How to Build a Design Portfolio When You Haven’t Had Any Clients


I get it. You’ve started a design business, you’re trying to get clients, and everyone is telling you “You need a Portfolio!” — well, they’re right! Having a good Portfolio is one of the most important things to do if you want to land clients.

Think about it from your potential clients perspective, would YOU hire someone for design when they couldn’t even show you their design? Probably not.

It’s like buying an outfit for an important event without even seeing it first. Or ordering food at a restaurant when you literally have no idea what you’re going to be served (well, that actually might be fun).

The fact of the matter is, no one is going to hire you (for a good price, anyway) without some proof that you know what you’re doing. Not only that, but the potential customer actually has to also like the style of your work, too.

But I understand that it’s frustrating. I started from scratch too!

Jumping into an Online Design business isn’t the easiest thing to do, but the hardest thing in the beginning hands down is securing some clients to get the ball rolling.

Having a great Portfolio is definitely going to help with that.

So today I’m going to give you the breakdown on how I created a Portfolio in the beginning of my design business, without really having any legit clients.

1: Fake it ‘till you make it

Ok, that’s a bit dramatic — technically, this method isn’t “faking” anything, and it’s the perfect way to get some pieces into your portfolio at the very beginning of your business.

When I started my business fresh eyed and bushy tailed I had no clients or even perspective clients. But I didn’t spend my time twiddling my thumbs and waiting for them to come (because that literally doesn’t happen, sorry!).

I spent a lot of my down time designing solely for the sake of building up my portfolio.

I created full brand suites and full website designs literally for no other reason than to add them to my portfolio (and the extra practice is always good!)

That’s right, you can design for no-one and still add it to your portfolio. Technically, it’s still great work produced by you, and you’re showing your potential customers your style and your talents — that’s what a portfolio is for!

Obviously you won’t be getting client testimonials with this technique, or the experience with actually working with clients, but at least you can show off your skills.

You don’t have to add a clients name to the pieces, and if potential clients do ask who the design was for, just be honest and tell them you created it in your own time for experience! (side note, I was never asked once who I created my designs for, because honestly, people don’t care. As long as you can show what you can do, it really doesn’t matter)

I highly recommend treating these designs as a whole client processes, just for fun and experience. Create a fake ‘ideal’ client and a fake job for them that you need to complete. Make sure this fake client is someone that you would actually like to work with, because then these types of portfolio pieces will attract those clients! Or you could even get a friend to “act” as a client, which would be fun too!

2 : Get some clients!

Ok, I know you’re probably thinking, “well duh” — but just stick with me here!

The next step I took after creating my own designs for my portfolio was to actually get some clients. And I don’t mean full-price-paying ideal clients. I mean I did some VERY cheap work for a few people.

This not only helped grow my portfolio, it helped me grow my confidence in actually working with real live people and perfect my systems and processes around my services.

Lots of people don’t agree with this method, but I am SO glad I did it.

It was a great learning experience and the perfect stepping stone into actually working with clients that were paying me much bigger money.

And of course I got some great pieces for my portfolio AND testimonials + referrals this time.

Testimonials and referrals are so important as they can literally be the lifeblood to your business as way to consistently land more clients.

So I encourage you to go out there and find some people who need some cheap or free work. A great place to find them is in Facebook groups or through people you know.

If you are planning to do this, I strongly recommend you are picky about who you take on as a client. You will likely get a lot of responses because, well, people love free or cheap things — so you can afford to be picky. Only take on clients that are aligned with who you want to serve in the future and need the services that you want to offer full-time.

For example, if you want to work with female entrepreneurs creating their brands, don’t take on a male entrepreneur that needs a flyer designed. That’s not going to be very beneficial for your Portfolio or your experience.

And that’s it! After you have done some work for yourself and some work for a few clients, your portfolio will be filling up nicely! There’s are the two techniques I used and they totally got the ball rolling with clients, so go ahead a get designing!


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Having a Portfolio to showcase your work is one of the best ways to get new clients, but what do you do if you’re just starting out and you don’t have any client work to display? Check out this post for my tips on how to create a portfolio when you haven’t had any clients yet | Graphic Design Business Tips by Big Cat Creative | Design, Designer, Freelancer, Graphic Design, Design Business, Online Design Business, Getting Design Clients, Design Tips

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