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Ask HN: What sites do you use to find contract work?
358 points by the_wheel 615 days ago | hide | past | web | 162 comments | favorite

I used to do a lot of contract work. I can't tell you what you should do - but here is what i did and it worked for me

Two approaches:

1) Work for one large client and essentially become an employee (consider this. a lot of startups pay good money for remote employees)

2) Work for multiple clients

Focusing on #2 here

Core rule: You want to be paid premium for quality and service.

Avoid marketplaces - it's very hard to compete on quality here.

Niche - the more focused you are on a (profitable) niche the better you can charge premium for domain competence

As thibaut_barrere mentioned - Build a brand - i would even go further - create an agency like brand. At the point is stopped saying "I" but said "we" i was able to charge more.

Dont charge by the hour but by the value - most developers charge their time - you want to charge the value you provide to the client. Read up on "willingness to pay"

Most important: Deliver as promised and always try to over-deliver in service, quality, etc. Eg try to understand why the client asks for features and not only what features she/he asks for - you might be able to come up with better solutions or anticipate future requests. Any successful project should usually lead to improved reputation and more projects and clients.

Good luck!

Avoid marketplaces - it's very hard to compete on quality here.

Have an upvote. I don't work in software, but I am a grant writing consultant, and I've never met a successful consultant of any kind who relied on or even used marketplaces.

A huge part of many consultants's lives consists of marketing and pitching. I know that we've found email marketing to be our biggest strength in this regard. Consultants who can't get deal flow or close deals won't survive.

I also learned a lot about assertiveness and saying no by being a consultant: http://jakeseliger.com/2014/04/07/how-i-learned-about-assert....

> I've never met a successful consultant of any kind who relied on or even used marketplaces

You have now. I started on PeoplePerHour. Once I had a few good reviews on my profile, I could get jobs more easily; eventually got some big clients off them, which pushed me to PPH's top 5 and I was able to get whichever job I would bid on from then on; I'd always seek the large ones that would last a few months.

At the time of course, PPH was a fairly newish marketplace. It's very different now; polluted with low grade jobs and low grade bidders that promise the world for $100.

But to me, this tells that the problem isn't "the marketplace" but the target audience.

In any case, big +1 to GP post. To reiterate two of their points:

1. Do avoid most marketplaces, unless you can find one where you can easily compete on quality (and if you do find one, tell me about it, heh).

2. Charge fixed price by the value. This means choose your jobs and clients carefully. If you pick a bad client, or a job where you need more time than you anticipated to complete it, you might end up underpaid - Roll with it and learn from it, don't make the same mistake twice.

> If you pick a bad client, or a job where you need more time than you anticipated to complete it, you might end up underpaid

These things are easier said than done. Could you share a bit about what you've learned in the way of avoiding bad clients and estimating your work?

The way I screen a client is by getting them to write a brief in an email. The reasons I do this is;

a) Its easy for clients to blurt stuff out over the phone without a second thought. It's impossible for me to take accurate notes on this, only to get an impression of what they're after.

b) A written brief tells a lot about someone's communication capabilities. When a written brief is poor then I have a better idea on how to deal with a client like this, i.e. I have to do a lot more hand holding and depending on my existing workload I can either decide to let them go or not.

Also, watch out for clients who bring carrot danglers, i.e. they will suggest that you should do this project either for cheap or free because they have a lot of other projects coming up in the near future (they don't). In this scenario simply reply that you have to charge 100% for this project but that you might be able to give a discount on a future project, you won't hear from them again since they want cheap or free.

Also, never lower your hourly rate but give a discount instead. This means that clients still see what you'd normally charge and if they come back in the future you actually can charge them your normal rate.

Estimating your own prices is something even I have trouble doing after 10 years, so I won't be too much help there. But to avoid bad clients, you really just have to make sure you talk to them and fully understand the project before accepting the job.

Bad clients will always have red flags early on. If you talk to them for 30 minutes and the job is already twice the size you initially thought it was, you might be with someone who will want to ask for more along the way.

If there is any doubt:

- Ask for a small % in advance or a larger % in escrow. Clients that can't handle that are unlikely to be easy to deal with come time of the bill.

- If the project is unclear, ask for sketches/photoshops before signing the final contract. You can also do those yourself and ask if this is what they have in mind.

- Make sure to have a written transcription of exactly what you will do, alongside the contract. Emails, transcribed/recorded calls, etc.

If you're a core part of your client's product, they will more than likely be willing to hire you for more work, or as an employee for continued maintenance.

And don't be afraid of saying no to shitty contracts. One really good client can easily bring you a year's worth of work.

Make that two. I started in the translation industry by responding to everything that matched my skills on ProZ.com. It was years before I got to the point where I didn't need to because I'd established myself, and I still keep my membership current (more for old times' sake than anything, these days).

Without that job board, I would not have been able to make the switch from programming into translation.

I am 25. Two years and one month ago I created a company called Pixelmatters (http://pixelmatters.com).

I basically did everything more or less the way you described. Which is something absolutely hard to do. As a result, in Aug 2014 we were 2 but today, as I write this, we are 14 and growing.

Company is profitable, has no VC money and is fully self-funded (initially, by my computer and...a decent internet connection).

Do you mind if I contact you for a couple quick questions? I'm essentially in the process of trying #2 as OP mentioned and would eventually like to transition into building a team. Would love to ask you a couple things and maybe get some advice. My contact info is in my HN profile if you prefer to reach me instead.

Happy to help you growing your business, mate! Email me to andre at pixelmatters dot com

Where did you find the major contracts? Networking? Friends? A website? referrals?

Depends on what "major contracts" are for you. I can tell you that we don't have any "major contract". We to have several "very nice" ones.

The main way clients came to us is through our website, Dribbble, Behance but also through referrals - people that worked with us in the past, and that recommend our work to a friend. This latter is the oldest but definitely the best marketing you can get!

I'd rather work for you than hire you. But, I'm in a position to be working for you and not hiring you.

It's been over 10 years since I had my own business, but when I did, I tried to use "we" instead of "I" and paint the business as a business offering services rather than one person trying to get work. It became very frustrating dealing with recruiters (the people who typically contact you for work). A typical conversation would go something like this:

Me: I see you're looking to fill a position involving a lot of graphics work. We could help you out.

Them: Please send the resume.

Me: I'm not offering the services of just a single developer. We have a variety of services we offer. Please see our web site at <http://www.example.com/>.

Them: Please send the resume.

Me: I'm unclear what resume you want me to send. I'm not offering you a single person, but a full-service solution.

Them: Please send the resume.

Me: ...?

I'm sure I could have spent time coming up with some response for these people, but it wasn't worth it. I ended up only working with clients I could deal with directly as it was much easier to have a conversation with them.

So just be aware that you'll have to deal with this type of nonsense from time-to-time.

Recruiters recruit people, so of course they want a resume. If you aren't a person a person that wants to be recruited or wants to recruit someone, a recruiter is the wrong person to talk to.

Unfortunately, many times the 'default' gatekeeper to anyone else worth your time in the org IS the recruiter. Using social engineering and/or linkedin you are sometimes able to figure who you need to speak to and access them directly.

Using social engineering and/or linkedin you are sometimes able to figure who you need to speak to and access them directly

I think you just described what 'sales' is.

I just realized that. But I'd rather call it social engineering ... Sales is an amorphous concept filled with too much 'magic' for me :)

On the flip side, I recently was hiring for a senior engineer position, where I specified individuals only, and was inundated with emails from firms who were sure they could "help me out" with a "full-service solution." Maddening.

Recruiters don't exist to act as external sales people for your agency. They are there to find individuals for companies to hire.

Since the work has no value, charging by value rather than time means that the client who doesn't pay because they are not going to use the work is justified in doing so.

Which is another way of saying, the general problem isn't a good billing model. It's good clients. Unfortunately, most contractors/freelancers starting out and looking for advice won't have good clients (even when they have clients at all) and will have trouble distinguishing good clients from people who look like good clients until the invoice arrives.


You don't tell them: give me what you value it for. You do your best to estimate what success will be (in value) to them. Then you negotiate from that.

If your best professional opinion is that the business is going to go under irrespective of your great work, then the ethical choices under the value model are:

1. Don't take the work at any price.

2. Do it for free.

Again, if a person has experience and great clients, the choice of pricing model is a problem. If a person lacks experience to judge what the value is in the client's domain and/or the client isn't proven to be good, pricing model doesn't matter as much.

The value model price isn't based on what the work is worth, it's based on what the freelancer believes the client believes the work is worth. Under the value based pricing model, if the client is deluded it's reasonable to fleece them...and deluded clients who pay well are good clients.

Don't charge by the hour but by the value

This sounds like a recipe for disaster to me without a lot more explanation. Time is the main cost to a provider, so it's very natural that time would also be the driver for billing. "Charging for value" sounds like you're trying to say "fixed price" without actually saying it. I have many, many issues with trying to do fixed price projects of any appreciable size (say, more than 20-40 hours).

What do you mean, precisely, by "charge by the value"?

A good example of "charging by value" is productized consulting - where it's a particular task, etc. that needs done for multiple customers.

Say you're really good with Postgres, instead of just hanging out a shingle for "any Postgres stuff?" you offer something like a one time $2500 "Postgres Performance Audit".

You get really good at this one thing, have a set bunch of scripts, very deep knowledge, predone report template, etc. and providing a bunch of value. So at the end of the day who cares that it only took you 5 hours (effectively making $500/hr).

Bunch of examples: http://www.christophengelhardt.com/ultimate-badass-list-of-p...

Ah - I didn't think of this angle, but I like it. Thanks.

Except that you are making your services a commodity. A large part of what makes my services valuable is that I can't approach every situation with a pre-fab script and report.

No it's a commodity if it's non-differentiated from others. You can still have non-commoditized work that operates at scaled efficiency. You just have to have something that makes you better or different.

As soon as you have a product it's no longer consulting in my eyes.

Really depends on the client. If your client is able to agree on tight specs and project plans, everyone is better off with fixed project fees. The client can more easily plan financially with a fixed budget. You can charge more, because instead of charging $DAILY_RATE * $DAYS, you can charge $REVENUE_CLIENT_WILL_MAKE_WITH_FEATURE - $THEIR_MARGIN, and the latter figure tends to be significantly higher. You can also deliver the project more quickly because now it's in your interest to do so. Everyone wins.

That being said, if the client is unable to commit to tight specs and project plans, you need to revert to invoicing on a time & materials basis. But even if you do that, you should really charge a daily rate, rather than an hourly rate.

>You can charge more, because instead of charging $DAILY_RATE * $DAYS, you can charge $REVENUE_CLIENT_WILL_MAKE_WITH_FEATURE - $THEIR_MARGIN, and the latter figure tends to be significantly higher.

That's really going to depend on the type of work you do and the type of clients you can find. In my experience, it's difficult to get contracts with larger businesses unless you know someone already or have some sort of "in" with them. And smaller business tend to be poorly run and are barely making any money on their products and services, so they have very thin margins or are even losing money.

It's vague, because it's a high level idea. I want to earn more than I can by time, therefore I have to get clients to start thinking about how much value they are getting and paying for that.

Practically I've had success recently by charging weekly. I keep this rate deliberately lower (about half my old full time consulting rate). Then I send them a weekly report along with the invoice every week. They get to see exactly what they got for the money. It usually takes me 15-20 hours to deliver enough value for the weekly rate.

So there are lots of things to try. Small changes in billing can have a large impact on your relationship with your client.

Some clients are rich. You could charge by what you feel you're worth, say $50/hr. Or you could charge by what they value the work at - at that might be 4x as much. They might be used to paying $200/hr, and are happy to do it.

That mentality is similar to charge by value.

Demanding a higher rate allows clients to select for themselves whether they will be on your client list.

You can charge by value when you understand the scope of work, have the ability to manage it, and manage risk. The customer gets a fixed price for a fixed scope with a fixed process.

#1 is where it's at, in my personal experience. I find it hard and less than optimal to work for multiple clients because of the time it takes switching from project to project. Having just one client is inherently riskier from a standpoint of financial stability, but I think the benefits outweigh that risk.

Came here to agree with and support this method of contract work. I currently have a contract that consumes roughly 50% of my time in a given month and generates 80% of my income. Initially it was for 12 months, but things are going well and it has been extended essentially indefinitely. These type of contracts might be kind of rare (not sure?), but if you can find yourself one, it gives you all kinds of flexibility with figuring out what to spend the rest of your time on.

Domain experience and expertise are also key. I have a rare blend of experience and technical capability that align perfectly with my primary contract. This limits some of the risk that is associated with relying so much financially on a single entity since they'd have a really hard time ending things with me and swapping in another programmer. I'll also go above and beyond for this client as it's needed. It's a two way street.

Anyways, best wishes on finding a good source of contract work but I'd recommend investigating any major/long term contract. They can simplify your life and be extremely rewarding.

Hey, I'm a Web developer living in UK, and English is not my first language, I can speak okay and also i'm studying to speak fluently. Iv'e been working in the industry for past 6 years, Considering i'm not a native speaker, Do you have any suggestion that i can improve my chance of securing contracts ? Is it possible to keep all communication in email ?

There are a couple of things you didn't mention.

Contracts Do this. Get familiar with contract law and make sure your customers execute one that's favorable to you getting paid. Also, ensure you assign at least a license to the client paying you to avoid any problems down the road if you intend to reuse code.

Big projects If you intend to tackle big projects you usually need to deal with net terms. Find an invoice factoring company to help you cashflow those deals. They base interest on the loans on your clients.

Re. 1: never ever put all your eggs in a single basket like that, it may work for some but it is a huge risk and there is no real reason to take that risk. Two is a bare minimum, three clients is stability.

The problem with charge for value is now your a product not a service. Not that that's a problem per say but it's a whole different animal than trying to being a contractor.

I'm pretty interested in shifting into a product orientation, so that would be fine by me ;-)

Personal networks.

I came into Syracuse knowing nobody and nothing.

I had never done any app making as of January 2015. I had done some wordpress stuff, but just the basics.

And I had (and have) no CS degree.

I now make a living on contract work. I did it by going to local meetups and introducing myself as a freelance web developer. Nevermind that I hadn't done freelance web development ever. I kept going to meetups for month and still attend a monthly hacker meetup. I participated in hackathons without really knowing how to program.

But all along the way I met people more experienced than I am and picked up two clients along the way. I think one thing that I do differently to most is that I charge a high rate (I always quote $150/hr). I am willing to negotiate lower than that but its a starting point. I have been paid that in the past for less complicated work like hiring developers and being a project manager.

What am I saying? Your questions is what sites to use? Just one: meetup.com

I want to add a bit to your comment - it's important to try and identify the kind of meetups you'd like to attend that will help you meet your desired customer base, and the kinds that will help you get known in your local community (ie: meetups for web devs to connect).

I find that meetups can sometimes become circle-jerks for people in a similar field to just get together and talk/humblebrag. Which is fine, but if that's not your goal you need to look at different meetups which serve that goal.

Good point.

Some meetups I went to were the exact circle-jerk/humblebragfests you're talking about.

The one I consistently go to (shameless plug [OpenHack Syracuse](http://www.openhacksyr.com) is a monthly meetup for developers to talk about what projects they're working on and to spend time together working on projects, ideas, and sharing info. It's really just an organized hangout/hack session. And it's these types of meetups which are best for getting contract work (because contract work isn't the goal)

sounds like sex ... the best way to get a date is to be out not looking for a date.

Whether it be business opportunities, employment prospects, or romance, there seems to be a consistent theme: improving your prospects often comes as a result of improving the relevant factors you can presently control. With that being said, all three seem to benefit from enhancing your network.

Interesting... I'll stop by the next one (I'm from the FM area).

Cool! They're the second Tuesday of every month, as it says on the site. And they're at 6PM at CoWorks.

OP if you're reading this.... this is how it works

So without any experience you are able to charge $150/hour?

Seconding this question, this is baffling to me. I could see maybe getting through the door with some less-saavy clients and collecting a pay check for a few weeks, but I can't imagine that working for long. How long are you typically employed? What happens if you encounter projects you are unable to solve, is it a fake it until you make it sort of thing?

I was offered $150/hr to manage a project once and so I accepted. I figured it out along the way and delivered the results.

Since then, I start with an estimate of $150/hr when I'm calculating price. I've had one person balk and say thats crazy. one.

Everyone else has either came back and said that they can't afford that, that they'd like to pay $XXX instead. Or they've said yes to $150/hr.

What happens if you encounter projects you are unable to solve, is it a fake it until you make it sort of thing?

With just about every project I do I don't know exactly how I'll solve it to begin with. Before I start billing I always have a research phase, either a day or a week, but never more than that, to figure out how I'll do it. I don't bill for hours that I study, just hours that I work on their project.

I hope this is helpful, but essentially, I deal fairly with all clients. As long as terms are understood upfront I find everyone is happy.

Typical projects are 4-6 months I'd say.

I know people with more than a decade of experience struggling to get $75/hr (granted, they don't do PM work - just coding). It is amazing that you pulled it off in less than a year. Neat!

Tell them to double their rate! I'm not joking.

Just start quoting double. It's a negotiation.

You are probably right, but most people (at least techies) just aren't comfortable with asking for more money :(

Out of curiosity, how much software development experience did you have? $150/hr seems kind of high to me just starting out freelancing.

HN - http://hnhiring.me/

Remote OK - https://remoteok.io/

Stack Overflow - https://careers.stackoverflow.com/jobs?allowsremote=True

LiquidTalent - http://www.liquidtalent.com/

Working Not Working - http://workingnotworking.com

Hired - https://hired.com/contract-jobs

Gigster - https://gigster.com/

Mirror - http://mirrorplacement.com/

Metova - http://metova.com/

Mokriya - http://mokriya.com/

HappyFunCorp - http://happyfuncorp.com

Savvy Apps - http://savvyapps.com/

Clevertech - http://www.clevertech.biz/

Workstate - http://www.workstate.com/

AngelList - https://angel.co/jobs

I know you're just asking for sites and not approaches to finding contract work, but getting in with a very promising early stage company through contract-to-hire [that allows remote] is probably the most sustainable way to go.

Doing one contract project after another at an hourly rate just doesn't scale well financially and finding a next decent client can be like pulling teeth.

Thanks for the list! I will use it to extract angularjs jobs only, for my own job board, https://github.com/victorantos/AngJobs/issues/34

I've been contracting, consulting & freelancing for the last 10 years (5 years completely remote). My advice is to avoid "searching contract work", but reverse the situation completely: make your new clients find you instead. I wrote about this in depth here: https://www.wisecashhq.com/blog/how-to-have-clients-find-you....

Sites /can/ work (I know people who make a good living off certain sites), but nothing will beat self-managed marketing on the long run.

Feel free to email me (see profile) if you have specific questions.

Good luck!

Your blog and twitter feed are very helpful. I was doing part time consulting, mostly web-related, for a number of years. Getting myself focused in this new phase of life has been challenging. You are clearly focused in your online presence. Clear "Hire Me" call to actions among other things, too. Time for me to do them. Thanks!

I posted this article on medium the other day that contains all the advice I've compiled after 8 years of freelancing as a software developer: https://medium.com/@marknutter/advice-for-the-freelance-deve...

In short, to answer your question, I never used any sites to find contract work. I got all my leads through face-to-face interaction with real humans in the real world, and a good deal of it came from word-of-mouth because of exceeding my clients' expectations.

Contracting sites marginalize developers and the type of clients who troll them are typically the kind who will try to squeeze as much work out of developers for as little money as they can. On top of that, developers are generally a pretty introverted crowd, so the number of introverted and talented developers who troll those sites looking for work is far greater than the number of outgoing, personable developers in your local area. Which group do you want to compete against?

Welcome to HN! You'll find that this was asked previously:


Good find, thanks for sharing that link.

It's interesting that the other thread was 364 days ago, which would have been exactly this same Monday last year (ie: the beginning of the third week of Jan.)

Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year.

I have a different approach to finding contract work, particularly as I don't have much work experience. Upwork and similar websites have not worked well for me.

Instead, I browse job boards and when I find an interesting role I contact the company. If they are interested in my background and the fit is right, I sell them on setting up a contract relationship instead of full-time employee. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. The important part is being honest that you are looking to work as a contractor, not an employee.

Job boards to consider: AngelList, WeWorkRemotely etc. If you're looking for a list of job boards (http://nodesk.co has lots and so does this article by teleport http://teleport.org/2015/03/best-sites-for-remote-jobs/)

The one thing I always tell anyone on the job hunt (which in your case is finding contract work), which few ever seem to take me up on: Informational Interviews.

These are informal "Can I take you out to coffee?" talks with people in your industry to see what they are working on, what is happening with them, what is going on in the industry. Every job I have ever gotten is through informal meetings with people I have met through my network (whether its your old job, your friends, parents, relatives, or other).

At the end of every one I ask: "Is there anyone else you think I should talk to?" and "Do you currently have any opportunities at your company for me?". Rinse repeat. I guarantee that after investing in 30 informational interviews you will find work.

I just don't see how I could call someone I've never met and ask them out for a coffee. It sounds so strange it just "doesn't compute".

I've been on the receiving end of these. I'm usually happy to oblige unless the other person sets of some major red flag. I don't find them strange, though I'm usually doing it for friends of friends or acquaintances.

I would avoid sites like Upwork (aka: odesk), elance, and anything similar like the plague unless working for less than minimum wage and dealing with morons is your idea of good contract work.

I suspect the secret to contract work success lies in having really good networking skills and a Rolodex of contacts from having worked in a given industry and having a reputation as someone who delivers. If you don't have that then you would probably have better luck finding reasonable work by going to meetups or similar industry events to build a network of professional contacts. The only way I know of to do this online is to become a notable contributor to prominent open source projects and then use that to leverage paid work.

I disagree. I love Upwork, and I pay my contractors well. What Upwork provides me with is an incredible ability to keep payments maintained and work honest. There's a sense of honesty when using the oDesk application, where both parties can say, "we feel confident that parties will get paid, and work can be reviewed."

Neither my contractors nor I would want to move to any other platform because no other platform provides that kind of honesty and confidence between Contractor and Employee.

Would you be willing to share with us the average $/hr rate you pay your Upwork employees? I'd be willing to bet it is quite low.

As an employer I can totally see why you would love it, it's an effective way to pay bottom dollar for simplistic computer tasks.

From the stand point of someone looking to get into software engineer contract work it's lame. The guaranteed payment thing you are talking about is only for projects that are billed hourly. If you bid on a flat rate project there is no such guarantee. The hourly pay rate guarantee also requires you to install a spyware app on your computer to monitor your work.

I use upwork to sub-out work that I don't have time to tackle or for tasks that I lack expertise in. Once I've found someone on the platform that is really talented at what they do, I return to them for subsequent projects that need their skillset. The challenge on that platform is finding the people that stand out since there are so many low-bar contributors.

Examples of work that I use it for are simple html/css stuff that just needs to get knocked out prior to integration into an app. I'll pay between $300-500 from some straight forward design to html/css conversion. I want it to be worth their while.

Also, I've use it frequently for GIS work. I'm just not proficient in it and would rather pay someone that is. I managed to find an incredible person on upwork and give him the specs for each project before I quote my customers. He sets the price for the GIS components and I routinely encourage him to charge more.

So to be clear, I don't use upwork to find a deal on the project (no doubt a ton of people do). I use it because it is a platform that can keep talented people busy and available for the next time I need to rely on them. I'd hire a full time GIS expert if I had steady work for the, but I don't so going with a subcontract makes a lot more sense.

I don't doubt that if you look hard enough you can find both good contractors and good clients. I think it's the rare exception and not the rule though. The last time I looked at Upwork was when it was called Odesk so I was curious if anything had changed so I went back and looked this afternoon. Here is a sampling of job postings that came up searching for Python jobs...

1) "Image Viewer - Python: In search of a python developer to build an application which cleanly display and organizes many images (200+) as thumbnails on one interface. The interface will display approx 6 data fields contained in two tables."

Budget: $50 (This client has previously hired 7 other people and spent $477 in total on Upwork)

2) "Python Help: I am looking for help in my python code, searching feature and fixing. Its a assignment if you can do this quickly let me know. Coding is almost completed, you need to correct logic and searching features. Hardly 35-50 line code, small assignment."

Budget: $10 (This client has previously hired 9 people and spent $284 in total on Upwork)

3) "Parse Fields from HTML file: Parse fields from HTML document Required language: Python (Python package BeautifulSoup is allowed/preferred.) Input: Python function that accepts file name (2 HTML files) Output: Python dictionary. All listed fields should be a separate key. Addresses should also be a dictionary so that city, state, and zip are separate Fields to pull out: First Name, Last Name, City, State, ETC ETC roughly 20 fields between two different HTML document types/formats."

Budget: $60 (This client has previously hired 23 people and spent $3,791 on Upwork, they pay an average of $10.10 per hour)

So based on those I don't think it has improved at all.

> since there are so many low-bar contributors.

That's because there are so many low-bar employers.

Many of whom are also hanging out places like HN, complaining that there are no good developers while praising anything which drives down wages.

To know why there are few good developers, look no further than the market price. It doesn't justify top effort. I could sweat blood competing on price and throughput with people who have a cost of living that is a small fraction of mine, hoping against reason that someone will spontaneously give me a raise out of the goodness of their hearts. Or... not.

Most of the people who would eat your projects for breakfast don't want to be worked like pizza delivery drivers, delivering as cheap and fast as possible and hoping for tips. So they aren't on these sites. These sites are where careers go to die.

I think we're on the same page. I don't use the platform to get work for myself, but I don't think it's a completely useless platform. That's all I was trying to convey.

It has its place and I do my part to make sure that the qualified people that I hire on it are well compensated with clear expectations and no need to hope for tips. Maybe I'm doing them a disservice by offering a glimpse of sunlight on a platform that otherwise stacks the cards against them. You have me wondering.

I 100% agree with you that it's mostly a crap shoot of competing with people that have a cost of living that is so utterly different that ours that it's impossible to make a living. But I do think there are some niche skills where this is not the case and people with a high cost of living can still thrive on the platform.

I have been working exclusively through upwork for 2 years and make a good living off it (I also live in Australia, it's not like I can charge 10$/h). I would highly recommend people give it a try, you will be surprised that there are lots of client out there looking for talent who are ready to pay correctly or premium.

Maybe you can share your strategy then because I dabbled in it a few years back and found it to be full of people willing to work for less than $10 per hour.

The majority of projects advertised seemed to be things like web scraping, homework cheating, people who wanted computer software to pick a magic lottery number, etc...

Yes I agree that 90% of all the projects advertised are what you describe and not worth anything. No-one should waste their time on it. But there is also this 10% of really quality work. There seems to be a shortage of talent in some areas of the world and the technology is here for teams to be distributed so some CEO/CTO give these freelancing sites a go.

When I first had a look I got quite pessimistic about my chances of finding work and money through it but decided nonetheless to give it a fair go.

I passed a few tests that gave me an initial edge as a newcomer, and decided to follow most freelancing advice I found on the internet: don't down-value yourself with a bad hourly rate, and apply to jobs professionally. It took me a few weeks to get a first contract, and after a month or so I was working 60h per week. I also read "The Freelance Pricing Guidebook" by Glenn Stovall which is a simple pdf of a dozen of pages which really gave me a good think of how to approach being independent and potential pricing strategies.

I also try to get out of the platform once I built the relationship with the client but it is not without risk if they run out of money, you don't have that nice guarantee that the platform offers. It happened to me that a client owed me 5 digits amounts and I regretted for a while having gone directly to him (he ended up paying, he had just ran out of cash).

If you find an USA client and you are not in the USA, with the strong USD it can be really advantageous for both parties. If you are in the USA I'd still say you can do well (I think Australia is more expensive than USA).

Maybe I really got lucky, or necessity forced me to succeed since my girlfriend got sent to a rural area with no work for me. Now days my work is so much more interesting, better paid and I met some amazing people thanks to that platform.

I recently made it through the Toptal (http://www.toptal.com) screening process but haven't taken on any work through their site yet, the hourly rate that you can ask there seems to be quite reasonable though compared to sites like upwork.com, where you will mostly compete with people that are willing to work for 10 $ / hour (which for someone living in a developed country is just not possible).

For Germany, Gulp (www.gulp.de) is a very good site where you can actually find clients that are willing to pay a reasonable hourly rate (they even have a rate calculator on their site).

Do you think having accounts at Gulp (and XING?) would help for a person outside Germany (and non-German speaker)? Are [prospective] clients on those sites interested in remote consultants?

it depends, most gigs are on-site but there are exceptions.

What kind of rates do you see on TopTal?

at Toptal you can set your own rate in advance

I know, but that's not what I'm asking. Do you see any offers?

I started registering on TopTal, but then got too lazy jumping through their hoops and not knowing what the upside is.

Toptaler here. started at $65 / hour

which is pretty middle-of-the road as far as rates go there. rarely takes me more than 2 weeks to find a new job on there. and that includes rejecting jobs I dont think i'd like.

the biggest benefits IMO are that they screen their clients very well (they know they're getting top-tier quality and arent afraid to pay top-tier rates) and negotiate to get you the rate you want. Also, they handle the billing very well, so even if the client is acting janky, you'll get paid.

I went through the admission process end of November but before completing it I got offered a project through my network which I'm still working on today, so I will probably only start using the service next month. There is of course some amount of marketing in their claims, but I think compared to other freelancing websites they actually provide a good deal for freelancers. Also, they do the invoicing for you and make sure you get paid regularly, which I find is a valuable service.

As a freelancer it's of course always better to get gigs through your own network, but I think sites like these are a good way to get started before having this kind of connections.

I have a bad news for you: Toptale pays not by your skills but by the country where you're living. F.e. for Russians it's $25/h

What's the context? Which country are you in? What are your skills?

If you're in the UK...

I've been contracting about 3 years now and started it the simple (and probably dumb) way - stick a resume up on jobsite.co.uk, wait for agents to call. Lots will. Be nice to them on the phone but be firm about what rates and locations you're willing to work. You'll get lots of useless ones who haven't even bothered to read it, but no matter, you'll learn to filter them out pretty quickly. Remember the good ones. Rinse, repeat.

I've had two contracts now through reputation, which is quite nice, but getting contracts from previous workmates isn't a panacea. One of them was the most boring thing I've ever done in my life (worse than shelf-stacking in a warehouse) and I quit after three weeks because I was literally unable to complete the work it was so dull. I told the client that I was poor value for money and a recent graduate would be a better choice. The other one was good though!

Also, make sure you're prepared for some time off between contracts, it's pretty much going to happen.

I'd be interested to hear how you made the jump to contracting? I find myself wanting to make the jump from my permanent job (in London) but being anxious about whether or not it's the right time to do so, if my skill set (sysadmin/devops) as it stands will provide value to clients, if I have the right mix of personal qualities to make a success out of it, etc.

Bloody-mindedness mostly.

I worked permanently for various companies in and around London for about 10 years, then got sick of London, moved to Australia, did a couple more years permanent work there, then decided to move back to the UK. At that point I was sick of being an employee and had a vague offer from a friend to help bootstrap a startup, which fell through. So in lieu of having an idea to start up a company myself I decided I was going to be a contractor, set myself up a limited company and started throwing my CV at anyone that asked. I have got most of my contracts through agencies that called me, not through contacts.

Making the leap can be tricky - if you have a notice period longer than one month you may have to quit your current job and then look for contracts afterwards. A lot of people want contractors to start now. You may not find one for a month or more, I've had dry patches lasting a couple of months before, and it might be another month after you start before you can invoice, and it could be another month again before you get paid, so you need a financial cushion.

As soon as you get your first contract you'll need an accountant. These come in at about £100 per month. I use Nixon Williams, this is not necessarily a recommendation, they deal with hundreds of contractors, the service is streamlined but pretty basic and if you need anything out of the ordinary they probably won't do it.

Errr.... time of year may have an effect, like a lot of things it seems to be easier to find work in the first few months of the year, though I have had two start in November/December.

Anything else you want to know?

What's the work like? Is it mostly legacy code or are you creating new projects from scratch? What's the usual contract length? I'm really interested in contracting this year and I see a lot of 3 month contracts for my stack, I'd prefer to do a 1 month contract to test the water first. Do you feel you have enough time to connect with the employees, etc?

I'm a bit of a dinosaur in some ways, my main saleable skill is C, with some C++11 thrown in and various other bits and pieces.

The work varies. I've been brought in as a 'resource' little different to an employee by a few places, tinkering at the edges of long-established products and having to take technical direction from senior staff, with little to no input to designs myself.

OTOH in other places I have been brought in during the very early phases of product development, and even more or less taken ownership of direction for entire products. These companies also tended to treat me more like the consultant I'm trying to portray myself as. You can probably guess I prefer these ones :)

Contracts have varied from 1 year (with no exit clause, regretting signing that one but it's over next week!) down to 2-months, but then that was renewed on a monthly basis several times. Mostly due to hysterically over-optimistic delivery estimates by the guy running the project...

I've made some connection with the employees pretty much everywhere, and have been in contact with a few since the end of contract, sometimes they've even been enquiring whether I'm free for a stint at some new place they've moved on to.

Anyone, currently looking for a remote front-end developer? I am full-stack developer (tending towards front-end nowadays), I live in Lagos, Nigeria and looking for remote work. I have a strong Javascript(NodeJS, AngularJs) background with over 3yrs experience.

Portfolio: http://goo.gl/OmEpz8

Git: https://goo.gl/oYbi8F

some side projects I have done:





Have done more complex stuff but requires user to login.

looked at your projects, cool stuff.

For those who are London based, I recently launched a mailing list for members of the London Hacker News Meetup, which sends out contracts based on your language preference. It's averaging about 10 jobs a month at the moment however I am working on getting it to about 100 pm by the end of the year. The current sign up page is at http://eepurl.com/byq7Af

Interesting! I'm not London-based but am London-commute friendly so will check it out.

(I've been contracting for about 3 years now, some in London)

No C# or C++ on signup page language list?

Nor C, unfortunately. The list seems a little more narrowly targeted than I had anticipated.

Yeah, seems very web dev centric.

A lot of people are saying job websites don't work. I don't agree with them.

I've been consulting over a year (US-based, near NYC) and I've found plenty of very good clients (small and large) through freelancing websites.

Few loose guidelines I've used to help me with applying to gigs:

1) Evaluate if you think the person understands the value of the work, and only reply if you can somewhat-confidently answer "yes."

2) Reply to gigs that say "$5" or some other crazy low number, as long as they seem competent at explaining their project.

3) ALWAYS follow up with your past clients! Ask them for new work regularly.

Can you elaborate on #2 ?, are you saying that starting a good relation is more important?

Of course! There are two aspects to this.

First, you obviously cannot work for $5 unless you're located in a low-income country. They are putting it up for $5, because they don't know how much it costs. However, you have to be careful to make sure they are competent so you're not ending up with a client who does not value your time.

Second, getting a job for $1,000 (when maybe it's really a $1,500 job) with the possibility of future work is better than not getting that job at all, in most circumstances.

Maybe the client wants contractors that can read between the lines - someone who understands the scope of the job and is experienced enough to recognize the $5 price as a placeholder.

I've never used a website. Reach out to everyone you know. Buy them a coffee, mention you are getting into contracting, ask who else you should talk to, thank them, repeat.

Have you ever just reached out to someone you don't know this way and had success? Cold calling or knocking on doors? I haven't been in a position to have this need but this whole comment thread made me think about doing it the "old-fashioned" way, rather than browsing the web meat/meet markets.

I've never reached out to someone I've never met but I've reached out to a lot of people that I met _super_ briefly. It let me go "remember me?" in an email I sent and it breaks the tension. People are surprisingly willing to help.

I found that it wasn't the first degree connections that led to work but the second degree connections. Get your immediate network to introduce you to others and drum up work from them.

Not sure if you're aware of it, but this is a well-studied phenomenon. Check out Mark Granovetter's seminal paper "The Strengrth of Weak Ties" [0] [1], it's pretty interesting reading.

[0] http://www.jstor.org/stable/2776392?seq=1#page_scan_tab_cont...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Granovetter

I get my clients primarily through gigster (http://www.gigster.com), referrals, and my website.

From the front page testimonial:

> in less than 5 minutes the project was fully spec'd and underway.

Honest question: why would I need a top '1% developer' for a project that can be fully spec'd in less than 5 minutes?

I'm having issues with Gigster. I did the first interview and passed. The subsequent follow ups (4 already!) have all been either postponed, interviewer no shows (yes really), or setup with the wrong interviewer.

I understand there are growing pains, but not one of my emails have been responded to regarding this issue.

Yeah that's unfortunate... They are growing very quickly in terms on onboarding devs right now. They're also putting a lot of effort into building better tooling for interviewing / onboarding. I fortunately jumped on before the growth really got crazy.

A interview with Gigster was scheduled for today , I was waiting for 30 minutes in their conference tool but no one showed up.

Depends on how I'm feeling. If I'm not looking for very interesting work or I'm saving for travel, I have a few large clients (5000+ employees) that always have projects going. They are the bread and butter of my contract work and I'm known across pretty much all of the IT senior management at those companies.

If I'm looking for more cutting edge, interesting work I'll go out and find either a company, industry or project I'm interested in and try and insert myself into it somehow. Usually through meetups, over coffee or in one case just showing up (probably wouldn't recommend that, depends on the people - in my case it was 4.30PM on a Friday and I brought beer).

Usually I'll either do it gratis (if it's non-profit or public domain) or cut my rates if I'm learning on-the-job.

When I started pretty much all of my job offers and contracts came by word of mouth. I only had to kick down doors a few times before I had developed a reputation as a good worker. This involved cold-emailing, calling and meeting people at various industry events.

Some people at HN will tell you the opposite but I find two of my best clients at Upwork.

I didn't bid to low quality jobs and once I finish my job I offer them an maintenance contract outside upwork.

When I hire through Upwork, I ignore all the low hourly rate freelancers. I use a high hourly price as my first requirement.

Few years ago, this worked quite well, but now there are some idiots that charge a high price for low quality work just to try to take advantage of people like me. So, now it takes some more time to filter through, but still works pretty well.

What do you consider a high hourly rate. Last time I looked, I didn't see anything above $50 an hour.

Are you kidding me? There are lots of high hourly workers. I consider $40/hour as minimum, generally $65/hour or higher is where the line starts to separate between pros and average freelancers. I've seen as high as $150/hour.

I like to go to places like upwork or elance and seek out people in the US with low rep that haven't done a lot of jobs. A lot of times those people are ones for big companies that are stuck in a situation that need a quick hack put together. Do a good job and you get put on their 'list' for future use.

Does anyone have good place to look for contract work in field of UX & Product design? I'm UX designer currently living in Prague, looking for remote work (and I'm open to relocate). My portfolio: http://podorsky.cz/

A bit of tangent but some advice needed. So I've been contracting out a bit on UpWork - used all the bahavioral hacks in the book: using "we" etc... It's worked amazing for getting clients. Not bad at sales. I've got one client now -- a hedge fund -- that's being very stingy. We agree on a fixed price for a particular scope/milestone, the release is shipped, but they come back and say "this is great, but we need this one additional feature or this whole release is worthless." Usually I, I mean "we", oblige. But it's getting ridiculous. What do we do? Play hardball and say no shipment until payment? Or just ditch the client. The day rate is plummeting mind you, closing in on free. Total contract size in the low XXks.

Is it worth to you to keep this client? What are the advantages?

They baited "us" with a long term relationship. They have a ton of cash so it seemed rational to take a hit on the effective day rate. So ostensibly they are like perfect for this but the amount they are willing to pay for the type of milestones is pretty low. Like it hurts them.

They don't sound like the kind of client I would like to deal with. I would recommend trying to find better customers and then ditching this one.

I tackle this sideways by going to Meetup or Eventbrite. Specifically I go to meetups and events that potential buyers go to and let them know what I do (I don’t try to sell my services on first contact). It takes some pruning but after a while my preferred clients are the ones I keep in contact with and we start working. I get less work through this than just by referral though.

Depending on your living situation and time available I’d recommend trying to establish your own identity so you don’t have to go through a marketplace for contract work. Instead you’ll have the contract work come to you and not filtered through a middleman that would take a cut out of your work. I would never recommend someone go through fiverr, Upwork or these other marketplaces unless they were just moonlighting.

HN who's hiring threads, exclusively

update: I post my pitch in the freelancer thread and potential clients contact me, for example https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9998249

Have you had success replying to those posts and asking 'Would you consider a freelancer for this position?' or how do you go about it since these threads seem to implicitly indicate that they're looking for employees?

I definitely don't do that. I posted once in the who-wants-to-be-hired thread, but I don't do that anymore, because I had one guy get really angry once he realized I didn't want to be his employee, he accused me of bait-and-switching him to outsourced development (LOL). I was open to perm/ft work at the time for the right fit (which this guy wasn't), but his response was so visceral that I decided it was just a bad form to post there knowing for 95% of inquiries there was no chance of me going perm and that for the longshot 5% i would probably find them through another channel.

Don't ask, tell. Tell them your credentials and how you're going to solve their immediate problem. Don't beg them "please hire me even though I'm remote!", spell out that you're a seasoned veteran, here's my code on Github and my open source projects with the air of confidence that if "you don't hire me, someone else will."

The bad thing about HN is that C++ and REMOTE is almost nonexistent in a single posting.

One thing that I think is valuable when looking for contracting work (what I call consulting) is to learn how people that have been highly successful in consulting built their business. Checkout episodes 4 (Marcus Zarra) and 5 (Michael Fellows) of Consult: http://consultpodcast.com



I've had good success hiring developers for short-term project work through https://gun.io.

I can't speak to the employment side of things, but the work side of things is disappointing. Their recommended gigs are scattershot and a lot of the ones they push ("in conjunction with gun.io" or similar verbiage--sounds like premium postings) are six-month, monopolize-all-your-time contracts at a low hourly rate. And they don't seem to respect their own site's rules, at least not the spirit of them: every once in a while I'm spammed with a '$1,000' offer from gun.io themselves that's really "we'll pay $100 for a blog post".

Unfortunately I'm not sure that anybody else is much better! I still get most of my work through interpersonal connections and the occasional email from Hacker News readers.

I tried to register for Gun.io and the first thing they want me to do is to write proposal to see if I could communicate, for skillsets that I don't have in a field that I have no knowledge of (GRE over IPSec). I make another try and now it's to write proposal for framework that I never used with explicit "no 'willing to learn' proposals" in the body text. Maybe I'm just unlucky, but if they're asking me to BS on the proposal just to see if I could communicate, then I have to say this is definitely not a good first impression.

Good luck getting paid on gun.io, if the buyer just decides they want the work for free then they can take it and wander off. Gun.io doesn't care because who is bringing them money?

Is this a hypothetical, or are you speaking from experience?

I'd like a way, similar to the first of month feature (where employment possibilities are posted on HN) where you could post requirements for a software project and get responses from the hacker news community (or at least links to either relevant profiles or reputable hackers as suggestions).

Edit: I mean on HN similar to the first of month feature not a site (I know these are out there obviously).

Wrote about this recently: http://www.gkogan.co/blog/how-i-learned-to-get-consulting-le...

The gist of it is, as many here are saying: Don't use marketplace sites. Instead show off your knowledge in a way that gets attention of potential customers, then they'll come to you.

I've done this by reaching out to friends and old work colleagues to see what they're up to and offering to help. Because it's people you know it is much easier to make arrangements you will both be happy with. After 15 years working in software that turns out to be quite a lot of people, especially if you take the time to regularly reach out to people via LinkedIn etc.

Tip: Have an Indeed.com resume verbose with your areas of expertise. Build a project using Parse.com or the Twitter API? Put that in there. As an employer, one of my more successful methods is to search for specific skill sets that a project may require, then reach out to a small handful of developers who hit on those searches with a pitch to why -new project- is exciting.

If you are looking for frontend contracts, in particular - angularjs,

I would recommend http://AngJobs.com

disclaimer: I run AngJobs, https://github.com/victorantos/AngJobs


I send a LinkedIn message to some of my contacts I'd like to work with, telling them it's been a while and that I'd like to get in touch, and offer them to take a cup of coffee with them this week.

During the meeting, tell them about your freelance status and that you're looking for work.

Good luck!

I'm fairly new to consulting (been doing it for almost a year now). I'm on my second gig right now, and both of them are through Toptal. For the first one, a recruiter reached out to me with a gig, the second one I got thanks to an article I wrote in their blog.

Anybody knows of (good) sites for remote server (Linux esp.) contract work (sysadmin/devops/optimization/security/reliability)? if there are none, anybody interested in one?

My way was working at several successful startups, and then going into contracting. So I had contacts at every level of Silicon Valley. Might not work for everybody.

I've been contracting/consulting for a couple of years now. Most my contracts have come through referrals (of friends) and sometimes recruiters. However, I was able to start my contracting career thanks to a contract that came through Toptal. This allowed me to quit my job and do this full-time.

Here's my list of resources that I would be looking at if I needed to start looking for a contract immediately:


- Authentic Jobs: http://www.authenticjobs.com/

- StackOverflow Careers: http://careers.stackoverflow.com/jobs?type=contract&allowsre...

- We Work Remotely: https://weworkremotely.com/jobs/search?term=contract

- Angelist: https://angel.co/jobs

- Github Jobs: https://jobs.github.com/

- Hired: https://hired.com/contract-jobs


- Toptal: https://www.toptal.com/ (I'm a member of Toptal's network)

- Gigster: https://www.trygigster.com/ (haven't used it yet)

- Crew: https://crew.co/ (haven't used it yet)

Offline ideas:

- Approach companies at Meetups

- Meetups, meetups, meetups

- Pitch on forums

- Work with contract agencies

- Become a subcontractor

It also helps to work on branding yourself, blogging, and integrating into communities (like HN!). Generally, just becoming an authority on a topic and allowing people get to know you before they work with you helps a lot. Kind of like patio11 has done for himself around here. Then people start coming to you instead of the other way around.

I would also highly recommend looking at DevChat TV's Freelance podcasts for ideas, they're really great: https://devchat.tv/freelancers

For those who do contract work, what is your policy on code-reuse between clients?

It depends on my arrangement with a client. Work-for-hire contracts make reuse impossible, and so I tend to price higher, whereas a perpetual, transferable, etc. license to the code I work on has a better chance of being useful down the line and so I may knock a couple bucks off.

My thought was to develop a library for code re-use among clients. It would cover common problems/features. In your experience, do many contract workers have such a thing?

I dunno, but I wouldn't want to have such a thing in a stack. I reuse code like "hey, I've got this super nice Vagrant setup that makes life easier" or "I've got this Chef cookbook that's a little too specialized to meaningfully open-source but I can turn it around to help," rather than application-level code. If I had a library for application code-reuse, I'd just find a platform-appropriate library like Guava or something and try to get it in there, or open-source the whole thing myself.

I dunno about others, but I sure do! I have CSS stylesheets in 7 colour themes, a dozen bootstrap-like JS plugins that add common interactive elements I can drop into any site, and tons of parts and pieces of layouts (like an order form, signup form, pricing chart, or media player) isolated and ready to re-use.

I also maintain a big snippets file, filled with HTML, CSS, JS, and command-line snippets and tricks so I can grab them from anywhere.

I dont know how any freelancer or contractor doesnt have a bag of tricks like this.

This sounds really helpful. I'm just beginning my contracting. Would you be willing to share these libraries and snippets?

EQCSS is for element queries, scoped CSS, IE8 support, and a whole ton of other goodies - check it out at http://elementqueries.com

Most of the other plugins and things are included in https://github.com/tomhodgins/template-factory

My HTML/CSS/JS/CLI snippets file is located here: https://gist.github.com/tomhodgins/27c29ecb4aceaefe5cdf

My responsive testing tool is located at: https://github.com/tomhodgins/speedtest You can use your keyboard keys 1-0 to test a variety of widths quickly, or use the buttons on mobile to test widths your phone or tablet can't physically emulate

If you're looking for a 'view source' tool for mobile, check out https://github.com/tomhodgins/sourceror It's a simple PHP proxy that loads the requested site and displays it as content on the page. For example, I have it hosted at http://staticresource.com/inspect so I can append a URL after a '?' and see the code formatted nicely. Like http://staticresource.com/inspect/?http://staticresource.com...

You can also check out my CodePen profile, here's my collection of 'Front-end snippets', but I've got plenty more on there you can feel free to use or expand on: http://codepen.io/collection/nNqyvZ/

Hope that sets you off to a good start :)

How do you incorporate this re-use into your contracts?

You could explicitly retain the copyrights on your code. Actually that is the default so in general it's not actually necessary.

I make the stuff and put it under MIT :) Everybody (including me) is free to include it in anything, so long as you don't sue me for having used it.

Fiverr (https://www.fiverr.com/), tasks usually take less than an hour and give me enough revenue to pay domains and hosting for my pet projects.

Got to disagree here. Even if your task takes only 30 minutes, by the time you add getting client's requirements and browsing for jobs each task will take 1 hour. You should not be working for $5 / hour.

Hey thats a really good idea! How long does it take to get started with that? Do you find a long lead time from signing up to building a reputation to getting a lot of gigs?

Depending in the gigs you offer your experience may differ, I do python/perl/sh scripts and sysop tasks and after a month I started receiving enough gigs a month (5-8) to pay my digital bills.

I think logo designers, web developers and translators get a lot more traffic. I just recently was upgraded to 1st level seller after 3 months, so I think it's relatively fast.

Which country? ;)

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