We are hereby kicking off a new series called Experienced Newbies, by and about creative professionals who are making mid-career transitions and building a new career on the foundation of their past experience and expertise. I hope you enjoy this first blog post, which is a companion to the first podcast interview with Lisa Mullis, who has generously volunteered to share her story and her process. Let me know what you think….and find out more about Lisa below.
If you are transitioning from one job to another or leaving a team environment for solopreneurship, it can be hard to find the right way to share past work and relationships under the auspices of your new environment.
Ideally, you want your previous work to accurately reflect your role as it was then and also the expertise you can bring to new projects now. As evidence of your knowledge and the kinds of outcomes you deliver, a project portfolio, client list, and testimonials are important proof points.
Let’s take a look at how you can leverage these proof points from your past when you’ve moved on to the next thing.
The project portfolio
I’m about three months into the transition from my former business to my new one. Most of my new projects right now are still in progress and not ready to post in my website portfolio yet. But as I’ve been a designer and marketing consultant for almost 20 years, it would be a disservice to myself and my prospective clients if I didn’t share anything that represents all those years of hard-earned expertise. So even though it feels a little incongruous, I’ve included many of the projects I did with my former company on my new company website.
Building a portfolio while building your career is a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Your portfolio represents your body of work and the level of expertise you’ve acquired. As you introduce yourself to new markets and new audiences, not only would it be odd to go into those conversations with nothing, it would be misleading. You certainly don’t want to—or need to—ditch past projects in your showcase. Where you performed the work should be acknowledged, but it should not determine whether a project is worth including in your portfolio.
I strongly advocate including a project profile for each entry in your portfolio that at minimum states who the client was, the services rendered and/or deliverables created. You may choose a few of these to expand into full case studies that explain your process, the solution, and outcomes (read Jill’s recent article for tips). A profile or case study will give you the opportunity to describe your involvement in the project and give clients insight into your thinking and approach. This is particularly helpful when making the connection between past and present.
Project profiles can take a lot of time to create. If ones already exist from your former situation, it can be tempting to use them as is. But copying and pasting project profiles from your former company’s portfolio is out. Linking to them from your website doesn’t work either. You will need to generate your own versions.
To get started, ask your former employer if you can use parts of the existing project profiles, particularly the images which can be hard to acquire or produce after the fact. I had a former employee ask to do this, and I was happy to grant her permission.
Next, rewrite the project profiles so that your role and the aspects of the project for which you were responsible are clear. Use phrases like “While I was the creative director for Company X, I…” or “As the graphic designer on the project, I was responsible for…” or “While working for Company X, my role was to …”. As long as you accurately state your position or responsibilities, it will be hard to cite a misrepresentation of facts. If you can relate the tasks or thinking you did on the project to the kind of work you’re doing now, even better. And, as always, be careful not to share any information proprietary to your former company or client without their permission.
When I rewrote the project profiles from my former company, I added language that clarifies what my personal involvement in the project was. I also took out any instances of “we” in the copy when it was in reference to my former team. The point is to share the project as it relates to what I know and can do. (Side note: I took advantage of the fact that I was the one who wrote the original project profiles and plagiarized myself in some cases.) I’m considering adding additional projects from my former company to my new portfolio, especially those that are applicable to what I’m doing now. But over time, I’ll replace the examples of former work with current ones as I complete new projects.
The client list
At times a client list might seem unnecessary. Unless you’re servicing well-known brands, a lot of people coming to your site aren’t going to recognize anyone on your list. On the other hand, a client list can convey your level of experience and focus (mostly mom-and-pop shops? larger local companies? nonprofits?). Particularly if you are vertically positioned in one or a few markets, your client list can serve to reflect a deep expertise. A client list can also make convenient navigation to project profiles and case studies.
There are a few ways to approach listing clients you worked with in your former life.
1) List everyone together and add an asterisk, bold, color, or otherwise style individual listings to distinguish current clients from former ones. You may also need to add a key to explain the distinction. An example follows:
2) List everyone together, but instead of styling individual client names, put an asterisk after the heading for the list. That could look something like this:
3) Separate the full client list into two sections, one stating current clients and the other former ones. That might look like this:
For my website, I started with the first approach but decided the second way worked better for my purposes. I’m using my client list as navigation links to project profiles, but I didn’t include a profile for every client listed. And because some clients from my former company have moved with me to my new one, it was confusing to try to distinguish between new and former clients and those that are hyperlinked to project profiles. I put a simple asterisk after the heading “Select Clients” with a clarification footnoted at the bottom of the list. I’ve done this again on my About page where I have a gallery of client logos vs. a text-based listing. Like with my portfolio, as time goes on, I’ll update my client list to replace former clients with new ones.
While not critical, testimonials can be an important and useful proof point. If the testimonials you’ve received in the past were in reference to your former job or company and not about you personally, you may not be able to use them. But depending on your situation and the relationships you have with former colleagues and clients, you might ask them for a testimonial about your specific involvement in the project. Endorsements from your former colleagues or boss can be viable alternatives to share with your new folks.
In my case, most of the testimonials I’ve received were on behalf of my former team and were reflective of the company as a whole vs. one individual. So I’ve had to leave those out for now. I currently have one testimonial for a recently completed project which I put on my homepage. I’ve vowed to make getting (and giving) testimonials an inherent part of my process when working with clients (in the past it has been rather haphazard), so I can have more of this type of proof point.
Your body of work will continue to evolve over time, independent of changing environments and shifts in focus. Presenting previous projects in a new situation doesn’t need to be complicated. When you’re forthright and thoughtful about connecting past and present experiences, past projects can prove your expertise just as well as current ones.
Hi, I’m Lisa. Through writing, design, and communications training, I help conscious companies and causes raise their brand voices so their work is visible, shareable, and actionable. In my posts I write about the challenges of a mid-career transition after moving on from a business I had founded to start a new one. Learn more about me here and access my free Non-writers Writing Guide to Headlines, Subheads, and Email Subject Lines.