Debunked: 5 Lame Excuses Why You Don’t Have a Portfolio

Debunked: 5 Lame Excuses Why You Don’t Have a Portfolio, Leigh Anne Lankford | TrainingPros

There is no point in denying it. We have all made excuses at one point or another!

People can be very creative when finding plausible reasons to avoid things we don’t like to do, are too time-consuming, or just plain difficult.

Over the past 15 years, I have focused on helping learning and development (L&D) consultants like you find freelance or contract work with large clients.

That means I meet a LOT of instructional design, learning experience design (LXD), virtual classroom, virtual producer, eLearning, and facilitation consultants. It also means I have heard nearly every possible reason imaginable why a consultant does not have an updated resume free of blunders and an online portfolio.

Face it, You Need a Portfolio

At  TrainingPros, we like to meet each candidate for a resume and portfolio review before considering them for a client assignment. The first step is to scan their resume for the needed skills and experience.

Assuming everything looks good, step two is to validate their skills. This is where having a portfolio with samples of your work is so important. You will get hired as a freelancer because you have the expertise a client needs to complete their project.

You are expected to appear for work on day 1, ready to jump in. You are the ringer, the expert, the hired gun. You were selected over the hundreds of other candidates because of the skills they believe you already know.

Without a portfolio, how else will you convince a client to hire you instead of the next candidate?

Staffing agencies are not the only ones wanting to see your portfolio these days — clients are also asking to see a candidate’s portfolio before deciding whether or not to interview them. In many cases, recruiters can’t submit you for consideration unless you have a resume/bio and an eLearning or instructional design portfolio.

Given that just about everyone is asking for a portfolio, why risk losing out on a job you really want by looking for work without one? I ask consultants that question every time, and you might be surprised at some of the many excuses given.

Here are 5 of the worst ones I hear regularly and some reasons you should never use them.

Excuse #1: I signed a Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA) with all my clients.

This is the “clients own all my work” excuse. It is fabulous that you are honoring your NDA with past clients. In fact, your integrity should be applauded.

You absolutely need to honor your client’s NDA, but before you pat yourself on the back and stop reading, answer two simple questions:

  1. Have you reached out to your clients for permission to use those samples?
    It is not uncommon for a client to give you written permission to use them, particularly if the subject isn’t confidential or proprietary.
  2. Does a portfolio have to be work you completed for a client?
    The answer is no! Plan to take a day or two of downtime to build some non-client samples you can use to showcase your handy work instead.

This excuse has too many holes to be valid. If you really like the work you did for a particular client, don’t make assumptions. Try asking.

The worst they can say is “no.” Regardless, nothing is stopping you from creating your own made-up samples.

Excuse #2: It is too hard to build samples.

This excuse is a particularly thorny one because it introduces doubt. Doubt comes with other questions you don’t really want to be answering, like:

  • Does this mean you don’t actually build the eLearning for your clients?
  • Does this mean you don’t have access to the tools of your chosen industry?

If you want to work as an eLearning instructional designer (ID), you must build samples.

If you are a designer that doesn’t work in eLearning tools such as Articulate, Captivate, or Vyond, you should build other types of samples that might include:

  • Storyboards
  • Needs analyses
  • High-level designs
  • Conceptual maps
  • Detailed design documents
  • Learner personas

Whatever you say you can do on your resume – there needs to be a sample.

If you are a facilitator, this excuse is not a good look for you either. If you have a smartphone, that is all you need.

Find a room with windows that let in a reasonable amount of natural light. Stand facing the light and record yourself with a flipchart to demonstrate your presentation and communication skills.

Need to show yourself in front of an audience? Look for volunteer opportunities. Offer to facilitate for free to a non-profit with the caveat that you can record it for your portfolio.

Clients want to see you facilitate before they invest in contracting with you. Use your computer camera and a zoom call to do “mock” facilitation at a bare minimum.

Something is better than nothing in your portfolio.

Excuse #3: I don’t have time to build samples.

Join the club! Everyone has time constraints and other responsibilities. So, if you are serious about a career as a consultant in the learning and development industry, you will find the time.

However, if you are busy all 261 workdays in a year, congratulations! You don’t need to be reading this article because you are always fully engaged working on a project.

But – if you have a few days or a week of downtime between projects, you should spend it honing your skills, picking up new software, and building some samples.

Samples don’t have to be hour-long courses with professional graphics and perfect narration. Just examples of your best techniques will get you that next project.

  • Do you always incorporate scenarios? Then build a short scenario to show your style.
  • Are you amazing with animations? Build some samples that showcase your creativity and animation skills.
  • Are you fantastic with assessment items? Don’t overthink it; build different types of assessments.

Whatever you create, include the objective they are testing somewhere in the sample. Seriously, your examples can be 1 or 2 minutes long rather than a whole course.

Clients just want to see your style and ability. So, find some time…

Excuse #4: I don’t have a learning project to use for a sample.

Nope! You don’t need a client learning project to build a course for a portfolio.

How about a course on how to prepare your favorite meal? Or a course on how to sell your favorite car? I’ve even seen sample courses on the aspects of a breed of dog.

Build something showcasing your strengths, whether designing scenarios, interactions, or great visuals. Clients just want to see examples of what you can do for them.

The content is irrelevant, with one exception. Stay away from anything considered controversial, political, or religious. You always want your sample to appeal to the broadest audience possible.

You are not trying to influence thoughts or behavior here – you just want to land a great contract!

Excuse #5: I don’t know how to put my portfolio online.

Consultants continually send me dropbox links to old eLearning courses and consider that to be a portfolio. Dropbox or other file-sharing tools are not considered a portfolio and are not the same as a web server.

In fact, most file-sharing services require the recipient to download the entire course to their computer before viewing it. Also, you should note that downloading files stored outside a company’s network is typically blocked and often violates a company’s cyber security policies.

Some companies have even started blocking services like dropbox altogether. If a job is between you and another candidate with an online portfolio, who do you think the client will consider first?

One option worth considering is to use Articulate 360’s review link. This is a good temporary patch until you can create an actual online portfolio. Eventually, you will want (or need) to have the real deal.

Online Portfolio Tips

Here are some suggested tools or sites designed for getting your portfolio online:

  • Webflow — Very good web builder with premium portfolio themes.
  • Squarespace — A customizable website solution that has templates just for portfolio sites.
  • Wix — This is a straightforward, customizable drag-and-drop template again – just for portfolio sites.
  • Carbonmade — A platform specifically designed for creating and hosting portfolios.
  • IM Creator — This one is pretty slick with many excellent features like e-commerce integration and is SEO-friendly.
  • WordPress — This was originally a tool for blogs but has become a very popular website builder. There are two options here, the hosted version and the version you install on your web host. I’m not very technical, but I’ve been using WordPress since 2010. If I can do it, you can too. WordPress will not only display your samples, but it will also allow you to include them in a blog post that gives great information about them.
  • Custom website — DIY. If you have the technical chops and the time, this is the most customizable option.

Final Thoughts

If you have made it this far, you are on the right track. All you have to do is stop using any of these excuses and start building your portfolio.

So…have we covered all of your excuses? Are you ready to take a couple of days to build a portfolio in between projects? Share your portfolio with me on LinkedIn or Twitter!

Picture of Leighanne Lankford

Leighanne Lankford

Leighanne Lankford lives life outside of the lines. From walking on fire to rappelling down buildings, she lives by the mantra, "playing it safe isn’t good enough." In her 30 years as a Learning and Development practitioner, thought-leader, and now business owner, Leighanne has always pushed boundaries and done things her way.
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Leighanne Lankford lives life outside of the lines. From walking on fire to rappelling down buildings, she lives by the mantra, “playing it safe isn’t good enough.” In her 30 years as a Learning and Development practitioner, thought-leader, and now business owner, Leighanne has always pushed boundaries and done things her way.

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