Steps to Creating a Successful Online Portfolio
By Marcia Passos Duffy
Artisans are visual people who instinctually know that a picture can be worth a thousand words when trying to sell products. And those pictures, when expertly arranged in an online portfolio, can be worth thousands of dollars in sales – that is, if you have an effective online portfolio.
However, just slapping up random photos of your work does not make for a successful online portfolio. In fact, a poorly designed online portfolio can do more harm than good with the loss of potential customers who click away from your site in frustration.
A good portfolio, however, can make the difference between faltering sales and a successful web presence with robust sales, says Hope Gibbs, founder of Great Handmade Gifts of Arlington, Va., (http://www.greathandmadegifts.com/), an online e-commerce website that sells the art and crafts of more than 60 artists, artists and authors. "[An online portfolio] gets the word out about your work… in this high-tech environment not having an online portfolio is the equivalent of not having a business,” says Gibbs.
How can you make sure that your online portfolio is making a lasting impression that ultimately leads to more sales? Here’s how:
Position Your Portfolio Front and Center
Kate Lister, the co-author of the book, Undress for Success – the Naked Truth about Making Money at Home, says that the success of an online portfolio starts with where it is positioned on a web site. Make it the centerpiece, says Lister. "This is what your customers want to see,” she says. "Don’t make them dig for it.”
Make Sure Your Photos – and Your Pieces -- are First Rate
Provide good quality photographs of your work in your portfolio. If you are a good photographer and know how to frame a photo and capture the details of your work, you may want to take the shots yourself. But your best bet is to hire the services of a professional photographer, particularly one who is skilled at staging and photographing artisan’s work.
Also make sure that you are displaying your best – and most current – work.
"If you have older pieces that are lower quality or don’t represent your current approach, leave them out,” suggests Tim Aldridge, a San Francisco-based web designer and fine artist who sells his work online.
Don’t crowd your portfolio with every piece you’ve ever done. "Showing every piece will create confusion. Only show your best work and try to group in a series if possible,” says Aldridge. Also link your portfolio with your online shopping cart. "Make it easy for people to either buy online or provide clear information on how they can purchase your work,” he says.
Not only can photographs make or break a portfolio, but words are also important. Don’t keep the visitor guessing about what is in the photograph: add descriptive and interesting captions for each photograph. But don’t overdo it.
"Avoid a lengthy analysis of each piece,” says Aldridge, "Let people discover the nuances on their own.”
The goal of your portfolio should be to start a ‘conversation’ with a customer…and to get a phone call or an order. If customers want more detail, give them a forum to ask (either via email, or a chat room, or by phone). Once you have the conversation going, then you can answer all their questions, give as many details you have and share more examples.
Technical Details Also Count
On the technical side, make sure that you – or your Web designer – make the portfolio search engine friendly, suggests Josh Freedman, of Web 1 Marketing (http://www.web1marketing.com/), a Seattle, Wash.-based web marketing company.
* Each piece should have its own web page. Make sure you include descriptive text captions since search engines can’t "read” pictures.
* Use keywords. Make sure that you know the major keywords for your product. For help with keyword ideas visit: Google Keywords:https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. Make sure that these keywords are used in your image’s alt tags, caption text, and the page’s title tag (make sure your Web designer does this if you do not know what this means).
* Resize photos for the Web. Digital camera shots are too large for the Web and will slow the process of uploading, says Freedman.
* Use Web traffic reporting. You can use Google Analytics (which is free), or Yahoo! Analytics if you have a Yahoo! store. "What’s key about this is that you can find out so much about what happens when visitors come to your site,” says Philippa Gamse, an internet strategist from Capitola, CA (http://www.websitesthatwin.com/). "If you don't check out this traffic information, and act on it, you can't really know what's happening with your online portfolio, and how effectively it's representing you and promoting your products,” she says.
Include a Call to Action
Even if you have gorgeous pictures, engaging content, and the site is perfectly optimized for the Web, a portfolio will not help your sales if you don’t have one more thing: a call to action with a phone call or email for more information or a free consultation.
Make it easy for the visitor to find all your contact information – including your name, physical address, email and phone number.
Do add your credentials. Put a photo of yourself and a short resume or biography. This is the place to put your awards, certifications, etc. And don’t forget connecting with your customers via social media. Have a YouTube video about a project? Add a link. Do you have followers on Twitter? Have a fan base on FaceBook? Add those links to your contact page.
Treat Your Online Portfolio Seriously
The biggest portfolio mistake, experts agree, is having your portfolio quickly slapped together in an unprofessional manner because it is "just online.” The real selling, you may think, will happen face to face in a retail or consumer show setting.
But this is a mistake that can cost you business. Consider your online portfolio as a virtual showroom for your business – and make it as professional and easy to maneuver as you would your real life showroom and reap the rewards with increased online sales.
MARCIA PASSOS DUFFY (http://www.backporchpublishing.com/) is a freelance business writer based in New Hampshire and is a member of the state's artisan and business organization, NH Made. Marcia's articles have appeared on Yahoo Finance, CNBC, Bankrate.com, NFIB.com, Smart Business Magazine, The New York Times Lifewire, The Weather Channel, among others; she is the author of the book, Be Your Own Boss. She also publishes two online magazines, Home Office Weekly.com (http://www.homeofficeweekly.com/) and The Heart of New England.com (http://www.theheartofnewengland.com/). Marcia wrote this feature article exclusively for the Association of Artisan Businesses (http://www.artisanbusinesses.org/), an organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the artisan industry.