How to build a portfolio as a freelancer new to the market

I have about 10 years experience working in web development agencies as a Project Manager/User Researcher.

2 years ago I decided to move into a technical role and did an MSc in Computer Science at a well-respected university. I graduated near the top of the class. I learned HTML, CSS, JavaScript, MySQL, bash, Java and built and android app. I have no professional experience as a programmer, but have a good educational grounding and all of my project management experience.

I’ve since had to move to a remote part of the country for my husbands work. There are no jobs available locally, and it’s not feasible to commute (travel and childcare combined are more than I would earn).

I’ve decided to try and establish myself as a remote freelancer (in app/web development), but I have no portfolio and need to build one. I don’t care if I have to work for free to do that, but how do I go about finding projects that are portfolio worthy?

I’ve tried lots of not-for-profit job boards but no one seems to want volunteers to get involved in web/software stuff.

Can anyone advise?

Thanks in advance.


What I would do for the beginning is maybe try getting some Website Designs and implementing them on your own. It would be a learning experience and also something you could put into your portfolio.

I had a bunch of them on my website and it worked out well… It doesn’t have to be very sophisticated, but if it looks nice, it will definitely help.

Try going on specific niches like: mobile app landing page, recipes app (multi pages), a blog app layout (doens’t have to have a backend, you could even use Gatsby and Netlify to host it for free - I did that on my blog)

So the main points would be: Build, Build, Build… Even the projects from FreeCodeCamp could work if you put some effort in to make them look nice. I saw once a portfolio of such projects and was just lovely (can’t find the URL now).

I wish you A LOT of fun on this round. GL! :smiley:


What Flopet17 said.

There are lots of lists of projects to make on Medium as well.

I’d like to caution you to not work for free. 1) it doesn’t help any more than doing projects on your own. 2) it gives you (and others in the field) the reputation that you don’t need to be paid. And 3) you’re already going to run into plenty of people who won’t want to pay you or want to pay in pennies.

You are worth being paid. I encourage you to look up freelancing rates and build yourself a solid contract.


Hello. Could the list of projects that you found on Medium, please? I looked and couldn’t find any.

Be good at search is part of being a programmer.

Go to Medium.
Click Search.
Type: [language] projects

Replace language with the language you want to build the projects in.

1 Like

What is “medium”? Pls It’s a site where you can read & write stories on pretty much any topic.

Cheat 1.

“I’m one of the main contributors to X!”

Open source is an incredible way to add value and also a wild level-up in interviews. It’s actually really easy to become a core contributor on relatively popular libraries. Even without being a core contributor, you get to tell prospective employers that you’re a contributor to one of the packages they likely use (and they can easily confirm). This is the ultimate quick and dirty cheat - and is highly effective. Use the issues you solve for people as a connection-builder. After you’ve talked to somebody on github, follow them on twitter, be social, see if they have job postings, and then you have an automatically warm intro.

Cheat 2.

“I’m a technical startup founder of a bootstrapped startup (check it out here ______) and I’m looking for contract work to keep the cash flowing while I pursue my passion project.”

Found a startup. This might sound hard, but there’s tons of low-hanging fruit ideas. It takes a few weeks to build an MVP of any idea and < 100 to make an LLC and using tools like Laravel Spark you can even bootstrap a full account dashboard / everything you need to get customers. This is especially valuable for freelance leverage. Prospective employers of freelancers are way more into seeing prior art than your education.

Cheat 3.

“I found you on ProductHunt/Angellist, etc. Absolutely love the problem you’re solving. Would love to help in any way I can.”

Go to early stage startups and offer your talent on contract because you like what they’re doing. Most startups have decent technical screens, so if you have the chops and are willing to offer the startup a great rate (or if you can, work for equity) your actual portfolio here won’t matter as much. Find super early stage startups on the new list on Angellist and just directly DM the founder. I’ve hired multiple people who’ve done this to me at Flatfile and it usually works out (low risk for the company if it doesn’t). Also pick a cool brand and it’ll pay intense dividends.

Cheat 4.

Apply for every talent network you can. Most allow you to re-apply infrequently so no-harm, no-foul if you fail the first time around.

With your education level, you should honestly be able to get through screening for sites like Codementor, Toptal, Upstack, etc. (there are dozens) - a lot of these networks focus on critical skill evaluation more than necessarily job history (although it does come into play with the rate your able to fetch in-network, so 2-3 still stand). Once you’re in network, somebody will help you set your rate and generally you can line up jobs relatively quickly as long as you’re being competitive.

Hopefully that was helpful!