A Veteran Web Developer without a Portfolio

I was talking today with a client that we did a small gig for about a year ago. He runs an an agency and called with a partnership opportunity. Wow, did I feel like an asshole! I mean how nice is it that an old client calls up and asks for you to partner with him on an upcoming gig? In business there is no higher form of praise, I know that. So, then why was I just about as unhelpful as can be?

It’s not because I didn’t have my coffee this morning or something like that. It’s this very strange niche I have carved myself with this whole “web support and website maintenance” angle:

  • We don’t build websites (but we do for agencies)
  • We don’t design websites (but we can create a professional appearance)
  • We don’t strategize (but we understand online communications)
  • We don’t do SEO (but we know how to build to best practice)
  • We don’t do content creation (but we do content management)
  • We don’t do advertising (well, we just don’t)

I get it, it’s confusing as hell.

Here is the Deal…

We are not web designers and we don’t build websites for direct clients. We do however build websites as part of our agency partnerships and we do help our support clients maintain a professional online appearance and presence. So what does this mean?

It means, and this really hit home today, that I am at the height of my career and I have no portfolio despite working in a creative field. I have built and managed countless websites over the years (I think I did my first professional website in 1999). I have built websites and applications for organizations like IBM, Philips Medical, MasterCard, The USO, Girl Scouts of America, many congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial candidates, large national PACs, foreign monarchies, major federal agencies and countless other organizations and groups. Now… ask me to give some links to my work.

(My) Portfolio does not Belong to Me

There in lies the problem. I may have built and/or managed some very reputable online properties throughout the years, but in the end they do not belong in my portfolio. I did not design them, I did not provide the primary strategy and in many cases the end-client doesn’t even know I exist (agency partnerships).

Then there is support and managed website hosting… giving links to to the sites I support or host (no matter how impressive the client may be), what does that prove? I guess it might prove that our hosting platform is actually up and running, but beyond that what would any potential partner or client gleam from such links? Again I can’t claim I designed these and most I didn’t build.

It’s What I Get for Carving Such an Un-Sexy Niche

Anyway, its a frustrating position to be in. I’m not frustrated because I need a portfolio full of big name brands to boost my ego, I’m frustrated that it’s sometimes hard to communicate this. Believe me I would not have gone into website support and maintenance if I was looking to fill my shelves with award plaques and trophies… I’ll leave that to the agencies. For now folks will just have to understand that we are the Levi’s to the gold rush: fame and fortune may lay ahead for others but in the end everyone needs pants.