“Are you taking me seriously?”

How to build a winning portfolio and make a name for yourself

BBC’s Top Gear website redesign

The advice for creating a portfolio that will win over potential clients is sheer common sense: only show work you’re really proud of, and keep it simple.

“I’d rather see a portfolio that is made of three strong pieces of work, as opposed to ten mediocre ones,” says Andy Hall of Elastic.

“Make a name for yourself within the first few years of starting,” advises Gareth Howat of Hat-trick. “You need a job that gets you noticed, then use it to the max.”

However, there’s no point putting a huge brand project in your folio without some rationale of your role in that project, according to Nation MD Odin Church. “Similarly, with self-initiated work, we want to know about the journey taken to arrive at the final piece.”

Start and finish with a strong piece, is the advice from Rob O’Connor of Stylorouge. “If you’re presenting your portfolio personally, try and talk through the work anecdotally, keeping your stories quick, memorable and positive.”

Star Wars episode retold in iconoscopes

smashLAB Creative Director Eric Karjaluoto feels you should think of your portfolio as proof, as opposed to a vanity project. “In the plainest fashion possible: describe the problem your client faced, explain how you responded to it, and note what your influence resulted in,” he says.

“The way you frame the situation is as important as the visuals you present. And once you have it all ready to go, sort through it once more and remove the three weakest examples – even if it hurts to do so.”

Agencies and clients don’t have a lot of time to view your work, so simplicity and loading speed is crucial. Illustrator Wayne Dorrington says his most successful portfolio to date has been one where it was just full screenshots of each piece of work (nicely presented) with a title and the means to scroll onto the next. “Give your work as much visual impact as it can, as it’s what your audience wants to see,” he says.

“There’s a huge array of resources out there for creating online portfolios”, says THBOOM! director Alec East. “From Behance, which integrates with LinkedIn, to custom sites and WordPress themes. The trick is really down to making it simple for the audience to understand and view.”

“Can I work for big clients without selling my soul?”

How to maintain your vision and stay true to your ethics

According to senior designer and illustrator at Beyond, London, Wayne Dorrington, the answer to this is yes. “Of course, the bigger the organisation, the more they need to justify their spend and will probably require them to put your work though several levels of approval at their end.”

Wayne’s clients include the likes of American Express, eBay, BBC, Sony Ericsson and Santander. He advises that when you get into negotiations, make sure you ask what their internal process will be, as it may lead to your deciding to work in a different way to be more efficient.

“In my experience, working with small to medium-sized companies is far more work,” says Wayne.  “They want more value for their spend, and make you work for it! But in the end, big company clients look impressive in your portfolio, so will help your status.”

To balance this corporate interest, you can do pro-bono work for charity. However Wayne recommends you should be sensible about the amount of time you spend on it. “Experience in working in any sector may help you win a job further down the line,” he adds.

Designs from Hat-trick’s The Party Pack

When’s the right time to eat the art supplies?

10 money-saving tips for freelancers just starting out

Get a relatively cheap PC. Macs are great but expensive. Avoid Buy Now, Pay Later deals.

If you have your own hosting, there are tons of free and (very cheap) Premium WordPress themes designed for online portfolios.

If you don’t have hosting, services like Behance, deviantART and many others can offer decent portfolio services.

If you’re still technically a student, use cheap student versions of software ***

Work remotely from a country with lower living costs (locationindependent.com/).

Use free online directories, job listings, networking & forums or resources like Dropbox, YouSendIt and Skype.

While you’ll need commercial software such as Adobe’s Creative Suite or QuarkXPress for your work, use free software to run your business. Download Open Office and free phone apps such as ‘Project Timer’ & ‘To Do’ now.

Try presenting work electronically. PDFs, PowerPoint and Keynote save money on printing and time mounting onto boards.

Keep a record of all extra expenses incurred as a result of your client’s requests and remember to bill them, adding a handling charge if you can.

Don’t buy shit you don’t need.