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I want to start doing freelance work, but no matter how I look at it, it seems like the best way to get customers and to have work most of the time, you have to already be in the freelancing game.

Most freelancers I've talked to have had the same customers over the years or got new customers because their satisfied clients referred them. What I'd like to know from the successful people here that work as freelancers is how do you start doing business when you haven't yet set foot in freelancing?

I want to start small, creating websites that won't require me to hire other people other than maybe a designer I already know. (I'd like to create desktop applications as well, but I think I should keep that for later when I'm more experienced) .

I thought about localized Google ads or visiting companies and meeting the people in charge there, but I wouldn't know which kind of businesses to look for or if it's even a good way to approach this.

Anyone care to share their personal startup experiences / advice that can help future freelancers?

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4 Answers

Here is what has worked for me:

Give a talk at a user's group. I try to do about 1 a quarter to keep my name out there. Its a great way to get some free marketing and meet people.

Tweet and write about programming. Try to be a guest on a podcast, write a blog.

Use linked in. I have had a bunch of clients find me via linked in

Work with other freelancers where it makes sense. I do a lot of Javascript and HTML5, and partner with a guy who does Ruby and Python, so we can bid on jobs that use both our skills.

If there is something like The Hub near where you live hang out there and get to know people.

I also wrote out a marketing plan for my business, which I found helps a lot. And no its not 40 pages with graphs its about 1-2 pages of text.

Assume that as part of a freelance operation you will be spending some amount of time each week on marketing and sales.

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Do you already have your own website? If so post all of your jobs that you have done there, you are going to need a portfolio so that when ever you do manage to hit a customer you can quickly prove that you are worth it. Sites like getacoder.com where you can bid for projects or project4hire.com tend to be good spots to find customers. You need to get into the eyes of recruiters as well since sometimes they can help you find gigs. There are tons of job offers (Depending on what you do) that last 3 or 4 months or so. You don't necessarily have to go right to the client at first, it easier to just go into monster.com and look for oportunities. Send resumes that have stuff you've made that is stored in github for instance so that people can take a look at your code easily. Last but not least have a clear mind of what your rate should be and of all of the details that come with closing a deal.

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This is a good idea. But I heard that often on rendacoder.com or the such you get lowballed because other people often undercut you to a point where you do the job for almost free. I don't mind not getting paid much when I start, but I still want to be able to get paid decently enough to pay the bills and keep living comfortably. Monster.com might be a good idea. I'll definitely build up a portfolio on a website, that's a great way to show your work. –  Adam Smith Jul 31 '11 at 2:31
    
Yeah I've heard about getting lowballed as well. It all depends on how good you really how and how easily you can show that to your customers. You will always get people who don't have a freaking clue and are just looking to spend less money and every once in a while some one with actual knowledge will focus on quality. Good luck! –  climboid Aug 1 '11 at 20:48
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  • Many freelancers I know, including my humble self, started as an employee and when they turned into a freelancer, the former employer was the first customer.

  • If your employer is an IT company, your employer's customers are potential customers for yourself (though your contract most likely prohibits that, I've seen that happening a lot of times).

  • Reading the newspaper ads for job openings sometimes lets you find a company willing to accept freelancers.

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Having hired freelancers, it's all about references. If I choose to take the risk of not going with a known firm, it is because someone vouched that the freelancer is both cheaper and much better. The first is obvious because of less overhead. I need someone to tell me the second, because it's more about getting stuff done than IQ.

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