One of the most recurrent questions when you start freelancing, apart from your hourly rate, is: “how to find clients?”. Finding quality work as a freelance developer may seem difficult at first. Landing your first customer is not only important to get you started, it will also boost your trust and confidence. Signing your first contract has a positive effect on you that really makes a difference.
However, oftentimes newbie freelancers find themselves struggling to get their first job. I was there too. In this article, I want to offer you some guidance about the best ways to find quality work and grow a good customer base, specially when you are starting.
Quality vs Quantity
There is a vast amount of sources to promote yourself as a freelancer and find projects to work on. However, not all are created equal, and not all of them will get you good customers or interesting jobs. Over the years, I have explored a large number of ways for getting clients. Some of them brought me awesome job opportunities. Many of them were simply a waste of time. A few of them were actually a source of problematic customers and I would advise you to avoid them altogether.
The lesson I learned is simple: look for those customers that will offer you work that:
- Helps you build an awesome portfolio
- Is well paid
- Is a challenge to you
- You are passionate about
- Makes you improve your skills and grow as a freelancer
Let’s analyze some of them that worked for me and some of them that didn’t.
What Works for Finding Quality Work
These are some of the channels that, in my experience, have proven to be perfect for finding quality work. Up to this day, I still keep on getting interesting job proposals and eventually finding awesome projects from them:
Building a Blog
Believe it or not, one of the main sources to find good customers, for me, is my blog. If you are a freelance developer and still don’t have yours, start it, now. Seriously, stop reading this article and start your blog. Now.
A blog will not only give you visibility and help you grow your reputation as a freelance developer, it will effectively bring you customers. If you offer valuable content to your readers, you will grow your credibility and end up being read by someone who is interested in hiring you. In my case, my blog has helped me build relationships with people that found one of my articles helpful. This has sometimes led to a job proposal.
Now, a blog has to have a goal. It has to offer real value to the people, specially the developer community. You will need to write valuable content, share your expertise, and offer something that’s uniquely yours. You will also need to keep your blog alive by posting at least once a month, or ideally more often if you can find the time for doing so. Of course, don’t forget to add your portfolio page, alongside any testimonial from your customers or links to the apps you have developed. They will serve as social proof of your skills and expertise.
LinkedIn is full of recruiters looking for cheap developers, but there are also lot of startups, companies and professionals looking for good developers to hire. For me, it was a very successful way of finding quality work and great customers, specially at the beginning. In fact, most of my initial jobs were all found thanks to LinkedIn, so you should probably consider opening a profile there and joining some dev groups. Also, if you post something in your blog, don’t forget to link it here too.
An active Github account will bring you customers too. It’s specially useful to prove that you have the needed knowledge or expertise for a job position. I’ve been asked frequently to share my Github account to potential employers so they can check my work. It’s also a wonderful way of helping the community and establishing your reputation. Last but not least, it will serve you to host the source code for any project you share in your blog. My recommendation is, thus, to open a Github account and frequently share interesting stuff with the community.
Meetups and events
Geeks are not usually the extroverts or party animals of the gang (well, there are exceptions, of course 😎). However, it’s important to get outside of your comfort zone and go meet some fellow developers and freelancers. This will definitely help you make some good connections that might end up in future collaborations. Furthermore, these meetings are sometimes frequented by potential customers looking for developers. I have found some good customers in iOS developers meetings. But most importantly, they have served me to make some friends and get in contact with a lot of people.
Having a presence in other social networks is important too. Social networks will not probably bring you customers directly, but they will help you reach more people and generate traffic to your blog. They also are perfect for reaching out people you won’t be able to meet in real life. This, they will allow you to build relationships with people from your industry, collaborators and even clients.
What Does Not Work
In my experience, these are not good ways for finding quality work. My advice would be to approach them carefully, if at all.
By “Freelancing sites”, I mean websites like upwork.com or freelancer.com where you register as a freelancer and people post jobs you can apply to. In my experience, these places are overcrowded with freelancers with very low hourly rates you shouldn’t compete with. What’s worse, they’re all filled with customers that are not interested in the best developer or getting quality results. They are just looking for the cheapest developer available. When you start applying for jobs in those platforms, you will immediately get involved in a bid war with the competition. This situation will only get you to a race to the bottom and, believe me, you don’t want to go that path. Your experience may be different, but for me, these are places to avoid like the plague.
Consulting agencies may seem like a perfect place for getting your first job when you are starting your career. However, keep in mind that their business model is getting projects that will get them as much money as possible, while hiring developers that will cost them as little as possible. These projects will usually require you to work at the customer’s headquarters, probably in a cubicle. Furthermore, they usually involve long work hours. So basically you will end up working as if you were in a 9-to-5 job, only earning a lot less. My suggestion: avoid consulting agencies too.
There are many places for finding quality work as a freelance developer out there, but also places you should be wary of. When you are starting as a freelancer, finding the first customer and landing your first contract might be overwhelming. In this article, I shared some of the things that have worked for me to get quality work and build an awesome portfolio. Also, I talked about some of the sources that haven’t worked for me quite as well. That’s completely based in what I’ve found out there. Your experience, of course, may vary. Do you think I missed something? Would you like to talk about any specific experience with another source of freelancing work? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment.