Articles - 21st January 2021

Seven questions to ask yourself before sending a portfolio

Words by Albert Azis-Clauson
Illustration by James Merritt

There are many things that make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful portfolio, and there are some factors that are out of your control. As I pointed out earlier this month, pitching for freelance work is really just an exercise in empathy. Imagine that you’re a potential client in the process of looking for a new freelancer to complete some routine work for you. You’re probably a little bored, have pages of portfolios in your inbox to choose from, and are thinking about other work. Or maybe lunch.

Your best option is to understand the factors that are in your control, and to push them in the best way to help guarantee your success. Ask yourselves these questions, while keeping the potential client in mind, before sending out a portfolio;

  1. Does working for this company genuinely align with my career  goals, or am I doing this for the money? It’s ok to admit to yourself that you’re doing something just to earn the cash, but having a separation between these two can be helpful in understanding and assessing the amount of time you’re willing to spend on it rather than pursuing a career opportunity that may work in better favour of building your career.
  2. Am I sending this to the right person? It seems obvious, but if you’re sending an email to the wrong person in the  wrong department, you’re wasting someone’s time. Whether it’s their time or your own is dependent on their action on receiving the email, but you are not in control of a factor that could be the difference between getting the gig and not getting it if you haven’t contacted the right team member.
  3. Am I sending this at the right time? This question is very much industry specific in many ways (you don’t want to be sending Christmas journalism pitches in July), but it also comes down to timing in the office and timing in the inner networks at the team. Can you see that a small startup with horrible branding just raised a large amount of cash on Crunchbase? Send them a message about how you can improve their design work. Has a new magazine opened with a clear call for pitches? It’s time to send them work.
  4. Is this going to catch their eye? Is it a really striking visual portfolio that utilises the correct keywords and stays away from buzzwords, or are you just sending them the basic work in a way that works for you? Every decider has a vision in mind, and if your portfolio catches that vision, whether that’s visual or in use of your language, you are a lot more likely to be successful with your application
  5. Do I genuinely show my passion for the work? A half-hearted request for work is more likely than not going to be met with a half-hearted interest in what you’re offering. It’s hard to fake this but it’s important to at least try and show an interest in the client’s industry, even if it’s tangential. This carries even if it’s something that most people find boring. Everyone wants to write copy for the biggest tech companies. Can you sell your copywriting abilities to a care home?
  6. Does this portfolio contain work that is actually relevant to what the client is trying to do? How many pieces of work do you have that you are 100% proud of, honestly? Can you say that you’re proud of every single project you’ve ever done? If you said no, that’s totally normal. Even the best freelancers of all kinds have work they’ve done that isn’t 100%. Whether it was rushed by a client, early work while you were finding your feet, or you were just hungover that day, it’s more than ok to have something that you look back on that makes you cringe a little bit. Make sure you are sending relevant work, even if it’s not your best. The client would rather see something they can imagine working for them rather than something great that isn’t 100% relevant to them.
  7. Did I proofread? And did I do it twice? You’d be amazed by the number of portfolios and pitches that come across our desk with obvious grammar and spelling errors littered throughout. Even if your work doesn’t require you to use language, it still shows a lack of care that the majority of employers will worry about.


The harsh reality is that most hirers, even the great ones, are going to have a once over while saying “I need someone for a job that requires a hard skillset and maybe some experience with a client like me so they can hit the ground running. The last thing I want to do is have to train an outside hire or have a million edits. Does this person look like that?”

The difference between a successful portfolio and an unsuccessful one is this understanding the thought process of your potential client. So, for that reason, wouldn’t it be better to include in your portfolio the lesser work that is more relevant to the client than the better work that isn’t?

It also depends, largely, on the way you phrase the work in your portfolio, and asking yourself these seven questions can be a huge way of getting your head in the right space to pitch to clients.


What are your goals for 2021? To grow your business, or to just find your first client? No matter what stage you’re on in your freelance journey,  Albert and UnderPinned’s Ultimate Guide to Freelancing Course will make sure you’re on track to build a successful freelance career. The course starts February 1st and will consist of five jam packed weeks of learning. Find out more about the course and sign up here.

We champion the freelancers and every entrepreneur who took a leap of faith with their idea.

If this sounds like you, head over to our Virtual Office and send us your best work via an UnderPinned Portfolio. We want to hear from you!

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