Mostly here, my freelance work tends to come from me posting an informative comment on someone's Show HN page, telling them what is good, what is bad and what needs to change.
Occasionally the person will offer me work, or I will offer to do it for them, sometimes for free, sometimes for money, I'm normally not really bothered, I remember one guy bought me a pint from 2,500 miles away using an online ordering service, which was pretty cool.
I don't know about how professionals find it though, I prefer my day job to freelance work, I only take it on nights where I have nothing to do.
Most pieces added to Show HN don't need that much fixing, that's why I tend to check, plus it's good to be useful to the community as a whole, there's no point only half trying, especially not if you expect to land work from it.
Early on in my career, I was slowly switching from graphic / web design to web programming. I used to spend quite a bit of time in a couple well known graphic design forums. I had a fairly intense day job, so it's not like I was there 10 hours a day, but I would chime in from time to time for my own interest as well as looking for people with programming questions.
I mostly did it for my own learning. I'd been picking up very small freelance projects from an independent web host as the time, and every time I found an interesting question on the designer forums, I'd do the research and come up with an answer.
In time, I became one of the main web programming resources in that community. I wasn't necessarily a very good programmer, but I'd always dig in and find the answer and try to find a way to present it well to a non-programmer group. As someone who used to be a designer, I knew how to approach the question and answer in a way that would benefit whomever asked.
Over time as the designers in that community got further in their careers, they would come to me, whether for work or advice. Some came to me back then. Some, years later. I had a potential client pop up about 6 months ago (at least 8 years since I'd stopped visiting that forum regularly) by way of a recommendation from one of those old forum members with whom I'd worked years ago.
I would say the majority of the success I've found in my career stemmed from those relationships. A lot of whom are still friends and colleagues to this day.
I'm not necessarily recommending you start lurking around design forums. But the fact is, there are many industries that are in need of some outside knowledge. I'm also not recommending you start spamming forums. What I mean to say is that it may be possible to find potential clients as a member of a non-programming community, provided you're a reliable and friendly member of said community.
This is a very fortunate time to be a programmer. A solid majority of people in the world still have no idea how their phones and computers do what they do, and a good many of those people would benefit greatly by knowing someone who does. And some of them may have some work that needs to be done, or know someone who needs work done.
Most of my consulting work comes through word of mouth and referrals from people who I've met at various meetup groups, hack nights, etc. Some leads come through the website from people searching from Ruby developers, but still the best lead is someone who knows someone who knows you!
Another podcast that I have found deeply helpful is the EntreLeadership podcast by Chris Locurto, which is a follow-on to the business book written by Dave Ramsey. It's more focused on general business and leadership. So it takes a little more work to apply the principles to your freelance business, but it's very helpful as one thinks through the future when freelancing evolves into a business with a team and so forth.
I remember hearing that after you get a year or so of work and networking under your belt, it mostly just flows. And I didn't really believe it a year ago, but now I see it. All the people I've met from hackathons to the accelerator program to random events, it all adds up later and I get approached for work a good bit now.
My usual setup is a monthly stipend from a somewhat early stage startup, or one that I'm cofounding and then I do freelance/other stuff on the side. At the moment I'm doing full time work for a startup out of Harvard, freelancing with a dev on an iPad app, and doing some work for a YC startup.
The demand companies have for labor is determined by your rate. If you charge less, clients will demand more of your time. You can work 30-50 hours a week freelancing for a single client, if that's what you want.
It's not a bad arrangement at the start, since you probably need money and are willing to work for it. Sometimes with those projects I work a lot at the start, then do maintenance work for 1-2 days a month later on.
My co-founder (sabalaba) and I have been working on Hackerlist (http://hackerlist.net) - a selective network of great freelance engineers.
This seems like something many of you have been looking for as there are a shocking number of "freelance" posts (from both clients and programmers) on HN each month -- HN ids: 4596379, 4463692, 4323612, 4214767, 4184757, 4053078, 3914001 3783658, 2539892, etc.
We admit, at this stage Hackerlist is an experiment. We're only asking for your time and patience -- we'll help you land contracts with top companies, handle the logistics, and you'll keep 100% of your earnings. No catch. We'll handle the vetting process, source contracts, and continuously work one-on-one with you to improve our tech until it serves your needs. Unfortunately, to preserve high quality, we're unable to accept more than 32 candidates and 6 of these spots are already filled.
If you'd like to be considered for Hackerlist, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit your github username on http://hackerlist.net
Our long-term vision is to create a realtime system (think the intersection of mechanical turk, stackoverflow, oDesk) where trusted freelance engineers can immediately clone a git repo, start hacking on a technical problem, and upon completion, get paid what they're worth.
P.S. Suggestions and feedback are appreciated -- we don't want to build something you don't need.
I spent several years holding down a regular job and doing the freelance work at night. Eventually, as I successfully completed those jobs/tasks, the word spread and I had enough coming in from the night work that I was able to shed the full time job and go on my own. Yes, it means spending a few years of working two jobs, which isn't a luxury everyone has or even wants to exercise. It's definitely paid off for me though, as I've now been 100% freelance for about 5 years.
My other suggestion is to see if you can convert a portion your existing full time job to freelance (i.e., convert from an employee to a contractor for your existing job). I did that as well, which helped fill in my client gap for a bit.
When I first started (in college), it was Craigslist and MySpace. From then till I stopped freelancing, I tried recruiters, friends, family, etc.
Networking (which leads to word of mouth) is so key. The bigger your network and the stronger your relationships, the more chance for great work. Ideally, you want work that steadily flows your way with little outreach on your part.
That's what I'm creating matchist (http://matchist.com/talent) for. We want to be a trusted resource in your top circle that sends you quality work.
So far work has just come to me. I got some iOS contracts from comments I've posted here and now that I'm also doing Android I've had friends approach me for Android ports of iOS apps they're already doing for clients. Just about everybody wants iOS and Android now so somebody that can do both is in demand.
All this kind of happened passively over the last year or so though. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had to bootstrap this more quickly.
Well, I haven't been able to try out any of the projects myself; but I know the creator of this service. You can contact him at pocha AT stalkninja DOT com or @pocha on twitter for stats. As for people who have actually taken up projects posted there, I'm sorry, but I'm not in contact with any of them.