In this post I hope to accomplish two things: First, I’d like to convince you that there are a lot of great platforms out there for posting and sharing your work; meaning there’s really no excuse for neglecting to create an online portfolio. Secondly, I’d like to convince you that any creative person who wants to harness the full potential of their personal brand is best served by building their portfolio on WordPress as part of a self hosted central hub for their client/customer and fan base.
Now, I understand that each designer reading this article is going to have their own preferences and needs when it comes to a portfolio, so instead of jumping right into my case for a self hosted WordPress site, I’d like to provide a brief overview of some of the most popular platforms available – all of which are great options for hosting your work. In this way I’ll be able to contrast the pro’s and con’s I list later against examples already covered.
Online Portfolio Options
So lets talk options. Below I’ve listed seven of the most popular online platforms through which artists publish their work. Of course there are a lot more options out there, and I would encourage you to do some extra research, but for our purposes today seven will be quite enough. So let’s get into it.
First, we have Cargo Collective…
“Cargo is a creative publishing platform where everything, from the ever-changing visual appearance of people’s personal websites to the user interface, is built around the work shared by its members.
Cargo’s goal is to dramatically increase the accessibility and exposure of creative individuals on the Internet, while aspiring to build a networked context that will contribute to the culture as a whole.”
Cargo is unique in that they’re invite only. So if you’re hoping to just pop over and sign-up that’s not exactly an option. However, if you can convince them to send you an invite – which they encourage you to do by sending them a sample of your work – they have a pretty nice platform for displaying your work and networking with other artists. Their strongest feature, in my opinion, is their selection of excellently pre-designed site templates. By using one of these templates you can quickly launch a sleek, minimal portfolio that is automatically linked up to their existing community of quality vetted artists.
Up next is Behance. Their mission is to empower the creative world to make ideas happen. They do this by encouraging artists to create while they provide the platform for promotion and discovery. It seems to be working very well. They have over 20 million project views per month by fellow creatives and potential employers seeking fresh creative talent. It’s free, they offer awesome portfolio analytics to track your community appreciation, and they even make getting a job easier via their job boards and encouraging potential employers to reach out to those on their network and the various creative networks they power.
Dribbble asks the question: What are you working on? In which you reply with a small screenshot. This simple concept of “show and tell” as they put it, is a great way of making new friends/fans within the design community as well as drawing positive attention from potential hirers.
Probably the world’s most popular method of publishing and sharing photos – besides maybe Facebook – Flickr is a great way to organize and showcase visual art. This site is most commonly used by photographers but the same tools that have made it popular with that crowd make it a great tool for anyone looking to showcase images or video of any kind.
Not only a sea of funny gifs but also an incredibly vibrant platform for sharing art. Tumblr, in a word, is simplicity. It’s a micro-blogging platform that is sort of like a cross between twitter, Facebook, and a really stripped down WordPress. Its publishing style is based solely on custom post types: one image or image set, one video, one block of text, a quote, etc. This simple approach to content creation and publishing makes sharing your work incredibly easy both for you and those who want to re-blog (i.e. redistribute) your work. Not to mention the social networking aspects of Tumblr make gaining an online following fairly easy when compared to other blogging platforms.
Speaking of other blogging platforms, one of the oldest but still one of the best is Blogger. The Blogger platform is popular with artists who similarly to those on Tumblr, want a simple blogging platform that combines the informal continuous conversation of blogger/curation with the publication of their own work. As a product of Google, Blogger has become more and more polished over the last couple years offering tight integration with Google Adsense and Google Analytics as well as its own system of blog following/networking.
And finally, we have my top choice, WordPress.org. It’s important to note for those who are unfamiliar with WordPress that the reason I’m making the distinction between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is that WordPress.org is self hosted (meaning you use a hosting service to host a custom domain where you install the WordPress software) where as WordPress.com is similar to Blogger or Tumblr in that it’s a free hosted platform. There are several differences between the two but the biggest is that a self hosted site is much more flexible in terms of customization. Which as I’ll argue below, makes all the difference.
My Case For WordPress: A Few Thousand Dollars Per Month
At this point you may be wondering what the big deal is. If there are all these great options out there why shouldn’t you just pick one and run with it? To which I would reply, that’s fine. If you just want to get your work up somewhere and attract new gigs – do it! Please! I can’t tell you how many talented artists and designers I know who are missing out on a ton of work simply because there is no good way for potential clients to view their portfolio and get a hold of them. It blows my mind! So yeah, if one of the options above – besides WordPress – works for you then by all means utilize it.
However, the reason I’m such a proponent of WordPress as a portfolio platform is because it provides its users with unparalleled flexibility and all the tools/resources you could possibly need to grow your portfolio into a full fledged brand and business. On platforms like Cargo, Behance, Dribbble, and Flickr, they make it easy for you to post your work and get discovered but they don’t provide you with the tools to build a brand and core following outside of their network. So in the end, while you may get immediate work as a result of someone seeing your existing work on those platforms, you are also dependent on them and the structure they’ve created. You don’t have the ability to create a unique online experience, capture leads, add a store, advertise, run affiliate programs or promote the growth of your own brand/business.
On blogging platforms like Tumblr and Blogger you have quite a bit more flexibility. So on those platforms you may be able to build a brand and following but you are still much more limited in terms of design, customization, and monetization than you would be on WordPress. Again, these are all things that will negatively impact your ability to grow the influence and value of your brand/business.
And yes, if it sounds like I’m assuming that artists and designers should think of themselves as a brand or business then you are absolutely correct. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a business if you don’t want to be. After all, freelancing and/or founding a company is not for everyone. But neither is it wise to close off the possibility of a good thing simply by choosing the wrong platform at the beginning. Allow me to give you an example from my own life where I learned this lesson the hard way.
I began a tumblr in the fall of 2010 as a way of showcasing my writing, art, and curatorial talents. I primarily thought of it as a place to put into practice new lessons I was learning about blogging as well as a place to point future employers who needed an example of what I could accomplish when given a directive. Surprisingly, at least to me, in just under two years it grew to over 3,000 followers and I began to think that I might have something bigger on my hands than a little experiment. I had healthy daily interactions, lots of social shares, and a steady growth of about 10-13 subscribers per day. I’d written (and still do) write for highly profitable websites with lower stats than those. So how much money was I making? A whopping zero dollars. Which was incredibly frustrating when I compared notes with a few friends that had similar stats on WordPress and were converting that traffic into a few thousand dollars per month.
Upon closer inspection I found out the problem was the platform. See, on tumblr people who follow/subscribe to your blog typically view your content in a dashboard instead of on your website. Which means if you place ads on your site as a way of making a little extra money, chances are they won’t do well on a tumblr because while your content might be extremely popular, people don’t actually visit your site very much. And if they’re not visiting your site very much that also makes it incredibly difficult to engage them with products, email lists, etc. All proven ways to make an income through your blog/portfolio/website.
The same holds true for people who have incredibly popular Behance, Flickr, or Dribbble accounts. They may have insane traffic going to their profile but besides a few job offers they’re missing out on all the potential benefits – not to mention revenue – they could be enjoying if they had a WordPress site setup to convert that traffic into followers, subscribers, and or customers/clients. Like me, you may not set out to start a business, but if you happen to find a respectable following do you really want to say no to an extra $500, $1,000, or even $3,000+ per month just because you chose the wrong platform?!
If your answer is yes then you probably won’t find the rest of this post very compelling. But if your answer, like mine, is a resounding NO, then take a look at my list of pro’s and con’s below for an idea of what lays in store after making the choice to build your portfolio on WordPress.
WordPress: The Pro’s & Con’s
Without further adieu, here are my pro’s and con’s for using WordPress as a portfolio platform.
1. The World’s Most Popular Blogging Platform
According to a 2011 survey by W3Techs 55% of the world’s top 1 million websites run on WordPress. That is an outrageous leap over the competition made even more plain when you consider number two.
2. The World’s Most Popular CMS
Even when excluding the number of websites using WordPress as a blogging platform out of that 55% of the world’s top 1 million websites, WordPress being used strictly as a content management system (CMS) is still 3.4 times more popular than the closest CMS competitor. So what’s the big deal about being number one? See pro #3.
3. Tons of Free & Premium Tools/Resources
Thanks in large part to its ease of use and massive popularity, WordPress has fostered an enormous community of passionate designers, developers, and resource providers. This means that for just about any and every need you might have in terms of customizing your site, chances are there’s a free resource waiting to show you how just a quick Google search away.
4. Independent Brand Development
As I made the case for above, having a website and portfolio that you own and control is a huge plus. You’re completely free to convert that traffic and attention you receive into followers, subscribers, customers, and clients. All using the excellent quality free and premium tools and resources provided by the insanely awesome WordPress community.
5. Infinite Scalability
As your goals and aspirations may change over time, with WordPress you have the freedom to grow, expand, change, or experiment as much as you want. You imagination (and design/dev chops) are your only limitations.
6. Maximum Monetization
As I mentioned in pro’s 1 & 2 the majority of the web’s largest websites are built on WordPress. So we know size and scale are not a problem. But you better believe those sites are also incredibly well monetized – garnering millions from ads, affiliate marketing, and eCommerce. All of which are readily available to you through site customization and WordPress plugins.
1. An Initial Monetary Investment (Hosting/Domain)
A domain is going to cost you around $10 per year. Hosting for low traffic sites anywhere from $5/month to $8/month. As your site traffic grows you may need to switch to a more premium hosting provider like WPEngine, but by that time you should be able to make more than enough money on a monthly basis to turn a profit after these expenses. Everything else – themes, plugins, etc. – can be found for free until you’re making enough money to justify buying premium products.
2. Start-up Time
There is a bit more effort and time involved in launching a WordPress portfolio/website than say, signing up for a Behance account. So in lieu of that instant satisfaction you need to be okay with the fact that you’ll have to put a bit of work into setting everything up. Fortunately there are a lot of free resources out there that can help with this. Which brings us to con #3.
3. Learning Curve
If you’ve never used WordPress before it does take some getting used to. That’s not to say that it’s difficult to learn, and again there are a lot of blogs and resources created just to help new users, the amount of options available can seem overwhelming for some users. I can speak from experience and say that when I first started using WordPress I was unsure as to what a lot of the controls and options in the Admin section actually meant or did, but over time, experimentation, and some reading I was able to get a firm grasp on everything. Now I find that knowledge incredibly empowering.
WordPress Portfolio Examples
Below are some live examples of designers and creatives using the power, flexibility, and simplicity of WordPress to host their work, brand, and business online. Enjoy!
So I realize I’ve pushed a pretty hard sell in terms of my allegiance and recommendation of the WordPress platform. Which is why I’d like to reiterate my main purpose for writing this piece: to encourage all artists and designers to create an online portfolio of some kind. I’m a firm believer in the value of creativity and if anyone takes the years and years required to become talented enough to do art for a living I want to make sure they know what kind of tools are out there to help them live well off of their art. That said though, I’m curious: do you have an online portfolio? Do you use one that was listed in this post? Are you attracted to the idea of using WordPress? Let us know the answers to these questions by answering the poll question below!
FYI – This poll closes at midnight Pacific Time on October 1st. The results of the poll will remain hidden until then so we can reveal the results in a follow up post early next week! Thanks for voting and all your comments!