How to Build a Portfolio Even If You Have No Work Experience

Your portfolio is a section in your Upwork profile where you can showcase your body of work. It’s a great visual of your accomplished projects that your potential clients will see.

Building your portfolio looks great in your profile and helps you stand apart from the competition.

Unfortunately, it’s an underutilized section by many freelancers, not because they don’t know it exists, but because they feel they don’t have anything to add. However, there are many ways freelancers can maximize this section in their profile.

The good news is that the under-utilization of the portfolio section is actually not a bad thing. It’s great that not many freelancers use it because it gives you a great opportunity to stand out!

Why should you build a portfolio?

  • It’s easy to make if you don’t have one yet. You don’t need to have completed work it. More on this below.
  • It’s easy to consume. Your potential clients don’t have to spend a lot of time to review it, especially if you use a thumbnail. They might not even review it thoroughly, but simply having thumbnails in the portfolio section of your profile makes a big difference.
  • It helps you establish authority and competence.

Portfolio items complement your profile in an elegant way. It’s the most visual part of your profile and serves as a break from all the texts in your profile.

Here, I try to showcase my writing ability by adding two blog posts I authored. You’ll see that I used thumbnails here and that it’s pleasing to look at.

Let’s talk about some guidelines for you to keep in mind when adding portfolio items.

  • Be very selective. Avoid crowding your profile with too many portfolio items. Keep in mind when it comes to building a profile that stands out, less is more!
  • Keep your portfolio updated. This is particularly important if you experiment with various niches. Only keep the most relevant portfolio items.
  • When you can, link items to past contracts whenever possible. When you do so, Upwork will automatically email your client, and if they don’t respond in 3 business days, Upwork will approve the portfolio item.
  • Ensure that it’s visually appealing. You can do this by using thumbnails.
  • NOTE: Posting contact info (e.g., email address, phone number or chat ID) is against Upwork policies.

Now you’re ready to start adding portfolio items, but what should you add?

Let me show you some options. (To give credit where credit is due, most of the options here I’ve learned from one of Upwork’s exclusive webinars.)

1. Snippets or Excerpts

A snippet or excerpt is simply a small piece of a project or an unfinished piece of work. This is a great option for beginners as it’s easy to make and is still delivers the same impact as completed work.

2. Critique or Reviews

Have you ever seen video reviews of incoming gadgets and gizmos on Youtube? Well, you can do that too, but instead of reviewing the latest iPhone, try making a screen recording critiquing someone’s work, or someone’s website or app to show your knowledge.

3. Screenshots

If you already have done some work outside of Upwork, you may take screenshots and add them to your portfolio. Screenshots provide a great visual to your potential clients and are easy to consume.

You may take screenshots of social media posts that have good engagement rates, websites you helped designed, spreadsheets you organized, etc.

4. Case Studies

You may also use case studies for your portfolio. Create a short story about someone you’ve helped. It does not have to be a paying client — it can be a friend or relative.

Maybe you’ve helped someone create an eBook, edit a photo or a video, or build a website from scratch.

5. Results or Testimonials

Another option is to use results or testimonials. Just like case studies, these don’t need to come from previous clients. It can come from a colleague or even a friend.

A good example of results would be creating a Facebook post with a huge engagement. Be sure to make it visually appealing so it looks good in your portfolio.

6. School or Work Projects

The last thing you may add to your portfolio would be school or work projects.

When I started freelancing in Upwork, I used my college essays and research papers in my portfolio. This helped me land jobs as a health writer, academic writer, and market researcher.

Take action now!

  • Collect everything you’ve made - school essays, research papers, articles, past projects, etc.
  • Digitize your work. Type your written essay into a Word doc or take a photo of your prototype and attach it to your portfolio.
  • Don’t have anything? Create one! Write a snippet or excerpt, or record a product review from scratch.
  • Feeling lazy? Ask a testimonial from a colleague or a previous employer.
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