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How To Score Contracts & Build A Portfolio When You’re Starting Out

So you want to be a designer? Yes! You go girl, chase that dream! There’s only one, humongous problem though, you say. Your portfolio is practically non-existent and you don’t have much experience… So now what?

The backbone of any designer’s career is your portfolio. If you are established in the industry, it would be full of your best client projects, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Do projects for yourself to build your skills and think about using some fictional creative briefs to design some show stopper pieces. Another possible idea could be creating some unique icon theme packs and offer as a free download on your website or insta. You will rarely get to indulge in creating whatever you want once you’re booked solid with clients so see this as a fun opportunity to showcase your own ideas. Don’t get too wild, however. Make sure your portfolio is made of projects that would be of value to the niche you want to work with and work that highlights those badass skills of yours. Finally, resist the temptation of putting everything you create in it. Think quality over quantity, my friend!



Now that you have some kick-ass work to show, you need somewhere to show them–a website and a design-centered social media account is a no-brainer. If UX/UI isn’t your forté and don’t have the budget to hire someone to build a website for you, you can easily build one yourself using portfolio sites like Adobe Portfolio, Cargo, Behance, or a template site from a DIY web provider.

Now it’s time to leverage social media to your advantage. Post examples of your work online and with regularity. Network with others in your community. Network to give rather than to get by offering tips and advice. This will work in your favour by helping to establish you as an expert. An online hub like LinkedIn is a good place to start and connect with an audience you want to work with.


As much as that techni-colour poster series is impressive, the overall design of your portfolio lays the foundation of the work it holds. Layout, typography, personal branding, and attention to detail with the little things will go a long way. And the preference here, if I might add – simple, clean and doesn’t overpower your work inside. That way your talents can shine without distraction.


You know that feeling when you get a new follower on Instagram, only to find out they’re a spam account and follow 1.2m others? Same feeling applies for employers when they feel like you’ve sent the exact same portfolio to every other studio in your city. I’m not saying re-design your portfolio for every application – but little things like referencing the studio’s values, explaining why that logo is relevant to (insert studio’s name here) design ethos, and using specific language and names will get you a long way.


Although that movie poster you designed in first year earned you top marks, always ask yourself, is this relevant and is it still impressive? Consistency in the portfolio layout, but also the quality of work, will help set your application apart. Although keeping your overall feel consistent (you can do this by having a page layout template, typographic rules, etc), it’s important that you showcase a variety of skills. By all means, include two branding projects, but try to include one that maybe showcases your typography skills, and the other showcases your gridding and illustration skills.


You spend more time with your work mates that you do your friends and family – so employers want to know who they’re signing up to hang out with everyday. They want to know that you can bring more than just Adobe skills to work. Who are you? What makes you tick? What are your burning passions and desires? Your portfolio and cover letter are a great way to not only showcase your work but to make an impression. Remember to tailor your language to that of the company you’re applying to. Have a read on their website to get a good idea of what tone of language to emulate.


Well, sort of. Your portfolio and platform are all for this, so you can reach out and introduce yourself to potential clients with something to show for them. Send emails to brands and individuals within your niche you’d like to work with. Introduce yourself, your work, and let them know what you could possibly create for them and the value you bring to them. If you don’t hear back from them, politely follow-up but once is probably enough. Squeeky wheels don’t always get the grease. If you get rejected, for heaven’s sake– don’t take it personally. You will most likely see a lot of rejection in the beginning or even just straight up be ghosted. Don’t take it personally–I know you’re a superstar and there will be others that see it too. Keep pushing forward, your dream jobs are out there!


Starting your career is by far some of the most hurdles you will have to overcome. You might even feel a little bit hopeless at times (okay maybe a lot sometimes), but if you keep grinding you’ll find your success–I promise! Build your portfolio, show off your work, and don’t wait for people to find you. Go out and find your people!


Feel free to reach out and I would be happy to give you a bit of advice on your portfolio. Or if you are in need of a sample creative brief to work on, I’ll have a few downloads coming soon for our Modern Creative’s Secret Success Club! Join today in the form below!

Resources: Tess Robinson 

Business + Marketing, Design


Mar 31, 2021


Who will hire you with no previous work experience and no real projects to show? Don’t wait for opportunities to knock, build the door! Let’s show you how.

you are resilient
you are innovative
and you are a mother f*ING


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