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As a freelance developer, you’re constantly looking for ways to keep your client pipeline flowing. Before joining ButterCMS, I lived this reality.
But as coding becomes a more common skill, the number of competitors who can seemingly undercut you at every turn is rising. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t enough clients to go around, nor does it mean you aren’t special enough to stand out from the crowd.
To help you do exactly that, I have listed eight ways any freelance developer can enhance their reputation and drum up new business.
The Art of Finding Clients
As a developer, your job is to solve problems. You’re not just selling websites, plugins or apps — you’re helping a client achieve a specific and tangible goal.
To attract the right kind of clients, that mentality of providing value rather than a soulless service needs to surround your work and personal brand.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how you can apply that mentality to reality.
Contribute to Open Source Projects
Being a professional developer takes more than just calling yourself one. Getting involved in open source projects is a great way to cement your reputation as a developer with a purpose.
There are hundreds of open source projects where you can showcase your work, while contributing value to a cause you believe in. Depending upon the kind of work you do your clients might not see the value in your GitHub commits, but for higher-level projects your contributions are a necessity. Plus, being active with certain open source projects can help you build valuable connections with other freelancers and project leaders in your space.
If you don’t have any open source tools you use regularly and would like to contribute to, then consider exploring Github until you find something that catches your eye.
Beyond open source, you can even consider creating programming specific tutorials for sites like SitePoint to further show your mastery of a given domain.
Work For Free (For Now)
Most freelancers balk at doing free work. It can indeed be a difficult pill to swallow, but the benefits can be immense, especially if you’re just getting started.
If there’s a dream client you really want to work with and you know you can provide something valuable to them, then create a portion of your project for free. Then reach out to them.
For example, if you know a site is due for a redesign, you could create the homepage for the site and send them an email with the link, “I had this in mind for a redesign of your website, if you like it, feel free to use it.”
Even if they’re not currently in the market for a redesign you’ll be on their mind if and when they are. Plus, if they decide to use your free work without anything more from you, it’s a nice piece you can add to your portfolio.
You can even use free work in exchange for referral leads in your chosen niche. For example, you could build a website for a non-profit in exchange for referrals from their network upon completion.
By going after a very specific market, or by specializing in a particular language or technology, you immediately decrease the amount of competition for new work — and at the same time, you can work on mastering that one dimension of your craft, which gives you a reason to charge more.
This is especially true if you’re in a competitive space like WordPress development. If you are in a space like WordPress, then niche down by being a WordPress developer for tech startups, or a Genesis child theme developer.
Create a Referral Engine
If you have any previous (and satisfied) clients, they can be great sources of new work for you. Whenever you complete a new project for a client you should have a follow-up sequence.
Something as simple as, “I really enjoyed working on this past project with you. If you know of anyone else you could refer me to, it would be much appreciated.”
A lot of business are built on the back of referrals. In fact, a recent study from Heinz Marketing found that, “84% of B2B decision makers start the buying process with a referral.”
Use the “Be Everywhere” Approach
If you want potential clients to find you online before they find your closest competitors, be everywhere.
That means getting your personal brand or agency a website, a Facebook page, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and everything else in between.
Aside from being easier to find, in today’s day and age, every potential client will want to do their due diligence before hiring you. If you have a sparse or non-existent online presence, this this won’t do you any favors.
It’s most effective to have a social media presence on the platforms your ideal clients hang out. For example, if you’re primarily dealing with startup founders and business managers, then make sure your LinkedIn and Angel.co profiles are up to date.
Befriend Fellow Freelancers
Maybe it’s time to stop seeing other freelancers as your competition, and start seeing them as your community.
It can be helpful to build a rapport first by sharing their work on social media, or by commenting on their blog. Once they know you exist, let them know you’re available to help if they’re too busy and need to delegate work to someone capable.
The best way to form a stable business relationship is to offer value. Instead of trying to get something from them, offer to help them for free if necessary if you think they’ll have more work for you in the long run.
If you prefer to build those bonds in person, it’s very likely that your local city is home to networking events and relevant conferences where you you can meet like-minded freelancers.
Also, be sure to connect with other freelancers and businesses that offer products and services that complement yours. For example, a graphic designer might have clients who also need web development work. Instead of turning that work down, they can refer it to you.
Browse Through Select Job Boards
A lot of job boards are filled with low-paying job postings and a high level of competition. Most of them should be avoided, but not all. Most job boards are packed with thousands of other freelancers bidding on the same job, and this level of competition tends to reduce prices.
However, there are other job boards that are oriented towards development specialities. Since these job boards are much more exclusive, you’ll typically find high quality clients seeking high quality freelancers.
Here are some job boards for freelance developers that I recommend:
- We Work Remotely
- Authentic Jobs
- 99u Freelance Jobs
- Smashing Jobs
- WordPress Jobs
Produce Content at Scale
Content marketing can be an incredible way to get new leads for your freelance business.
Blogging on your own website and sharing it across channels is the best way to start, particularly because 82% of marketers who blog report positive ROI from their marketing efforts. However, as a freelancer trying to stand out from the ever-growing crowd, you need to go the extra mile and produce content in various ways to master that “be everywhere” approach and spread your valuable advice further and wider.
Here are a few ways to produce your content at scale:
- Guest post on relevant blogs and websites
- Dish out advice to other developers and potential clients on YouTube and Instagram
- Respond to relevant Quora questions with detailed answers
Bring The Value
Getting a steady supply of high-quality clients takes time, but that’s not to imply that you should be waiting around for them to find you. Bring value to the developer community, and you’ll find that it usually gives back.
Got any tips on how to find work as a freelance developer? Share them with us in the comments below!
I'm a software developer and writer at ButterCMS.com. I love writing content that's useful to freelance developers and designers having been one myself.