Take the 2-minute tour ×
Programmers Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development. It's 100% free, no registration required.

My main area: web development.

Of course, I don't expect anybody give away their 'gold mine' or whatever but I am struggling to see where I should be advertising my services. I have one other developer I work with and we have a lot of happy clients - on freelance websites.

Thing is, freelance websites just seem to suck the life out of you when you're being out-bidded by ridiculous rates. I want to attract customers who are more concerned about quality and accountability than price.

Any suggestions at all? I'm so lost with this.

EDIT: Added bounty of 200 - all of my 'reputation'. EDIT: Added second bounty of 50

I did hear of a novel idea. Do work for an opensource project and get featured in their 'trusted developers' section, if they have one. Input?

share|improve this question

closed as too broad by gnat, MichaelT, GlenH7, Dynamic, Bart van Ingen Schenau Mar 2 at 18:57

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

3  
Well, what do you do exactly? What areas do you work in? –  Pekka 웃 Feb 12 '11 at 3:56
    
+1 Interested to hear this as well; it seems most businesspeople already have a lot of money and huge networks they can tap for immediate business contacts. As someone who has no network of friends with potential contacts, I find myself wondering the same thing; how do I get my business and name out there to start making money? –  Wayne M Apr 15 '11 at 15:13

12 Answers 12

up vote 19 down vote accepted
+200

The web is great. We wouldn't be here if it wasn't. However, if you are trying to break into the business of selling services, you might want to consider going lo-fi. Face to face. Boots on the ground.

Present yourself/your firm to neighborhood businesses, members of regional chambers of commerce. Become a member of your local chamber. Primarily smaller, but well established firms are what you would look to at first to build a portfolio, and reputation. Local medium to larger firms might be an option after you have proven.

Many of these firms have done business the old way for a long time, probably think they are fine w/o the ---IT or web presence (because they don't use it and email is at the least, a challenge). They will be reluctant to invest in services or infrastructure. However that doesn't mean the door is closed. Others potential clients may have a very dated or limited presence and might be due for a 'remodel' or a 'makeover' or a 'tune up' -- something the client can relate to in their line of business. Remind them that in the age of cellphones and the web, google maps and web presence has largely replaced the Yellow Pages.

If the negotiation of fees is a potential roadblock, consider offering services as deferred investment -- very nominal charge for putting the product in the field and supporting it (you need to eat and pay rent just like they do -- demonstrate to them shared values). Consider accepting your investment with them as a limited term for profit or revenue sharing from business generated by your work, or by a derivative of your work, to prove out its potential and value. When the tem of investment expires, prepare to transition to a more traditional fee for services model (at a rate closer to market norm). Keep in mind depending structure of client business and formality of investment may require special tax rate, collection, and reporting. Both you and client would have to weigh this consideration, so do your homework before presenting this option.

Most importantly, aim to keep the terms of your arrangement clear, and simple.

share|improve this answer
5  
I'd suggest going to at least 2 or 3 chamber of commerce meetings before committing to the joining fee if they'll let you - I found that my 2 nearest chambers were 80% web designers, developers and IT Services outfits hovering like vultures around the new joins at their networking events. –  Matt Apr 12 '11 at 13:32

You should look for additional work from your clients, or request references. If they are happy clients they would oblige.

Make sure you do mention that discounts are on offer for repeat business.

Depending on your niche, you should also study relevant interest and industry groups for pitching your services.

share|improve this answer
3  
referrals from happy customers will be much more effective and far less expensive than advertising, SEO optimization, et al. Try that first –  Steven A. Lowe Feb 12 '11 at 8:37
    
If your clients are happy with your services, you won't have time for yourself. They'll keep you so busy. But how to get the clients: Face to face. Gonna have to get out of the house and meet people. –  Christopher Mahan Apr 18 '11 at 8:17

There are two crucial parts of being a freelancers: networking and references

Having a large network of friends and business associates is a great way to get assignments so join some user groups, discuss things online and meet up irl. Go to conferences and other events. Don't be a powermingler but form mutually beneficial and genuine relationships. Make sure to pass along assignment and leads to them as well.

References is also very important, if you've done a really good job the client might recommend you to someone else and people might ask him who did a certain job. Therefore always treat clients, if possible, as you would your friends, because they can be.

share|improve this answer

I want to attract customers who are more concerned about quality and accountability than price.

You're not going to find those customers on a freelance website or Craigslist. Ask yourself, if you were in their position, how would you find a quality software developer? Most likely you'd ask people whose opinion you trusted (friends, colleagues, or leaders you admire). If you have friends who are also quality developers, you'd ask them to do it. If they're not available, you'd ask who they know who might be good.

I've been consulting for 14 years. I had a tech website for a while, and though occasionally I got new clients through my website, most of my work has come through people I've worked with before, or people I know in real life, or people they know in real life, or know virtually.

Forget the freelance websites. As you've discovered, you'll never be able to compete on price. Instead, spend your time building relationships. If there's a specific industry you're wanting to target, get to know the people and companies in that industry. If you want to just work with any type of business in your local area, join local business groups. Network, network, network. If it's a specific technology you want to work with, get to know the leaders in that technology and your peers in the tech community. They may be able to throw work your way at some point, if they know, and know that what you're doing is quality.

Always remember, people are the ones who hire you, not websites, not even companies. These decisions are always made by a person, so focus on the people. Even in today's high-tech world, people usually choose to work with someone they know.

share|improve this answer

One answer to your problems is to focus on your marketing plan. You control your destiny, and you can choose where you'll be, who you'll be working with, and how much money you will make.

There are 4 P's in Marketing:

  • Product
  • Price
  • Place
  • Promotion

You know your product, the place is the Web, and if you have existing clients and an existing network, then you are probably doing a good job with those P's.

But what about Promotion and Price? Have you identified your target market? Who are the clients you want to do business with? What news articles and blogs do these customers read? How will you reach them?

What is their baseline? In other words, what pricing strategy would make them think the quality will be poor? What price would they deem excessive?

You and your business partner need to take a step back and answer these questions. Knowing the answers can help you promote your services to the right people.

Take a look at more information on how to Find Your Target Market.

share|improve this answer

If you don't know where to advertise, then you haven't sufficiently targeted your market.

Being successful in freelancing, as in other businesses, is all about your return on assets, except you are the asset. Return on assets is all about margin and turnover (aka velocity of money). You increase your margin and turnover in the same way: by offering a highly specialized service, one that you are intimately familiar with.

If your tools are Dreamweaver & Photoshop, and your target is small businesses that want a website, then you're going to be facing some stiff competition, and you're going to have a hard time reaching these people (especially on online freelance sites).

If your tools are flow modeling applications for the commercial refrigeration industry, and you've been doing this work for 10 years, then you're going to already know the answer to your question.

The trick is figuring out how to move from the general to the specific.

share|improve this answer

Do quality work.

The expansion of that is: Go read everything you can find about and by Henry Ford. Start by "Today and Tomorrow" (non-referral link at amazon.com) . Note that you should skip "The International Jew".

share|improve this answer

My main area: web development.

I'm going to give you my three current gold mines, since I don't do web development, and can't take on any more work right now.

Craigslist

This works especially well if you're in North America.

  1. Get yourself a really good RSS reader that lets you reorganize/filter posts - I like RSSOwl.
  2. Go to the "software / qa / dba" sections of the sites for your area, and major US metropolitan areas.
  3. Filter for keywords related to your skill set, and contracts if that's what you want.
  4. For places outside your area, filter for telecommute.
  5. Fire up the RSS reader every day, review the open gigs, and respond to the ones you find suitable.

LinkedIn

I'm not sure how good this would be for web development, but having a really good LinkedIn profile is fantastic if you have an unusual skill set. Check your favorite search engine for tips on how to write a great LI profile.

DICE

It's a site where employers and recruiters look for both employees and contractors. It's similar in some ways to Craigslist, except the last I checked, their RSS feeds weren't great and it's easier to use their search system. You can also post your resume there and indicate you're looking for contracts. A programmer I know who had been looking unsuccessfully for a full time job for six months posted his resume on DICE, and was employed within two weeks.

share|improve this answer

Being a developer myself, I can add just one piece of advice to all the great words already said here.

I'm guessing that you've so far been thinking about your clients as such, that is, as of someone paying you for your work. Remember all of them, think of those who's been most profitable, and those who were the most fun to work with. Remember the terrible experiences too.

Now, turn it all around, and try seeing (and defining) the needs of your abstract client. Live his live, think his thoughts, predict his behavior. What are his worries? What are his goals? How's he raising the money to pay all those freelancers out there?

This should give you a pretty good idea of where to "hunt", and what to offer.

share|improve this answer

Freelance websites are one source of potential clients. The thing is that, it's maybe a matter of luck to meet a serious client there. Difficult, but doable.

Another way: create a portfolio of the projects you've developed and search for clients on several freelance websites. Since you are the one who searches - select the clients, that you think are serious, send them an email, advertise your team/company by showing your portfolio.

Again, the easiest way is to use the connections and resources you already have, and in your case it is freelance websites.

share|improve this answer
    
Personally I would reject such advertisement right out of hand. Best thing is to get referrals. Your profile speaks, you have a few clients, use their networks. –  asoundmove Feb 12 '11 at 6:00

All these answers are great responses, I'd just like to add that a lot of people read blogs and things they're interested in. If you know who wants your service / product send them a copy and ask them to write about it. The internet more than any other thing relies on word of mouth, you see it somewhere or hear about it and if properly advertised you'll go there...

share|improve this answer

You have to turn it around from targeting a customer that wants a generic web developer to a customer that wants YOU.

The way to do this is to be visible and build up a reputation. Ways to do this are:

  • Hold presentations at user groups
  • Updated LinkedIn
  • Reputation on Stackoverflow
  • Central role in open source project
share|improve this answer

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.