The common advice is to do free work to get portfolio started, however, I have found that businesses that do care about having a site usually also care about finding the best person to handle their site. Business that don't care about their site just use a templated if there exists one, they get lucky if it meets their needs other wise they just leave it at that.

So when you have no experience and you approach a business they also demand a portfolio, which was the real purpose of doing the design for free.

I guess i am lost on how to approach and find businesses online and offline whose website i think could use a great redesigning and they want it to be redesigned. I once found a local company their site was unusable, broken links, half flash, etc. I offered them in detail why they need the redesign, and how could i help them etc. No response?

If I was a business and if my site mattered to me remotely won't i just accept that offer, but again if i did care my site wouldn't have been in state where even free work would be beneficial.

So what to do when even for free work you need to prove yourself :D /

  • 2
    "The common advice is to do free work to get portfolio started" = That's not common advice from professionals.
    – DA.
    Oct 23, 2014 at 18:20

5 Answers 5


Rather than offering to redesign existing websites, you could look for organisations in your community that don't have a web presence already and offer to build something for them.

Non-commercial entities are often on particularly low budgets and are often very grateful for any sort of help. Look for charities, clubs, sports leagues, local chapters of larger associations and other community groups in your area and offer to help your services.

You will have to be clear that although your services will be free, there will still be some annual charge for them in paying for the domain name and web hosting.


I think Sarah's answer is brilliant. Something else you might try is to make it very clear to people how you will benefit from the "free" work you'd like to do for them. There may be many reasons the company you mentioned did not respond to you, but two concerns that jumps to my mind are:

1) People are inherently suspicious of any stranger offering them something for "free."

You must want something from them. No one can afford to run around building free websites for random strangers, so what's the catch? They probably assumed your ultimate goal is money and you're being deceptive about the free site.

2) What if they don't like the site you design for them? They may be worried they'll be stuck with it, or they may feel bad about wasting your time and hurting your feelings.

Also, I would not throw a bunch of unsolicited information at anyone, particularly a stranger. I would send a short, friendly note that gives a reason why you're willing to do this (You have experience but are striking out on your own and need to build a portfolio. You're a student and need to revamp an existing website for a college class. Etc.)

Would they be interested in having a free site built (or their existing site repaired) in exchange for letting you show the work you did in your portfolio? It would be completely free to them with no obligation to use it, and anyone would be able to maintain it once it was built (they would not be stuck with you whom they don't yet know). You might mention you noticed some broken links on their site but I would not go into detail until they show interest. Too much unsolicited information will overwhelm them.

Bottom line, put them at ease by letting them know they are doing you a favor.

I would approach several people understanding that many will ignore any email from someone they don't know.

  • what i did was opposite, lol. I basically came as someone who is doing them a favor, and they better not miss this opportunity. -__- Oct 18, 2014 at 4:31
  • what you said makes so much sense, if i had a business, and someone came to talk to me and said hey i want to make a thing about which you don't understand much for free and it will double your business...when can i start? i know ill avoid contact with that person. So maybe he will just go away. Oct 18, 2014 at 4:33
  • 1
    Yep. Unfortunately for them, you really were offering to do them a favor, and they missed out. But they would not know that. The human psychology says "Danger Stranger!" LOL.
    – Emily
    Oct 18, 2014 at 18:09

To build a portfolio, instead of stuffing it with rework of existing web sites, I'd rather recommend design something new. To do that:

  1. Find a problem. You don't have one? Try searching on the Internet (on Reddit, particularly, there're a lot).
  2. Think about how you could cover it with design. I'd even suggest that making a good single landing page is enough to train your skill and do something valuable at the same time. Still don't have any idea? What about a website where some members could dump their ideas and other members could pick those to put into practice, to solve a "still don't have any idea" problem?
  3. Do it. Open the tools you use (or want to, or you think you have to) and set your hands at the task.
  4. Show off. Post it on Dribbble or elsewhere, the place where you can get some feedback.
  5. Soak up the feedback, digest it, extract advice, adjust your direction.
  6. Repeat.

I don't think I gave a direct answer to the question, but I suggest it just a good advice to consider further path of self development as a design professional.

When offering a free redesign of an existing web site to an existing company, you make it generally worse because a) you discredit the concept that a designer should be paid for her work, and b) you aren't as aligned to do it good as if you were paid, and the client isn't as committed as if he was billed. As a result, you contribute to strenghtening an idea that design is cheap and client's nephew is the right person to be entrusted with company's web site redesign because, well, he seem talented and can work for free.


Do not do free web sites for companies. I'd even suggest avoiding it for non-profits.

Succesful design requires a partnership between you the design and the client. When the client has no money in the game, they're not much of a partner. And you're not going to gain a lot of real experience that way.

Furthermore, you end up working with clients who think it's smart to try and get their professional services for free. Which is rarely a good idea. So again, not great clients.

I'd suggest focusing on your own personal projects. What's your hobby? Put up a site dedicated to it. Have an interest? Design a blog around it. That kind of thing.


I have had a good experience with sites like Thumbtack and Fiverr. Some you have to pay a small amount to submit a quote or a fee when you accept a job; but it is minimal. For me, spending about 30 minutes/day (when I'm approaching the end of a project) preparing quotes for these sites has paid off in steady business. I suspect it wouldn't work as well, if your work cannot be performed virtually though; the possibilities would decrease with the smaller geographical area.

Re: a portfolio - I offered an exchange with my veterinarian. I noticed she owned a domain name, but didn't have a website up; so I offered to make a site for her in exchange for a discount of her services (I have 3 cats). She agreed; and it turned out to be a good business decision.

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