One of the most valuable assets for any creative business is a portfolio. Having a portfolio provides potential clients an opportunity to review the body of work, get a feel of the creative style, and determine whether or not these services can meet their needs.
A portfolio can come in a variety of forms depending on the nature of your business. If you are a painter, for example, it could be a collection of your best paintings, or if you're a writer, it could include professional writing projects, and so forth. With the advancement of technology, there are now many ways to get your portfolio out to potential clients via digital images sent through email, or burned to a CD, or on the World Wide Web. The easier you make it for potential clients to access your collection, the more likely they will be to review your work and consider you for their projects.
It also serves another purpose. By showing potential clients that you have successfully completed projects for other clients, they are more likely to feel comfortable hiring you. It provides them the impression that you are serious about your work, and that you can be trusted to fulfill commitments. Also, if you are able to get testimonials from previous customers regarding their experience of working with you, and their level of satisfaction with your work, then your portfolio becomes an even stronger marketing tool for your business.
The challenge that many new entrepreneurs face is to build this critical asset. If you are just starting out, you probably do not have a significant number of projects to show. At this point you may need to include personal projects to provide the potential customer an idea of your style. This brings up the inevitable 'catch 22' that many artists face. How do you build a portfolio if you don't have professional projects, and how can you win projects if you don't have a portfolio? The answer is to make your portfolio the first priority of your business, even if this means volunteering your services or charging a lower rate initially.
Even though the goal of a business is to make profits, your best bet initially may be to volunteer your services for local nonprofit organizations. These entities seek out volunteers on a regular basis, and some even hire them to be a part of their team if they are satisfied with the services they provide, so don't rule out this opportunity. This will also help you get references, which will be valuable in the long run.
Another way is to barter with businesses with whom you have already established a relationship, whether this is a local shop that you visit frequently, or a friend's venture that may need some extra help. If you can find a way to trade services with them, and get a reference for your work in the process, then the relationship can be mutually beneficial. This may not be the best way to make a profit, but it is a great way to build that crucial body of work that will help your venture to become successful.
You may find that even after you have built a substantial portfolio, you still have to charge below industry standard for your services in order to build your client base, but it won't always be this way. The more work you accomplish, and the more established you become in the marketplace, the more flexibility you will have with your pricing. So try not to get frustrated. The goal is to position yourself in the marketplace, so if this is going to help you accomplish your goal, then it's worth it.