Making the Freelance Plunge Part 3: Personal Portfolios

Making The Freelance Plunge Part 3 | Fine Lime Designs

This is part 3 in our series on Making the Freelance Plunge.  Part 1 was all about getting your finances in order.  Part 2 was about developing resources library.  And today we’re tackling personal portfolios, which I personally think are one of the most important things you can do to build the freelance business you want!

Building up a Portfolio of Personal Projects

When we start out as freelancers we usually have to take whatever jobs come along because we need to pay bills.  But those might not be the jobs we want.  How do you get those?

Personal Project Portfolios often get overlooked because, well, to be frank, they sound like playtime and who has time for that?  Well, my advice is… make time!! I have secured as much work through my personal projects as I have through word of mouth – now that’s some powerful marketing!

Personal projects give you the opportunity to:

  • define your style without having to make client concessions
  • show potential clients who you are
  • target industries you’re passionate about
  • build the skills you want to showcase

In turn, all of this can bring you the work you really want and can even help you develop a niche, which in turn can earn you more money!

How Do You Get Started With a Personal Portfolio?

There are many ways you can showcase your personal work – your imagination is your only limit.  But here’s a few pointers.

Set up a website

The internet runs 24/7 and it’s simple to set up a blog – free platforms like, tumbler and blogger can have you up and running in no time at all.  For more flexibility and freedom you can set up a blog on self-hosted platform like

Your blog/site can be separate from your freelance/business site (but you can link to it) and you can treat it as your personal sketchbook – show projects you’re working on in your spare time.

365 Projects

Also known as project-a-day endeavors, these can be great not just as a personal showcase but also as a learning tool.  Common ones include:

  • photo-a-day projects where  you take one image every day for a year (or a month, or 6 months, or whatever time frame you choose)
  • doodle or sketch a day
  • create a vector a day

Some of the more interesting ones I’ve come across in the past few years:

  • Maddie on Things a very unique, themed photo project with Maddie the dog.
  • Branding 10,000 Lakes designer Nicole Meyer decided to rebrand the Lakes of Minnesota – one logo a day for 366 days.  Great way to show off her design aesthetic and develop her own style
  • Windows of New York a weekly illustration of New York city windows, complete with their addresses by graphic designer Jose Guizar
  • 365 Days of Hand Lettering artist Lisa Congdon has done some remarkable daily projects and this was her 2012 one.

There are many more out there but the options are limitless.

Create for imaginary clients

Is there an industry you want to break into?  Create for an imaginary client within that field.  Do your research of current companies in the  industry and design or write for them as if you’d been given a brief.  It could be a website, branding collateral, content for marketing materials, packaging…

To challenge yourself, treat it as an actual business case – think about your design, social media or writing decisions and how they would help solve a business problem or help a business grow.


Creating on demand for clients can be mentally exhausting and burning out can be paralyzing to your career.  Working on a creative project that has nothing to do with your particular field can be very liberating and fill your creative well and stop you from hitting that dreaded burn out. Collaboration can help immensely.  There’s something about being able to bounce ideas off of a partner or two that can really shake up your creative juices and help you create something unique that you might never have done on your own.

One of my favourite collaborations on the net is 3191 Miles Apart.  It’s a remarkable project started by two people who had never met that has spanned years, produced a blog, two books and a magazine.

Follow Your Passion – Fill a Niche – Build a Community.

If you have something that you’re passionate about, be it a hobby, a cause, or a community, follow it.  It may not be obvious immediately how you can weave it into what you do for a living but you’d be surprised the doors that can open.  People respond to passion and they want to work with people who share their passion.

In my case, I love to design, photograph and write.  I do them all for a living.  But I also love food.  So it wasn’t a weird thing for me to start a food photography blog.   I mentioned on my blog’s bio that I’m a web/graphic designer and it didn’t take long before other bloggers started contacting me asking if I could help them with their designs.  And that was followed by restaurants and food producers asking me to photograph food for them.

Somewhere along the way, I joined forces with two friends to create a food blogging community for Canadians called Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC).  It was just meant to be a way for Canadian food bloggers to connect and have access to Canadian resources.  But it turned into much more than that.  Now I write tech/web design and wordpress articles for FBC, I spoke at our first conference on “blog tech”, and I design all the brand collateral for the organization.  That, in turn has led to more work with more people who are passionate about food.  And it all came out of following something I was passionate about and working with two others to build a community where one was lacking (there’s collaboration again!).

These are a just a few of the ways building a portfolio of personal projects can help you move your career in the direction you want it to go.  Have you found a way to turn your passion into freelance work?  Or have you built a personal project portfolio and found it’s helped you get the work you want?

Did you miss the rest of our series on Making the Freelance Plunge? You can catch up with these posts:

Part 1: Finances

Part 2: Resources

Have you joined Fine Lime on Facebook or Pinterest?   We post extra goodies there for help with blogging, wordpress, design and photography!

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