Finding Freelance Development Work
Why Write About Finding Freelance Work?
I get asked about how to find freelance work (or at least how I find it) pretty often from colleagues at my day job. Sometimes they actually are interested in doing freelance work, but often it is just plain old curiosity. Either way, this is meant to be a broad overview.
I listen to The Freelancers Show every week and they talk a lot about how they find clients. I highly recommend just going there if you want really awesome information. But, I am going to attempt to summarize some of the things those guys do even if I don’t necessarily do them all perfectly myself.
Avoid The Race To The Bottom
There are a lot of websites like Upwork (formerly Elance and Odesk) and Fiverr which offer online marketplaces to find freelancers and get work done quickly. I’m not saying you can’t find work here but if you live in a country with a high cost of living you may end up getting in a race to the bottom with people with much lower living expenses in other parts of the world. A race to the bottom is not a race you want to try to win, you will lose before you begin. So don’t even participate unless you are prepared with a strategy to compete against others charge $5 to $10 per hour.
Find A Niche
Because you are going to be a freelancer in a sea of other freelancers unless you can differentiate yourself in the marketplace you will be in a shouting match with the whole world. You need to find a niche to fix this.
For example, I am a web developer in Cincinnati, I work with local businesses. Even more specifically, I am a web developer and I create online form and email systems for local E-Commerce businesses. In fact, I think I want to even reduce that further to a specific vertical market.
Maybe you are a web developer that only does E-Commerce sites for sports apparel companies. Perhaps you only customize Shopify sites for brick-and-mortar companies looking to expand into E-Commerce. Or, Maybe you only do wordpress plugins related to lead generation.
The point is that you must find some niche where you can be a dominant player or at least part of a small group where you can specifically brand yourself as an expert. I had a lot of trouble with this at first (and honestly, I still do), I was doing just about any kind of web development work. Eventually, I developed a forms templating system that gives me a competitive advantage in that specific space.
If only to help people find you, pick a niche.
Create A Niche
The other option is to create a niche just for yourself. This works great with plugins and apps that live on larger platforms. For example, make a WordPress plugin that solves a very specific problem and become known in that area so you become the go-to person for customization. Build plugin for Shopify and charge a recurring monthly fee for its use. Then attract clients who need custom versions of the plugin or build the same plugin on different platforms.
How do you find a niche to create? Talk to business owners and see what problems they have. Lurk on the forums for these popular platforms and see what people complain about or ask for. Read reviews on other plugins and see what features other people are requesting. Look for an existing plugin that dominates the market but has tons of bad reviews.
Tell Everyone Exactly What You Do
If you tell people what you do they will naturally connect you with others and you will find the right opportunities. But the catch is that this works better if you pick a good niche. “I make websites” is not good enough. “I do email marketing automation for auto mechanics” is more like what you want to tell people about. People will tell you who their mechanic is (whom they know by name and probably have a cell number for).
The platforms you can do this with don’t matter: Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, in-person meetup groups, business events, social engagements, basically be everywhere if you can. Be easy to find and tell people what you do.
Do Great Work, Aim For Referrals
If small-scale web development is becoming commoditized to the point where hosting companies, self-serve website builders, and $10 an hour overseas help is is now literally ubiquitous, how can you make any money?
You must do what the rest can’t: offer good, smart service that solves problems well and completely, preferably on the first attempt. Wix.com is not meant to do what the customer wants intelligently all by itself. It is a platform that lets you quickly throw stuff up on the web if you already know what you are doing. Overseas developers will never be able to communicate as effectively as somebody that lives in the same town and can meet face to face or quickly jump on the phone.
One word of caution here: If you work with a client that is overly concerned about prices or payment terms that means that cost is a huge priority to them. There are plenty of cheaper services than hiring a dedicated professional so actively encourage them to do so. If they just want a generic website then go ahead and mention Squarespace or Wix.com - and if they convince you they need custom work then that is a good client.
Extremely price sensitive clients will be more trouble than they are worth, so encourage them to pick a self-serve option.
If you offer this level of service and distinguish yourself then you can get referrals. This mindset will help you anticipate what problems your customer really needs to solve and what you must do really make a difference to their business.
Of Course, feel free to reach out to me about freelance work (firstname.lastname@example.org).