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Ask HN: If you are a freelancer, which are your three biggest problems?
26 points by jadeydi 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments
If you’re a freelancer, which are your biggest problems and how did you solve it or you hope to solve it. You can list three problems

1. Establishing a portfolio/reputation.

Most of the work I do is confidential. I have done a lot of ghost writing and I also edit resumes. New clients want to see a portfolio and I don't really have much to show them.

2. Self promotion.

Somewhat related to the above, but also a separate issue in its own right. I'm not good at self promotion and I don't know how to get good at it.

3. Existing solutions entrench these problems.

I work for a service. There are plenty of other services out there. I have a lot of good things to say about the particular service I work for, but they don't want me to use the service to connect to clients and then ditch them. That would hurt their income. So everything I do for them is ghost writing and everything I do there to develop a reputation and access better paid work etc does not translate to ability to connect to outside clients.

This seems to be the norm with other platforms. There seems to be no platform that helps you develop your own portfolio, promote your work and so on. Platforms are brokers that connect freelancers with clients within a closed ecosystem.

One of the problems this causes me is that I stress about the possibility of being thrown off the service for some reason or the service going under. All the access to clients that I have established could be gone in an instant.

This detail is a "worst of both worlds" thing where I am in some sense dependent upon a single employer, only they aren't actually my employer because I do contract work. So I wouldn't be owed any severance if I got booted or they closed shop.

Edit: I will add that one of the things I like about the service is that they deal with payment issues on my behalf. If the work is completed satisfactorily, I will get my pay. I'm fine with them getting a cut of that. My fantasy is a service that would do for me what they do, while allowing me to direct folks to the service and say "I'm so-and-so on Service. Hit me up there." That way I don't have to fuss with payment problems, but can establish relationships to clients from outside the closed ecosystem.

1. Expectations vs reality

What do freelance developers actually make in the US? Because all this advice says "raise your rates" and that recent HN post saying freelance developers make $150/hr on average but no one wants to pay that. I'm getting rejected left and right. I have a portfolio, I have great references, 10 years of experience, and experience in the most popular languages and frameworks. So am I missing something?

2. Where are the clients?

As a consequence of 1, I'm not overwhelmed with work like everyone says I should be. So yeah I'm getting leads, but everyone balks at price, and I'm less than $150/hr.

3. No but seriously...I need clients.

I live in a major metropolitan area where the salary for a senior developer/architect is between $125K - $145K - not a bad salary, the cost of living isn't that high. I haven't been able to find rates above $90 an hour as a contractor. But the only way I could be guaranteed enough hours to make it work would be going through an agency, after they take their cut, it's usually $70-$80 as a W2 contractor (meaning they pay the employer's side of Medicare, Social Security).

When I can make $140K as a employee, with paid vacation and paid time off and much cheaper health benefits (hypothetically - I'm covered under my wife), it's not worth freelancing.

I am not a freelancer so I'm not speaking from experience. So... grain of salt eh?

Have you tried charging per week or per project instead of per hour? Maybe clients will respond better to "My rate is 78hundred a week" than they do to "My rate is $150 per hour"?

Or anchoring the cost against the value of the project? "Once this project is complete, how much extra revenue do you expect it will bring to your company?". Keeping focus on the value, makes the cost look low in comparison. And if it's not going to bring them very much value, then maybe not a good fit for your skillset.

I also wonder if you have tried getting contracts where the client pre-pays for a certain amount of "maintenance/minor fixes" hours from you at the conclusion of a successful project. (Where the hours are use-it-or-lose-it during the time period. Bonus points for making that a rolling contract)

I presume you are already mining clients for referrals. One trick I heard on a podcast (years ago so I don't remember which one. Maybe Pat Flynn or Kalzumeus?) was to ask for the referral at the time the client agrees to the project. (Which kind of blew my mind but made sense in the context of the person being happy/excited that about the project so they are more willing). Maybe worth trying?

I use all of these - I charge by value for contained projects and per week/month when they are longer, less defined projects with incomplete scope.

I ask for 50% up front and 50% on completion, and any maintenance is considered retainer which has a fixed monthly cost if they so desire.

I do mine for referrals and am still trying to tap through my networks

I run a business that helps digital agencies and web pros get more leads through highly targeted email campaigns. Email is in my profile if you are curious how it works.


Tell me about your marketing.

I post on hackernews every month in the hiring posts. I reach out every day to at least 2 of my personal contacts informing them of my business and a 5% referral fee if they know anyone needing my services. I point all of this to my personal (https://conradadam.com) and consulting (https://anonconsulting.com) portfolios. I have a free crash course giveaway on my consulting site to capture leads and interest and offer a variety of services, not just custom work.

One thing I know I have to do is get my blog going. Part of me scrambling is that I had a contract slated to end in October but it is ending this month instead. I assumed I'd have 6 months to build up a blog and a presence online but I'm basically given no time to make that happen.

A lot of this depends on what point in your career you're at. I've been freelancing for ~20 years, and the problems I have now are different than when I started out.

If you're starting out, really the 2 main problems are (1) getting (good) clients, and (2) getting paid. The 2 don't always go hand-in-hand. Now, (1) involves many factors -- luck, marketing, "right place right time", portfolio, reputation, but the ultimate problem is getting a good client to sign on the dotted line for a decent-sized chunk of work.

The 2nd problem, getting paid, is where a lot of engineers flounder. Do you invoice on time? Do your invoices reflect accurately the work? Do you know who to call if things are late? Do you have a contract that dictates terms of payment? etc.

Now that I'm more experienced (that's code for "older"), my issues are: (1) telling good, long-standing clients "no"; (2) remembering to not take on work that sounds really fun and interesting, but financially a poor bet; (3) not just staying current, but making sure my clients know that I'm also up with the state of the art, even though I'm well into my 40s (it used to be "Oh you're in your 60s, you're probably a dinosaur" but I see that happening to people in their 40s these days -- Hope I don't send this thread off-topic, wasn't the intention to hijack the thread!)

Flaky potential clients. They reach out to me, say they are interested when I provide them with a statement of work, and then go silent. 90% of people who contact me behave in this way.

This happens to me too, what a roller coaster experience. We have an initial conversation, I discuss how what I do can really help their business, then when it comes to the next step (typically pricing) they'll balk or simply go silent. I think people have a hard time putting money where their mouth is sometimes. I have no idea how to solve this - my rates are reasonable for what I deliver and I always come across both personable and professional.

1. Managing customer expectations. It takes a week to handle a week delay with the customer - things like negotiating what to prioritize, understanding new requirements, communicating what is to be done in replacement. If you're the main programmer with no project manager on your side, it takes too long to communicate and calculate schedule.

2. Getting paid. Agreeing on a contract that doesn't screw us. Waterfall is actually better for managing a fixed 2 month project, but it's terrible for payment. Agile is more suited to long processes.

3. Other freelancers. A lot of people try to get their foot in the door - they charge something like $5/hour and then do a sloppy job. This effictively ruins a lot of markets. People get frustrated with freelancers, people mistrust them, people also expect to pay very little. I don't mind if other people charge cheaply and deliver; the problem is that the model only allows for fast and sloppy.

Having a boss.

Just started my first "big" freelance gig (as opposed to "one day" little projects) and I find it very hard to manage my time, prioritise tasks and refrain from distractions.

Having someone like a boss who would clearly give me a list of tasks to complete every day, as well as fixed work hours (at the moment I'm remote and can pretty much work anytime I want) would be a nice plus.

The problem of getting paid seems to come up a lot here.

Is this more of a process or a cashflow problem?

Many companies optimise their cashflow by paying as late as possible without incurring additional fees. Some are even as intentionally 'forgetful' as to not pay at all if they don't get a reminder.

Other than selecting your clients more carefully in the future you can't really do anything against shady client behaviour.

However, the way I see it for everything else there are existing solutions:

- contracts: Obviously define clear payment terms beforehand.

- processes and tools: Have your accounting software send automatic reminders if the due date has elapsed without payment.

- factoring: There are companies you can sell your receivables to. In exchange for a fee you get paid instantly and the factoring company will take care of collecting the payments.

Running a professional services business in China performing resume editing, creating LinkedIn Profiles, interview coaching and providing support to academics aspiring to undergrad, masters and PhD programs, my clients fall into two camps. There are those who fully understand that excellent results require an investment (premium price) and there are those who have sticker shock. There does not seem to be much middle ground. I require all payment upfront for B2C work and generally try to push for 50% before/50% after with any corporate clients (HR workshops on how to vet foreigners, etc.)

Getting paid. The process and the time it takes to get the money.

I'm pretty new to this but isn't that an easy problem to solve - not hand over the work until everything has been paid? Currently working on a backend project and I've asked them for an initial payment (which I got promptly) before starting the work and now I'm letting them see the project on my own infrastructure (they can interact & play around with it), but I'm not handing them over the keys until everything has been paid for.

How viable "handing over the keys is" is depends a lot on the client and the project. Easy for a self-contained "build X" project, harder for maintenance/improvement projects, impossible for things like marketing campaigns.

Finding clients. (unsure how to best solve)

Flaky clients. (people that don't understand that things cost money. partially solved by trying to state as early as possible an "at least" number)

Low-quality project proposals and bids Unequal distribution of work Clients picking freelancers for cost, not quality / value..

Then Honest Projects came along

Finding and closing on good clients. Meaning those who see my service as an investment in their business with a good return for the price, rather than as a commodity.

1. Taxes

Getting customers is easy for me (because I am a sales guy) Too many projects, too much money but little time...

Some people who work for me are lazy.

Other than this, life is good :)

Cool, would you like give me your email? This is mine aW0uamFkZXlkaUBnbWFpbC5jb20=

Not a freelancer any more, but when I was my biggest hassle by far was chasing payment.

even when you had a written contract in place? I haven't had a single issue with payments yet thanks to my contract

Yes, even with contracts that the client had designed, they wouldn't respect their own payment terms. A partial solution I found was to ask for payment 7 calendar days after completion of work instead of the standard 30 days. With a 30 days payment delay, clients tend to genuinely forget about you and sometimes they don't have the cash they had when they hired you.

1) time 2) scaling 3) quitting

not solved

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