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I've been contracting for about 3 years now. I am currently a contractor for a web firm. This is a hourly position. I want to find larger projects. I had read that some people are able to only do one or two jobs a year and be set on that. I want those types of jobs, and I want to hire people to take on these jobs as well, but I have no idea where to start.

I highly doubt places like odesk post these types of contracts. Where can I find them? How can I make good money and live comfortably while working for myself?

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I wanted to finish correcting the grammar errors, lack of capitalization and other mistakes, but now that the question is moved no longer have enough rep. You won't be winning contracts that pay a year's salary for one job if you can't write well. –  Dan Grossman Feb 7 '11 at 5:14
    
@Dan: Finished it for you. Just a FYI you can suggest edits after a waiting period or simply flag for a mod that the post needs cleanup. –  Josh K Feb 7 '11 at 5:26
    
I wasn't allowed to suggest an edit because: The post was tagged with words that aren't tags on programmers, so it prevented me from using new tags... and because I changed fewer than 6 characters, and you can't suggest typo corrections, apparently. –  Dan Grossman Feb 7 '11 at 5:27

5 Answers 5

A 3 step plan

Step 1 - Get some experience with long term contracts with large companies

My experience in the UK is that if you have a high level of skills in a mainstream technology (Java, C#, PHP etc) then there are long term contracts to be had across the country with medium to large enterprises.

Typically, these are available through agents who are on the preferred supplier lists for these companies. You provide software development services for the client (the large company), they pay the agent, the agent pays you.

To get an agent to notice you, simply post your CV on to one of the main job hosting sites (WorkThing, Monster, JobSearch etc) and make sure you have a good LinkedIn profile.

Step 2 - Once in, network!

Once you're in the company network like crazy - especially with other contractors. You are looking to build up a long list of excellent developers that you are friendly with and can work with. You want a wide range of skills (graphic artist, front end developer, back end developer, DBA) so that when the big contract comes along you're ready.

As you move from contract to contract keep in touch with these people. You're trying to build a network of genuine friends and business associates who can help you when you need them. Help them out with their projects before considering your own.

You want to fully understand the business of software development before you attempt a larger project that will require multiple people working on it. To that end, ask these people about their experiences. Gain and share knowledge.

Step 3 - Let your agent know what you can do

Big companies occasionally have large projects that they need a specialist team to work on for a period of time. They are seldom directly advertised. Rather they are put out to tender via the preferred supplier list of the company. There is almost no chance of you getting on the PSL without proven experience of similar jobs so you need to start small. This is where your agent can help you.

For small projects, agents are often tasked with finding multiple candidates. If you are able to say to your agent that you have an entire team ready to go that solves their problem. They can put your company forward as the solution and still take their cut. If it works out, everyone is happy.

Over time you build a reputation for delivering quality work and can afford an advertising and canvassing budget (warm/cold calls to large business) so that you can ease yourself onto the preferred supplier list for a large company. Once there, you've achieved your goal.

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You have to work in the right industry (as pointed out) that has sufficient need for large, expensive projects, and you have to work in the right location that has these industries. This will probably mean living in a decent sized city with a lot of money going around.

Then you need an agent. These organizationals don't advertise in the paper or on craigslist - they go to the preferred suppliers. The preferred suppliers are agencies who have a list of contractors, and you're one of those contractors.

They rate you get depends on experience, the type of work / technology, and the overall market.

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I highly doubt places like odesk post these types of contracts.

Well, this is not really true.

Obviously, when you are beginner and have blank oDesk profile you have small chances to find a long-term job (suppose this is applicable for any similar service). You have to "pump" the profile first which is equal to accumulating at least 1k hours and good feedbacks (~5.0), same way as you gain reputation on SO or any StackExchange site.

After that you have pretty good chances to find Your Employer within one of your smaller jobs: person with intentions to long-term relationships, typically some big project. Also this is good way to have predictable roadmap of your hourly rate changes.

I am living example of this: already billed over 2k hours on my current single project and still really happy (i.e. not bored) with it.

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It's kind of like robbing a bank -- you go where the money is. So the first thing you need to do is target the kind of industries that have large cash flow. This usually means places like investment banks, brokerages, and maybe some insurance companies. I personally know some people who work on trading systems, and they bill $400/hour. As others have said, networking is essential, but you also have to be in the right industry. The father of one of my daughter's friends is supposedly the premier real estate web site developer in our area, and he's not exactly raking in the zorkmids.

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You see these gigs on Craig's list all the time. However, since you are vying with 14 year olds for Web gigs, you can count on lots of $20/hour offers. I would counter with a fixed bid. You might eat it once in a while, but once you figure out how long you need to do various tasks you should start making real money.

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I don't think those are the same sort of gigs - if the competition is 14 year olds then it's not a 'high end contract'. –  Kirk Broadhurst Feb 8 '11 at 5:02

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