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Ask HN: It's 2015 and I'm not in the situation I wanted to be. Need Advice
74 points by bettycf on Jan 6, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments
I started working as freelancer since Sep 2014, the new year is here and I'm not in the situation I was hoping to be. I leave my day job to get better income but more important to get more interesting projects to work with, I always felt that I was stuck in the same tasks the same tech and with no opportunity to get any new stuff to do, and been more real with no opportunity to have a career, there was not other job position to take, so I resign and start doing freelancing and It starts really well, I have to make efforts speaking english and sending detailed reports, but all went well, good ratings, good feedback, great clients, months later I'm not doing the projects I was expecting, I feel the same that in my past day job that I'm stuck in the 40$us 100$us kind of projects, with no new things to do and I want to do more, I know I'm starting and I need reputation and maybe be more patient, but is hard to see myself in a better situation in the future.

My current work history is great, I have only five stars ratings, but my clients just contact me to small short projects, I want it to change, I tried to apply for different projects, and start learning new tools, I'm really getting into Ansible and Docker, but I'm getting no responses and I'm not sure what clients are looking for.

HN, how would you deal with this situation? What can I do to get better opportunities?

This is my first post but I search into HN to look for experiences, I read great advices here I can say I had been motivated to leave my work because of some comments.

Maybe I'm anxious and need to be patient, but I would love get some advices to get a new 2015 start, and be proactive about the things I can change and learn to be in the position I want so much.

Love and Happy Reyes Magos for all.

~ Betty

It may be unpopular to refer anyone to WordPress, but I made a 5-6 figure income as a freelance developer working with WordPress clients. WordPress is often a good fit for non-tech, small-medium size businesses that do not have an in-house tech department. Many of them will keep coming back as they see the potential that you offer them. If you know PHP, WordPress is easy to pick up. The backwards compatibility emphasis can be frustrating, but if you're working with a client and have server access/control, this becomes a non-factor compared to when you're trying to sell plugins and themes.

My first jobs are all about Wordpress! :)

I agree we all you say, with wordpress it was easy to find my first job and my first clients keep coming for small features. My worry is about how to move forward.

In my pass day job I build a ecommerce hosting platform with wordpress and it was exciting at the beginning later I didn't like the repetitive tasks and the making the same themes over and over is annoying, my past employer forbidden me to talk directly to the customers and I know they want more good looking websites and they feel they were overcharged, so I decide to go freelance. And right now I'm not finding this unhappy clients.

This sounds like solid advice. I've done freelance work with Wordpress for one of my clients and it showed potential. Any tips on pitching WordPress to those who are not sure what it can do for them? This client, in particular, I was working with was interested in setting up an online store using WooCommerce.

FWIW, I am a developer with strong Linux/unix admin knowledge, and plenty of PHP experience.

As someone who frequently hires Wordpress freelancers, I offer this:

Don't 'sell' the client on using Wordpress relative to other frameworks. They don't need to know the complete power and limitations of the WP ecosystem; that's your job (in their eyes). Just say 'yes.'

>Can I add products later? Yes. >Can I add pages? Yes. >Can I add coupons? Yes. >Does it have SEO? Yes.

It's easy work for someone like you with sysadmin and PHP skills. Your client will love how quickly you can diagnose whatever problems they're having.

Thanks! I think a lot about this, and start changing my profile, at first I was mention the tech skills in my profile I change it to more functional speech.

And I promise I will be less technical when doing proposals. Thanks for your comment I really think a lot about this.

I'm a full-time wordpress developer. Wordpress is diverse enough to be a solid platform for e-commerce, CRM, CMS, and a lot of other social-styled websites. In other words, it's not just for blogs. It's popular enough that it's an easy sell, and there's a ton of work around it.

WordPress is a 10k piece of software that is completely free. You start from there, and explain how and why OSS works, and what work they would be paying for.

If they can understand the "everyone does a little bit" model (an overgeneralization), and understand the value proposition of WordPress, there's not really a lot to sell. Almost everyone can afford a WordPress installation and WordPress can scale to fit almost everyone's needs. Just don't abuse it.

Find out their business problems and talk to them about those. People don't care about the technology (ok, most of them) but they do care about their problems.

Don't even mention wordpress.

More here: http://doubleyourfreelancing.com/get-started/

Yes, my early jobs when I was in school was about sysadmin and later learn PHP and Python. at first I sell my profile as a sysadmin expert and reading the comments I feel that was a mistake.

Thanks for the unknown "Reyes Magos" greeting; by looking it up, I got to learn something new.

As for improving your situation, on the first day of each month there are three automated posts made by the HN user 'whoishiring'. You can find all of the automated posts in the HN user profile under the "submissions" link:


The first of the three is the "Who is hiring?" post and it contains comments by employers looking to hire people. The most recent is from a few days ago on the 1st of January:

Ask HN: Who is hiring? (January 2015) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8822808

The second is the "Who wants to be hired? post, and it contains comments by people looking to be hired.

Ask HN: Who wants to be hired? (January 2015) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8822810

The third post is for freelancing, both people looking to hire freelances and people looking for freelancing jobs:

Ask HN: Freelancer? Seeking freelancer? (January 2015) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8822817

These monthly posts are great resources for anyone looking for work or looking to get work done.

Thanks, I'm overwhelm with the responses and feeling better with more plans for this year. Really appreciate all the resources.

I'm happy that you know about Reyes! here in Bolivia there is city named Reyes and there is also a big Religious Celebration. Really fun to watch.

You talk about having "5 star ratings," and such. Where are you finding these jobs and where are you getting ratings? It sounds like you're using a website where people post jobs they want done and you bid on them. If so, that could be your problem. Those types of web sites tend to attract the lowest bidders with either the most boring work or the most unrealistic expectations about what could be done for what amount of money. I've been out of freelancing for about 10 years, so I don't know the scene now, but I'm sure others here would have advice on better places and ways to find freelance work.

I started working in Odesk, my first experiences where there. and I agree with you 80% of the jobs are unrealistic requirements, but I'm not getting replies from the remaining good 20% of the jobs.

I have tried to use other websites but It feels the same. I read a lot in HN about networking and that seems hard from where I am: Bolivia. :D

Thanks for you comment, and if you have a list of resources, websites or places I'll be grateful if you can share it

I'd start at meetup.com to find groups for networking. Here's at least one in La Paz:


I don't know where you are, but you can search down to the city in Bolivia: http://newtech.meetup.com/

> You talk about having "5 star ratings," and such.

Usually 'odesk' or equivalent.

Freelancing is generally not long term work.

The most important lesson I've learnt is the difference between freelancing, contracting, consulting, and beyond.

It is possible you are trying to be a freelancer and desiring the stability of a contractor / consultant.

You have to find long term customers who need regular ongoing work.

To do this, you'll have to do things that are closer to the creation of value in a company, rather than at the edge. For example, someone that is doable by many people is not as valuable. If you help them with strategy as well as implementation, that is value.

Many small businesses would pay $1000/month for someone for ongoing work when they cannot afford a full time person. Get 10 of them and you have steady work. This is how I started in 1999 when there were far fewer people online. The need is much greater today.

Lastly, about your point on patience, you are right. Everyone seems to want to magically reinvent their lives in 6-18 months. That happens for outliers who are willing to learn and do whatever it takes. The above advice that I've helped my own friends implement in their lives is relative to execution, dedication, patience, commitment, resilience, and remembering how you add value.

You are now a business. You have to do the work of a business whether you like it or not. The health of any business is how good it is at getting new customers, and keeping/growing existing ones. Applying this to a smaller freelancing/consultant scale is doable and quite beneficial to review regularly.

My advice would be to find opportunities where you add the highest value, and seek some sort of a monthly retainer that is affordable for the customer and meaningful for you x10.

Once there is stability, there is an opportunity to pursue prosperity. Too many people try to thrive before learning to survive, and actually make more money than they need to use for growth. It's the single biggest important lesson for business and startups.

In case 'tptacek and 'patio11 don't find this thread, please read two of these comments about freelancing and bill rates:



Simply put, don't waste your time on oDesk clients; instead, try to find companies willing to pay $800 - $1600 per day (or $4000 - $8000 per week) for your time to develop widgets that solve real business needs. (US currencies used here.)

Also, the monthly HN freelancing thread is a great place to start.


Interesting parallel, as I freelanced from September 2014 to the start of this year. I also experienced significant difficulty in finding clients, yet I ended up doing fantastic, well-paying client work - without even looking for it.

The secret is code mentoring. I mentor for Bloc, Thinkful, and Codementor. Mentoring puts you in regular contact with all kinds of people who have a need to understand software. Inevitably, you'll intersect with people whose needs are more geared towards having a product than knowing exactly how to make it. It also helps that you'll be forced to work on your English and you'll make money from mentoring regardless, so you can stay afloat longer while you seek higher-value contracts.

With regards to the three platforms I mentioned, I highly recommend all three, although they are all very different. Bloc pays mentors a fixed weekly rate depending on number of students and their course length (shorter = more work = more sessions = more pay). Thinkful pays an hourly rate which also applies towards reviewing student projects and helping out on message boards. Codementor lets users and mentors set up long term schedules although to me it's more of a place I go to if I need help with a framework or concept I haven't worked with enough to figure it out on my own. I don't hang out on Codementor too much but when I do (and set my status to 'available for session') I'll get various messages, sometimes from multiple people in one day. The downside there is you need to spend your first free five minutes (generally expected and built into their system) proving you know what you're talking about to a person and a codebase you've never seen before, but I've never frozen up in the past, so it's not too bad.

All in all, each have their strengths and their weaknesses. Look into all three and cast a wide net. Although I'm in a great position now with client work, it took me months to get there, half the time waiting for the right student-turned-client to show up, other half waiting for the details to be hashed out before I can begin proper work.

Good luck.

This is a really cool lead funnel that I'd never thought of. I'll have to take a look at these.

edit: Just took a quick look and it is interesting to me that none of these seem to have mentors for the heavier 'corporate' languages like java or C#. Do you know of any mentoring sites for those?

Weiting from Codementor here - actually we do have mentors for Java / C#

https://www.codementor.io/java-experts https://www.codementor.io/c_sharp-experts

Let us know how we can be helpful!

Cool, thanks. I will look into signing up.

No, but if you're interested in starting one, there's a startup idea ;)

If it's only been a few months, certainly it's great to seek advice, but possibly your expectation of instant success was just too optimistic? Things take time..

Thanks, this is the comment I was expecting :) no that is bad.

My first plan is to be consistent, but I prefer to be more proactive, freelancing is new to me. I leave a job that even it was not interesting for me it was stable, with the certain that I'm capable to learn what is necessary to improve myself.

If I'm being to optimistic about the time it will take? probably, I think we all feel that the first days of a year put you in a revision state, and I want to start well.

This. Patience.


You need to work very hard to acquire your first 10-20 real clients. Clients who are less than 1/20th of your annual income are not clients, they are customers.

Do whatever you need to to get these clients. Craigslist eLance, back alley deals, etc. Once you have them, you will keep getting new clients as long as you do good work, do a bit of basic marketing (the same kind of stupid simple SEO you would sell a client), and communicate well.

Once you have more work than you know what to do with, slowly start raising your rates, maybe $10-15 dollars per hour per year (don't raise rates every other month you'll look like a wingnut).

> my clients just contact me to small short projects, I want it to change

What type of work are you looking for? Part of the problem is you're using freelance sites that have tiny gigs and force you to work within their platform.

I don't want to be a shill, but I can't help it: my friends and I run https://gun.io - we vet freelance clients on your behalf (to have budgets above $10k~ and be serious, etc). After you're introduced, you're free to work w/ that person forever, however you think is best.

Gun.io seems neat. I've yet to receive a notification for a project that seems up my alley yet though, so I can't really vouch for it.

If you are on a freelance platform, don't sell yourself as a coder, sell yourself as a problem solver. Some freelancer sell them as the professional who reduces your website page loading time, or the guy who is pretty good at building real estate site. Find a niche. Show to the people you can help them to improve their business. Most of your potential clients have no idea what Ansible or Docker are.

The number one way I have obtained good freelance projects is through friends who are primarily artists. They want to do art, hate to code, and are happy to call me when they come across something bigger and more complicated than they can handle (weeding out the $40 and $100 jobs).

Also - Ansible and Docker are... neat. I see/use/talk about these a lot during the day in the big corp world. However, I've never had a freelance client need either. What they generally need is help customizing off the shelf CMS/CRM/POS systems or creating custom replacements.

They also seem to have language/platform preferences from lots of hearsay (nothing solidly informed). Being able to work in their language/platform of choice (despite if its a good choice) has helped me land a lot of work. So I'd keep boning up on your english, and learn the ins and outs of all the major programming languages .net, Java, PHP (yes PHP!), and most of the major Database systems.

I have to imagine that if you do all that and it doesn't work out at least you'll be set for another corporate gig.

Freelance is all about your network of clients. It takes a long time to build and maintain a solid client base and you need to know how to sell yourself.

You're going to get mostly small "testing the water" type projects with new clients if you aren't very established yet. If you're any good, after a while these clients will continue to hire you for larger and larger gigs, and some will refer you to other, better, clients. Keep building the relationships and eventually you'll have a solid foundation of steady clients.

A tip I give to new freelance devs - try to work with boutique design / marketing / interactive agencies. They pay less than tech cos but will continue to give you interesting challenges and generally have lots of work and referrals. Great way to build a client portfolio early on. When I was starting out and didn't have clients I compiled a list of small agencies and sent each a cold intro email.

(Sometimes I hire devs for projects. Feel free to reach out, the website on my profile has a contact email.)

One thing I've found helpful over the years is mixing free and paid work. You can use them as a ratchet to work your way up the mountain of your career. In my experience you usually get paid to do what you don't love and you usually don't get paid to do what you do love. So if there's an area you're interested in you may need to do some free work there - an open source library, or offering your time free/cheap to prove yourself or learn. If all goes well, you have something in your portfolio you can point to and say - "I can do that" and some people you worked with who will vouch for you. It's a slow process and requires you to know what you want. Bottom line, if there's an area you're interested in and don't have experience there, you need to spend effort figuring out how to get experience there.

Thanks for your comments, I want to reply all but it's taking me time. First some facts.

I live and work remotely from Bolivia, work in Odesk and I mainly a Wordpress/PHP Developer but I have experience with Django and Sysadmin.

I will reply all the comments, I'm feeling better emotionally reading your ideas, and yea Probably I'm being optimistic.


Where are you located? Do you want to work remote or locally?

Bolivia. And I'm looking for remote work.

Thank you. I probably have a job for you, if you want to talk this over send me an email please (email in profile).

I mailed you back, make sure to check your spam folder, it wouldn't be the first time my email ends up in there.

I'm of the belief that earlier on, it is better to work for companies fulltime since there is a better chance that they would be more willing to give the opportunity for developers to learn new tech on the job.

My own experience is that I tend to get siloed into AngularJS projects since my Angular knowledge & productivity is nearly impossible for companies to find. However, I have leveraged it to get some backend experience in languages like Java and some Android experience.

There is a danger in freelancing - companies tend to hire freelancers/contractors to do work quickly. This means that they tend to be biased towards candidates who know the tech and can work quickly.

Going full-time first could work, but it can also turn into a trap (speaking from experience). Bronze handcuffs, if you will.

For someone starting in full time but looking to go freelance later, I recommend:

* Spending well below your means. I can "afford" my mortgage, taken out when I got my first full-time job, but I presently can't afford to not have the full-time job.

* Take small jobs early and often. No job-finding method seems to work better, for everyone involve, than word of mouth, and that network takes time to build up. I'm hampered by own lack of a freelance-specific network.

* Check out the Homework podcast (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/home-work/id513251648?mt...). One of the hosts makes his living as a freelancer.

Try yourself in opensource. Write beautiful code, create useful projects, help others and you will grow your network. It's really hard to find good developer these days, so if you're good - prove it by doing something amazing. Good luck.

Responding to the title only ... I know how you feel.



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