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6 Tips for Reducing Client Loss on Your Portfolio Website

As I’ve been coaching freelancers and agency-builders for the last 11 years, I’ve noticed there can be a real tension when it comes to the topic of portfolio websites.

On the one hand, everyone feels like they should have one. They seem to see the importance of it on its face. And there are countless resources and tools for building a successful portfolio.

But on the other hand, very few of us get any kind of meaningful new business from our portfolios (most report “word of mouth” as the #1 way to get new clients).

This mismatch leaves many of us frustrated or confused about how much time to invest in creating a quality portfolio and many of us ultimately put it on the “to-do list” for “sometime in the future.”

As I’ve studied this all-too-common problem, I’ve realized there are many extremely common culprits behind a portfolio that doesn’t convert well.

Today, I’d like to share some of my best advice to help you avoid losing clients who visit your portfolio site. This article won’t feature tips for getting traffic in the first place (although, we’ve got you covered here) but it’ll address something even more important:

Avoiding client loss.

Because nothing is worse than FINALLY getting someone to find and visit your portfolio site only to have them browse for a few minutes, click around, lose interest and leave.

It’s heart-breaking. And it can be business-crushing.

Instead, the goal is to have people find and visit your site, click where you want them to, and contact or hire you immediately.

It’s possible. And today, I’ll share a few ways to improve your odds of success.

Tip 1: Simplify your portfolio journey

The absolute best way to keep a client headed toward conversion is to control the client journey. And the best way to control it is to simplify it.

If each page has a hundred links the user can click on, you’ve lost control. 

If, instead, your portfolio has a one really great landing page with a clear path toward contacting or hiring you, your client is more likely to arrive at their final destination.

While you may want to code your site from scratch, consider using a basic landing page builder at first to test your content, layout, and conversion rates. Once you’ve perfected it, you can take the leap to a fully custom solution if you want.

Tip 2: Reduce “off-ramps” and “dead-ends”

When you’re creating your portfolio website, it can be tempting to add lots of detail for each project—requiring users to click through to “see more.”

This practice, however, often leads to what I call “off-ramps” and “dead-ends.”

Off-ramps are any opportunity your client has to leave your site and can include:

  • Social media buttons
  • Links to client websites
  • Links to case studies on Medium or elsewhere
  • Links to your own blog

While these may all be worthwhile things to add in and of themselves, they often hurt conversion rates by leading a potential client away from conversion. 

Remember: the goal of your portfolio is NOT to get more Instagram followers or blog readers. It’s to get more paying clients.

Dead-ends are any page on your site that doesn’t provide a simple (non navigational) way to get to your conversion page and might include:

  • Image lightboxes
  • Case studies
  • Blog posts
  • Project detail pages

Every single page on your site should have minimal (or zero) off-ramps and absolutely no dead-end.

Tip 3: Don’t make them think

There’s a famous web design book titled Don’t Make Me Think. The book has become an instant classic in the world of web design primarily because it rings true for so many people.

The truth is: people are lazy.

The more they have to think about how to navigate your website, the more likely you are to lose them.

Sure, you might think you’re being creative and original, but there are certain ways people have come to expect to use the Internet and if your site doesn’t live up to those important UX trends, users are likely to get frustrated and close the browser window.

Of course, you don’t have to be a UX designer in order to make this work. Many site builders come with natural elements to improve your user experience (things like clear text, simple navigation, or clear buttons).

Tip 4: Speak their language

Another reason a potential client might leave your site without hiring you or filling out your contact form is because they just don’t feel a connection with you.

That’s because you’re not speaking their language.

If your clients are primarily other businesses, then you need to speak the language of business. If your clients are primarily consumers, you need to understand the psyche of persuasion.

The art of copywriting isn’t something you can perfect overnight (although, our ultimate guide to copywriting would be a great place to start) but with a little practice, you can learn to speak your clients language well.

Start by interviewing former clients, ask them about their pain points in business, how you helped them solve those pains, and what they look for when hiring someone like you.

Then use their exact words (words you see come up in multiple interviews are especially helpful) in the copywriting of your website. With time and effort, site visitors will immediately think “this person ‘gets’ me and my business” when landing on your homepage.

If you’re short on time, hate writing, or just don’t want to do it yourself, consider posting a copywriting job to one of many job boards where freelancers can pitch their services. 

From there, it’s a matter of picking a quality writer and moving forward.

Tip 5: Make conversion a no-brainer

If you’re having trouble converting site visitors into paying clients, it could be that your barrier to conversion is too high.

I’ve seen tons of barriers in my time critiquing portfolios (you can watch a few critiques here) and almost all of them happen on the final “contact me” page or in the “contact me” section of your site.

Over-complicated contact forms with lots of questions, drop downs, and other details significantly hinder your conversion rates. 

Fix this issue by removing any unnecessary fields from your contact form. It’s better to capture less information with an email address or phone number you can follow up with than to ask all kinds of budget, project, or timing questions upfront.

Once you’ve got their email or phone number, you can move ahead with more questions in a follow up email/call—but you haven’t lost the chance to sell them as you would have with a more complicated form.

Missing phone or email details are a sure-fire way to lose a percentage of potential clients.

Some people just don’t like contact forms. So they don’t fill them out. Some people prefer to write an email (to have it in their records to follow-up) and others prefer to call and get details quickly.

Leaving these options off your contact information is a huge mistake you should fix right away.

Mismatching your contact method with your audience is another way to really drive conversion rates down. Instead, think through the most common ways your target audience might want to contact you.

If you have an older, more professional audience, email and phone will be critical.

If your clients are much younger, you may want to consider Facebook messenger or texting as a way to communicate.

It all comes down to making it easy and familiar to contact and hire you.

Tip 6: Test, adjust, re-test, repeat

Finally, you’ll need to plan on testing, adjusting, and re-testing over and over again to increase your conversion rates slowly over time. 

Install something simple like Google Analytics to track where your visitors come from, what pages they look at, and what actions they take.

You may not see a huge spike right at first, but as you get more traffic to your site, you’ll start to see trends (good and bad) where you can adjust for even more success.

That’s it!

An increase in conversions of even just a few percentage points can be the difference between staying in business or having to get another day job.

So believe me when I say, these little adjustments are well worth the effort. 

Don’t delay your improvements since time is definitely your friend here as you test and learn what works to convert clients and what doesn’t.

You’ve got this! Good luck.


Photo by Anete L?si?a on Unsplash

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