5 Steps to Building a Profitable Portfolio in Your 20s

Published on in Advice / Tips & Tricks

The key to generating income from your creative endeavors is a portfolio that speaks volumes. Your portfolio should not only represent your skill set, but also your passion and dedication to producing quality work. If your portfolio can successfully showcase both your adept skill and extraordinary devotion to your craft, it will, without a doubt, attract the interest you need to make a living. Creating a massively impressive portfolio is no easy task, however, especially for a young professional. If you don’t have decades of experience or dozens of fancy clients, how do you create an exceptional creative portfolio?

Follow these five steps to get on the path to building a profitable portfolio in your 20s:

1. Cut out the Weak
This is the hardest step for young professionals. If you’re in your 20s and just starting out, you may feel like you need to bulk up your portfolio. Don’t make this mistake. Creating a profitable portfolio, one that captivates rather than disappoints, is about presenting high-quality work consistently. This means quality over quantity. Portfolios that land clients are punchy. You want to leave potential clients wanting more. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to do the difficult work of cutting your middling pieces out. 

2. Showcase the Strong
As a general rule, your best piece should be the very first thing people see. You’re going to need to hook your clients from the very start. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing them. You may feel tempted to place your strongest pieces at the end or even intersperse them among other slightly weaker works. According to The Creative Group, you may only have 20 seconds to capture the attention of hiring managers. The same is true for possible clients. 

3. Curate Your Portfolio
Images are always better with context. Write about your process. Write about what inspired you to create it. Talk about anything that could possibly enhance the piece. Was it a technical experiment? Go into depth about why you chose to tackle it, and why you believe it was a success. Was it a project you undertook for a former client? Write about how you positively impacted that client with your work. Don’t be afraid of sounding boastful -- this is your time to shine.

4. Tweak and Refine
Your body of work is a living thing, and your portfolio should reflect the changes within it. After taking some time away from your portfolio, don’t be afraid to revisit and tweak it. Invite friends and family to critique your portfolio. Thoughtfully consider their criticism, and use it constructively. There’s always room for improvement. 

5. Craft a Pithy Bio
For young artists and professionals, writing a biography can be daunting. There’s little experience to draw from. Likely, there isn’t a star-studded list of clients to rattle off, either. In this case, keep it simple. Write about your artistic career up to the present. It’s okay if it’s only a sentence or two, there’s no need to compensate. Do your best to showcase your personality. Most importantly, present yourself as personable and someone easy to work with. 

A truly great portfolio is about quality. While quantity may help, it’s not strictly necessary. Moreover, how you present your artistic pieces is just as important as the pieces themselves. Showing a potential client that you can accurately assess your own work and present that work in a professional, accessible way is crucial. In fact, those factors may take precedence over raw skill. If crafted carefully, your portfolio can illustrate not only your skill but also your personality and professionalism. 

Ultimately, building a portfolio is deeply personal. What comprises a good portfolio is wildly subjective, but there are a few tried-and-true principles that can guide you through the process of creating one. Follow these 5 steps to building a stellar portfolio, keep re-evaluating and refining your work, and you’ll be generating income from your art in no time.

About the Writer 

Dr. Diane Schleier-Keller is a business strategist and finance columnist. She has 3 years of experience in M&A and has been traveling the world to help train entrepreneurs to succeed in their business. You may also connect with her on Twitter.

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