How to get more clients as a freelance developer
Practical tips I wish I knew a few years ago
Whenever a conversation about freelancing kicks off with fellow developer friends, we’re always discussing the same concerns:
- How can I get more clients as a freelance developer?
- I finished a coding bootcamp and I want to get started as a freelancer. How can I start?
- How do you deal with cheap competition?
- How much should I charge?
“How do I get more clients?”
When I got started as a freelancer a few years ago, I made a lot of mistakes when trying to get more clients.
I thought of it like slices of pizza. Charging less (cutting smaller slices), would yield more projects (more slices). Right?
I also thought that I need to explicitly tell people that I’m a freelancer and post about it on Social media, or else, how will they ever find me?
I made these mistakes for a few years until I finally realized something.
Charging low gives a cheap impression to clients
This also drives them to ask me to do more work for the same price. I also realized that you immediately lose your value if you sell yourself directly.
Soon after I realized that I was doing it wrong, I was able to get high quality projects with higher budgets and better working conditions. The amount of effort I was putting in was minimal compared to before.
In the year that followed, my career started to pick up significantly. I started speaking at conferences around the world, presenting workshops for companies and banks and teaching online courses. Later, I became a Google Developer Expert in Web Technologies.
Now that we got those misconceptions out of the way. Here’s some good news:
You don’t need 10 years of experience to get more clients. ⚡️
It’s not about the years of experience, it’s about the service that you’re offering. It’s about the whole experience, from the time your client needs the service, all the way until the end.
Here are 7 steps that will help you get there and get you more clients.
1. Define who you are 👨🎨
Before you start getting more clients, first you need to define how you want to appear to others — what’s your image? How do you want people to see you?
If potential clients hear about you, they often need to know who you are. The first thing they would do is simply Google your name.
Try this: Open a new incognito tab and Google your full name. What is your first impression of yourself? Is is aligned with who you are and what you do?
You can influence what people think about you.
If it’s not completely aligned, the best way to change that image is to create a personal website where you show who you are and what you’re good at. Explain what you do in the first 2 seconds of them landing on your website.
“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
This will motivate your visitors to scroll further down where you will prove to them that you’ve got the experience you claim. More on this in a bit.
2. Don’t just be a developer ⚡️
When you’re working on technical projects, it’s easy to get carried away and focus on the little technical details and forget about the big picture.
But if you focus only on the task you’re asked to do, then you’re going to be producing average results. What you need to focus on is quality work.
For you to focus on quality, you have to work on skills that are around your area of expertise. For example, if you’re a front-end developer, you should definitely know the basics of User Experience and Performance. This will help you deliver outstanding results.
The same applies to soft skills that can help your relationship with clients. For example, communication skills or business strategy. Understanding the business behind the project will often transform you from a freelancer into a consultant.
These skills will prove that you’re not just a developer, you’re a professional driven by quality. That’s what can make you stand out.
3. Show ’em, don’t tell ’em 👀
So how do you prove to people that you are who you claim to be? It’s not enough to say you’re good at what you do. You need to prove to them that you truly are experienced in that skill.
You just have to show them what you’ve done. If you have previous projects to show, then that’s easy, you just display the ones you’re most proud of. But in some other cases (like when you have confidential projects), it might be tricky. This is a great opportunity to show your value without actually saying it.
Here’s an example: when you go to my website, I’m claiming to be a tech speaker and web consultant.
How do you know this is legit? You can see a background video of me giving talks in many settings (workshops, conferences). From this, visitors immediately lose any doubt and are convinced that I’m a tech speaker indeed.
It doesn’t have to be a video. You can prove your value in many different ways, like displaying logos of companies you’ve worked with, and showing blog articles you’ve written.
4. Use indirect promotion 🎯
When you think about how to get more clients, a lot of people might think: ok, how about I start by posting on social media that I’m looking for freelance work?
I’ve seen countless posts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter & Slack of developers and designers announcing to the whole world that they are looking for freelance opportunities.
It turns out, that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. You immediately lose your value when you sell yourself directly.
Look at it this way. Remember how you felt when someone called you on the phone to sell you a certain service? How spammy was that? Wouldn’t you most likely ignore and hang up as soon as possible?
One of the greatest tricks that I’ve learned when it comes to getting clients is to never approach clients.
It sounds contadictory, but it’s true. Instead, you apply the concept of indirect promotion.
How? Simply share on your social networks the activities and projects that you’re working on without mentioning the fact that you’re looking for clients. After you share your activities a few times, people will start to know you for what you do and they’ll immediately recommend you for their friends and relatives whenever there’s an opportunity.
That’s how I’ve gotten 100% of all my projects in the last 6 years. It works!
If you’ve never had a freelance project before, then build a sample project instead of going and looking for work. Make it look very appealing.
Here’s an example of a tweet I posted.
5. Don’t aim for a steady stream of projects ⏳
You might think that being a successful freelancer means having a steady stream of projects and being 100% occupied with freelance work.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and in fact, it shouldn’t.
If you’re occupied with freelance work all the time, then you’re not leaving time for you to be creative, learn new things, and work on your personal presence.
I leave 50% of my time for personal research. During that time, I watch online conferences, read technical articles, and try out the latest technologies.
People often ask me, how did you learn XYZ.. and the answer is always the same: I built a sample app for it.
So it’s really important that you don’t keep on looking for freelance projects all the time, but take the time to learn new technologies which will in fact get you better projects and new opportunities over time.
6. Come up with your own process 🔖
It’s hard for us freelancers to be organized, since we’ve got plenty of responsibilities on our plate. To make sure you have a smooth workflow with each client, create a process that you can follow for most of your projects.
This way, you’ll have a plan ready to be launched whenever a potential project comes up. You don’t have to worry about the little things.
Here’s an example of my project kickoff workflow:
- Send proposal PDF
- Send contract
- Sign and receive counter-signed contract
- Send downpayment invoice
- Receive downpayment
- Carry out freelance task
- Send final invoice
- Send feedback form
When you have a personalized workflow, you will be comfortable working which will make your clients enjoy working with you and trust you. They will most likely refer you to other companies in the future.
Read more about creating a process.
7. Charge higher 💰
If you’re just getting started, it’s okay to charge cheap for the first project or two, but after that you have to start charging higher.
You might think you don’t deserve to charge higher yet, but going through these steps will let you charge higher, because you have value that’s worth charging more for.
You may not know this, but charging low makes your client feel that they’re getting low quality results.
If you already have a lot of freelance work because you’re charging cheap, it’s more likely that charging higher will make you lose some clients. But that’s actually a good thing, as you’ll end up earning a bit more while having more free time for research. It’s a risk that you shouldn’t be afraid to take as it’s totally worth it.
Also, you won’t be working with over-demanding clients, you’ll be working with clients that will appreciate your services.
When coming up with a price, you have to be comfortable charging that price — and then increase it by 10 to 25%.
Let’s say for example you’re already working on a certain project for an hourly rate of €80/hour. Since you dedicated a few hours of your time over the past few months to learn more about User Experience & Web Performance, you should now increase your hourly rate by around 15% as you’re bringing more value to the project.
Following these steps completely changed my life and I hope it will change yours too.
I can’t stress enough the importance of experimentation with new technologies. Don’t wait for opportunities to knock on your door. Create those opportunities instead.