfolio.

10. Personal Projects

Do you have any personal projects going on such as a side hobby that you can build a website for? This is a great way to do something you love at the same time building a site you can add to a portfolio.

Likewise, look at your current employer or even a past employer. Is there any web work that they need that you could use to build your portfolio while helping them out?

11. Volunteer

Volunteering your services is always an option. Now this is similar as the work for free option that we covered above, however, in this case you would be volunteering for a nonprofit organization that needs help.

There are many nonprofit organizations that can absolutely afford to pay full price for web design services and allot money in their annual budget to do so. At the same time there are many organizations that may be just getting started or operate with a full volunteer staff that does not have the funds. This would be an opportunity for you to offer your services for a cause you care about, give back to a community and build your portfolio.

Someone design companies who do not regularly serve nonprofit organizations still help one to two of these organizations per year to demonstrate to other clients who do pay full price that they give back to their community and support good causes. This is a bit of a way to build trust with potential clients as well.

12. Barter

Have you ever considered bartering your services? The next time you need a service, instead of paying for that service, you work with a company who is in need of a website. They provide you the service you need and you provide them with a website both at no cost.

Let’s say you need new flooring in your house, your front yard landscaped or something else around the house. You can offer to create a website for one of these companies in exchange for them coming out to do the work for you. This can also work with tangible products as well (assuming the value is high enough of course).

13. Other Contributions

Another option altogether is to use what you already have that isn’t a website but that demonstrates your interest in and time spent learning about web design.

So think of any relevant awards or certificates you have received, links to articles you have written for the web design community, sites you have contributed to or other previous relevant experience you may have. 

6 Success Tips for Building a Web Design Portfolio

Building a portfolio can take a lot of work so you want to make sure that the time you spend building your portfolio is going to help you attract the clients you want. So let’s look at a handful of tips that will help you maximize the time you spend building a web design portfolio.

1. Projects represent the types of clients you want to work with

Make sure the first clients you work with represent the types of clients you want to work with when you are more established.

Before starting to build a web design portfolio, think about the types of clients that you want to serve. Think for a moment who are the clients you would love to work with. Are they in a particular industry? Do they have a particular budget? Where would they spend their time?  How long have they been in business? What problems do they have that you could help solve?

Once you have a better understanding of this you want to make sure that any time you spend building sites for your portfolio using any of the options we’ve covered here, are going to represent the types of clients you want to attract. So if you want to create websites for clients using Divi or you want to serve pool builders, ask yourself does my portfolio represent the types of client I want to work with?

2. Sign a contract just like you normall would

Sign a contract with clients for all services regardless of how much is being paid or not being paid. if you are offering services for free, at a discount or even bartering your services, make sure that you write down and have both parties sign the agreement as to what is going to be done. Treat this just like a regular project so both parties are clear as to what is expected.

3. Give VIP treatment

The work you do and the clients you serve, even if you offer your services for free or at a discount, treat the client as if he or she is the highest paying client ever.

By doing so you are going to focus highly on the results, you are going to provide a good client experience and both you and the client will benefit from this work.

When you offer services for free or at a discount it is easy to drag out the project, become less interested and less motivated. What you will end up with is a not happy client and a project you aren’t excited to add to your portfolio. 

4. Don’t agree to discount or work for free without this…

If you do decide to work for free or at a discount make sure you ask for a testimonial, review or better yet…to use the client project as a case study you can show to future potential clients. Doing this up front makes sure the client understands what they are signing up for and what the expectations are since you are offering them a special deal.

Remember, while you can say you are great, there is nothing better than having a case study or having another person (that is not you!) say you’re great. Believe me, that goes a lot farther.

5. Only showcase your bestwork

Only add your very best work to your portfolio. Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest portfolio item. 

6. Forget what everyone else is doing

Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, saying and trying desperately to find the “best” option here.  Pick how you are going to build your web design portfolio today, commit to it and start working on building your portfolio. That’s how you’re going to build your portfolio the fastest so you can move on to building your web design business. 

What option will you use to build your web design portfolio?

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