The Power of the Portfolio
by Louise Harnby
Including a portfolio of clients and completed projects on your editorial website is one of the most powerful marketing tools you can use. Why? Because it’s shows you can practice what you preach.
The introductory paragraph on the homepage of my website tells potential clients how many years’ experience I have, the editorial services I offer, the types of client for whom I work, the national editorial society of which I am an Advanced Professional Member, my primary training qualification, and the number of books that I’ve proofread to date. Other pages on my website tell the client what I can do for them – for example, proofreading onscreen or on paper; the subject specialisms I’m comfortable tackling; the different types of mark-up I can offer. So far, all well and good — but how do I prove it?
Can do versus have done…
The above information is, I believe, important and should be communicated to the client. But I don’t want just to focus my clients’ minds on what I can do; I also want them to know what I have done. That’s because what’s been done makes what could be done more believable. Inculcating a sense of trust and belief in a client is essential because each of us is competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of colleagues offering similar services. This is where the power of the portfolio comes in — it shows our customers that we are doers rather than just talkers. Anyone can set up an editorial business and write (or hire someone else to write) great copy that tells the customer what they want to hear. The portfolio takes things a step further, anchoring the message in a have-done practice-based, rather than could-do promise-based, framework.
But, oh, the clutter…
I’ll admit it, my portfolio web page is a dense beast. I made the decision to break it up across three pages in order to make information more accessible to potential clients: academic, fiction, and commercial non-fiction. But I’ve been in business since 2006 so, even with this remedial work, there’s still a lot of text. I’ve thought long and hard about this over the years, and on several occasions I’ve dabbled with the idea of decluttering, perhaps by offering a selected portfolio of completed projects. But then I’ll receive another request to proofread from a publisher, project manager, independent author or student, they’ll mention how impressive they found my portfolio, and I’ll put aside my urge to spring clean.
Some benefits of busyness…
- If you’re wondering how much information to provide in your online portfolio, and you are worried that including almost everything will make the web page look too busy, put yourself in your customers’ shoes and ask yourself whether you think they will be put off by your long list of completed projects, or whether it will generate a stronger belief that you can provide the solution to their problems precisely because you have shown you have done it before. I know this much: the people who’ve told me (gently) that my portfolio “might be a little on the heavy side” are not clients — they’re colleagues, friends, and my husband! All of their opinions are gratefully appreciated, but, alas, they’re not the ones hiring me, and they’re not the ones hiring you!
- An extensive portfolio, though busy, provides you with rich key words that may help make you discoverable and interesting to potential clients. I don’t believe it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include author names like David Silverman, Jürgen Habermas, Mary Kaldor, China Miéville, and James Herbert, but that’s because I want to work for people who want proofreaders comfortable working in the fields of qualitative research, critical theory, international relations, speculative fiction and horror, respectively. Neither do I think it hurts me to have a long list of completed proofreading projects on my website that include titles such as Criminology and Social Policy; Ethics and War; Globalization Theory; The Transgender Phenomenon; A Visit from the Goon Squad; Beyond Duty: Life on the Frontline in Iraq; and The Mammoth Book of New Erotic Photography. These are more than titles; they include key words that may be used in long-tail searches (lengthier, more specific search terms) by my potential clients.
When considering your online portfolio, think about what these titles and author names tell your customer about what you have already done for other clients. Then consider how this affects their perception of what you can do for them.
Use navigation tools
You can include an extensive portfolio on your website without making your client want to gnaw off their own arm in a bid to navigate the information.
- Consider separating the information into sections by genre, subject area, or the particular type of editorial service you provided.
- Use multiple pages if you think this will add clarity.
- Jump-to code is an excellent way of reducing the amount of scrolling the reader needs to do in order to move up and down a long web page (see how I managed this in “Website Tips for Editorial Pros: Using Jump-to Instructions” on my blog, Proofreader’s Parlour — I was surprised by how easy it was to incorporate into my website even though I’m not a techie!).
Nothing is set in stone when it comes to any aspect of marketing your editorial business. If you’re nervous about what and how much information to include in your online portfolio, test different options: full portfolio of all works completed; selected works only; short summary including only a few key works. Keep an eye on your visitor stats (using tools such as Google Analytics or StatCounter), and do comparisons in six-month blocks to see who’s looking at which pages on your site. You may be surprised. Analysis of my own website stats (excluding my blog) in 2014 showed that my online portfolio represented 20% of all page views — second only to my home page.
Nailing the job before you’ve even quoted
If your client hasn’t seen your portfolio, the quotation stage can be trickier because you have to do all your selling at the same time as you’re discussing money. However, a strong portfolio that engenders trust and belief in a potential client before they’ve started talking to you means you’ve done a chunk of the hard selling work ahead of time. They can already see that you’re fit for purpose because of what you’ve already done. This instills in them a sense of professionalism that will be front of mind when it comes to direct contact.
In other words, a strong portfolio puts the value you are offering on the table ahead of the money that will have to leave the client’s pocket; the focus is, first and foremost, on benefit rather than cost.
What if I haven’t completed much work?
If you’re at the beginning of your professional editorial career, you probably won’t have an extensive portfolio. Be creative:
- Consider using a narrative format that discusses the projects you have worked on in more detail, and how you delivered solutions to your client’s problems.
- Expand your portfolio page to include testimonials from your smaller list of satisfied clients.
- Include (with permission) a list of clients for whom you’ve worked.
- Update your portfolio every time you complete a new project so that the list is always expanding.
- Provide online samples (they can be made up) that demonstrate what you do when you are proofreading, copy-editing, or indexing. This shows you in a practice-based, rather than a promise-based, framework — these samples are things you’ve already done, not things you could do in the future.
- If you don’t yet have an online portfolio, get cracking and build one!
- Tell the client what you have done as well as what you can do.
- Focus on practice, not just promise.
- Think of your portfolio in terms of what it tells people you want to hire you – your target customers — rather than your friends and colleagues.
- Don’t over-fret about clutter — it’s about the quality of the information, and what it tells the client about your proven ability to solve their problems.
- Consider the information you incorporate into your portfolio in terms of key word searches — that is, how it might help clients to find you.
- Use navigation tools (including embedded code) to help your customer move around a busy portfolio web page.
- Track page views to your site and test different portfolio styles to see what format you’re most comfortable with in terms of making yourself interesting to a customer.
- Use your portfolio to put the value you offer ahead of the fee you charge.
- Be creative if your portfolio is still in the early-growth stage.
Louise Harnby is a professional proofreader and the curator of The Proofreader’s Parlour. Visit her business website at Louise Harnby | Proofreader, follow her on Twitter at @LouiseHarnby, or find her on LinkedIn. She is the author of Business Planning for Editorial Freelancers and Marketing Your Editing & Proofreading Business.