Neither plug-ins nor php coding is required to create a polished portfolio. WordPress.com provides the base tools. But you will need to acknowledge, and conquer, the fear materializing when stepping outside a comfort zone. You’ll beat the challenges you meet. Here’s how.
Estimated Reading Time: 11 minutes
Creating Your WordPress.com Portfolio: Part One — Thinking it Through
Erecting a public portfolio coaxes fear. The learning curve, assembling food to feed the portfolio, and conjuring a great presentation choked my mind. Love of a challenge, seasoned with determination, devoured the fear. I cooked a plan, stirred the don’t know nadda pot, checked my Google stash of recipes, polished, then served the portfolio. How?
I began with a trip to a park, deciding the bigger the better.
1️⃣ Set the stage for a pre-emptive strike against fear.
Darkness falls; dawn rises the next day.
Walk away from your comfort zone; fear greets you.
The best piece of advice someone has ever given me was do it scared. And no matter if you’re scared, just go ahead and do it anyway because you might as well do it scared, so it will get done and you will feel so much better if you step out of your comfort zone. — Sherri Shepherd
I was thinkin’ if I cheated on my fears, broke up with my doubts, got engaged to my faith– I can marry my dreams. — Beyoncé
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. — Neale Donald Walsch
Putting your best out there (the web) sends a silver-plated invitation to Poindexter, the inner critic: Play vulture til ya pick those bones clean. Poindexter haunts the try it zip code. Know it. Accept it. And keep moving on the road toward your goal. For me, an electronic portfolio = a milestone on that road.
2️⃣ Pinpoint the target audience + your message = portfolio as your song.
If you don’t know your target audience, your portfolio pages will bomb. In my mind’s eye, I created five separate humans, each with a different job title, schedule, personality (rude vs courteous), and appearance (strangling tie or uncomfortable heels vs backpack tossed over the shoulder). Once I envisioned my peeps, things started falling into place.
3️⃣ Phone (Dictation) or Paper with Pen → a Park
Nature serves as church. The sheer size of surrounding trees dwarfs concerns sourced in ego. The relaxation conjured by Nature’s intense beauty juices creativity, enhancing what if brainstorming.
My choice: dictation, using iOS app Just Press Record. Why? Every dictated session auto-transcribes, with the searchable transcript available on all Apple machines. A Siri search brings the transcript within one-tap reach.
As I beebopped around the park, I asked and answered core questions. I explained to a pretend stranger what I would accomplish through the portfolio, it’s overall navigation style, my niche, and potential trouble spots. In that last category:
- how to present PDF files within a page as opposed to standard linking?
- how to handle ghostwritten docs, without compromising confidentiality?
4️⃣ Force nothing. Follow the flow.
The act of walking skyrockets focus while relegating fear to footnote status. The spirit relaxed, thoughts race, each vying for center stage. Continuing my physical movements encouraged a natural hierarchy: thoughts worthy of exploration cemented, while others fell to the side. End result: as I approached my car, the central elements of the portfolio transformed into a skeletal tasks map. Next step: flesh out that skeletal outline with documents (the what) and a theme (the how).
Portfolio Creation: Part Two: Learn & Implement the Basics
1️⃣ Research options.
My research broke down into two major components: the cosmetics and the substance of the portfolio.
✦︎ Play in the themes showcase
Whether free, Premium, or Business subscriber to the WordPress.com platform, all enjoy access to the themes showcase. The Live Demo provides an overview of a theme. The Try and Customize feature informs, at a glance, the degree of effort required to align current site contents with the new theme. The beauty of the latter feature: nothing impacts your current site. It sits undisturbed as you experiment.
Example: Some themes revealed missing featured images within the listing comprising my home page. Others embraced those images. Some showed huge images; others tamed the images with uniformity (similar heights and widths). In short, some themes detracted; others enhanced the site. Where
- the theme’s core features met my needs (e.g. portfolio, post formats, widget friendliness, navigation menu customization), and
- the overall presentation satisfied
I placed the theme on my short maybe this one list.
As I approached the end of my themes tour, only one survived my scrutiny: Rebalance. Selecting that theme on a weekday evening, I scheduled the actual theme switch for weekend wee hours. Rationale: if I somehow futzed the site during the process, the timing would minimize the number of witnesses.
✦︎ Gather the relevant WordPress.com pages for study.
Some themes include optimized features for a portfolio. But a portfolio can be created with any WordPress theme. To comprehend the wealth of potential configurations, familiarize yourself with the basics:
- Portfolios on WordPress.com (WordPress.com Blog)
- WordPress.com’s Portfolio Support Page (portfolios 101 😀)
- the Portfolio shortcode
- related WordPress.com support forum threads
- paid subscribers’ CSS customization: once you select your theme, you may find a detailed customization walk-through, targeting that theme, at AllAboutBasic.com.
YouTube also provides tutorials, e.g.
2️⃣ Scour hard drives for documents, site postings, & relevant material.
When ya spend decades in a particular field, ya create documents —lotsa docs! I rifled through my hard drives, those in action as well as external hard drives from yesteryear.
I performed a similar review of all blog posts. In both cases, I distinguished between ready-to-go versus needs-serious-tweaking documents. Two new folders under a 4NOW-Portfolio tree ensured easy access to the chosen docs as I progressed through the portfolio project. I prepended that designator, 4NOW, to every file of interest. Rationale: accommodate future searches.
Freelance web-content client submissions proved tricky. Part of my agreement requires confidentiality. Resolved: can’t use the substance of the articles, but I could attack the subject matter! Translation: rewrite, with a fresh approach.
3️⃣ Visit a local mom & pop cafe. Purpose: a hammering session.
I grabbed my EDC (Every Day Carry) bag, stocked with my bullet journal and pen, iPad, and ChromeBook. Tossing the bag over my shoulder, I drove to a favorite smallish coffee shop. Seeing a park signals preliminary THINK! work. Sitting in a coffee shop signals a HAMMER it out mission.
As usual, relaxation proved key to success. I massaged the list of docs and articles, defining groups and associated headers. The nitty gritty of the portfolio’s contents took shape, ideas crystallizing into a definitive plan of attack.
4️⃣ Outline portfolio contents on paper, then → a plain txt editor.
Two, possibly three, primary project-types materialized. Within my bullet journal, I created a structure map. I listed three docs or posts for each type. I also wrote #4 and #5 under each— backup docs to include in the event the main content proved problematic (read: if Murphy’s Law hit, I’d be prepared). I set a maximum of three articles per project type. What I didn’t have on hand, I’d create.
I then replicated the handwritten framework, typing it into SimpleNote. The deliberate duplication offered two benefits. First, re-entering the info awakened a few concerns, which I added to the bullet journal. Second, having the core items in place would accommodate copy/paste tasks re the WordPress.com admin editor. Why SimpleNote, rather than Apple Notes, Word, OneNote, etc?
- SimpleNote is a genuine plain text editor, precluding formatting glitches.
- SimpleNote is accessible from all devices, i.e. cross-platform,
5️⃣ Figure out how to present a PDF directly within the page, i.e. Embedding
My experience with WordPress.com underscores an essential point: if what I want is predictable, the system probably addresses it. The trick is locating the associated critical what and how-to information.
Hard drive docs can be converted to PDF. I wanted to embed such files in the page. Instinct suggested my answer lived in the support pages. I googled:
- site:wordpress.com (“support”|”forum”) “PDF” “embed”
The quotes tell Google the terms must appear within the page. The vertical bar is shorthand for “or”; without one of those two terms, the search hitlist would overflow with free sites ending in “WordPress.com.”
- create an account through the usual establish-credentials procedure
- add your files through the intuitive CloudUp interface (iPad friendly!)
- open file after upload, changing the name if desired
- copy the URL from the address bar
- paste the URL within a page/post on a line by itself (no spaces on that line, anywhere)
This combo of steps culminates in a scrollable PDF file, embedded directly within a page/post. It first appears as a black box, quickly transforming into the scrollable PDF with a left and right border. The URL remains hidden, unless explicitly added to the page.
During testing, I didn’t realize a particular effect of the WordPress.com caching mechanism: sometimes, changes I made were not reflected at the site. As a workaround, I situated an explicit link directly under the boxed area. Although I later realized the whole cache vibe, I elected to keep the link. Why?
I’ll state my rationale as politely as possible. My target audience includes attorneys. Many still proudly provide an aol.com address as their sole professional eMail address. Those same folks remain enamored with fax machines. Given this reality, I presume older browsers may access the site. The old-school link anticipates these old-school tech-adverse folks. ‘Nuff said.
6️⃣ Figure out how to bring published blog posts into the portfolio.
Short answer: create a new page. Add an appropriate title and header. Create a list, comprised of the relevant blog post titles. Convert the titles into links. Done!
This eliminates the specter of duplication. It also ensures that updates to the posts will travel to the portfolio, immediately, via the linking mechanism. Example.
7️⃣ Adopt the easiest WordPress.com admin interface for portfolio work
The WordPress iOS app knows nothing about portfolios.
The modern editor proved a pain, regardless of device. Sometimes a preview page remained blank. Distracting herky-jerky weird screen movements would bounce me out of a discrete text field. After exhausting my stash of multi-syllable cuss words, I moved to the Classic Editor, where I remained throughout the create-portfolio project.
The Classic Editor (yoursite.wordpress.com/wp-admin or yoursite.com/wp-admin) offers comprehensive portfolio options, in an intuitive manner. It likes me (iPad friendly). I like it. We’re now best buds.
Portfolio Creation: Part Three: Insert Data, Tweak, & Polish
1️⃣ Draft new content exclusively for the portfolio section.
Among the ollllllld items found on an abandoned hard drive: multiple documents, research, and notes concerning the federal Funeral Rule. That formed the basis for a new portfolio page: The Funeral Rule: Protecting Death’s Grieving Survivors.
Why choose that subject?
- Most of the base work/research required was a done deal. This afforded the luxury of mere update-it research as preliminary work.
- The topic retains relevancy (evergreen).
- The info alerts all to certain consumer rights.
- Because states tend to add to the protections afforded by the Feds, a worthy post would be longer than most. Google loves longer posts delving into the nuances of a subject.
- I believe in service, e.g. educating folks about seldom-noted legal protections.
Multiple goals, accomplished through one decision. Woot!
2️⃣ Pinpoint images for longer articles; & add a featured image per page.
I appreciate unexpected fun, as well as eye candy, and know I’m not unique on that score. Bottom-line:
- Pictures delight the senses.
- For those with themes aware of featured-images, the site appears more polished in overall appearance.
- Pictures break the visual tedium of a wall of text.
Using the Funeral Rule example, I know folks may access it at breakfast time, during dinner, or any other timeframe. I lack the power to move this specific topic into the fun column. But I can insert images providing a breather, and add captions to make the image relevant to the subject matter.
My years-long joyful obsession, bird and nature photography, ensures original images to cover most topics. That includes using a picture of huddled parakeets to depict a courtroom “sidebar.” Hey, I told ya: me likey fun! As regards the Funeral Rule page, certain nature pics provided the precise touch desired.
You’re not a photographer? Or, no original image to assign to the central “portfolio” page? No problem. Copyright-friendly images are yours for the taking at various sites. My favorites?
3️⃣ Create portfolio project-types & -tags relevant to your target audience’s predictable searches.
The keywords likely to populate my target audience’s googling appear as portfolio project-tags and project-types. Don’t confuse this with keyword stuffing. My chosen tags/types accurately describe the contents associated with each. Each makes logical sense.
4️⃣ Revise your navigation menu to reflect your new portfolio.
The admin area includes a menu section. I began with a paper version of the revision, then
- replicated it within SimpleNote
- pulled the link per page from the admin/editor
- pasted in SimpleNote
- copied and pasted into the admin menu screen
5️⃣ Polish and tweak until satisfied with your portfolio.
As you toil, set the tentative pages to draft. For added protection, I “scheduled” pages-under-construction for two months into the future. No one saw anything until I gave explicit final approval: (1) converting the draft to public; and (2) changing the future date to now.
I added enough items to provide a comfort state with public posting, now. I plan to add a few more articles, each requiring conversion and tedious reformatting. Waiting for perfection —finalizing all articles— serves only to feed procrastination while killing immediate opportunities sparked by a portfolio.
Portfolio Creation: Part Four: Test & ReTest via Serial Visual Inspections
Murphy’s Law adores surprising. Among its gifts to yours truly: a double dose of the same image on every post tagged photography. I tried logical fixes; nadda. I researched, finding no cure.
I checked in with the WordPress.com Happiness Engineers. Read: I described the problem in detail, and the specific effect desired, in a post to the support forum. I added a modlook tag. The official answer ignored segments of my post, thus causing more problems than it purported to resolve. A kind fellow subscriber added his instructions, which proved on-the-money perfect. Problem resolved!
This illustrates why visual scrutiny must encompass the entire site. Ya simply do not know if something that looks good within the portfolio section triggers weirdness elsewhere, unless and until ya look.
A closing word — about Poindexter, the inner critic.
When we step outside the comfort zone, Poindexter Carl-Lewis sprints to the mind’s forefront. Trying to ignore him simulates unringing a bell. My tactic? I acknowledge his comments, responding curtly to each:
✦︎ You don’t know what the heck you’re doin’!
True. I’m learning. Dummies books remain bestsellers for a reason. Bounce!
✦︎ You’re gonna look like a fool to everyone who hits the page.
I’d look like a humongous fool, to me, if I didn’t try. “They” ain’t with me 24/7. I am. What else ya got?
✦︎ Why you wasting your time? This ain’t gonna work. You’re just spinning your wheels.
That answer belongs to Time. During the interim, I have a posterior; you have lips. Relate!
You control two —well, in this instance, three— things: your mouth, your mind, and your site. Use your mouth to punch Poindexter dead in his face; saying it out loud involves multiple senses, reinforcing your words. Train your mind to work with you as opposed to against you; replace focus on the unknown with a focus on the concrete steps to achieve xyz task. Explore the support pages and forums of WordPress.com, learning what’s necessary to make your site sing to your designated audience. We all love a touch of eye candy. Folks linger longer than usual, a huge step toward conversion.
Call to Action
I spent a solid hour staring off into space. My purpose: fathom a (legal 😏) work category allergic to a portfolio. Came up empty. Whether you provide a product or a service, a portfolio can serve as your electronic calling card.
The one thing I adore about a knowledge-related challenge: I know nothing at the start, so I have nowhere to go but up! Me likey those odds!
Want your own portfolio? Suggestion: pull out your calendar and start timeblocking. A (partial) list for your timeblocks:
- discern target audience
- likely searches by target audience?
- find/create docs with language responsive to those searches
- research pertinent keywords; blend ’em naturally into your structural elements
- create related structure, including project-tags and project-types
- select images per portfolio article
- optimize images (FYI: on my iPad, exclusively)
- insert a caption per picture
- assign a title per article
When you finish, write down and date your win! Celebrate! You’ve earned it. 😀👏🏽👏🏽