Sending a portfolio or work sample by email? If done correctly, that email can take you from untrusted stranger to respected professional in a matter of seconds. So before you attach that portfolio PDF to your email, it’s important to spend a few minutes on strategy. Do you know…
- When or how many portfolio pieces to send?
- Exactly which piece in your portfolio will increase your chances the most?
- Whether you should send over your entire portfolio or just the most relevant sample?
Enclosed in this post is a guide to help you answer these questions for your situation and create an irresistible portfolio email to send to your potential client.
Why send a portfolio
Most freelancers understand that a portfolio helps clients get to know who you are and what you do. It’s a quick approximation for your work quality.
But a good email should go one step further. It should give your prospective clients a chance to imagine what their company would look like if you did work for them.
That’s why both seasoned and new freelancers need to be good at putting together tailored portfolio pieces for their prospective clients. It’s a service to them. And here’s what that it needs to do:
- Show you’ve done similar work (ideally, for a similar client) in the past.
- Let them imagine what they will get from you.
- Reassure them that you will be a good investment.
Freelancing’s increasing popularity, also means an increase in rampant scams and fraud. That’s bad for clients. It makes hiring you risky. But a great portfolio should remove all doubts.
What are clients looking for in your email
What clients want to see in your email is their finished project, with a different company name on it.
That’s what clients are looking for when they ask for a work sample. They want to see what you’re capable of producing for them. They want it to be relevant to their requirements. So always choose the most relevant piece in your portfolio for them. (It pays to have a diverse range of work samples available so that you can pick the most relevant to certain clients.)
Example: Say you have two past client work samples in your portfolio: one is for a used car salesman and the other for a wedding planner. If a yoga instructor wants to see a work sample, your best bet will be to send the wedding planner website because it will give the yoga instructor the closest idea of what they will get from working with you. On the other hand, if you’re pitching an auto store, the car salesman work sample, will be more up their alley.
It’s seems simple, but it’s incredibly common for freelancers to send a work samples that’s completely different to what the client does and doesn’t tell them anything about what they could expect from working together.
What should you say in your email
So far in this post we’ve talked about tailoring your work to your client. That’s no different here. What your work sample email should say will depend on how you are communicating with the client. Note for most in-depth look at this, we have a full course on building an irresistible client offer here.
That said, if this is a client that you have already spoken to, and they have requested to see examples of your work, your email should describe how the work sample related to what they’re looking for. Also don’t forget to ask them if they would like to see any more samples.
On the other hand, if you are cold emailing a potential client who you have never spoken to before, you will have to be a little more descriptive, detailed, and include a sales pitch. Select samples that are highly relevant to the client. Let them know that you have experience in their industry, as they would expect from any freelancer working with them.
(And don’t worry if you don’t have work samples, you can get your first clients without much experience.)
Don’t put them down!
If you notice an area of the clients business that has room for improvement, this is something you can talk about in your email. For example, if your client could do with improved web copy or a faster, more modern website, it might be worth touching on this and going into some detail about what exactly you could help them with if they chose to work with you. Make sure not to put down the client!
Spend some time carefully crafting your pitch and tailor it to each potential client. It may take some more time but copying and pasting the same pitch and sending it to every client isn’t going to get you very far; it’s too generic.
Your About Me section
One of the most common questions that freelancers have is what to say in their “about me” section. The truth is your email doesn’t really need an about me section. Here’s proof.
However, if you do talk about yourself it’s important to do it in a way that makes it about the client. Not you.
Bad: I’m Paul and I design awesome websites.
Better: I’m Paul and I help amazing blogs create marketing funnels that increase revenue. I recently worked with Marie Forleo, to build a conversion rate optimized blog – that helped her website go from ~$100,000 in revenue to ~$500,000 in one year.
You’re still talking about yourself and the work you do, you’re just doing it in a way that clients will actually care about.
Remember, virtually every freelancer is going to confusing terms to describe what they do. But when you do this, you lose the client’s attention. Here are some examples of this:
- I create intuitive user interfaces for small businesses.
- I create beautiful websites for small businesses.
- I create fast web apps for small businesses.
While on the surface these my seem reasonable. They’re bad.
Why? They’re focused on the freelancer instead of the client. Instead let’s flip these around to focus on the client:
- I create simple interfaces for great iphone apps that want to reach the next level inside the app store.
- I create marketing graphics that make great companies stand out even more for their brilliant content.
- I create web apps for amazing software companies that want to deliver the best product to their customers and improve retention.
Much better. All of these about me statements take the emphasis away from you and shifts it to the clients. A client wants a better version of themself. It’s not about the skill you have. It’s not about the service you’re selling, it’s about the results. It’s about how you’re valuable to your great clients. That’s all that matters. People are looking to pay for an outcome. They want results. They want a problem to go away.
So remember, you’re not just a freelancer. You’re not just any one skill. You have clients. You make their life better because of what your service does for their business. That’s what matters.
Should you send a PDF or a website?
In general, websites are the better option for most freelancers because they allow you to easily update and maintain your portfolio, as well as make it easy for the client to view on any device. My two favorite website platforms for portfolios are: WordPress and Webflow. And I recommend sending your client a link to the particular page where the relevant work is, and allow them to click around your other work if they wish.
However, PDF can work fine for certain types of freelance work. For example, PDF’s can be great for writing work samples because they’re generally smaller in file size. What you don’t want is to clog up a client’s inbox with a huge PDF. (Which trust me, I’ve seen hundreds of freelancers do.)
Alternatively, a PDF can be an ideal choice if you want to create a custom work sample for a specific client or tailor an existing project to highlight a different aspect of the project.
What if the PDF is too large?
The last thing that you want is to send a large file that the client will struggle to open or be unable to open. If your PDF file is too large, send it using a file sharing site like Dropbox. I don’t recommend Google drive for this because it’s a pain in the butt for clients.
Should you send your whole portfolio or just one piece?
95% of the time sending one specific project is going to be more effective at landing you a client.
This is the most important factor in sending work samples that win you clients. You don’t want to overwhelm a client by sending your entire portfolio. It’s almost always better to select one sample of your work that is highly relevant to the client in question and send that with your initial email.
This also opens for door for the client to ask to see more samples of your work at a later stage if they like what they saw in the first sample, at which stage it would be more appropriate to show them your entire portfolio.
What about emailing a recruiter work samples?
Typically, the process for emailing a recruiter rather than a business owner is very similar, but there are some key factors to keep in mind. Unlike cold emailing business owners, responding to a position usually means there is an advertisement that details what should be in your application.
Be sure to read this carefully and follow any instructions in the same way that you would if you were applying for a job. You may also want to have a sample ready to send in the follow-up email after you apply.
What makes a good portfolio piece or work sample?
In many cases, particularly for creative freelancers, your best work can be subjective.
That’s why it’s important to think about the skills that you’re going to be hired to do for this particular project.
A portfolio that has the highest likelihood of landing a job indicates you already have the skills to do what you’ll be hired to do. – Dan Mall
For example, if you’re a freelance graphic designer, you might love the death metal logo you created for your friend’s garage band, but a prospective client seeking to pitch investors has no use for that style of logo. That’s why it’s important to showcase a work sample that indicates the right skills for the project.
It’s also important to not that a great portfolio piece or work sample should be an improvement on the client’s existing work.
I recommend having a variety of strong portfolio work samples ready to go at all times. At least one per service you offer. If you are just starting out as a freelancer, you might find it useful to spend some time building up a portfolio – even if it means doing work on dummy projects instead of for a paying client.
How soon after should you send your portfolio email?
Soon. That faster the better.
You can safely assume you are not the only freelancer who is pitching this client. The work quality is only one factor of the overall hiring decision. Trust, communication, and responsiveness are all equal if not bigger factors in the client’s decision.
The faster you send your samples, the more you put a client’s anxieties about hiring you at ease. Ideally, within 12-24 hours.
How to end your email
So now that you’ve picked the perfect portfolio piece, and wrote an awesome email explaining how this work sample relates to the project at hand, you need to finish the job.
But how? Simple. Make a recommendation. Tell the client exactly what to do next.
Give them a clear step-by-step instruction they can follow to ensure they get into your calendar as quickly as possible. If you want some inspiration, here are examples of how to end your email to a client. Remember, make it as easy a next step as possible. Example: don’t ask them when they’re available for a kick-off call, send them a few times that work for you.
What to do next
Now that you know exactly how to send an effective work sample to freelance clients you have a huge leg up. To find even more client and start landing more gigs, check out Endless Clients. We teach our students proven tactics for how to find dozens of $10k+ projects in 30 minutes or less whenever they want.
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