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.
Why you’re sending a portfolio
Most agencies and freelancers understand that a portfolio helps leads get to know who you are and what you do.
But you can go one step further. You can give your prospective clients a picture of what their company would look like if they hired you.
That’s why I recommend tailoring your portfolio to the prospective client’s project.
How do you pick? Choose the portfolio piece that will:
- Show you’ve done similar work recently (bonus points if it’s also a similar client).
- Let them imagine what they will get from you.
- Reassure them that you will be a good investment.
The best portfolio piece is one that removes all doubt about whether you can handle the project.
On the other hand, if you are cold emailing a potential client who you have never spoken to before or you don’t have much experience, you may not even include a work sample at all.
What are clients looking for in your email
Clients want to see one thing when they look at your portfolio: their exact project, finished and to spec.
The closer you can get to this, the better your work sample will perform.
So always choose the most relevant piece in your portfolio for the client’s project.
For example, say a Chain of Yoga Studios asks to see a work sample.
If you’re picking between a Used Car Dealership website and a Wedding Planning Studio website in your portfolio, what’s the right choice?
Most likely, the answer is the Wedding Planning Studio website. Why? Because the end result is likely closer to what the client wants to see. Therefore, it will give them a better idea of what to expect.
This seems simple, but it’s incredibly common for agencies and freelancers to skip this step. Often, they send their entire portfolio and expect a client to wade through it by themselves. You know your work best. Why leave it up to the client?
What should you say in your email
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 is related to what they’re looking for. So here’s how to do that:
1. Recommended improvements (without putting the client down!)
If you notice an area of the clients business that has room for improvement or they specifically mention something they’d like to improve, it’s a good idea to talk about it in your email.
For example, if you notice a prospective client’s RFP states they’re looking to improve the page speed of their website, you might include a page speed test with the work sample you send. Just be sure to not put the client’s current work down in any way!
2. Your About Me section
One of the most common questions that agencies and freelancers have is what to say in their “about me” section. The truth is your email doesn’t really need an about me section. Clients simply don’t care.
Still, there’s a good way to talk about your company and a bad way to do it.
The good way is to talk about yourself in terms of what the client cares about. Here’s an example:
Bad: We’re Inter, a digital agency that designs awesome websites. In 2021, we were voted best new digital marketing agency by Screeny Magazine and our work won 5 Webby awards.
Good: We’re Inter, a digital agency that helps bloggers create funnels that turn organic traffic into recurring revenue. We recently worked with Tim Ferris to optimize his blog for conversions – taking his website from ~$100,000/mo in revenue to ~$900,0000/mo in just one year.
Notice the differences. If you talk about yourself, you want to do so in a way that will make your clients actually care.
3. Results (using the right terms)
Virtually every agency and freelancer uses confusing terms to describe the results they provide clients. Here’s an example:
Bad: We create beautiful and intuitive user interfaces for small businesses.
While words like intuitive and beautiful might make sense to you as an agency, a client likely doesn’t understand have the level of expertise that you do.
Instead talk about results in terms the client does understand:
Good: We design B2B user interfaces that help apps reduce churn and improve customer retention.
Remember, people are looking to pay for an outcome and problems go away.
You’re not selling your skills. You’re selling an outcome.
The most desirable outcomes are solutions to big problems because they make your prospective client’s lives easier. Focus on that when speaking about results.
Should you send a PDF or a website portfolio?
In general, website portfolios tend to be the better option for most agencies and freelancers because they’re easier to update and accessible to clients from any device.
I recommend sending your client a link to the work sample that is relevant to their project. They can always click around to other case studies if they’re curious.
When you should send a PDF
A PDF can be an better choice for situations where you want to create a custom experience for the client. Your website portfolio may not touch on or highlight the specific takeaways that relate to the client you’re pitching.
In this scenario, A PDF can be created and sent that is customized to the client’s project and speaks directly to their goals.
Additionally, certain types of work just lend themselves more to PDFs.
For example, writing samples are a great candidate for a PDF work sample because you can ensure what you’ve written is available and unedited.
This leads to another factor: PDF file size.
Writing samples are small. However, if you create a custom PDF with lots of graphics you can quickly clog up your client’s inbox with a huge PDF.
I’ve seen hundreds of agencies/freelancers do this and it’s always annoying.
So what if my PDF is too large?
As mentioned above, the last thing that you want is to send a large file that eats up your email storage. If your PDF file is too large, you can send it using a file sharing site like Dropbox.
However, I don’t recommend Google Drive for this because opening and reading PDFs attached via Google Drive is clunky and most clients will struggle to open or be unable to see your work. You’ve been warned.
Should you send your whole portfolio or just one piece?
In my experience, sending one specific work sample that relates to the project at hand is going to be more effective at winning you work 95% of the time.
This is great news because it’s also less work.
You don’t want to overwhelm a client by sending too much work for them to review. Remember, they’re likely looking at other options, so you want to make the most out of the limited time they have to review your work.
That’s why it’s important to send the 1 or 2 most relevant work samples to the client and ensure they see the work that’s going to give you the best chance with your initial email.
They can always ask to see more in the future.
What about emailing a recruiter work samples?
Typically, the process for emailing a recruiter is going to be similar – but there are some key differences to keep in mind.
- Unlike cold emailing a business owner directly, emailing a recruiter means their is usually an advertisement or job post that details what the company is looking for from 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. Following up with recruiters is also a good idea.
- A recruiter is a middle-man. They get paid if you’re perfect for the job. Remember to ask them for insights on what would make you the perfect candidate for the job and how to tailor your pitch.
What makes a good portfolio piece or work sample?
For creative agencies and 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
Here’s a handy checklist to help you choose the right portfolio piece:
- Does it show you’ve done similar work recently (bonus points if it’s also a similar client)?
- Does it ket them imagine what they will get from you?
- Does it reassure them that you will be a good investment?
If you have a portfolio piece that checks at least 2 of the 3 criteria above, send it. Amazingly few agencies and freelancers consider these factors when pitching leads.
How to end your email
So now that you’ve picked the perfect portfolio piece and explained how it relates to their project, you need to close your email.
Every work sample you send should have a call to action at the end of it.
- How can the client get started?
- When are you available to chat?
- What should a client do if they want to see other work?
Don’t make them guess.
Choose the best next step and tell the client exactly what they need to do to accomplish it.
If you want some inspiration, here are some examples of client-winning email and proposal scripts that have worked for others.
A surprise bonus
You just created a conversion-optimized email strategy for sending work samples.
Here’s a secret: there’s no reason why you can’t save this email template to send to other leads too.
In fact, that’s a great idea if you want to really increase your chances of landing a project. More leads equals more revenue.
But how do you find more high-quality opportunities worth pitching?
Until now, there wasn’t a high-quality way to for agencies to find clients on-demand. Now there is.
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