Portfolios – Part 3a: A Living Document

Last week I attended a talk on portfolio development and presentation. It included a lot of useful information and the discussion kept me thinking afterwards. I am sharing some of those thoughts over several posts.

Part 3: Your portfolio is a living document.

Last year, Portland AIGA promoted its Portfolio Development Day with the slogan, “Your portfolio is a static representation of a dynamic reality: You.” – which I loved, along with the diagram that accompanied it.

But after listening to the discussion in which some people seemed to think of their portfolios as fixed – something to be compiled once and presented in the same way to everyone – made me think that your portfolio is instead a dynamic representation of dynamic reality. It’s constantly growing and changing and it has to be customized for presentation in different contexts.

So, from a practical administration-of-your-business perspective, how do you do that? How do you keep your portfolio up-to-date and how do you make customization easy?

Keeping Your Portfolio Up-to-Date

First: Mindset. Get clear on why having an current, well-organized portfolio is important to your business and all the ways it will benefit you. It’s hard to consistently engage in this kind of maintenance and preparation if you aren’t in touch with why you are doing it. Write it down.

Second: Create a system. Make things easy for yourself by developing system that you follow every time with every project. Don’t waste your time and energy by continually making it up as you go along or reinventing the wheel. Don’t rely on memory. Again, write it down. Put the list right under your statement about why you do this.

In addition to everything else you do when a project ends – like send a thank you to the client, note lessons learned and incorporate them into your processes, organize and archive project records – list everything you need to do to update your portfolio. Note what specifically needs to be included in your repertoire of portfolio materials: work samples in both digital and physical forms, contact information for references, dates, budget, summaries of project scope, solutions and outcomes, and an updated resume/CV and website. Create a consistent system for storing information and materials. Organize records for both the digital and physical representation of your portfolio in the same way so you can retrieve information with ease. [more on that below]

[ If your final products are physical rather than digital, write into your contracts how many copies you are to receive for your use at the project’s end. Be sure your contract also includes a clause about using final products for your own promotional purposes. The contracts in the GAG Handbook include good examples of both. ]

Another benefit of using a written checklist is it gives you a place to capture insights. No matter how carefully you plan, something will occur to you later in the process of working. We’ve all had those moments of oh wow, I should really remember to do this next time, but we ultimately forget because there was no place to put the reminder.

Third: Make it a habit. Include time for this in the time you budget for the project. Even though it’s not billable time, include it on your schedule all the same. Think of it as part of the project, not separate from it. I know what it’s like to come off a challenging project and want to be done with it, to at least take a break from it, to move on to the next thing – but it’s so much easier to add a project to your portfolio when the information is fresh in your mind and close at hand. If you delay, either you never get to it at all which causes a crisis the next time you do need a current portfolio, or it just takes way longer than it should when you do come back to it because your head isn’t in it anymore.

It’s like doing the dishes after dinner. You’re tired. You are full and content on the sofa and your favorite show is on TV. Who wants to get up and clean the kitchen? “I’ll do it tomorrow,” you say. Do that a few nights in a row and soon there are no clean glasses or forks. Keep it up and it starts to smell a bit and suddenly you’ve got an ant problem… But let’s say you do get up off the couch and do the dishes – it really wasn’t that hard was it? You do this every night, so there really isn’t that much to clean up, just today’s meal. And it’s so great to wake up to a clean kitchen, to make your coffee and pour a bowl of cereal on clear counters and without hunting for a clean spoon – it just gets the day off to a good start, right? In the same way you would make doing the dishes after dinner a habit, make updating your portfolio after every project a habit.

[ And for those of you who are saying, “But who has the time?!” If you are so busy you don’t have time for this essential maintenance, rethink your workload. If you need the workload to pay your bills, rethink your rates. ]

Next Time: Making Customization of Your Portfolio Easy

* * * * * * * * * *

If you want to learn more about developing and documenting systems like this one, please join me for my upcoming workshop Your Business Manual. The 3-week teleclass begins Tuesday, August 5 at 7pm PT – register now.

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