When it comes to getting noticed as a web designer, there’s an endless list of ideas that can be enumerated. From creating a clever microsite, to letterpressing your business cards, or putting a profile on every freelance job board, there are a lot of channels by which you can engage an audience and find new clients. But while all of these ideas can be worthwhile, they’re also overwhelming. And they’re totally extraneous if you don’t already have an established online presence.

So before you begin on any of these ventures, make sure that your portfolio and projects are completely up to snuff. That’s the home base of your identity as a designer, and as such, it’s the first priority when it comes to getting recognition.

Whether you’re an established professional, or you’re just beginning to look into how to become a web designer, these three steps are the key to creating a substantial online presence.

Building Your Portfolio Site

The first step to standing out in your field is building an admirable online portfolio. You have two basic options when it comes to choosing your platform:
1. Creating a freestanding site with WordPress or another platform
2. Using a dedicated design portfolio platform, such as Behance or Carbonmade

The choice between them depends largely on how you intend to use your portfolio.

Freestanding Portfolio Sites
The most important consideration when choosing your site is whether you will be able to both create and maintain the site without expending an unnecessary amount of energy. Many web designers are capable of making a fantastically customized freestanding site, but after that initial burst of creative energy, they lose the inspiration to update it. If this is the case for you, it’s wiser to go with a simple site builder like Wix, which lets you use customized templates for a quick and easily-altered result. However, if you feel up to creating and maintaining a more complicated site, WordPress might be the route for you.

There are also many other site builders to consider, at every price point and level of difficulty, such as:

Design Communities
For an experience that will allow you to connect with fellow creatives and possible employers, choosing a builder like Behance ProSite is a good option. It’s particularly useful for people who know they’ll be taking some time before they’re ready to launch the site, because you don’t have to pay until you’ve published.
Other design communities that also offer portfolio-building tools include:
DeviantArt Portfolio

Deciding What to Put in Your Portfolio Site

After you’ve built a solid framework for your portfolio, the next step is to fill it with content that expresses your personality and skills. Although design projects are of course the main concern in this step, you should also remember written content can really help set you apart. A headline that boldly states your specific appeal, whether it’s that you “dream in infographics” or you’re “building brands”, goes a long way towards defining your particular skill set.

Choose Projects Wisely
It’s always tempting to load up your portfolio with all the work you’ve ever touched. But a mishmash of one-off examples of your work is disorienting and uninspiring. Instead, curate a handful of fully-realized projects with plenty of process sketches, live links, and detail shots. And while it feels like you ought to showcase any big-name clients, these projects usually don’t really showcase your range. Instead, you should mix in smaller and more creative pieces.

Create Content Specifically For Your Site
If you feel like the pieces that you’ve selected for your portfolio don’t really show off your skills, you should consider embarking on a self-initiated project. A personal project allows you complete creativity, giving you the opportunity to diversify your portfolio and learn new techniques. You can also use it as a marketing tool, even asking design blogs to feature your work. If it’s a good enough idea, sometimes this type of project can bring you a huge amount of publicity and define your work in a way that no client project could do.

Additional Ways to Market Yourself

Once you’ve published a portfolio that you’re proud of, it’s time to get creative with putting your name out there. Choose your approach based on the time commitment and type of project you’re realistically able to work with.

Use Social Sharing
Creating a Twitter or Pinterest account is a good way to add depth and personality to your brand without taking on too big of a challenge. Don’t just use these platforms to promote your work, as that can feel forced and unappealing. Twitter can also be used to engage in meaningful conversations with other designs about the industry and sources of inspiration, while Pinterest is a great place to showcase the diversity of your design-related interests.

Start a Blog
If you’re looking for a more in-depth means of adding a personality to your portfolio, start a design blog. The great thing about this strategy is that you can choose whatever topic and style that best suits you; you can feature great work that you find around the web, create tutorials, or write insightful articles. Much like your Pinterest account, you don’t even have to feature graphic design specifically to add to the quality and resonance of your site.

Traditional Practices Still Have Their Place

Of course, putting a lot of time into designer-specific marketing tools doesn’t mean that you should ever neglect the practices of professionals at large. Make sure you have a CV that’s as well-written as it is beautifully designed. Keep up with your contacts and former clients by sending them notes or holiday greetings. Little things like this, in combination with a strong portfolio and good marketing tactics, are really all you need to start getting the notice you deserve.

About the author

Ex-graphic designer Adria Saracino is the head of outreach and a content strategist at Distilled, where she consults on PR and content marketing initiatives. You can follow her on Twitter @adriasaracino.

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