Personal branding Part Two: How to create a strong online portfolio

Plus an interview with Danni Osborne from DO Digital Marketing

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Every year I set myself a goal that will help my freelance business to grow and this year it was updating my portfolio. I had a pretty good website that I’d created through Wordpress when I first went freelance and, while simple, it did the job. It included an About Me page that explained who I was and how clients could contact me, along with examples of my writing organised into three sections: print, digital and copywriting.

But 2020 was the year I wanted to step things up a gear and start increasing my day rate and pitching to new publications. I knew that my current portfolio was fine and serving a purpose but it was clunky and wasn’t quite reflecting my personal brand as well as I wanted it to. So I committed to spending some of my savings on professional headshots, a designer and developer.

I also checked with my accountant to confirm that I could expense all website costs, meaning anything I spent would be deducted from my tax bill at the end of the year. As soon as he gave me the green light, I booked in the work. I was so pleased with the result (you can see it here if you’re interested) and it’s really helped me land a number of new clients during one of the trickiest periods I’ve ever faced as a freelancer (the pandemic). And yes, I also managed, in some cases, to increase my day rate.

But paying for professional web development isn’t the only way. There are some really good publishers such as Wix, Wordpress and Squarespace that will help you create a great portfolio or website free of charge or for a very small cost. (You will need to think about paying for a domain name and web hosting too). It all depends on how good your I.T and coding skills are and what you want the final outcome to look like.

So whether you’re starting from scratch or just want to enhance a pre-existing portfolio, what do you need to think about and what details are most important? To answer this question in as much detail as possible, I asked two experts: Danni Osborne of DO Digital Marketing and Dean Cousin, Contracts Team Leader at Creative Recruitment Agency in London. Get your notepads at the ready, they’re both bursting with helpful tips!


Danni Osborne is quite literally living the freelance dream. After working for years in luxury fashion, she decided to move to Ibiza and start her own digital agency, DO Digital Marketing. Danni has a wealth of experience in the digital space so really knows her stuff when it comes to standing out online. So this week I thought i’d pick her brain on what really makes a strong portfolio and the simple tips and tricks that can help you stand out from the crowd.

CAT: First of all, can you give a brief intro into your professional background and when and why you set up your own marketing business?

DANNI: I started at NET-A-PORTER back in 2010 within the product marketing team and my role consisted of onsite merchandising, trading and conversion optimisation. It was a great mix of being creative, analytical and also involved the tech side of things. From there I went to a start-up so I could get hands on with different areas of marketing and also get a better understanding of other areas within a fashion business.

A couple of years later, equipped with some new knowledge, I moved to MATCHESFASHION.COM to head up the product marketing team where I oversaw the product journey onsite and was heavily involved with the tech team. I was helping in developing new technology both onsite and off-site to drive conversion. During this time I knew I wanted to go freelance so I started to take a course and ask as many questions as I could to my peers so I could absorb their expertise. Fast forward to today (after a stint at another start up) and I have been freelance for close to 2 years and lucky to have some really great clients.

CAT: What should we think about when creating a portfolio or website for our business? 

DANNI: Think about the clients or businesses you want to attract and focus on talking to them with your portfolio or website. A good example of this is when I started freelancing and I was working with a broad-spectrum of clients - from travel, fashion, fitness and property. I’ve since niched down and now only focus on luxury e-commerce and wellness clients as this is where my expertise lies. This really helped me to tailor my website and marketing to talk to these clients and also made my life much easier as I can really focus on areas that I know I can get results.

CAT: What simple tips can help us become more discoverable and help us get that job (or customer) over another freelancer?

DANNI: Having a website is great as it can really showcase your skills to prospective clients and is always great to link back to from social posts. Optimising your site for specific keywords will also help you be discovered via Google. This isn’t a quick win but is definitely worth investing the time in the long run. I would also suggest choosing your social channels wisely and don’t try to be present on all of them. For example, if you’re a graphic designer something visual like instagram is great or if you’re into tech then joining conversations on Twitter is a great way to get discovered. Pick one and stick to it and don’t spread yourself too thin.   

CAT: Can you explain how SEO web builds can help?

DANNI: If you have a specific skill set or target market then optimising your website to rank higher in search is a great, cost-effective way to be found by prospective clients. For example if your skill set is web design and you only focus on luxury fashion websites then make sure you have keywords to reflect this. To get discovered by more potential clients it would be best to use longtail keywords such as 'Web Design for Luxury Fashion’ rather than just ‘Web Design’, this way you will get clients that are looking for your specific skillset.

CAT: What simple details might we be missing from our portfolios that can make a big difference?

DANNI: One of the simplest things to make sure is that you have clear calls to action or contact information so potential clients can get in touch with you easily. Sounds simple enough but just adding a contact form to your website or small icons in the header and footer of your site can make a big difference. 

CAT: What mistakes do you see people making with their personal or brand marketing?

DANNI: Not blocking out enough time in the diary for self promotion. I have definitely fallen into this trap when the work is rolling in and I'm busy. Keeping up with social media and looking for prospective clients falls by the wayside but it is important to remain consistent. 


Dean Cousin, Contracts Team Leader at Creative Recruitment (a London-based agency for creatives) is sent hundreds of portfolios a year, so he knows exactly what big brands and businesses are looking for in a freelancer. He’s also been professionally reviewing and critiquing portfolios for over 15 years - ranging from reviewing some of the most high profile creative talent in the UK, through to entry level graduates. Here he gives his top tips on making your portfolio as impactful as possible and the common mistakes to avoid.

TIP ONE: Pay attention to detail. Your folio needs to be flawless and pixel perfect while being seamless to browse. Entice the viewer to engage with you, or emote a positive reaction. You can do this with an easy-to-use online website builder.

TIP TWO: Your brand and folio should be unique to you and have distinguishing elements that separate you from the crowd.

TIP THREE: Establish your brand, focus on what you like, take risks, and express yourself, but ultimately use common sense. Your folio needs to have range, but it’s not Facebook and not a good idea to showcase work samples that are not commercially viable, sensitive, or offensive to some viewers.

TIP THREE: Watch out for common mistakes such as becoming too generalist (jack of all trades, master of non), and being too similar to everyone else. You should also look out for glaring flaws in the user experience and design principles of your portfolio, such as it not being functional or effective. These will all give clients a reason not to hire you.

Thank you so much for subscribing to The Freelance Parent. Please feel free to forward this newsletter on to anyone that might find it useful and join us next week for a new two-part series on the importance of prioritising your mental health - as a freelancer and parent. You can also reply directly to this email if you want any further details on this week’s topic or have any questions. Don’t forget you can also join The Freelance Parent on Facebook to speak with other subscribers, ask advice and post about opportunities.

Until then,

Cat x