Have you ever wondered why you need to have your own portfolio website? If you’re a designer, why not just use Dribbble or Behance? What’s wrong with using hosted platforms that let you create a profile and upload your work?
Freelancers often resort to using Instagram, Pinterest, Dribbble, Behance, or even Facebook for their online portfolios. Others forgo portfolios entirely and use job board websites like UpWork or FreeUp.
Then they wonder why they can’t find enough freelance clients or aren’t making enough money to earn a living… 🤔
Here’s the problem with freelance job board websites:
✅ Freelancers want long-term, sustainable income from high-quality clients.
❌ Clients who use job board websites (usually) want fast, low-cost work.
That makes it difficult to succeed as a full-time freelancer using job boards. So while these websites might be popular and easy to use, I don’t think they should serve as replacements for your own personal portfolio website.
They don’t improve your online visibility, rarely offer customization, and don’t provide a compelling experience for prospective clients. In short, they don’t help you stand out and don’t give clients enough reasons to hire you.
There’s no downside. Having your own website can only increase your online visibility and help you attract more clients. With the easy-to-use website-building tools you have access to today, there’s really no excuse not to have one of your own.
Here are a few important reasons why I think it’s important to have your own portfolio website regardless of your industry:
It’s true that hosted portfolio platforms like Dribbble, Behance, or UpWork help clients find you. But that’s only true if they’re already searching on that platform. That’s problematic because the overwhelming majority of clients looking for freelancers don’t start there — they start on Google.
A hosted portfolio on a shared platform won’t help you become more visible or rank higher on Google because you’re profile is competing with other profiles, a blog, and all the other brand pages under that domain name (dribbble.com, upwork.com, etc).
You might be able to easily create a beautiful portfolio, but it won’t necessarily help clients find you. In fact, it might bury you and your work amidst thousands of other profiles. The more visibility you can give yourself online, the more clients you’ll get.
When your only portfolio is on a hosted platform, you don’t have any control over the way it looks. If the platform makes a design update you don’t like, you’ll have to deal with it. Sure, they may offer some customization, but it may not always meet your needs.
Having your own website gives you full control of your design, content, and domain. You can adapt it to your growing freelance business, tailor the messaging to your specific clients, write about your services, leverage a blog, and create a custom contact form. You won’t need to comply with their platform guidelines either.
Dribbble and Behance might be great ways to showcase your work, but an effective portfolio website is much more than a grid of images. If you’re serious about treating yourself like a business, you need to, at minimum, include a home page, services page, project detail page(s), and contact page. This content is collectively what helps clients make the decision to hire you and see you as a valued business partner.
While some freelance portfolio platforms are free, others actually take a % cut of your income. For example, UpWork takes 20% of your payments on every new project under $500. The Envato Marketplace charges up to 45% on a sliding scale for work you sell on their platform. In other words, the more you sell, the lower your fee.
Dribbble is invite-only and charges up to $180/year for a pro account (with access to their freelance project board).
In fairness, they’re bringing you clients and helping you manage the project, so the fees aren’t unreasonable. The biggest issue is that you’re competing against thousands of others based on platform pricing and rates. That puts a limit on your earning potential and the nature of the platform encourages clients to pick the cheapest option, not necessarily the best option.
Can you make a living on websites like UpWork? Absolutely. I personally know people who’ve made $50k/year on similar platforms, but it’s extremely rare and challenging to achieve that kind of success.
While it’s unlikely, if Dribbble, Behance, UpWork, or Envato ever shut their platforms down, you would no longer have a portfolio or access to paid work. You’d be starting at square one and would likely need to get regular job to supplement your income.
Your entire method of attracting clients could crumble depending on how heavily you relied on that platform. Again, this is unlikely, but why take the risk? Why rely entirely on a third-party platform for your only source of income?
When you have your own website, you have full control of it’s existence as well as the content.
I touched on this in point #2, but if you’re serious about succeeding as a full-time freelancer, you need to have more than just a portfolio website. You need a business website that can grow and evolve with you over time. You can expect clients to contact you just because you show a nice grid of work.
If you want clients to hire you, you have to connect the dots for them. You have to draw them in on your home page, then demonstrate not only the quality of your work, but also the value you’re able to provide, what services you offer, and an enticing way for them to move forward (call to action, such as “Start Your Project Today”).
Back in 2014, I had a standard design portfolio website. It showed my work, resume, experience, and had a contact button. But I didn’t get many freelance clients even though my work and experience was solid because the website was SO focused on me and what I thought was cool at the time:
It wasn’t until I started thinking from the perspective of a client that I realized how dreadfully inadequate my website was. As a client with a project in mind, I want to see and read about WHY you’re the right person for the job. I need to feel confident that contacting you about the project will be a good use of my time. I want to know about your pricing, timeline, approach, and what to expect when working with you.
A grid of images simply won’t accomplish that. You need to expand your website to include more business-oriented pages if you want to attract more clients.
After redesigning my website in 2015 from this perspective, my SEO, conversions, clients, and sales all skyrocketed.
Looking at these two websites, which do you think is more attractive to a potential freelance client? Which would make them feel more confident about the freelancer? Which speaks to them more effectively? The answer is clear!
No! It’s not wrong to use job board websites. In fact, they can be a great starting point for many new freelancers. More recently, I’ve seen high-quality job board websites that aim to break this mold ($5k, $10k, and $25k projects), but the point is, job board websites put your fate in someone else’s hands. You also need to have your own website and work on ATTRACTING clients to your business.
It’s important to understand the disadvantages of job board sites so you don’t get stuck wondering why you’re struggling in the long-term. It’s very difficult to establish sustainable growth and success as a freelancer when you’re competing on price with clients looking for a bargain.
It’s difficult to establish sustainable growth and success as a freelancer when you’re competing on price with clients looking for a bargain.
What should you do instead?
Using pre-made website builders such as Wix, Squarespace, WordPress, or Webflow are perfectly acceptable solutions, especially if you’re not a designer or developer. Why? Because those are platforms that enable you to create your own website, not platforms that show your profile among thousands of others.
If you want to have complete control of your freelance business, you should invest in creating and maintaining your own portfolio/business website. Your website should become a valuable business tool that you use to attract clients, weed out the bad ones, and help the good ones contact you.
When you make your portfolio website a key part of your sales process, you’ll be in a better position to grow as a business — something you can’t do by chasing after paid work on other platforms.
Last updated on May 25th, 2020
About Matt Olpinski
Matt runs his own web design and development company Matthew’s Design Co. and teaches thousands of freelancers how to succeed through his personal blog, newsletter, and community for freelancers — The Freelance Institute.