My personal website has been largely neglected since I started building my freelance practice. Considering that most of my work revolves around the web, it’s a little ironic. But my priorities were more in line with generating and delivering great projects, continuing to practice my craft, and learning new skills every day. My knowledge was my power. My appearance, an afterthought. And that’s how I saw it. But I wasn’t seeing the bigger picture.
It’s only been a few short years since I took up coding and design, and as I grow in ability and confidence, I am beginning to see more value in sharing my work and experience with others who might find it. In almost every Google search for solutions and inspiration I stumble upon posts on small personal websites. And they are often the ones where I get the most value and insights – so if I could return some value from this humble corner of the web, I’d be happy.
For the longest time my website displayed just a single message:
Not that I was ever driving much traffic to it… though I did receive some comical feedback from a few who stumbled upon it.
A particular challenge with displaying my work in a public portfolio is that I didn’t own most of that work. And most of the projects worth sharing are under an NDA.
But there is also something daunting about putting yourself out there as a young professional. We all want to measure up to what we feel is our full potential – but the early work in our careers is often short of that ambition. So what do we do?
Just break the ice
Of course I want to have a public portfolio of my work. Now, I don’t want just any old website with some template – no – I will build a custom site that highlights my abilities and speaks to all the awesome work I’ve done and have yet to do! No pressure. So each time I start designing and building, it takes a few iterations for my more critical self to intervene and scrap it.
A valuable lesson first learned in the classroom and then in the office is that “good enough and on time” is always better (and more realistic) than “perfect but a little bit late.” This is something that I manage to apply with success to my work but something I couldn’t always translate to my personal projects.
That same sense of urgency and direction that you find in work is hard to instill when there are no deadlines to force priorities, no collaboration to sort out conflicts, and no feedback to affirm progress.
Although, in truth, procrastination is likely the biggest culprit. Tim Urban (author of Wait But Why) wrote a couple of great posts (1, 2) on the topic, and even presented a TED talk about it.
(TL;DR: he recommends controlling the urge for instant gratification and instead summoning a sense of panic when you need to get stuff done.)
Right then, all I need then is a deadline and some pressure. Even though I have a steady stream of work and regular referrals, I can’t say that I get excited about every new project. I would really love a change of scenery and a chance to take on some new challenges. So I signed up for Pipeline (a paid lead referral service) – the catch is that 99% of projects require a solid portfolio (a slick proposal and a silver tongue won’t win you these contracts). Three proposals trickle in every Monday and you have to pounce – or pass up the chance because your portfolio isn’t ready yet.
A few weekly emails inviting me to bid on vetted, high quality projects were enough incentive to complete the site as quickly as possible and stop passing up potentially great work opportunities.
Let Form Follow Function
I like to approach building a site the way you might plant a garden – with consideration that it will grow and change before it matures. I’m frequently reminded of the CSS Zen Garden – one of my first forays into the world of CSS. It is a collection of hundreds of styles generated for the same HTML markup, all of which achieve a uniquely distinct and functional design.
Tagged with thoughts