How to Build Your Web Design Portfolio From Scratch (With Zero Clients and Experience)

How to build your web design portfolio from scratch

So you want to show off your web design skills, but you don’t have any clients yet. Or maybe you’re a seasoned pro, but you want to attract a new kind of client. How do you prove your design knowledge with an empty portfolio?

Here’s how to build your web design portfolio from scratch, even with zero clients or experience.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: How to Build Your Web Design Portfolio From Scratch

Today. I want to talk to you about how you as a web designer can build your web design portfolio without any clients and with zero web design experience. this episode is brought to you by hot chocolate,

It is really good. all jokes aside. If you know me, I love having a cozy, warm beverage by my side, whenever I’m at my desk.

And this afternoon, we brought some hot cocoa along for the video.

I’m Galen from Local Creative Co. and I am so excited to talk about this today because having a web design portfolio that represents the kind of work that you want to do is so important to attracting more of the kinds of clients that you want to work with.

Really quick before we dive in. If you stay all the way to the end of this video, I have an extra special bonus tip for you

also, don’t forget to subscribe to this channel because I would hate for you to miss any videos I put out in the future.

This video is perfect for you if you’re a web designer with no experience, or even if you’re a web designer, that’s been doing websites for a while, but you found that the type of clients you’ve been working with in the past, don’t really fill you with passion. They’re not ones that you’re excited about working with in the future.

So you want to find ways to add to your portfolio to get more design work that you are proud to show off on your website.

In the beginning, you might have an idea for the niche that you want to work with and your dream clients that you can’t wait to design websites for. But then as you start, you find yourself just saying yes to every project that comes your way. It could be word of mouth from friends and family. It could be communities that you’re already a part of.

And you just say yes, because you want to get the experience, but you don’t feel like necessarily showing off those websites in your portfolio because they don’t necessarily look like the type of sites that you want to do long term.

If you are listening right now, saying yes, Galen, this is 100% me. I have a tip. That’s going to help you turn your ehh portfolio into something you are so excited to share with the world.

Okay. Are you ready? If you can’t find the dream clients that you want to work with? If they’re not hiring you right now. Create those dream clients yourself.

Hear me out your designer, who would love to work with an organic skincare brand, but instead you say yes to designing a website for your uncle’s car dealership, or maybe the local dentist office, and while these are projects, you are really thankful for, they aren’t necessarily getting you any closer to your dream web design business.

And you also find that when your dream clients come to your website, they’re not going to be impressed by anything in your portfolio. So what do you do? You create a fictional skincare brand and you come up with a project brief that aligns with that ideal client.

You come up with a name for the brand. You think about their color palette. You think about what brand elements they might have. You look at what problems they’re trying to solve with their website and how you as a designer can help solve those problems.

Once you have this fictional brand in your mind or better yet, actually write it down on a piece of paper and describe everything we just talked about. Once you have that, then you’re going to want to start your design process. If you don’t have one, yet, this is a wonderful opportunity for you to kind of flush out what that might look like if this were a real client.

I personally offer design days, which means all of my web design projects are done over a one, two or three-day period.

And if you’re interested in my exact client process and how I set up these projects from start to finish, I’m going to include a link to a free training in the description below.

Your next step is going to be to get a clear idea of who this client is and what their brand is actually going to look like. I love using Canva for this step. You can just put together a really simple mood board with that color palette, maybe adding in some stock photos, you can find some wonderful stock photos directly in Canva, but I also recommend Pexels and for more free stock photos that you can use royalty-free in your project.

If you just offer web design and you are not interested in doing any sort of branding, Canva has a ton of free logo templates you can use. So that way you can just create a super quick logo in Canva and use that in this web design project.

When it comes to choosing fonts for this brand, I love using Google fonts because they’re totally free to use. And you can try out a website like which helps you put different combinations of fonts together to decide which one is going to be the best fit for you.

If you want to get a little bit fancier with your fonts, check out creative market, they have so many amazing options. Just make sure you pay attention to the licenses for each of those fonts, because you’re going to have to pay to use them.

And you might need a different license depending on how you are going to use those fonts.

Now it’s time to mock up your fictional website. And there’s a lot of different ways that you can approach this first. Some people like to use a tool like Figma or Adobe XD and really flesh out the full site design before they go into the building phase on their platform of choice.

While I have definitely found that’s a great way to go. I’d like to take a little bit of a simpler approach and I just mock everything up directly in Canva.

I don’t necessarily need to design the entire site in Canva. I just like to get an idea for the layout and the different elements. I create a blink Canva document. That’s about 1920 x 4000 px and that gives me plenty of empty space to work with. I map out all the different elements because it’s so much easier to change colors or move things around in Canva than it is to move them around when you’re actually building out the website in your platform of choice.

I always start with the homepage first. And I go back to that ideal client that I created for myself. And I think about what problems their business is facing and how I can use their website to solve those problems strategically.

For example. What messaging is their headline trying to convey? What’s going to be their primary call to action? And where do they want to send people next on their website?

As a web designer, you want to be able to speak to the strategy behind your designs as much as possible, because that sets you up as an authority in your niche and makes it more likely that you will attract clients who trust your judgment.

Once your design is completed. Congratulations. Give yourself a pat on the back. Now that you’re ready to share your new design with the world. It’s important that you show it off in a lot of different ways. You’re going to take mobile shots, desktop shots. You’re going to post it in your website portfolio, but you’re also going to be sharing it on social media, on Instagram stories, wherever you think your ideal clients are hanging out.

I highly recommend using a Google Chrome extension called GoFullPage. And this will let you take a full page screenshot of your website so that you can use it in mock-ups or other designs on social media to show off your work.

There’s another recent video on my YouTube channel. All about how I create website mock-ups so go check that out. If you want more details, I will include a link in the description.

Okay, now that you’ve made it to the end of this video, I have an extra special bonus tip for you. Since you put in all the effort of making this website for an ideal client that will sadly never get to use it because they don’t exist. You can turn this website design into a template that you can sell on your own website for other creatives to use in the future.

That way, this website that you created for free can actually make you a little bit of money in the long run.

And who knows an ideal client might stumble across your template and decide to hire you to customize it for them.

If you found this video helpful, make sure to let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you. If you are going to test out this method for building your web design portfolio.

And as always, don’t forget to subscribe. So you don’t miss any videos I put out in the future.

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify

When Should You Revamp Your Web Design Portfolio?

Naturally, this tutorial is perfect for new web designers who haven’t worked with clients yet. But it can also be helpful for longtime designers looking to break into a new niche.

When you first start your business, it’s tempting to say “yes” to every web design project that comes your way. That might be your uncle’s car dealership, your friend’s photo business, or the dog groomer down the street. But if these aren’t the kinds of businesses you want to serve, you don’t want to include them in your portfolio. If you do, you could attract the wrong kind of clients or repel the right kind of clients.

Instead of throwing everything into your portfolio, focus on projects that align with your dream clients’ style, industry, or needs. If you don’t have any previous work that checks those boxes, here’s how to get some!

How to Build a Web Design Portfolio Without Clients

If you really want to attract your ideal clients, you need to show off work that aligns with them. And if you don’t have any prior work that does, you’ll have to make some!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with creating website mockups for fictional businesses. It’s a great way to flex your creative muscles and flesh out your portfolio.

STEP 1: Imagine your dream client.

Sit down with a pen and paper, and imagine your ideal client. What do they do? Which services do they offer? What kind of vibe does their business give off?

Once you have a clear vision of your ideal client, bring them to life! Hop into Canva to create a quick logo and mood board. Create a color palette, and throw in a few stock photos from Pexels or Unsplash to make it more realistic.

Then, write up a fictional project brief. Consider the kinds of problems this client is facing, and create a plan for solving them with your website design.

STEP 2: Mock up a website.

Next, create a mockup of your website. You can use a program like Adobe XD or Figma to mock up the entire site. Or, if you want to keep it simple, just make it in Canva! (Pro tip: I use a canvas that’s 1920×4000 pixels. You’re welcome!) For fonts, check out Google Fonts for tons of free options. You can also use to play around with different combinations before you upload them to your site.

Of course, you can also mock up the site directly in your website builder of choice. For me, though, it’s much easier to change colors, fonts, and layouts in a mockup first.

STEP 3: Show it off!

Once you have your site mockup, it’s time to show it off! I use a Chrome extension called GoFullPage to take a screenshot of the entire webpage. Then, you can cut it down for your portfolio, social media, and even emails.

BONUS TIP: Make money from your website mockup!

You’ve put in all the work to create this fictional website. Why not monetize it?

Once you get this site mockup into your website builder, you can sell it as a template. It can make you a little money down the line. Plus, it can help attract dream clients who are more DIY savvy.

Ready to scale your web design business?

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