This piece of work comes as a global reply to a discussion that started on another post from Simon Holdorf entitled How to Make Extra Money as a Programmer. Basically, Simon advised starting programing as a freelancer, which is a great advice. It is something I did and still do. But Simon mentioned platform like Upwork or Fiverr to find clients to work for. That is when I objected.
Here is an extract of the comment I made on his post and that made me start the article you are reading now.
Let me tell you that it’s a waste of time. Quality is almost never looked for and you’ll compete against people from countries where the cost of living is drastically low. Basically, they will do the job asked for a price 5 times lower than yours.
In substance, don’t rely on freelancing platforms for your acquisition.
Before entering the subject, an important note. Everything I will mention here will involve getting in touch with your network. So if you are not familiar with the concept of networking or having an audience, I invite you to read the article I wrote for The Startup about the way you can build an audience in the 2020s as a tech.
#1 Stay in Touch with Your Previous Companies
This acquisition method is often looked down, but this is actually my main source of freelance projects. Of course, it requires you to have been part of one or more company in your life. But, take it as a personal advice, if you have never worked as a professional developer then do not try freelancing. There is a lot of great developers in this world and many of them are freelancing now, so having experiences in your portfolio will be required.
When you have already worked for a company, you do not have to prove anything to them. They picked you for your technical level and personality. By working with them you have already built a comfortable level of trust. Trust being of one of the main reason why a client will choose between a freelancer and another. The client will look for someone that can be trusted to finish the project with real deadlines and an adequate level of code quality.
I have worked several years in a company as a developer and as a technical manager. As of now, the startup has grown into a bigger company. Meaning that they are not in capacity to address every project they get. When the client has only a budget of 5 000$, a company making several millions a year will have no benefits trying to work together. But as a freelancer… 5 000$ is a large amount of money!
As a previous member of the team and a respectable developer, if you kept good relations with the CEO or the people in charge of the business, chances are they will contact you. Last year I have been contacted 3 times from the same agency. Even I could not address every project because of the workload!
Do not ever underestimate a CEO, even from a large group. Entrepreneurs are always looking for new challenges and are full or ideas. Even when their company is making millions, they will look to launch a new service, a new product or even a new startup. Most of them are not developers and will look for a good one. You!
#2 Create a Package with a Freelance Designer
Some say that the adventure of freelancing is a lonely one. Let me tell you, I have rarely met, interact and had fun with new people as I have since I started freelancing. When a company is launching a new project, they will look for a large set of skills. If you can do absolutely everything, then good for you. But I can assure you that there are some things you are failing at.
Do not panic though, companies are not looking for a one-man-gang (nor they are looking for a one-trick pony though). A client will search for a set of skills not for a group of people. It means that if you can develop, build and plan the project, then you can associate yourself with an inspired freelance designer that will cover this aspect of the skill set.
Good designers are not developers. Not because they lack the skill, but because they do not want to address the subject. Their added value is not on development. Which means they are also looking for good programmers to get along and build a whole project for a common client. You can prepare a solid package together with options depending on the project and the client.
Again, if you have worked in the web market for sometimes, chances are you encountered some designers already. There are a lot more freelance designers than freelance programmers. Essentially because of the workload but also because of the artistic aspect of their work. Very often, a designer will work alone on a design when a programmer will work as part of a larger team. Get in touch with the designers you already met or use LinkedIn to find some.
#3 Attend Conferences and Meetups
As long as programing will be handled by humans, there will be meetups! And it is the perfect example of how to make connections with another fellow freelancer. The freelancing community is getting bigger and bigger and a lot of conferences and meetups are focused on this community. Meaning that not only will you engage with other freelancers, but there will be potential clients and people looking for freelancers in the attendance.
I reckon that going to a meetup alone can be kind of hard. Especially if you are shy or if you are lacking confidence. (Yes, I am talking to myself right now…)
But remember that nothing bad can happen to you. You are not the talker of the conference, you are not at work, you are not in at physical harm. If you want, you can just come, listen to the talk, grab an orange juice and wait for somebody to come talk to you.
After one or two meetup you will start to get the tempo. You will start asking questions, getting to engage with other people and even potential clients. Remember what I wrote before, there will be people looking for programmers in these meetups. It is a comfortable situation because you are not the one who is trying to sell something. And believe me, it is not often the case.
What If I Just Want to Use a Platform
I am not campaigning against the freelancing platforms. If it exists, it means there are people using it and it is replying to a demand. You can subscribe to Fiverr, Freelancer, Upwork or any other platform, it is up to you.
What I am advising against is: do not rely on this platform for your acquisition.
You will burn a lot of time without any rewards because there are hundreds of people answering the same technical briefs. You will compete with people all around the world, which is often an underestimated difficulty. I am based in Paris, you are in London, New York, Berlin. The cost of life in these cities cannot compare with the cost of life in Indonesia, for example. Which means that a 200$ dollar project is not conceivable for me when it can be totally standard for another programmer in the world.
Play with your strengths guys, not your weaknesses.
Thank you for reading my lines.