Ep. 28: How To Convert Your Employee Resume into a Freelancer Portfolio

You’re an employee, but you want out of the 9-5 grind. You’ve considered freelancing, but you have no idea where to even begin with converting your employee skills into a freelance business. That’s what we’re going to discuss this morning. It’s time to learn how to convert your resume into a freelance portfolio.

First, I need to clarify something from the previous episode. I talked about deciding on an industry to work in when you start to become a freelancer. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, go back and watch it now. It’s preliminary to this episode and part of this series.

In the last one, I discussed how to choose a service to focus on as a freelancer, and one of the steps was to choose an industry. However, I realized afterwards that your definition of “industry” might be different from what I meant. By industry, you might be thinking, “medical industry, tech industry, steel, food industry,” those types of things. What I meant was a job category for freelancers, like writing, video/audio production, or consulting. For example. By industry, I meant the category of potential freelance jobs. I’m sorry for any confusion there.

In the previous episode I talked about auditing your work experience and converting a resume into a portfolio, but I didn’t go in depth regarding the process of actually building that portfolio. I just mentioned it as part of the process to figure out what you want to do as a freelancer. So, I won’t repeat what I said there, but I will expand upon that step in this conversation by now focusing on how to really build that solid, initial portfolio from your previous experience.

Keep in mind that I’m assuming you’ve chosen what you want to do as a freelancer.

The best way for me to teach you this is to provide a scenario, and it may not match yours, but you’ll get the process through the example.

John is a customer success manager at a software company. He manages a small team of people providing customer support for businesses who use this software. He helps ensure that customers are being given adequate support, but he also helps to improve the currently used systems to make work more efficient. He sometimes has to give presentations to the company founders on how things can improve, speed up production, and ensure better accuracy. He’s noticed that many things aren’t being done well enough and corners are being cut.

He’s in a difficult position though, because many of his ideas get shot down by his bosses. To them, it seems like it would take too much time and require hiring more people. They would rather he do all of it, but he keeps trying to tell them that he can’t do all of that in 40 hours per week. He’s trying to show them that business growth is being stunted because of these inaccuracies and corners being cut. Needless to say, he has great skill, but his bosses aren’t allowing him to use it. They just aren’t seeing things at his level. He is very organized and has a keen ability to develop efficient, accurate systems, but it requires taking a little more time with some things.

John doesn’t feel appreciated and doesn’t feel like he’s progressing. He’s been getting a 3% raise per year for as long as he remembers, even though he sees inflation devalue his money by 5-10% per year. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to afford to live on his salary, and he has 2 young children who are growing up quickly. He wants to be with them more, but has had many weeks where his boss wanted him to work 50-60 hours per week. And we thought 40 hours was bad.

This is a very common scenario for many employees. Being overworked and underpaid.

John had a friend who was freelancing and decided that self-employment may be the only way for his skills to really shine and be appreciated. But he had no idea how to take his employee experience and convert it into a freelance business. He didn’t have a portfolio, he had a resume. He didn’t have a job that was an obvious transition like being a writer, video editor, or web developer. What skills did he have that he could use as a freelancer?

Let’s take a look at his resume:

He first lists some skills he has:
Customer service, analytics, procedure development, process improvement, scheduling, sales, strategic planning, system implementation, training, and presentations.

Then in his job experience for various companies, there are some accomplishments:

Improved communication methods among employees, resulting in 7% reduction in project hours.

Increased technician efficiency through better meetings

Digitized service call and reporting, reducing job costs by 25%.

Helped develop a new system for tracking customer relationships that is more efficient and accurate. Decreasing errors by 50%.

And his past jobs also suggest that he has other skills, audio/video skills, very hands on handyman type skills etc…

So, what could John possibly do as a freelancer?

The main strength in his work experience is his ability to make operational systems within a business more efficient, yet, also more accurate. Those two things tend to compete with each other, right? Efficiency sometimes sacrifices accuracy, but he can really merge those two together to be as efficient as possible without compromising pristine accuracy.

The type of freelance job that this type of employee could do that stands out to me the most is a consultant, or more specifically, a Business Operations Consultant. If you can’t pin down specific technical skills you have or creative skills such as photography, web development, writing, then becoming a coach or consultant is usually the easiest route. John can pitch services focused on auditing a company's operations and systems, and providing strategies for improving those systems in order to make operations more efficient and accurate.

When your employee job directly matches common freelance job positions such as a digital marketing manager, social media manager, videographer, information security, or web developer, then building a portfolio is easier. You just grab a ton of samples of work you did as an employee, copywriter, or employee graphic designer, and make your portfolio.

Now, how about some of the employees on his team that were simply customer service agents? They didn’t figure out better systems for company operations. They just answered calls and provided support directly to customers. You can freelance doing that, by the way. Companies do hire freelance customer support reps, but in your situation, you’ll need to think about new skills to develop because your income potential will be more limited. So, go through my previous episode where I give you guidance on all the different types of freelance jobs you could do, pick one that interests you, and start developing knowledge and skills related to that job while you keep your current job. Then, start creating practice pieces to make a portfolio.

It’s all about supply and demand when it comes to how much you can get paid for certain freelance jobs, and being a consultant or coach in any area will often pay more than being a technician or creative. If there are 1 million freelance writers and 500,000 jobs for it, there are too many options of potential freelancers for companies to choose from for you to have a really high rate, unless you have a great portfolio.

I did another video on the factors that affect your rate in episode 9 called “What Can You Charge as a Freelancer?” Check that out, and you’ll understand more the economic and other influences that affect your earning potential with different freelance jobs. Because that will also have an affect on what you choose to focus on as you transition from employee to freelancer.

So, what’s the next step for John to create a portfolio from his resume?

Instead of having a “Work Experience” section, a portfolio will have your name and info, but then write a one-sentence pitch about how you help businesses or whoever your target client is.

One of my phrases that I’ve used, and I’ve had a couple depending on the service or client, is: “I help online education businesses grow a loyal audience and following through video content marketing, so that they can expand their influence and build a loyal customer base.”

I mention the type of client I help, what I help them achieve (grow their audience), tell them how I help them achieve that through video content marketing, and then I add an additional benefit to them growing that audience.

Most resumes don’t have pitch phrases like this.

So, John’s phrase could be, “I help tech companies improve their systems of operations so they can elevate efficiency while maintaining accuracy.”

The next section of the portfolio will be “Client Results” or “Results I’ve Achieved For My Clients”. If you have never had clients, only employers, then your initial portfolio will just say, “Results Achieved For Past Projects.” Refer to it as projects as opposed to clients. You don’t even need to mention that they were your employer. That does not matter.

Then, create categories based on the various areas of achievements.

My portfolio has these categories: Video Production, Social Media, YouTube, and Website Video Marketing. Then within those categories I list accomplishments and results I’ve achieved for clients in those categories.

Some examples are:
For Video Production:
I’ve produced thousands of videos which have led to millions of dollars in revenue for online businesses.

I helped grow a new YouTube channel to over a million subscribers in 18 months.
I have Channels I’ve created strategies for and that I also helped implement that are bringing in $50k/revenue per month.

Website Video Marketing:
My video ideas for landing pages led to an increase in conversion rates from 3 to 20%.

As you can see, I’m not even mentioning who the clients were. Now, during the interview process, if they ask I will provide links to brands I’ve worked with so they can see the results I claim to have achieved, but I don’t stuff my portfolio with all of that. You can, though. I’m not saying you can’t. You absolutely can put links to actual brands and companies in your portfolio, and some freelance jobs make that more important than others. Like if you’re selling a creative service like writing, then you ought to link to blog posts you’ve written, or if you’re selling video editing, then link to videos you’ve created. In web development, include URL’s for websites you’ve developed. But in my case of being a consultant and strategist, like John, I can’t really link to anything that visually shows these results, except in the case of YouTube. Then, I can send links to YouTube channels and they can at least see where the channel is now. They can’t see the analytics of that channel to see the growth graphs, but I include those graphs in my portfolio.

So, in the case that you don’t have clear visual examples of your work, how does a potential client trust you? Do they just take your word for it? NO! They take other people’s word for it. That’s why the next section of your portfolio is very very important. Testimonials.

Every business will tell you that testimonials are key to them getting more customers. As a freelancer, you’re no different. So, if you’ve never had clients before, then you won’t have client testimonials. That said, you can get testimonials from employers, bosses, managers, or even colleagues. It doesn’t have to be your boss if you don’t think you can get one from them. Anyone who can verify that you have achieved the results you say you have, counts here.

And the testimonial can be focused on the result you helped that company or person achieve, or it can be about your character and how you work with people. Both matter.

If you’re really starving for testimonials, you can always find people to be test clients for free and get testimonials from them after you do a project for them.

When I left my employee job, before I left I got a testimonial from my employer, I just asked “Can you give me feedback on the work I’ve done for you, a review and highlight any accomplishments that you’re grateful for?” And they said “Chad does great work, he nails deadlines, he captures my vision, and makes solid videos and gets the job done.” Short and simple, but effective at helping me get my first clients.

So John, without even telling his boss that he’s planning to quit and start freelancing, should ask his boss for written feedback or ask a colleague, even if it’s one of the employees he manages.

Those are all the parts of a freelancer portfolio. As you start getting clients and finishing jobs, this portfolio will grow stronger and stronger, and you’ll be able to get bigger clients, bigger projects and charge higher rates. But overall, this process forces you out of the employee way of approaching your work. You’re now results focused, accomplishment-centered, not job experience focused. How many years you’ve worked, who you worked for, what your role was. What did you achieve for the businesses you’ve worked for?

Seeing your employee experience in a different light is going to take some reframing. Every employee helps a company grow, and as a freelancer, your entire goal is to help another business grow through your service. Or, if you’re serving individuals, not businesses, let’s say you're an interior designer or financial advisor for individuals, or life coach, then it still applies. You’re improving their life. I’ve mainly targeted business clients because I feel like there is more income potential there. But you must value your employee experience before you can successfully transition into being a freelancer. Sometimes, you feel like you’re hardly making a difference as an employee, but without you x 100, 1000 employees the company doesn’t exist. Find the diamond in the rough.

Don’t go back to bed and stay comfortable in your employee job any longer. It’s time to break out of your comfort zone and dare to go down the road less travelled.

I’ll see you in the episode of this series where we discuss how to quit your job properly and start freelancing.

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