Creating Your Online Portfolio: Tips and Strategies

I recently redesigned my website to be a true online portfolio, that really highlights my work and accomplishments. I’m very happy with the way it turned out and I thought I’d share some tips with those of you who are thinking about building your own website portfolio.

portfolio2Please check out my new portfolio!



CMS’s vs. HTML sites vs. hosted landing pages: There are tons of choices out there when you’re getting ready to design your portfolio. For the longest time, I had an html site that I built and it was great because I had complete control over everything, I knew where everything was, and I never ran into the issue of not being able to do this or that with a software program or theme, etc. The downside to this is that it was arduous each time I wanted to change a menu structure or make a major website change. Also, updating the website was a pain because I would always need to be at home with access to my ftp server to upload files and access Dreamweaver, etc. I wanted something that would let me add a new project or image whenever I thought about it, right on the spot, without feeling like I needed a degree in computer science. I could have gone with a hosted landing page, but these are really meant to be splash pages displaying social media profiles and I had a lot of information I wanted to include so that ruled those out. I decided I wanted to use a content management system that would offer me a whole lot of functionality and allow me to edit it by logging in anywhere. Once I knew I wanted to go with a CMS, I immediately thought of WordPress because I had seen a lot of great themes created for online portfolios and I work with it regularly due to iLibrarian, although I had never installed it myself.

Hosted vs. Self-Hosted WordPress: Next I considered whether I wanted to use a hosted version of WP or host it myself. Both are free, but the advantage of hosting it myself would be that I could choose any theme I wanted rather than just those that could be used on the hosted version of the software, and I would have much more flexibility with what I could store, and upload to the site. I decided I wanted to host it myself and I already had a ISP, so I wrote to them to ask about whether I had access to any one-click WordPress installation tools. Many internet hosts now make it very easy to install complex programs such as WordPress, Drupal, etc. by providing tools that let you click to install them and it sets everything up for you. They didn’t have that available, so I had to install the software and set up the database by myself. It had been a while since I had set anything like this up, but I had installed similar programs in the past, so I knew enough to be nervous. But, I followed the helpful instructions here and made only about 4 mistakes which sent me to tech support, but eventually I got it installed! Here are some tips, based on the mistakes I made:

  • At first I tried to set up my database and name it “WordPress”, and no matter how many times I tried it wouldn’t create it. It would always come back and tell me it already existed. I then found out I was on a shared server with other people who had surely already created a database with that name, so I had to think of something more unique.
  • In some cases (mine included), you need to specify the IP address of the database server when you’re setting up the wp-config file. I kept mine as ‘localhost’ and it wouldn’t work.
  • Don’t assume that just because you’ve specifically asked your tech support reps if you have PHP 5 intalled, and have told them that you’re installing WordPress that they will volunteer that you need to also then “enable PHP” to run in order for the website to work.
  • Stick to your guns if you run into a problem and you know it isn’t you. I was at the end of my install and I had done everything according to the instructions, but it wouldn’t let me log into the site. My tech support rep kept insisting that I wasn’t remembering my password, so I sent in a separate ticket asking for someone else to help. Sure enough there was a problem with the server I was on that led me into an infinite redirect loop that kept redirecting me back to that blank login page.



What to Include: I thought a lot about what I wanted to include this time in the portfolio. My first thought is always “everything!”, but then I thought this might end up detracting from the portfolio by overwhelming the reader. Instead, I chose the projects that I thought were the most impressive and I’m holding off on the others for now. I can always add them later. I really don’t want my best work getting lost in a sea of content.

What to Exclude: As I mentioned above, I really thought about streamlining my content this time. Some of my previous descriptions of individual projects was quite lengthy. I thought it would be better to cut it down to a paragraph or two and let people ask for more information if they were interested.



Color Scheme: I really didn’t go with my natural inclinations on this one. I tend to like really flashy colors like hot pink, turquoise, and purple, and since they don’t exactly scream “professional website here!”, I decided to keep those for color choices on my desktop wallpaper. Instead, I took a look at a lot of professional portfolios and noticed the muted tones that didn’t distract from the content of the site (which is really the whole point). I ended up keeping the original color scheme that the designer chose on the theme.

Themes: There are a ton of fantastic themes out there that will take WordPress or whatever software you’re working with and transform it into an online portfolio. I’ve recently written a post on this here:
10 Awesome Portfolio Themes for WordPress. You’ll notice I included both free and for-cost themes in that list. I used to only look for what was free and would often “make do” with a design that didn’t meet all of my requirements. But this time I considered that this was an investment in my career, and was going to also be a major time investment on my part, so I’d better have something I was really thrilled with. Most of the for-fee themes average at about $50, which is reasonable when I thought about how many years I might keep this website.

Graphics: I love Photoshop, and while I’m a hobbyist, I’m definitely not a graphic designer. I really wanted to keep this in mind when designing my graphics for the front page slider. I knew what I wanted it to look like but I didn’t know how to do it, so I searched online for tutorials and ended up toning down my original (extremely elaborate) ideas for the slider graphics and created something I’m quite pleased with.

Hope you find this helpful!!