Building a portfolio that wins you the work you want

Building a portfolio that wins you the work you want

Does your portfolio attract the right kind of clients? Is your portfolio reflective of your current skill set, or is it outdated? These are questions I want you to consider as you read today's guest post by Hannah.

Hannah is part of Ditto, a creative design and branding agency based here in the UK, and her and the Ditto team have pah-lenty of experience in building a portfolio that attracts the right clients with the right budget. Read on to learn how they created such a successful, money-making, client-getting portfolio!

Nesha xo



If there’s one thing that’s made winning business immeasurably easier for our branding agency, it’s been developing a portfolio that plays to our strengths and showcases our signature style.

People come to us at Ditto knowing exactly what to expect, and are much, much easier to convert into paying clients since they’ve seen a portfolio full of work that they already love. It gets them excited to work with us and fills them with confidence, overcoming much of the decision-halting anxiety that often plays a part when shopping for a designer (will they understand me? What if they show me something that I don’t like?).

It wasn’t always this way.

Around three years ago, we were a fairly generic design agency that undertook pretty much any work from anybody. We did branding projects, sure – but we’d also do plenty of one-off projects with tiny profit margins. Most of our clients were super-local; we’d design business cards, flyers – even bus timetables. We made money, but business was frustrating and getting clients on board felt like wading through treacle. Uphill. In a snowstorm.

My Step By Step Web & Graphic Design Process

My Step By Step Web & Graphic Design Process

Sometimes, designers, artists and makers like to create freely and not follow a system. 

If you're painting something for your bedroom wall then sure, go ahead. Don't stick to a process, just go with the flow!

But if you're running a business and working with clients, you need a process. 

WITHOUT a clever design process in place:

  • Clients become confused because they don't know what's coming up next or what their designer needs from them.
  • The projects goes on much longer than the designer anticipated.
  • The client gets frustrated with the designer.
  • The designer becomes frustrated with his/her work and kiiiiinda wishes they were back at their day job.
  • The client never works with the designer again because the whole process was exhausting and unorganized.

5 ways to make an emotional connection with your target market

I have one word for you... BRANDING! I cannot stress how important branding is when it comes to your business. Your brand is what people think of when they hear your brand name, what people feel when they think of you, visit your website or hire you.  What I've learnt overtime of having my own business is we have to make an emotional connection through our brands and our website presence. Learn 5 simple steps of connecting with your audience by clicking on this pin now! #Target Market #Design #Business #Freelance #Marketing


That word is thrown around the blogsphere a lot these days, but many people misunderstand what it means. Some people think branding is just a visual brand identity made up of a logo, color palette and type combinations. But that's only a part of what your brand truly is.

'Branding demands commitment... Striking chords with people to stir their emotions.' - Sir Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin.
'Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room.' - Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon.

There are so many ways to define branding, but I like to think of it like this: your brand is what people think of when they hear your brand name. It's how people feel when they think of you, visit your website, hire you, learn from you or walk into your shop.

How your brand makes someone feel can often be the difference between booking a client or losing them to a competitor. {Click to tweet}

Clients and consumers are almost always willing to pay more to the brand that makes them feel something, and that should always be your brand. {Click to tweet}

Story time

Last year I went shopping for a leather jacket. I looked in standard high street shops like Topshop and found decent jackets for £40-80. These jackets were perfectly adequate. Even though they weren't real leather, they looked great!

But then I walked into Allsaints. Ah, Allsaints. The shop front is distressed and rustic, and the inside of the shop has vintage mannequins everywhere, red-brick walls, copper and steel furnishings and the coolest-looking staff you will ever see. You feel sexy when you walk into Allsaints. You don't care that their leather jackets cost £300+ because they make you feel like a badass that just walked right out of a Fast & Furious movie when you're wearing one.

My point?

I splashed £300 on a leather jacket when I could have purchased a similar jacket, albeit fake leather, for 1/5 of the price. I purchased from Allsaints because of the way they made me feel. I wasn't shopping for a leather jacket that day, I was shopping for a feeling. Allsaints gave that to me.

Nowadays we're bombarded with brands all the time; so many that our brains can't handle it! In order to stand out and get our potential clients to listen to us, we have to make an emotional connection through our brands and our website presence. But that's easier said than done, right?

5 ways to connect with your target market

1. Brand style. As you read about my experience with Allsaints, their brand style played a big part in why I chose to purchase from them instead of Topshop. Allsaints had a brand aesthetic that immediately made me feel cool and sexy. Their brand has a unique style that stirs certain emotions within their customers.

When you're trying to emotionally connect with your target market, you'll never form a true connection if your brand style isn't cohesive or isn't an authentic representation of you. 

Ask yourself- how do you want people to feel when they come into contact with your brand? What emotions do you want to stir within your ideal clients? Does your current brand identity convey these emotions, or is it failing to connect with your target market in some way? Maybe you need to invest in a rebrand, or maybe you can make some small tweaks to connect with your audience more?

If you need help creating a cohesive brand experience that will make sure your ideal clients fall in love with your brand, check out the free bonus at the end of this article!

Related post: How to build a strong brand on a small budget

2. Brand voice. Your brand voice goes hand in hand with your brand aesthetic. Your brand voice is how you talk and write; how your words make your target market feel. Small businesses that write in a friendly and 'human' voice usually connect easier with their target market because they seem real! People don't want to do business with someone who talks to like a robot and has no sense of personality, they want to do business with a real person. 

3. Use of words. When you research what your target market wants from you (usually within a survey), it's important that you use the words and phrases they use. It will make a much better emotional connection when they come to read about your services! For example, this year I wanted to buy a book on money mindset. I found a woman who specialized in this field but her product page used robotic 'professional' phrases that I would have never used to describe what I was looking for. Then I found another website that described my struggles and my desires exactly how I would describe them, in a casual and understandable way. Because this website used words and phrases I'd use- phrases I understood and completely resonated with- I didn't hesitate to purchase from them and not the other woman.

Related post: 10 tools and apps I use for freelancing

4. Brand consistency. Is your brand cohesive and consistent across all areas of your web and print presence? It's important that your brand style stretches across all areas of your brand, not just your website. The look and feel of your website needs to be the same on your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, your business cards, your shop front, your client documents and more. When your brand is perfectly consistent, your target market sees you as a strong brand that really knows what they're doing.

5. Keep your business simple and streamlined. Even if you build an emotional connection through all of the points listed above, that connection can be broken instantly if your business processes are not simple and easy for your customers/clients. What exactly do I mean? Well, a potential client may look at your website and feel totally connected to you; eager to start working with you. But if they contact you and your processes are sloppy, your reply times are slow and your system isn't clear then that connection will immediately break. Keep your customer connected by streamlining your systems. Make doing business with you feel like a guilty pleasure!

I recently enrolled in Leah's course, Stress Less & Impress, and it totally transformed my business systems and processes! I was already doing a lot of what she suggested, but her tips and videos helped me refine my process even more. I highly recommend checking it out if you need help streamlining your business!

If you're interested in rebranding your business, I'm now booking clients from November 2015 onward! Just check out my services and get in touch if you'd like to set up a time to discuss your needs. 

Free bonus!

To help you create a stronger emotional connection with your target market, I've created a freebie for you: 10 ways to create a cohesive brand experience. This free PDF guide will help you tighten your brand style across all business areas, making a professional impression on your target clients and forming a stronger connection with them. I hope you it helpful!

How to create a brand board

Designers - learn why you should be creating brand boards for your clients and why. Just click on this pin to find out more! #Designers #Freelance #Business #Streamlining & Automating #Design #Branding

After spending the last few months working on my course, Organize & Automate, and recording lessons to help designers automate their design process, I thought I'd share a snippet from the course! So here it is.

Let's dive into brand boards and why you should be creating them for your clients- and how!

A brand board is an at-a-glance document containing all your brand elements- from your main logo to your color palette. You may have seen them floating around Pinterest but not understood what they were. Or, if you're a designer, you may want to start creating brand boards but you don't know where to start. 

Let's start with why you should create brand boards. 

Brand boards show the client every element of their visual brand- all together in one neat document. They're important because they help convey a brand’s values, attributes and personality in one glance.

When you’ve designed blog graphics, prints or anything else for your business (or for your clients), its helpful to look at the brand board and check that what you’ve designed is in line with the colours, fonts, graphics and overall identity that is on the board.

That isn't the only reason brand boards are important though. If you're a designer like me, have you ever thought about what you're going to do if one of your clients comes back to you for work and you're not available?

You'll need to refer them to another designer. If you made a style guide for them, their new designer will be able to use that to expand on their branding without ruining all the hard work you put in to make it look so damn gorgeous in the first place. 

Clients benefit from brand boards because they can easily find their color codes and font names on them.

Would you be a very happy client if you went away from the project with lovely branding, but no idea what fonts and colours were used? No idea how what to use to create additional brand materials in the future? I wouldn't. 

Brand boards are totally different to style guides, so try not to confuse the two. 

Style guides include instruction on how to use your brand elements, such as how much spacing a logo should have around it, or what backgrounds your logo can and can’t be used on… I prefer to think of style guides as identity guidelines. They can be pretty complex, but brand boards are simple boards that only include your brand elements — not instructions on how and where to use things.

(Psst! I talk all about creating style guides, moodboards and other time-saving templates in my course, Organize & Automate.)


Download your free Photoshop brand board template!

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Here's what I include in my brand boards:

1. Main logo

The main logo is used on the client's website, on their stationery and usually on PDFs etc.

2. Logo variation

This is another version of the main logo, with a slight difference. It could be a vertical version, it could have a shape around it, it could be in another color, or it could be textured...

It's a good idea to offer your clients a logo variation because you never know when they might fancy changing things up. Clients don't want a basic brand- they want a brand that's cohesive, but still interesting! 

3. Sub mark

A sub mark is another element that is pulled from the main logo. It's usually smaller than the main logo, and is often used as a favicon or profile picture.

Sub marks are especially helpful to brands with long business names because they provide a simple alternative to their main logo. Sub marks also make great watermarks because they're usually in a circular shape and fit nicely in the corners of photos. 

4. Main color palette

I create a main color palette that consists of 5 colors. These colors reinforce the 'vibe' of the brand.

For example, a feminine brand may choose pastel colors to help add to their romantic brand vibe, and a corporate agency may choose dark or bold colors to give off a feeling of power. 

On your client's brand board, make sure you include the hex codes for their colours. If you want to be even more helpful, you can provide the RGB, CMYK and Pantone values!

5. Supporting palette

A supporting colour palette is a set of extra colours that compliment the main colour palette nicely. These colors can be used in blog post graphics, social media posts and other brand graphics to inject more variety while still remaining cohesive. 

6. Supporting pattern

A pattern is a nice way to add to the aesthetic of your brand. For example, a feminine brand could strengthen their girly vibe with a polka dot pattern! Patterns are usually used on print design, social media designs and PDF designs. 

7. Fonts

Fonts have to be chosen very carefully when creating a visual identity for a client. Just like a color palette, fonts can make or break the brand vibe you're trying to give off.

Script fonts are often used for feminine brands, whilst chunky sans serif fonts could be used for modern brands. Whatever the font, make sure you include all font names and their uses in your client's brand boards. Tell your client which fonts should be used for paragraph text and headers. 

These elements make up a visual identity, but there's also so much more you can add! Once you have the basics in place, you can create social media branding, PDFs, print designs, course designs and more.

Brand boards contain the very core of your client's brand identity. They guide every visual decision your client will make, so make sure you include one in your client's final files. 

Do you have a brand board of your own? If you're a designer, what is your favorite part of the design process? Leave a comment and let me know!

Download your free Photoshop brand board template!

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