Life & Work Skills

How to Build Your Portfolio When You Don’t Have Any Clients


As someone who has worked with clients before, I’m here to tell you, it can be SO FREEING to create something without input. If you’re just starting to build out your portfolio, chances are you’re juggling a full-time job and trying to build out a new business. That can be so beyond exhausting that it enters a new territory where even keeping your eyes open feels like a luxury.

Which is why you should soak up this time without clients or deadlines and allow yourself the freedom to create without barriers. What’s the work you’ve always wanted to do? Now is the time to do it — and then add that baby to your portfolio as something you can be unequivocally proud of.

Don’t know where to start? No worries, I’ve got you. Read on, my friend.


Create work for your ideal client

So, first up: identify your ideal client. Who are you dying to work for? Who would benefit the most from your (abundant) talents? Hone in and get right up in the nitty gritty — the more you know about the people you want to work for, the better equipped you’ll be to do the real work when the time comes.

Then, build out a project for that client. Let your imagination run wild — you know it wants to. Feel like making up a company first is too much work before you get to the actual work? Try creating work for an existing company or individual you admire or that fits the profile of your ideal client. Whatever gets your creative juices flowing.

When I started freelancing, I had no clients and no idea how to obtain them. And I didn’t realize you could create work if you didn’t have clients… seems like a “duh” moment, but it’s easier than you think to miss when you’re starting out in an industry. In the same way that you’re not going to want to put all the work you do for clients in your portfolio (trust me), you can put work in your portfolio that didn’t come from a client. An amazing example of this is the (ERMAGERD GORGEOUS) self-initiated redesign of Sebastian Joe’s ice cream shop by Breanna Rose. I’m in love, clearly. 


Think outside the client work bubble

Building out your portfolio doesn’t always mean presenting a perfectly prepackaged look at what you might give to a client. These days, your work is everywhere you are — whether that be your website, your blog, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter… you get it. Which means your “portfolio” doesn’t have to be a static website or hosted in just one place on the great big ol’ Internet. You have the freedom to express yourself in multiple different ways across multiple different platforms. Who says your Instagram feed can’t be your portfolio? No one, I promise.

Try a social media challenge, where you post a slice of work every day with a dedicated hashtag — think #dailylogoseries, #100daysofpatterns — to inspire you, keep you creating day in and out, and generate hype around you, your abilities, and your business. It’s not client work, but it showcases your talents and illustrates that you have a lot of irons in the fire and are hard at work on a day-to-day basis — an essential in presenting yourself or your company favorably to future clients. 

Boiled down: it’s about not being afraid to create your own unique, out-of-the-box opportunities and do what you love at the same time — the ~ultimate~ dream.


Don’t underestimate yourself or your abilities

Not having clients does not, in any way, mean that you’re undeserving or untalented. Give yourself a break. Building out a business is DAMN HARD WORK. It takes time, and pitting yourself against people you see succeeding in your industry is not a fair comparison. Don’t judge your beginning on someone else’s middle.

Clients are not the arbiter of success. Remember that. Make things you’re proud of and keep creating consistently, even when it seems like it’s not making a difference. I love this quote from Mon Voir that sums it all perfectly:Create something today, even if it sucks.”

If you’re a writer, write — don’t wait for a platform or a client. Put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), and let loose all those ideas swimming around in your head. Need inspiration? Check out Caroline Donofrio’s site Hello, I’m Flawed, which is an amazing example of a writer taking a passion (her love-hate relationship with lifestyle blogs) and turning it into a tangible resource.

Same goes for photographers, stylists, designers… you name it. There’s no set process — your business means your timeline. Focus on the creating, not the (future) clients. Pretty liberating, am I right?


Do you have tips on building out your portfolio when you don’t have clients? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!