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Which came first…the clients or the portfolio?

So you’ve decided you’re ready to take the leap and become a web designer, but how exactly do you book clients if you don’t have any work to show them yet?

Sure, you could do some free work for friends and family…

But unless you’re SUPER lucky, I’ll bet those first few clients won’t exactly end up as dreamy projects you’re excited to show off in your portfolio.

Or maybe you’re starting to see inquiries coming through, but when a potential client asks to see your work, all you have to show them are a few projects that you’re glad you’ve done but aren’t exactly excited to do more of…

That’s why today I’ll be showing you how to create a great web design portfolio without any clients!

How to use concept projects to build your web design portfolio

(before you’ve even landed your 1st paying client)

The easiest and best way to build a standout portfolio is to use concept projects!

Concept projects are simply ‘fake’ client projects that you create to show off your skills.

Kind of like if you booked an absolutely perfect client and did your whole process to create a final design for them, but instead of delivering a working website to a paying client, you’re building up your portfolio!

They’re the perfect way to get some examples of your work that are perfectly aligned with your style and let you show off your skills.

And the great thing about using  “fake” clients is that you get so much more control over the project and process!

Let’s say you’re really excited to work with Interior Designers, but you haven’t worked with one before.

A perfect concept project for you would be an interior designer website!

But let’s go a bit deeper…

  • What types of websites are you dreaming of making? 
  • Do you want to show off your fancy coding skills?
  • Are you also a branding or graphic designer and want to showcase your design flair?
  • Or are you loving the idea of creating complex e-commerce sites?

Great! You should definitely show off those skills in your concept project!

You can also use your concept project to test out your client processes!

Loving the idea of the VIP day model?

Challenge yourself to complete your concept project in a day using the same framework you’ll be using for your VIP clients!

Excited about having a streamlined one or two-week process?

Use your concept project to iron out your workflow and create any assets your future clients will need to keep you on track!

Dreaming of crafting fully custom designs?

Let your creativity run wild with a full-blown custom experience for your “fake” client that shows just how high-touch and premium your service really is.

Your concept projects are the perfect playground to try out your methods and processes, without the added stress of waiting for clients or hard deadlines!

Now, I’m pretty sure you’ve already got some ideas buzzing around for your concept project, but…

How do you pick the right projects to show in your web design portfolio

Remember, your portfolio is an asset you’re creating to attract more projects like the ones you’re showing off.

So, curating a compelling portfolio really comes down to two things:

1. Who do you want to work with? And…

2. What type of projects do you want to do more of?

As soon as you have a project that fits both of those criteria, boom! That’s a portfolio piece!

How many concept projects should you create for your web design portfolio?

All in all, you’re aiming for around 3-5 standout projects that are a perfect fit for what you’re looking to do. 

So it doesn’t have to be too much work to create a few showstopping projects to fill out your portfolio and get your business going!

What else should you include in your web design portfolio?

Now, once you’ve picked your top portfolio projects, you’ll need to pull everything together to create your portfolio on your site.

Of course, you’ll definitely want a bunch of beautiful mockups showing off your work…

But just showing a bunch of pictures isn’t exactly going to convince a potential client to work with you…

Especially if you’re still just getting started!

So, if you want to use your portfolio to attract your ideal clients, you’ll also need to walk them through what it’s like to work with you.

I’m talking about showing off that process you’ve been working on and spelling out what it would be like for a client to go through this transformation with you.

Share your reasoning for your design decisions and showcase what kind of designer you are.

This is where you can give people a taste of your aesthetic and style as well as the way you work best!

And just because you’re using a concept project for your portfolio, it doesn’t mean that you need to showcase it any differently.

It’s completely up to you if you want to disclose in your portfolio that this was a concept project.

Or simply decide to display your work alongside any paid client projects without justification or additional explanation.

Whatever feels right to you will be the way to go!

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So, to recap, not having paid clients yet is NO REASON for not having an amazing portfolio!

You can use concept projects for your entire portfolio or they can live alongside your paid client work.

As long as your portfolio is speaking to the right clients and showcasing the right projects, you’re golden!

And in fact, using concept projects even after you’ve booked paying clients can be a great way to book more of the types of projects you’re excited about!

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How to create a web design portfolio with no paying clients