Why one case study is better than a full portfolio

Your portfolio may be what’s keeping you from getting more jobs.

You’ve worked hard to create a beautiful Instagram grid. The followers and likes are piling up, but you have one problem: clients still aren’t hiring you. You need to learn to present your past projects so that people won’t just see pretty, they’ll see professional.

A portfolio relies on numbers — the fact that your Instagram grid is full is more impressive than any individual piece. On the other hand a single well-written case study can be far more compelling than a collection of pretty pictures.

Before I get into the why behind this claim, let me define my terms.

  • A portfolio piece demonstrates your technical skills. The pictures and any descriptions you pair with them show what you can create and how well you can create it.

  • A case study tells a story, specifically the story of how you solved a client’s problem and made him more successful.

A potential client isn’t interested in how well you can draw or capture light or stitch a seam unless that particular skill directly affects his own success. He will hire a graphic designer who can’t draw but can create an advertisement that will help him sell more before he will hire a meticulous artist.

I’m not saying meticulous artists don’t have a place in the business world. Far from it! Be a meticulous artist who uses her skills to make her clients successful and you will stand head-and-shoulders above anyone who only does one or the other.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but those words are worthless if you don’t speak the language.

“I thought pretty images would communicate value because ‘a picture’s worth 1000 words.’ Problem is you don't have control over which 1000 words are interpreted.” — Web designer Nathan Allotey

Your clients don’t speak “Artist.” They hire you for your art expertise. So to get new clients to hire you you need to translate the information about how you work into a language they understand.

Instead of focusing on the technical details of your creative execution, tell the story of your past projects with a focus on the success you were able to help your client achieve. That way when a potential client reads it he will see how you can bring him success if he hires you.

Leverage the power of storytelling.

We naturally see ourselves as the main character in a story, especially when we are the ones telling that story. We gravitate toward speaking from our own perspective. This is all well and good so long as the person we want to impact is like us but it creates a problem when writing up the story of a past project with the goal of attracting more work.

When you write the story of a past project from your artistic perspective it will resonate with other creatives. This is a good thing if you are looking to impress your peers or teach those new to your field, but if you want this story to attract new clients you need to change the way you write.

Make your client the main character of the story. Focus on how you made your past client successful by solving his problem. When a potential client reads it she will see herself in the story and see that you will be able to bring her the same kind of success if she hires you.

So… why is one case study better than a full portfolio?

Because a potential client looking at pretty pictures in your portfolio will see you as someone who makes pretty pictures. A potential client who reads even one case study showing how you help your clients achieve success will see you as a professional who has help him achieve success. People hire you when they are confident you can help them achieve success.

Want to learn to clean up your portfolio so it attracts the kind of client you want?