How to build the perfect full stack web dev portfolio

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March 24, 2021
5 minute read

The portfolio is the lifeblood of many great freelance businesses and careers. It’s a central hub where you can show off your work and who you are, and where potential clients can get in touch. As a web developer, it’s also a prime opportunity to showcase your skills.

Below, we share tips and guidance for how you can make the most of that opportunity.

Elements of a great web dev portfolio

A great portfolio isn’t a universal concept. That said, there are a handful of elements that every great full stack web dev portfolio must have—everything else is gravy.

To start, ensure your portfolio ticks the boxes below. Then you can optimize and customize from there.

  • A simple, concise explanation of what you do: In a one or two sentence headline, explain what you do for clients. You only have a few seconds to grab attention, so make it prominent, clear, and easy to read.
  • Work samples: Choose work you’re particularly proud of that reflects the kind of work you want more of (We’ll get deeper into selecting this work next.)
  • Social proof and results: Including testimonials and key results from prior clients and projects is one of the most effective ways to turn a portfolio into a lead-generating machine for your freelance business, and to help you set higher freelance rates.
  • A clear and quick way to contact you: The whole point of a portfolio is to enable clients to reach out, so include prominent contact calls-to-action and a quick, easy mechanism for getting in touch with you.
  • Clean, professional design: Remember, your portfolio is itself a representation of your work. Keeping the design clean and professional ensures clients you’ll do the same for their projects.
  • Quick load time: Loading time is one of the clearest indicators of how technically sound your website is. Plus, websites that load slowly lose visitors—and that’s the last thing you want your portfolio to do.

Choosing your best work

One of the harder aspects of creating the perfect portfolio is choosing the right work to include. That can get tricky in one of two ways:

  • As a beginner, you may not have any work samples to include
  • As an experienced developer, you may have so much work that it’s hard to choose what to include

Including zero work samples isn’t an option for a portfolio site and neither is including every project you’ve ever done. So how do you choose which work to include?

If you’re new to freelance web development and you don’t have any samples to include, the answer is to get to work on projects that you can include.

You don’t have to magically pull clients and projects out of a hat. Instead, consider taking an online course built for web developers that includes several projects. Another option is to work on side projects you’re passionate about—then include those as work samples on your portfolio.

For more experienced developers, consider these guidelines to help narrow it down: Does the work sample...

  • Reflect the kind of project you want more of?
  • Show something unique or demonstrate the breadth of your skills and experience?
  • Build your authority by sharing work done for prominent brands in your niche?
  • Make you especially proud?
  • Represent personal or passion work that will help potential clients get to know you?

How to add personality to your portfolio

Speaking of that last point above, your portfolio shouldn’t be a sterilized repository for your prior work. It should showcase your personality and help potential clients get to know you as a person. By definition, there’s no formula for how to personalize your portfolio, but there are a few concrete do’s and don’ts you can follow to help you get there.

  • DON’T try to copy another developer’s portfolio.
  • DON’T use a formulaic website template that millions of other portfolios use. Or, if you do, be sure to customize it to better reflect your style.
  • DO experiment with your creativity and get whimsical. Get creative, show off your style and skill, and don’t take yourself (or your website) too seriously.
  • DO treat your portfolio site as a portfolio piece in itself. Don’t be afraid to spend a little extra time ensuring it reflects your style and the type of work you do.
  • DO include a photo of yourself. Even a single photo of yourself will help to humanize your portfolio and make potential clients put a face to the work and other details they see on the site.
  • DO add passion projects in addition to client work. Whether you’re new to freelance web dev and don’t have a ton of client work or not, including personal projects you’re passionate about is always a good idea.
  • DO include a bio or About page. Clients are hiring you, not just your work—so you need to include a way for them to get to know you and your background.

Best examples of web developer portfolios

Sometimes, the easiest way to build a great portfolio is to get inspired by how others have approached the task. Below are a few of the best examples we’ve seen.

Caoimhe Morgan-Feir

Why it’s great: Caoimhe isn’t afraid to be different and get a little whimsical—her portfolio perfectly captures her background and love of art.

Matthew Williams

Why it’s great: Matthew’s portfolio is as simple as it gets. The dynamic background adds a little panache, while the straightforward headline makes it easy for visitors to immediately know if they’re in the right place.

Patrick David

Why it’s great: Unique, unexpected design and dynamic elements to show off Patrick’s style as well as his skill as a developer.

Wrapping up

As a freelance web dev, your portfolio is a valuable asset in securing new clients and building a sustainable business. With the guidance above, a little creativity on your end and the proper developer resources, you’re ready to build out the perfect portfolio for a full stack web dev.