How I Got My First Software Consulting Client
Right Out of College and With No “Network”
How to get your first client is a classic question that many before me have tried to answer. To someone on the outside the whole process can just seem mysterious… “Use your network” people say, but what if you don’t have a network? Coming out of college the only people I knew were other students, so I sure didn’t feel like I had a “network”.
In reality I did though, and in fact my first consulting job came when two of my classmates received $20,000 in incubator funding soon after I graduated and “hired” me to help them build out their product. While this experience may seem like a fluke and there is nothing to learn from it, my suspicion is that most consultants first gigs were seemingly random.
However after landing 4 separate clients over the course of the last 2 years, I’m starting to see a pattern in how these things work. The three ingredients for success are:
- Time (approx. 3 months)
- Money (enough to support yourself without income for #1)
- Marketing (or more simply, posting on platforms where clients are looking)
As for Time, the reality is that as an unknown nobody is going to be beating down your door looking to hire you. With that said, as long as you can code your way out of a paper bag you WILL find a client given enough time. In my experience approximately 3 months (but possibly as long as 6) is the time it takes to land a quality client. Once you are already consulting these 3–6 months can overlap with your current job, but at the start you are not going to be getting paid during this period.
Which brings us to Money. The “Feast or Famine” phenomenon is real — and in my opinion to avoid being constantly stressed out as a consultant you need to be somewhat frugal by nature. By having a large buffer of savings, you can take your time and be really selective about your clients & jobs, something hugely important to avoid the namesake of this website. Luckily, being a consultant gives you a lot more freedom that being an onsite full-time employee. Often times other than a preliminary onsite, you will be working entirely remotely. This freedom of location allows you to work from somewhere where the quality-of-life to cost-of-living ratio is highest. For example I spent 7.5 months working from 3 countries in Asia where despite renting furnished apartments and eating out almost every meal was only spending $1,500 to $2,000 per month while earning the exact same rate I earned while living in the US. This concept is known as geoarbitrage and is a nice trick to help being frugal not even feel like you are doing so.
With that said, all of this is meaningless unless you are actively making the world aware that you exist and are looking for a consulting job (also known as “marketing”). How exactly you do this will depend on whether or not you have an existing employer who is unaware of your plans to become a consultant. If not, shout from the hills to anyone who will listen to you and update your LinkedIn (recruiters get notified when you do this), personal website (you have one of these, right?), Facebook, mention it in passing in any conversation you take part of etc. No matter what, definitely start posting about yourself on as many “platforms” as you can. Here are 15 to get started with, though Google will help you find more. Another avenue to pursue is investing ~$200 in signing up for various privatedeveloper gig mailing lists. By paying a nominal fee, you immediately solve the problem of competing with potentially every other developer in the world and shrink the pool to those signed up for the list.
Another key insight for first-time consultant is to think “why would the client pick me over the other very similar applicants”? If you can’t think of a very good reason (and I couldn’t when I started) then realize that among the similar applicants who apply, often times clients simply pick the the first suitable applicant they come across. What this means for you is that the difference between applying within the first 10 minutes of when a job is posted rather than the first 10 hours can be the difference between getting the job and not even getting an interview… As much as I hate distractions, now is the time to set your phone to ring, enable email notifications and be ready with your application template so that when an opportunity comes in you can just tweak your email to match the specific job and send it off all within a few minutes. But don’t stop there — if you get a response to your application try and reply to THAT as quickly as possible too. For my second client (who I had never met before and had no mutual connection) we went from initial email to meeting in person in under 12 hours … And I’m quite sure that’s what led to me landing the gig.
More to come on this in the future. If you’ve read this far feel free to email me with your situation and I’d be happy to chat with you in more detail.
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