How to Build Your Portfolio With Little or No Experience

When you decide to go into freelance or consulting work, it’s generally a good idea to develop a strong professional portfolio that showcases your talents or expertise. But, what do you do if you’re fresh out of college or changing careers, and you don’t have much, if any, experience? Here are five things you can do to start filling your portfolio, no matter how much experience you have:

1. Offer to do free work for non-profit organizations.

Maybe you know a local non-profit group that could benefit from your expertise, such as needing a new brochure designed, needing help with a PR or marketing campaign, or needing legal or tax advice. While you won’t get paid, you’ll gain strong, results-driven, portfolio pieces. And who knows? If the organization likes your work enough, maybe they’ll hire you in the future and become a regular client.

2. Do work for people you know.

These can be paid or unpaid assignments, but if you know someone who runs their own business, and they already know and trust you, chances are, you’ll get a good portfolio piece and a great reference out of the deal.

3. Create portfolio pieces for your own business.

Since you’re just starting out, you’ll likely need your own promotional materials, logo, web site, marketing plan, or any service that you’re planning to offer, yourself! It’s not an ideal portfolio piece, but it still gives you a chance to showcase your talents.

4. Write articles, give seminars, or get mentioned in the media.

Your portfolio can show more than your design work, client lists, and sample consulting plans or results. You can also demonstrate your expertise by getting press mentions in your local or national media, write articles, or include transcripts or slides from seminars you’ve given. Remember that the main purpose of your portfolio is just to show that you’re an expert in your field.

5. Include mockups or “fake” pieces.

As a last resort, create some samples that you don’t intend to show anyone outside of your portfolio. Use a company you’re not working for as an example, and redesign things that you think are weak, write up fake proposals, reports, or other documents that you think would showcase your abilities. Just use these sparingly, and don’t create a whole portfolio of mockups.

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