In my first post of the series, So you want to be a Freelance Developer, I went over some broad topics that where likely the more important things to understand before diving in. One thing missing from the list was networking and how to obtains clients.
Getting your first clients will require a lot of effort and leg work, you’ll need to present yourself when possible, wherever possible. Once you’ve obtained your first 4 or 5 clients, you’ll likely have an occasional client email you whom you’ve been recommended to work with or someone that’s stumbled across your work and is interested in hiring you to handle their projects.
I won’t pretend to have some secret formula or place I turn to in order to obtain clients, no one does. Every client will be different, just like every freelancer’s target market and skills. In this article, I hope to help at least tame the question of “how do I get clients?“.
Target your market
This may seem a little odd at first, why would you limit yourself to one or two areas instead of casting a big net and hoping to get many opportunities? When you focus on one or two markets, you can gain a lot of knowledge by ensuring that you’re focused on relevant materials, news, techniques and industry changes. This is especially true if you’re a solo developer or designer – getting an intimate and deep understanding of no more than two subjects will likely help you catch serious and big clients down the road.
Being the “authority” on a subject can enable you to participate in communities based on the topic, write meaningful articles, help you identify better fitting clients, keywords and even locations in which you could target for obtaining potential clients. There are plenty of communities in which similar businesses will frequent in order to engage with others in the industry.
Keep your portfolios up to date
It’ll be important to ensure your digital portfolios are always up to date. Are you a designer on Behance or a Back-end developer with a Github? Taking time to pick and choose your better works for display will go a long way! While having a non self-hosted solution is often easier to manage and deal with, having your own portfolio on your own domain will often look better to potential clients, plus you’ll get to arrange things and design the content to your tastes. Having something to show off your skills and expertise will help win over potential clients and show that you can stand behind your words.
This also extends things such as LinkedIn and your résumé. It’s difficult to design a well read résumé, but it will be vital when approaching certain client bases. I tend to ignore the “1 page limit” when writing mine, most companies and people in technology related industries understand that it’s hard to encapsulate your abilities in a single page.
LinkedIn is a good thing to have in general, it’s a network for professionals to easily connect and browse your general abilities and skills. Once you learn to avoid some of the less useful aspects of it, you can let it sit and update it only when needed.
A word on Github – it’s not always possible or easy to have repos showing off your work. Many clients may require a level of confidentiality with code and designs, and sometimes you’ve only worked on certain aspects of a project. This can be mitigated by working on your own projects which help showcase your abilities with technologies or contributing to open source projects.
This one is a little harder and takes a special skill – self marketing. One thing I’m terrible at, but over the years have worked on is marketing yourself in various ways, telling the world of your skills and being accessible on various platforms. For example, you could go to Twitter, set your profile up nice and professional (or a little laid back, whichever is right for you) and then tweeting and retweeting relevant topics about and to your target market, you’ll eventually understand how to use hashtags appropriately and gain traction. Another great idea is to begin blogging and writing articles on subjects you’re both comfortable with, and feel strongly enough about.
Another way is to sign up to one of the many Stack Exchange networks! If you’re working with code in some aspect or front-end, you should join the StackOverflow network, if you’re into the game dev, then GameDev Stack Exchange is an option. There are plenty of options to be social, show off your skills, and participate, many of which will contribute to your presence in the community.
It’s important to network and engage people. Lend your advice were possible, ask interesting questions where appropriate. Self marketing takes a lot of energy and time early on, but once you’ve gotten started, you’re likely to have potential clients emailing you instead of you chasing clients.
Yeah, its hard to pass up a client especially when trying to build up a portfolio, but there will be times when the project length and complexity simply isn’t worth the time and profits. In your pursuit of finding clients, you’ll begin to dig into websites in which you can “bid” to work on a project in competition with others trying to get the very same client.
There are way too many freelance sites to name, from UpWork to Fiverr, WeWorkRemotely and more. Each of the ones you may come across is another place you can gain clients and begin to grow your income. However, a lot of the more popular sites will require you to compete with larger agencies or freelancers who may charge less for the same services, thus undercutting your income potential. This will be the area you should be the most careful. Be selective with your bids on projects and the clients you’re willing to work with. In my experience, I’ve been able to gain some great reviews from Fiverr clients that have then turned into long-term and better paying projects after completing some simple initial projects and then continuing our business-partnership.