If you're like most creatives, you've developed a very particular set of skills ... All kidding aside, in the course of my own creative career, I've worked with a plethora of people across a broad spectrum of assignments. I'm forever grateful for these experiences, but even more so, for the incredible relationships I've built along the way. In fact, it's these very relationships that I credit for the majority of my customers. Sure, the work itself needs to be good and our services need to add more value than they cost... But by and large, I believe it's the relationship that drives business.
Now, don't get me wrong; there's a lot that goes into running a business effectively. But for creative professionals, however, it seems none is more important than the Portfolio. To potential customers, at least, your portfolio is the thing that proves you're the right person for the job. So much so in fact, we start to believe our work speaks for itself. But what if our work—left to itself—isn't really speaking what we want it to say? And furthermore, what if we don't know what it should say? I know I didn't.
Over the last 10 years, questions like this kept ringing in my ear—indiscernible at first—with ever-increasing noise. Over time, I'd gotten so busy honing skills that I neglected strategy. Every "portfolio" I put together felt like an incomplete example of my collective ability. Worse still, I couldn't stop comparing myself to those who'd found the holy grail of portfolio success; focus. In the arts, all the experts will tell you to narrow your focus—everything from subject matter and style to clientele. "You've got to make your work recognizable and repeatable", they'll say. When someone sees it, they'll think of you.
This isn't bad advice after all, because art buyers want artists with style. But, let me ask an important question here. Who's the hero of your portfolio? Is it you? Or is it the customer your work was commissioned to serve? It's kinda weird to think about it like that, right? As artists, we're so focussed on showcasing the skills we've worked so hard to acquire that we forget why we've acquired them in the first place. And this is the crux of the matter: In business, customers are the hero, not the artist. In other words, the work of the working artist is to create art that leaves an audience thinking about their customer, not themselves. If fully embraced, this idea will transform the way you approach your work. Start by asking, "How can I reorient my thinking, my website, and my brand—my entire business—to better reflect this reality?
Indeed, this is what led me to delete my portfolio.
A creative without a portfolio!? Blasphemy! Truly, as a visual artist I understand the importance of showing my work, just as eager as I am to do so. But this is an exercise in restraint. Even more so, this is an experiment in customer service. In time, I plan to release a new portfolio that aims to place customer accomplishments in the spotlight, not my own. There's much to say about this, but for now, I'd love to hear your thoughts!
How do view your own work in light of the people you work to serve?