Professional portfolios in the Creative Service Industry have come a long way. Gone are the days of a beautiful leather bound portfolio, full of before and after shots printed on photo paper. Long gone (and good riddance) are the sloppily thrown together, paper folder, dirty, and wrinkled mess of a portfolio from those who don't seem to care about presentation or impressing an employer. When I started out in the industry it was the standard to have some form of a physical portfolio. There were of course electronic options, but they were not mainstream yet. Physical copies of ones work were also still very standard well into the 2010's but we started to see more and more online options popping up.
The school that I attended in 2006 did not require us to create a portfolio of our work, but it was strongly suggested. When I became an Instructor, the school I worked for did require them for out students to graduate. We encouraged the students to start compiling before and after pictures as early as day one. The reason for this was to get them in the routine of taking the photos and documenting their progress. Usually they chose not to use their early work in their final portfolios but they had them to see how far they had come. By the time they graduated they were well practiced at speaking to their clients about why they would like to photograph them before and after the service, and had built great habits. We also taught them about the importance of the presentation of their photos. They were able to use whatever type of folder, book, or other material to house their photos, certificates, and other achievements but we always encouraged them to think about what the employer would want to see and hold.
In 2016 we made a switch to focusing on online and electronic portfolios. Once we made that switch we saw an increase in student interest in creating and compiling their portfolios. We also received positive feedback from the community of salon, spa, and shop owners stating that they were much more consistently presentable, and easy to access and view. Since that time I have dedicated a significant portion of my time encouraging students and seasoned professionals to make the switch.
Social media as your portfolio
If you plan to use social media as the only way of showing off your work, here are a few tips and best practices to ensure great success:
Keep it separate-It is extremely important that you create a separate page for your professional work. I have seen too many professionals make the decision to have a mixed page, and it rarely works out well for them. Consider your clients having access to your entire social media history on your personal page, is that something you want? Would you read aloud every single post you've ever made to every client that you service? I don't think that you would. Even if you don't feel like you have anything to "hide" you would still benefit from a professional page. You can focus your efforts on promoting your business and growing your professional following.
Keep it PG-If you already have a professional page for you and your work, is it professional? Are you keeping your posts PG? Regardless of the type of clientele you have or want to attract, keeping your professional page free from gossip, slang, nudity, and any other obscene or controversial material will add to your professionalism and maintain your status amongst your community.
Inform your friends-It is natural to want to have as many followers as possible on all of your accounts. However, if you choose to allow your personal friends to follow you on your professional pages, inform them of your policies. Be sure to keep them updated on any changes to those policies and if they have violated any of them. Remember, this is an online representation of you and your work, do not allow personal friends to tag you in any questionable posts. Also be sure to let them know to respect your wishes of keeping things professional and PG when they decide to comment.
Post your best-Ensuring that you are only posting your best quality work is important. What you don't want to do is apply any filters or do any photo editing to your work. If you do this you are falsely advertising your work. You may get more likes, shares, and a few more pats on the back for great work, but you are ultimately setting yourself up for failure. What I mean by that is if you are posting edited photos of your work to attract new business, then you are going to set an unrealistic standard for yourself that you cannot achieve. Your clients will see your work on IG and assume that they will look like that (rightfully so since it is a photo of what you have claimed to have done), and when you cannot deliver they will be upset. We already deal with this enough in our industry with clients bringing in these types of photos as reference for what they want. DO NOT set yourself up for this with your own work. Post your best but make sure it is an accurate representation of YOU and YOUR WORK.
Encourage interaction and engagement-One of the many benefits of social media, (and its intended purpose) is interaction with people you may not have had the ability to reach IRL. It is arguably the most valuable piece of this type of advertisement, and it just so happens to be a fantastic way to show off your work. If you are not engaging your clients and potential clients you are wasting a valuable resource. Something as simple as a question in the description of the photo you post, or a fun challenge will go a long way to increase your customer engagement.
Alternatives to social media
If you want to diversify your presence online or you simply don't want to use social media as your portfolio, there are some great options for you. The first would be to get your own website. There are a few free and paid options out there, and I encourage you to do your own homework to find the best option for you and what you are looking for. If I may make a suggestion, I highly recommend Wix. I have used their free version as well as varying degrees of their paid plans and I have never been dissatisfied. No matter the provider, having your own website looks great for business, and it looks great to a potential employer. If you choose to go this rout then I suggest that you keep it simple. It should be a visual representation of you and your work but you don't want it to be difficult to navigate.
This next option is my favorite. It is a program called Sway, and its from Microsoft. You can access Sway for free by simply having a Microsoft account. What Sway is is a fun modern take on PowerPoint. It takes aspects of a few different Microsoft applications and meshes it with a website feel and flow. It works great for many different things but it is a fantastic way to present a portfolio. I put together a quick, fun Sway as an example of its potential that will be linked at the end of this post.
Here are some of the great features of Sway:
Versatility-With Sway there are endless possibilities for design and personalization. If you want your portfolio to be sleek and simple then you can do that. If you want a more edgy look and feel, with interactive photo stacks and videos, then you can create that.
Simple to use-Sway is also very easy to use. You put in what words and content you want and Sway makes it work for you.
Visually appealing-When you open up a Sway presentation or portfolio you know you are looking at something unique. You want to keep scrolling and engaging with the media presented to you.
Interactive-Having a way for your clients and potential employers to interact with you and your work is very valuable. If you present an employer with a Sway as your portfolio, and you have included ways for them to engage and interact with your work, they will remember you. You are adding multiple layers of reasons for them to keep you in mind. It works the same way as learning something new, you need to see it, hear it, write it, and say it for it to stick. So why not use some of the same techniques to get employers to remember you!
Option to embed media and links-With Sway you have the option to use public domain photos and videos to spice up your portfolio or presentation. You also can upload your own images, videos, and even music. If you want a song to play while they scroll through your amazing before and after photos you can do that! You can also include links to you social media pages, website, or resume. If you wanted to combine your resume and portfolio into one visual masterpiece, you could totally do that with Sway!
No app needed to view-There are some other great applications out there but many of them require the viewer to have a particular app, well that is not the case with Sway. You can share the link any way you wish and it's as simple as viewing it like a webpage.
"You need talent, dedication, skills, perseverance and so many other things to become successful. If you think you are very talented but someone needs to unveil your talent, then you are living in a fool's paradise. You have to prove yourself every day." - Rituparna Sengupta
In our industry we must always prove ourselves worthy. We are constantly showing clients and potential clients that we can deliver on their needs, provide an exceptional experience, and be here for them when they need us. We are also constantly proving our worth to potential employers and fellow Creatives. The best way you can do this is to always show your best self in your day to day interactions, and have an ever evolving and improving portfolio.
I challenge all of you who have made it to the end of this post to create yourself a portfolio. If you don't think you will need it for employment then create one simply to show your clients. Wouldn't you rather have a collection of your work for them to choose from vs. a lobby full of outdated magazines and 'look books? Get your portfolio started today!
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