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The Unexpected Sales Tool

They're not just for artists anymore: Portfolios are a great way to show off your work to clients!

Portfolios are powerful and effective sales tools many small-business owners overlook. Having an eye-catching portfolio that showcases your work can put you ahead of your competitors and clinch sales.

Unlike a brochure, which you leave with clients, a portfolio is more comprehensive. It may contain brochures, as well as photographs and other visual examples of your work, and detailed descriptions of what types of work you do. Most businesspeople only have one portfolio.

"Verbal concepts and ideas aren't as lasting as pictures and other visual impressions," says Jeffrey Garton, co-owner of Paradise Designs Inc., a San Clemente, California, landscape-design and installation company. "If you can point to a picture to illustrate what you're saying, it will remain in a client's mind even after you've left."

You don't have to be a designer or an artist to have an impressive portfolio. Almost any product or service can be illustrated through pictures or other visual materials. If you clean houses, don't just say so--show potential clients photos of homes you've cleaned.

"Even consultants can use a portfolio to make their intangible services more tangible," says workplace training consultant Patricia Seeley, whose Reno, Nevada, company, Training for the Future, specializes in training for job satisfaction, productivity improvement and motivation. Seeley has filled her portfolio with a variety of visual materials, such as her biography, professional association membership cards and certificates of membership, testimonial letters from satisfied customers, information on the training programs she offers, and magazine and newspaper articles she has written.

Creating a portfolio that showcases your work is not very difficult, but it does take some time and thought. The following guidelines cover the basics and will help get you started.

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This article was originally published in the July 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Unexpected Sales Tool.

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