There are many discussions over Hacker News about how freelancers can find clients. Of course you have many options – from personal contacts, to sending cold emails, making cold calls, bidding on freelance sites, etc. But I think there is much better way, and it is fairly simpler. It comes from software developer’s perspective so I’ll talk mostly about developers. The approach should be applicable to other professions too.
Release and ship some software out there. Get real users. Some will contact you for customizing your stuff or for entirely custom development. The more people your stuff reaches, the more will contact you.
Of course your mileage will vary a lot depending on how you do it. Depending on who you ship your products for. This is the point where many developers fail. Think about this:
Who Is Your Customer?
Many developers who try this approach fail because they focus on building some technologically impressive piece that will show how great programmers they are. Doing this may work for building your impressive portfolio and eventually land you a job. Impressive portfolios by themselves do not bring contract work.
Instead of trying to shine with your genius think about who is your potential customer. I’ll give you some examples:
- If you are a game developer looking for contract work, then the regular gamer is not your customer. Your customer is the small game studio or indie game developer who may need some help with programming. Releasing a game may eventually catch their attention but releasing stuff that game developers use (libraries, tools, whatever) is a lot more likely to do so.
- If you prefer to develop utility desktop programs your customer is not the regular desktop user who downloads programs for free. Your potential customer are small businesses who develop software or may benefit by developing software. So create some stuff that may reach this kind of people.
- If you are a web developer your customer is a webmaster who needs custom app developed for their websites. Create software for webmasters and you’ll get some of them contact you for customization. I’m talking personal experience here – I’m getting a lot of requests for customization or entirely custom apps from webmasters who use my scripts (I have to turn most of these offers down because I have no time for them).
Paid Works Better
I’ve got a lot more inquiries from users of our commercial products than from the ones who download our free ones. And I’m talking as absolute number here, not percentage, although you can imagine a lot more people have our free stuff. Why is that so? I’m not sure but here’s my “educated” guess:
- People who paid for your product are more likely to pay for custom work (and pay a fair price) rather than people who use stuff for free. There are plenty of exceptions so don’t take this for granted. But the real numbers are in favor of paid users.
- Business customers tend to take more serious developers who sell their stuff. If you have a website and sell a product you must know some business and be serious enough to handle support etc. On the other hand is the free: every kid releases free programs so there’s no guarantee that you aren’t some weirdo who just likes to program and aren’t easy to work with.
This is at least what I suspect. There might be other reasons too.
Releasing products to your target users requires creativity and hard work of course. But you don’t need to impress with amazing skills to land some freelance work. Just find out who is your target prospect and make sure you release stuff for them.
I’d be happy to hear about similar strategies from freelance writers, designers, photographers etc. I believe similar approach will work for them.
Filed under: Finding Freelance Jobs