How to make the most of your developer portfolio
Your most valuable skill as a developer is your coding. That much is obvious. But coming in a close second, and what customers ultimately end up paying for, is your ability to sell you. That’s where your developer portfolio comes into play.
Let’s face it — there are thousands of highly capable developers who can write the same exact code as you, if not better. Website development is where the money is these days, and a new mini-business is created every day as developers realize they can strike out on their own and start lucrative freelance enterprises.
On any given project, you can expect dozens of developers (if not more) to be considered for the contract, especially with the proliferation of outsourcing platforms that give clients control over who they select for the job.
How can you stand out when the field is that crowded? Luckily, you have one corner of the internet that’s all yours, where you can make a name for yourself and create a personal brand that differentiates you and gets results. That place is your personal portfolio.
Your developer portfolio conveys your brand’s story.
Products and services are more than what a brand sells.
When you’re a consumer, you’re likely attracted to the brands that make you feel something — whether that’s security, a sense of belonging, humor, relatability — and you choose one over the other based on this emotional attachment.
What these brands all excel at is selling the why and the how of what they offer, more so than the tangible features. In other words, they attract you with their brand positioning, a.k.a. the unique benefits they, and only they, can provide.
Speaking personally, I know that my position in the crowded developer marketplace is that of a WordPress expert. OK, you say, other developers are WordPress experts, too. Sure, just like there are other business messaging apps besides Slack. It’s all in how you demonstrate your position on your developer portfolio.
Don’t showcase everything you’ve ever done.
One common mistake I see on developer portfolios is an abundance of (boring) case studies. No one has the time to sort through 20-plus screenshots of sites you’ve coded, no matter how interesting they may be.
A more confident and strategic move is to display only a small handful of your best sites and produce other pieces of content that paint a fuller picture of you as a developer.
On my site, I only showcase three of the more than 700 WordPress sites I’ve developed over the past year.
Again, the goal of your developer portfolio should be to give a little taste of what you do while showcasing who you are.
Anyone can claim to be an expert, but not everyone is a leader in the field whom people can actually turn to for advice and perspective, even if they’re not actively looking for a developer.
This is why a blog is so critical to feature alongside your portfolio. I have focused much more energy on developing my voice through my blog than I have on any other part of my website.
Through a blog, you can communicate the topics you think are important, which can have great educational value for readers and be extremely beneficial networking tools for you. Why? Because the better and more relevant your content is, the more it will be shared around.
When a business needs a secure server for their site, they may remember a post they read about that topic a while back on your site, and you’ve got the in.
My blog doesn’t only feature expert-level posts about specific topics developers find interesting. That would be boring. It’s also a place where I convey some of my personality and share real-life stories. Code is very impersonal, so I find it important to be as transparent as I can through what I write.
I’ve published stories of my speaking engagements at WordCamp events, written about life as a freelancer and even pulled back the curtain on my income reports to hopefully inspire others in my field.
Publish testimonials from your clients.
Another best practice for a developer portfolio site is to let others do the talking for you. This means don’t be shy about publishing reviews from satisfied customers on your site.
Word of mouth is powerful advertising, and if people are unfamiliar with you or on the fence deciding between you and another developer, you’ll win if you use the words of others to back up your claims of expertise.
Potential clients like numbers, so make sure to always ask your customers to rate you on a 1-5 scale so you can promote your aggregate score on your site.
Produce more video content.
One other huge deal-closer for me is having video interviews sprinkled throughout my site.
Some clients don’t want to read, and video snippets let them see you and hear the passion in your voice as you talk about topics that interest you. Once they’re done watching your video, they feel like they already know you and will be more inclined to hire you than someone who’s more of a mystery.
Everyone loves automatic lead generation, right?
Check on what other developers are doing.
I’ve seen a lot of developer portfolios, and I’ve learned the do’s and don’ts of great personal website strategy by checking out what my peers are doing.
When in doubt, do your research and figure out where you can implement a tactic that few others are trying. Always try to make your personality stand out so you can let potential clients know the person at the other end of the code.
Take this advice and put it in action.
- Use your developer portfolio to showcase your best work.
- Start blogging to demonstrate your expertise and build your brand.
- Publish testimonials from your clients to support your credibility.
- Capture your personality and energy on video, emulating the face-to-face experience.
- Keep an eye on what other developers are doing and use them as inspiration.
Remember: Your developer portfolio doesn’t exist to sell your code. It exists to sell you. Your experience, your capabilities, your personality, your style, your working relationships … that’s what your clients are paying for.