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Ask HN: How do you find freelance/contract gigs?
275 points by eatonphil on Jan 18, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 107 comments
I am a full-time software developer looking for extra income. I spend a lot of time "cold-emailing" local businesses and messaging other companies who are actually looking for applicants. The result is always the same: "we are not looking for freelancers/contractors right now".

I have also used freelance sites before (unsuccessfully) like ODesk and Elance, and I have really hated how they work. It seems like all freelancing on those sites is a price war. I am confident about my skill-set and I'm not worried about not being able to deliver, but the way bidding is organized on these sites feels really demeaning.

So ultimately, my question for HN is how do YOU find or establish new freelance/sub-contracting/contracting gigs? Should I just deal with my annoyance at ODesk/Elance or are there methods I'm missing? Thanks!

I have been on my own for 15 years. I bill around 150/hr give or take 20% depending on the situation. Most of the work is Microsoft stack web related but mobile apps and api building has been steadily increasing for a several years now to the point that probably 20% of my 2014 revenue was in that space.

50-60% of my revenue is sub-contracting. I have a few firms that often take on projects that they are not suited for or do not want to increase staff to cover and they often sub out all or parts of the project to me. These relationships were built through networking with other developers who worked for these companies - never the bosses per se. Meet other devs and when the company needs help, they remember and recommend. In my experience this kind of introduction is about 5x as fertile as a cold intro.

Roughly 30% of my revenue is from direct relationships between myself and another company. These tend to merit a higher rate but also increased risk.

Very few of my direct relationships start from cold calling/intro (not sure if any ever did actually); most came via word of mouth recommendations of other people. Networking at the right kinds of events can also increase your profile and help you meet the right people.

ProTip: Networking at networking events is a terrible idea.

Lacking a sales force the best pseudo sales force you can create are acquaintances who understand your skill set and respect you as a person. They don't need to see your work, they don't need to have hired you before - to drop your name to someone who asks. They need to know your name, what you do and have a generally good feeling about you. If you pay them back for this, even with a simple thank you or lunch - they will continue to be an advocate for you.

Another tip which probably falls into the anecdotal evidence category - get off of ODesk and ELance. You are right about the price war. Your name and value to people also gets damaged because you seem to be just another guy among thousands who need to find work that way - it is a 'dime a dozen' mentality and they will always see you as that.

+1 for subcontracting for a larger consulting agency. Almost always, the stressful parts of a project revolve around the client relationship and overhead(time which is generally unbilled), and not around the actual work. If you go it alone you own all that. If you subcontract on a signed project you can skip this. On top of that you'll be part of a larger group all striving to get the job done for the client. This is great for two reasons. First, someone else will handle parts of the project you aren't skilled in. Second, if unforeseen circumstances arise that require you to leave the project, you won't leave the client high and dry.

If you can be a regular subcontractor for a larger agency, that IMO is generally the ideal situation.

The price war on Elance is real, but sticking to project based pricing and being in a not too competitive field may help. I made a simple dataviz of the top elance skills in the programming field: http://www.datamaplab.com/posts/the-top-itprogramming-skills... It is impressive to see how competitive some skills are with hundreds of freelancers for a listed skill per corresponding open jobs.

How exactly do you 'network' at these events. Do you just introduce yourself and sort of talk, have a business card that you give, or how's it go?

Just wondering from someone who's never been to any type of event, so I've never had to really do any networking

Instead of "networking" just try to make friends. It's basically the same thing.

Think of it as onboarding a user. How do you present yourself? How do you stand out and how do you help certain businesses? Have an online experience that the business card acts as a "key" to. I personally like to make personalized business cards and then customize the experience, eg:


Could you elaborate on what you mean by "right kind of events"?

Not the parent, but I'd recommend subject/language meetups, conferences, etc. mailing lists, and other things in that vein. Basically, wherever people that are highly accomplished and talented in the area that you [want to] work in hang out together and discuss new ideas. Then try to be a regular and constructive participant to the extent that you can.

User group meetings, startup weekend, hack-a-thons, give camps etc. Things focused on technology and technology solutions, not events that attract sales people or people looking to hop jobs.

I go to 8-15 hackathons/year. But maybe it is Atlanta's ecosystem or my lack of telling people about what I do, but I am have yet to get a lot of client work out of winning these types of events. I think winning def helps my portfolio, but I haven't seen much in cultivating relationships.

Do you have any advice on how to leverage these experiences more?

Dont win, (or don't compete); just contribute. Be an asset.

Remember, most people in jobs will be threatened by a strong and assertive leader - they want someone they can control and extract value from, not someone who might take their job. Understand and embrace that fear and position yourself to handle it.

Keith, 150$/hr sounds great. I wonder where these rates are common? I've started on oDesk and doing pretty good in oDesk's standards I think, but it's still only third of your rate.

It took me several years, when I was part time (my first two years) I think I was billing about 40. When I jumped to full time I went to 75 and over a year or two slid it up to 85. I got a call about 10 years ago for a weekend gig doing some perf tuning on a web app and they offered me 150/hr, asked if that was sufficient (It was a large company, they were used to big firm rates). I just about died trying to contain my glee and not be to emphatic with the yes I gave them.

From that point I started negotiations out around 125 or more depending on the client. The whole thing gave me confidence that people would pay more for my skills. Funny, I probably only made 4K that weekend all told, but in a sense I made hundreds of thousands because it taught me to charge more. Only a couple times since then has someone dismissed the idea of hiring me because of rates.

Honest truth: I have been in this range for too long, I worried back when the economy tanked in 2008 that I would have to cut rates but it never really happened. Time to start raising them so new engagements I am now quoting a higher rate.

Quick question: I've been on my own for a couple of years now at a lower rate but I landed a six month contract and managed to save about $20,000. Unfortunately I spent that on living expenses over the next year after it ended because I am not so good at the business end (leads, billing etc).

So my question is (actually two) how do you stay consistently busy and up to date on hours? Also have you managed to save (or are there lean periods) and if so, would you consider hiring out/subcontracting? I've considered becoming a client on oDesk/eLance and taking more of a team lead role. I guess that's three questions.

I have been lucky, in 15 years I have been without work for probably a grand total of less than 6 months and the longest period was probably only 3 weeks. Often times it is not a complete lack of work but more a situation where one project ends today but my next one does not start until the week after next. Usually not enough time to squeeze in something else so I fiddle around learning stuff and take time off.

I dont think there is a secret recipe for staying busy other than the very basic truths. Meet and make friends with other people in your space and be a good person. Be on time, work hard, be honest and fair, respect people. Even if you fail people will give you lots of latitude if they personally like you.

I sub out work on occasion and have tried things at a few different levels. I have hired people off ELance and ODesk (which almost never works out); hired people I was introduced to and hired people off of CraigsList. In all of that certain truths remain, people who cost more money usually do that because they are better. Mostly at this point I hire other people like myself that have been at this for a long time and bill about what I do. I worry less about their work. In fact where possible I just bring them into a deal and let them work directly with my client. That way I am not in the middle of anything, I dont deal with money etc. Since I am not really trying to be a big firm making money off of people, skimming 15-20% off the top is just not worth the risks that come with it. Everyone is happier this way. I sometimes get asked if I worry that the person I bring in may steal my business and while the thought does cross my mind it is not the right thing to worry about. If that happens then I have to question what I was doing wrong that the client felt better using the other person more than me.

Thanks for answering. Sounds like you are working solo. Have you ever considered building a company? I guess that you had, now I wonder why you didn't go that route? I'm aware of the obvious things, like being a family man and running a company is a trade off. But still I'm interested to hear your considerations.

At one point, just before I jumped full solo I ran the dev shop of a web design firm. I had 13 guys working for me. I was not happy.

I am a creator at heart, I get joy out of making things. When you try to grow a company you are trading technology problems and challenges for a different set of problems that revolve around financing, sales, HR issues, people management etc and somewhere in all of that, the part I love - writing code and solving hard problems, gets lost.

There is also this period of change you have to go through monetarily. Right now I make really good money doing something I enjoy. To bring on others I end up for some time making less money for the hope that in the future I make more money. Truth be told, it may take quite some time to get back to my current income in this model and during that period there is risk. All things considered I am too happy to try and change it.

That said, I am considering different avenues. Consulting ebbs and flows, there are good projects and bad projects and the fact I can't make something I truly love, something I think is masterful, is weighing on me. Right now I am doing some work in commercial real estate and what I am building makes my client happy but it does not realize my vision for it. The truth is it never will because my vision is my own unique manifestation of what I believe it could and should be - and that vision does not align with my clients business goals (or their budget!).

Finding the right startup to build, something I am deeply passionate about, something I felt I was put on this earth to do is my next big career step. The problem is I have lots of ideas that may even make for good businesses but that spark of passion has not yet been there on any of those ideas.

I was weighting myself on these same thoughts for a while now. There could be another option - you could maybe start a part time opensource project/s.

If your in any need of an extra Microsoft Stack developer, please reach out. cheetahtec attt gmail.com 10+ years of experience here with .NET and Mobile.

As a junior developer I'm really interested in this answer.

If you convert salaries to hourly rates, the greater portion of us (outside SF/NY) make between $35-$70/hour.

How did you get to such exorbitant rates? Is your work very uncommon, or require an extremely refined skill set? Or is just "I charge whatever I want because I know they'll pay it"?

Just wanted to chip in that $150 is not exorbitant, because of your latter reason: people can and do pay it all the time.

$150 an hour can be quite reasonable, given the right situation. For starters, if a regular employee makes $50 an hour, they are really costing the company more like $100 an hour when you add in benefits, taxes, insurance, and other perk costs. So $150 for a subject matter expert on short notice is not a stretch at all.

But more importantly, do a cost/benefits analysis. Let's say there's an important project coming up, and you lack the internal expertise. Let's say it could be done in 3 months by an expert you know. Now, 3 months of $150/hr is $72k, which seems like a lot, but if your alternatives are 1) spending 6 weeks trying to hire an expert and hoping they agree to a low salary, 2) spending a month training internal people to do it, and then having them do a novice job at it, or 3) missing a crucial business opportunity that could easily run in the millions... you get the idea.

Anyway, the moral of the story is, learn enough tech to get the job done, learn the business realities of your industry, and then charge what you are worth to the company.

What would you classify as the right kinds of events, and what as networking events?

Lots of networking events are focused on sales or marketing, they attract lots of people looking for work or looking to switch jobs. Often times they are not advertised as 'networking events' specifically, but if the primary point of being there is to meet other people then it is a networking event. Even if there is some guest speaker or something, you will be able to tell why everyone is there.

User group meetings are the flip side of that, while some people are there to meet others, most come to learn something and their motives pivots around that point.

People who are looking for jobs or work, are rarely you ally in finding more work for yourself.

Odesk and elance are very competitive market places from developers in Asia, Eastern Europe. These are good if you are looking for developers to outsource work to. It was mentioned in a recent Reddit AMA See http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/2shhgj/iama_25_year_ol...

I'm trying to figure out a way to be fair to the person in the AMA which is consistent with my own sense of entitlement. Damn.

Pro tip: when people say "build a network," they really mean "make friends in your and related industries." Like, actual friends: people you go out for drinks with and enjoy talking to. The trust you build, as friends, will lead to work.

Normally you meet these people in unexpected ways. Just today I was offered a potential job from a girl I met while auditioning apartments. I've also gotten jobs from people I've met on dating websites, on the train at 2am coming home from a party, and on unrelated online forums.

Leave the house, keep an open mind, be friendly.

Network, network, network. Referrals are the prime driver of business for many, if not most, freelancers. When you get a client and have done good work, ask them "what three other people do you know who could use my services?"...things like that. Don't be afraid to ask for it. Get out of the home office and attend events and conferences. Start meeting people and ASK for their business. Don't be shy about it.

Also, don't expect much from cold emails. It's way too impersonal. Telephone calls are only slightly better, but in-person events are by far the best. Your goal should be to MEET as many people in-person as possible.

I do business pretty exclusively through referrals in my network. Every now and again someone will find me through my site, but I do 0 outbound marketing/sales. Caveat: if I were consulting full-time, I would be doing content marketing and have an autoresponder series.

Actionable tip #1: whenever you do work for someone, be sure to get a testimonial. If possible, do a full case-study on your engagement. Feature these prominently on your site. Then, just keep in touch with everyone you do business with. DON'T directly ask for referrals. Just ask how their business is doing. Make it about them. They'll remember this and like you for it, and you'll be at the front of their mind when the topic of consultants comes up.

Actionable tip #2: read this blog post by Patrick McKenzie, the man's advice is pure gold. http://www.kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-pro...

Build your network and nurture it. Then, after a while it will come along nicely. I run my business in the field of chemical properties, fluid phase equilibria, so really a niche market, but every year, I send a card to all my contacts in the field (100+ cards) and I try to write a personal note for each person. I takes time, but it now a kind of tradition I do not want to break (started for 2008). On the back of the card, I have a link to a summary of my year and what is coming next. 80% of my contracts are coming after such card.

Front of my 2015 card:


I use Moo to print the cards, quality is great and service excellent. This is a referral link, just remove the /share... if you do not want to follow the referral.


Could you elaborate on the "summary of my year and what is coming next" please? How do you make it relevant and interesting to clients, eg if your contracts tend to involve disparate kinds of work? Or is this possible because you operate in such a niche area? Thanks. Will follow the referral.

In my case, I am really in a niche market, so it is pretty easy. But even if you are let say in general iOS App development you can find the commonalities in your work which can help others in the future.

Let say you created a nice messaging system for an App, you then explain that this expertise can be reused from messaging between people on a human disaster zone but also when people are meeting to run a "catch the flag" game in your area.

Here is for example my link at the back I sent this year: http://ceondo.com/2015

Nothing crazy, the real thing is really, you sent a letter, a real one, you tried to wrote a small note reminding the contact about a good time together or wishing success in the area he is working (be just specific enough so he knows it is not a "I write the same on all the cards" note) and simply try to be nice.

I've been contracting for 4 years. I have received 1 job via my website. The rest have been through contacts, primarily through people I previously worked for when I was a full time employee. I've got a few through people I know from cycling. Cycling is apparently the new golf. http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2013/04/business-net...

I find events and conferences to not be much use, unless they are very specific to your industry.

There are a few services now that scour dozens of sites around the web for freelance dev jobs, haven't tried one yet but have considered: https://freelanceinbox.com





my concern with these services is finding clients online is tough and I think you are competing with other online and probably cheaper devs.

I run a medium-sized digital agency that started as side work that my co-founder and I basically fell into. We ran our business on the side for about a year before going full-time. I would advocate stepping back and asking what you're really looking for out of the time you have and proceeding carefully.

Selling software development services as an individual is extremely risky, especially if you are selling services to buyers who are not tech-savvy. It takes patience and energy, and software developers have a finite amount of these resources.

Serious consulting generally requires daytime availability. It's a slippery slope from "side hustle" to "leading a double life." If extra income is what you're after, is it an option to change jobs for better pay, or to get more income from your day job?

One bit of advice if you stick with this plan: you can make the sideline nature of the contract work a benefit in your clients' eyes if you set your rates at a level where they feel like they're getting a good deal compared to what you'd be charging if you worked full-time as a consultant. You can also mitigate the cost to your performance at your day job if you consult on a different technology than you use at work.

But if your day job is in professional services, I strongly recommend against contracting on the side. If it's all you do, work-for-hire will slowly kill you.

I get most of my leads from either:

* My website. I rank reasonably well in Google for search phrases such as "Freelance Developer in $mycity". Probably if I blogged I would get more traffic. But it doesn't hurt to get a website going, and see if you can get ranked in Google for a particular geographic area. I suppose it's only really useful if you live in a city large enough that businesses are trying to find developers in via Google.

Also I've found that the people who do search Google for developers in a geographic area, are generally doing this because they want someone local, and have often previously tried offshore developers and not liked the results.

* LinkedIn / Github / Stackoverflow - occasionally I get leads from these sites. LinkedIn is easily the best of the three. I don't think you even need many connections on LinkedIn (I've only got 60). I think I just show up in the search results. Usually LinkedIn you will get recruiters looking to fill a contract job. Github/Stackoverflow are usually other developers from a company looking for someone to help out on a project.

I'm a bit disappointed in Stackoveflow Careers - I've never had a lead from there, which is odd.

* Referrals. This is probably the best way to get work - it would be hard if you were young and just starting out I guess. I've found that now and then clients will mention you to other potential clients, and it does kind of snowball a bit once you've worked for enough people.

Don't contract as a contractor to businesses that are programming themselves. Build things for businesses that will be the end user. Most of these types of businesses have less of a notion of how to go about getting tools that will help their business in the first place and it can be a hard sell unless they have an immediate need. Sometimes you have to really learn about the specifics of how the business functions and this can be a pain. But once you build a few small accounting apps that export to CSV or inventory management tools specific to the business...stuff of that nature, you have a good point to take off from and examples to show. You do have to deliver though... a finished product, not just code. But I stay pretty busy like this.

Just to expand a bit... here are a few things I have built over the past several years (part time now... I have a full time job)...

-A load builder, temporary placement scheme creator, and shipping router for a large cattle feedlot in the Midwest (my brother got me this job, while I was working on it a building maintenance man came by, asked about it, told his wife who did data entry for a crop harvesting company and I got the gig below)...

-A ticket management and payment system for a crop harvesting company. The original application was in Access, and was slow and clumsy and full of bugs leading to bad payments at times. I re-wrote it using SQL, python and web interface, and host it for the company. Now they can use the application when they are out doing remote harvests (they harvest grains etc. in 4 or 5 states). The owner was pleased and recommended me to a milk producing co-op (below).

-Milk production and payment calculation for a 15 dairy co-op. Working on this right now weekends and evenings (I have a full time job). This is a complicated application that takes a number of factors (amount of Butterfat, government fuel prices, amount of bacteria etc.) and calculates payment due to individual dairies. The original app is in Lotus Approach and it's been a struggle getting everything out and finding how it all fits together (the person who made the original application passed away). In fact, I should be working on it right now instead of playing on HN. But Lotus Approach is no fun. At all.

Not sexy.. but good side work that fills a real need. There are lots of companies that could use an update, or have very specific needs they can't fill with off the shelf software. And they generally don't have a clue about how to fill that need.

I agree with what you say and in the long run one should be looking to work directly for end user but a balance should be maintained b/w the two. It is easier to convince the software businesses of your usefulness while convincing the end user will take much more effort.

One other benifit of working for the end user is that in many cases you end up being paid for maintaining (for example being a server admin for a web app) the application you wrote for them. This can be a nice source of recurring income.

A lot of businesses that do programming don't have expertise in certain areas and sometimes projects need to be rescued. It really depends on what kind of work you want, but I find dealing with businesses that employ programmers nice because you can get to work more quickly and the work tends to be more interesting & challenging.

I did contracting for over 2 years. All my contracts were through a referral from my network.

I never had to do cold-emails.

I live in the Bay Area though where there are a lot of companies looking for somebody to build their Android app.

What's great with the network though is that I never had to negotiate rates since there's already some trust established.

Those who found me through LinkedIn though seem to negotiate a lot with rates which can be a pain.

So the question becomes, "How do you find a good network/agency?", which is what I'm thinking about currently. Maybe it's not very hard?

Years of work. I networked my ass off for years. Hackathons, developer meetups, etc.

I probably would have had trouble finding projects if I decided to do contracting when I moved to the Bay Area right away.

For my first few projects, my rate was really low. It was meant to help friends out and get to work on high-profile projects. Some of the companies I have worked for ended up doing YC or raising seed/VC money.

Not to hijack someone else's thread or anything, but if folks have a line on a site that pairs 'people who need *nix-based system administration/automation/devops-anything' with 'system administrators/automaters/devops engineers' and could post it, I would be deeply grateful.

If you mean for a short advice/discussion, then something like https://www.airpair.com/ might be worth looking at.

I mean everything from "our pre-existing Puppet manifest had its owner leave the company 6 months ago and no one here knows how to refactor it to work with Widget X" (a day or three's worth of work) to "we've given devs the keys to our AWS account six months ago, and our burn rate ballooned to $600k/mo. Please optimize our AWS environments to what we really need, lock down the Wild West our development team created, and maybe spiff up our automation a bit so it's more hands-off and/or make it so we don't have to memorize IP addresses for everything" (N months to a year of work, depending). I will definitely check out AirPair though, thanks for the link!

I have been moonlighting/contracting on the side for a couple years now: http://www.featlabs.com

I drum up work by:

* Posting myself on the Monthly HN Whois hiring Freelancers thread (1st of month)

* http://www.authenticjobs.com/

* Attending and doing talks at meetups - got a recent retainer from doing this.

* Old contacts pinging me about projects (rare)

Odesk and Elance, IMHO, are not worth my time. It is a race to the bottom honestly.

I get at least 3 hits a month from my HN posting of which one is solid enough to move forward with in some fashion. Since its part time I dont need more than two clients at a time.

I've had some success on elance. The trick is to be extremely selective about who you will talk to. Also, refuse to compete on price. The good clients will see the difference; if they're comparing you against a large firm, you will be competitive on price even if you're making a reasonable hourly rate.

Lately I'm starting to think that both of these points apply to freelancing/contracting whether it's online or through some other channel.

Also, build a decent portfolio of your work.

I run workshop (a service mentioned already: http://letsworkshop.com that delivers freelance consulting opportunities)

I've seen this question come up a lot and its part of the reason I started workshop. For me emailing companies who specifically said they were looking was great because I was able to control it directly.

Since starting workshop I've helped hundred of freelancers make a lot of money, but some continue to make nothing. It mostly has to do with the emails they send and a few big common mistakes:

-- emails too long -- blab on about themselves -- obviously scripted -- don't propose a next step

It's easy to focus on the wrong things. "What's the Best job board?" "There's not my exact perfect match" "there's not enough opportunities"

But if you focus on emailing one person everyday that needs help, and write an email focused on their problem and not you, you CAN and WILL make a lot of money.

I've seen it with hundreds in your position

I have mailed atleast a dozen people with visible PHP errors on their website and a convincing reason that I am capable of helping them out but never got a response. Is there anything else you suggest that might work?

The PHP errors may not be enough on their own to convince them that there's a problem worth fixing.

You need to tie those errors to business problems/benefits. A client may not know / care what a php error does to their site unless they know that it's losing them money, conversions, visitors, etc.

I almost entirely use my network to get jobs - if you possibly can, build a personal network, because that network will start referring you to people as an expert. This will allow you to rapidly increase the price of your services. I know this is difficult to get started - but whatever you do to get your first few jobs, make those people into contacts and over deliver.

As a side note: anyone doing freelancing that is struggling with the tax part of it, would love to get your feedback on http://painless1099.com - a smart bank account for your 1099 income that does automatic withholding and helps make your tax situation more like that of a W2's. Product is deep in development by some awesome folks (I'm advising) and they still need more sophisticated eyes on it to get the alpha right.

This is very interesting! I work for Hired (Hired.com - check it out) here in SF and am leading our efforts in launching our Contract Category. I'd be more than happy to help with painless1099.com, great idea! I would also love to get your perspective on several things. Let me know if you are up for chatting sometime?

What's your email? Let's connect man.

Some companies (in the Netherlands) don't want to deal directly with freelancers, for legal reasons. Also, they don't want to bother looking for developers themselves, while at the same time they are not interested in providing developers with any permanent positions. Usually they use a middle man to find appropriate developers for a fixed fee. Such a middle man might be able to provide you with several clients you'd not be able to contact yourself directly.

Some headhunters don't mind dealing with freelancers either. Currently I'm freelancing through Computer Futures.

I am in a similar situation to the OP and I'd like to thank you for all your valuable sharings.

For me, it seems obvious that referals are the best way to attract new clients, but there are times when you just don't have them. I agree with most of the comments about freelance sites not being worth the effort, but I want to contribute with my perpective on cold-emailing or cold-anything.

Although I don't have much experience, I found very usefull an advice from the blog of inboundsales.net: the people you contact when you do cold-something are regarded as "suspects" (everyone in your target market). As such, they will not be receptive to invasive sales messages, but they will value your knowledge and will appreciate any great content you are able to share with them, like infographics, non-demo videos, interesting articles about their problems, etc. Then, if they take action, they become "prospects", and so on. It is a kind of science, not easy for us computer geeks. I am starting with this in mind and hope it yields good results.

Referrals, and some gigs found me after I wrote some technical articles. I have not done any cold calling and I have not used any freelancer sites. If you're good then it's a bad idea to participate in a lemons market. It's much better to start from a position where you don't have to convince your client that you are capable of delivering value.

When I consulted I also offered training on different technologies, languages, etc. Training itself is not very lucrative, but it's great for lead generation.

Also, I'm surprised that no one has mentioned this yet, post in the HN Freelance thread on the first of every month. I've hired a number of freelancers from there.

I've been a 'Contractor' since 2012 and I haven't gotten thrown out of my hose for non-payment of rent so I guess I am doing good.

First off:

There really is no good 'job' site for Contracts. There are a lot of 'Work From Home/Work Remotely' sites; but there is not one for contracting exactly.

What I do:

I network through people I know; cold calling can work if you see the company has a problem and you tailor yourself as the fix. But often those are short term gigs unless they love you.

Other than that.

Don't be afraid to post yourself on the monthly who's hiring and who wants to get hired. Making yourself visible will net a few responses that maybe gold.

Lastly, Stackoverflow Careers job has bene helpful.

Really last comment: http://thenubbyadmin.com/2014/01/20/best-list-of-remote-sysa...

Networking and being known as the go-to guy for something many people need. For me it's been social media and apps, I've worked with startups and interactive agencies and seen it all. It often helps to give a free consultation and send in your own proposal to be paid corp-to-corp, then hire people to help you. It helps even more to have a small shop with a portfolio and be listed prominently for that particular technology.

If you want to go to the next level, create an open source project or start a blog, to get a reputation. The more people hear about you the more some of them will convert to potential customers, increasing ambient demand.

Look at Yehuda Katz with Ember for instance, or the guy Bob who wrote nvd3. Having a niche that can help businesses improve their bottom line pays very well.

I've found that other programmers are one of the best places to get your first few gigs from. The best programmers are too swamped to take on extra work, and many are eager to refer rejected clients on to someone they can make a solid recommendation for.

So I would personally try to network with some well-known, talented folks in your own community and let them know you're looking. If they trust you and are good, you'll likely get referrals.

From there, if you treat your clients well and do good work, freelance will find you. You'll quickly find yourself having to say "no" to too much work. Word of mouth is a very powerful referral source when it comes to contract work. It can also work against you very powerfully if you don't do a good job or screw anyone over.

I've used Peopleperhour.com to build my career. It has a good community and isn't a "php-farm" like the other freelance sites (though it has been going downhill a bit lately). I still would highly recommend it but you will need a good profile before you start getting jobs. Though, once I did have a good profile, potential clients kept inviting me to bid to all sorts of jobs, so it's not hard to get good income out of it once you get started.

I don't use it much anymore since I found a full-time job, but it kept me in great shape for almost four years.

Below is an affiliate link if you're OK with it.


No doubt, the best freelance gigs are the result of close, pre-existing relationships. Easier said than done tho if you're just getting your start.

Try using the sites mentioned within the thread - pickcrew, gun.io, etc. - these sites generally have higher-priced contracts and more interesting work than the classic variants. Use these sites at first to discover what work you like and build long-terms relationships with a few key clients.

1. Remember that the comms overhead with freelance work can be really lumpy and unpredictable. Programming is the fun part - the phone calls and emails can get painful really quickly

2. Avoid hourly pricing whenever possible. Do value-based pricing. Just trust me on this one.

Hey tejay!

My name is Matt Pierce and I work for Hired here in SF. (Check out hired.com) I am leading our efforts in building out our Contract Category. I would love to chat with you if you are available over the next couple of weeks? I specifically have questions about the value based pricing vs. hourly, etc. I know the guys over at gun.io and we actually just chatted about the same topic. Would love to get your perspective. Let me know if/when you are free?


it is really good advices, and do some open-source projects at githup, sourceforge, or other open source sites, it will make you more competitive, especially have a long-term project of your own, sites like gun.io, will look for it.

I became a freelancer shortly after graduating college. Though sites like Elance/Odesk/Freelancer.com(GetAFreelancer back then) provided me a platform to start with, it didn't take long before the cutthroat prices made it unsustainable.

The answer, which has been mentioned already by other commenters, is network. You need a great network and a great reputation. The real question is how do you build a great network? And how do you build a great reputation? As an introvert geek with only a drop of marketing prowess in my DNA, I struggled about the same questions.

One way I built my network is through Open Source Communities. Joomla! was just forked out of Mambo back then and there was an opportunity to participate in the then small community. So I joined the community, made friends with the right people, and I made a living out of building Joomla! Extensions. I also participated in other OS communities like Django, Kohana, and many others. The more I participated, the more my connection and reputation grows. The flow of projects from the connections I got from those communities allowed me to survive, and also thrive, which enabled be to build my own web development company (https://www.wizmedia.net).

I think that marketplace sites like oDesk/Elance/99designs/TaskRabbit etc are horrible place to be in for creative people particularly programmers and designers. I've been looking for alternative places to go to but didn't find any that is fair for both Clients and Freelancers. So it became an idea for my Startup that I'm building right now. That is Creatizens - http://www.creatizens.com. It's still under development, but you can read more about it here https://angel.co/creatizens. The idea is based on the fact that the most profitable freelancers get their projects from their professional network - mostly from colleagues who has overflow projects, or ex-coworker whose company needs contractors. I don't want to talk too much about it since I'm bordering on spammy so I leave it at that.


https://angel.co/jobs has given me results. You can filter by "Remote OK" and the job position, also subscribe to email notifications for that filter.

Mostly my gigs tend to find me. A recruiter calls me, and if I'm available (rarely), I discuss details and rate, go talk with the client, and sign a contract. This does make me very dependent on recruiters, and some recruiters are absolute scum, but there are also some good ones. My CV is out there on Linkedin, Monster, etc, and people apparently know how to find me. It's the lazy way to freelancing, I guess, it works for me. At €70/hr I'm apparently a bit cheaper than some other people here, but it's still better than what a lot of my salaried friends make.

Avoid eLance and oDesk. You're positioning yourself on the low-end of the market just by being on the site. Network locally and get to know entrepreneurs in your area. Reaching out to other dev shops can also be a great way to get consistent contract work. Don't underestimate the value of remote clients either. Services like letsworkshop.com send out quality remote web development opportunities. They're not perfect, but they can be well worth the cost. iOSLeads.com and AndroidLeads.net are a couple of services I started for mobile devs. Happy to answer any questions.

I've been contracting for about 3 years now, one I found via StackOverflow Careers, and the other was via a co-working space.

I think the general consensus here is right. Avoid finding jobs on contractor bidding sites like Elance/Odesk (they're devaluing your work/skills). Put yourself in positions where you can tell people about your skills/services, and where people might be looking for said skills. I'd start with tech meetups, co-working spaces, other places where people you might want to work with are. Good luck!

I'm late to the game here, but I'll chime in. There is a general consensus here that networking is the fastest path to that first dollar, and I agree.

The freelance marketplace is a big reason I created 3cosystem[1] - the biggest and most comprehensive tech and startup event calendar.

See if your metro area is listed. There are certainly a number of events popping up around you. Show up early and talk to the organizers. They might mention you in their pre-game presentations.

[1] - http://www.3cosystem.com

Thanks this is super useful :)

in my experience, if you can grab a couple of not-too-underpriced gigs on a freelancing website (my preference is PeoplePerHour as it's less price-war-y) and can get a few regular clients from that, they'll be more happy to pay a reasonable fee for a reliable and familiar developer. Bear in mind that there are a LOT of unreliable and flaky developers on these sites so once you've proven your value to someone they'll be more likely to pay higher rates to retain you.

This has been asked a few times over the years. Look over the HN search results for some ideas. https://hn.algolia.com/?q=how+do+you+find+freelance#!/story/...

(This is not to say it's not a question worth asking again! I look forward to today's responses.)

You can look over the HN search results too: http://hnpaper.forge.partlab.io/search?q=how+freelance+find

What kind of software do you build? How much do you charge? Are you willing to work on legacy code bases?

As a hiring manager, I currently have an availability to hire a freelancer. I just need someone responsible, mature and professional who's willing to roll up their sleeves and go from "receiving requirements" to shipping and thoroughly testing.

What are the details of your project? What language/frameworks are used? how legacy is legacy? Does the code base have any tests already? Remote work acceptable? Length of contract? Scope of work?

Adult content site. PHP5.2 and JavaScript. Un-shelving code from 2012. There are a few test classes. Remote work is acceptable. Work is ongoing. Work involves building features, bug fixing and interaction with vendor APIs. Work requires familiarity with Apache.

Among other things, I have experience maintaining and improving "older" PHP; contact me at john.reeve.medai@gmail.com if you're looking for a developer.

Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

Technical details of permanent failure: The email account that you tried to reach does not exist. Please try double-checking the recipient's email address for typos or unnecessary spaces. Learn more at http://support.google.com/mail/bin/answer.py?answer=6596

He typo'd media, looks like.

Yeesh, probably shouldn't work with that guy :(

That's what I get for posting while distracted. Thank you for the correction.

Thanks for the tip.

If you are still searching, them I'm the guy for you! Can you contact me with some more details at hn(at)anty(dot)at please?

Thanks, Andreas

Still searching. Sent an email. Thanks

What level of skill did you have in Web Dev before you started freelancing(to freelancers in general)?

Depends on what type of company you're working for and what type of work you do. In general, the bar for journeyman programmer is "Given a rough description of a system that the client wants to have, you're capable of reducing two pages of text and a few sketches into a system which actually exists in computer code, is successfully deployed into the target organization, and more-or-less meets their needs as expressed to you." You do not get tripped up by junior engineer foibles like "I don't know how to deploy this", "Those requirements are ambiguous", "I need cooperation from X and I'm not getting it so I have accomplished nothing since being blocked on that", etc.

http://www.topcoder.com - apart from the algorithm competitions that it is known for, it also has "challenges" where you compete with other participants and work on building applications.

One way to network is to go to job interviews. Be open about the fact that you're mostly interested in contracting and maybe you'll consider joining after a time (which is true in my case - there's a lot of overhead in contracting).

Simply have a blog, post cool stuff, and clients find you not the other way around.

Easy to say that when you can post things like "This is how I hacked Github".

Talk to small recruitment/staffing companies in your area to drum up some clients. Best part is they do the collections and handle the sales. You just set the rate.

Normally via recruitment agency's they quite often have perm and contract teams.

Are you near any major cities you can attend conferences of major industries?

A great place to start is posting something on the find a freelancer thread here on HN every first of the month. I get a fair number of inquiries from that.

As others have mentioned, meeting people and letting them know what you do. Most of these will not be direct clients. Rather they will either know of someone who is seeking help, or will remember your name.

It can take some time to get your name out and get the ball rolling. When I started up again, it took about two months. When you talk to someone, you never know how long it will take to turn into something. I have had conversations with clients that took 6 months to come to fruition. Others in just a week. The moral of that story is to always be looking, not just when you need work. Get in the habit of always saying yes, and then just manage your availability.

There is a spectrum of the kind of work you can do. I don't mean which language/platform. I mean straight staff augmentation to managing projects. It is easier to find the staff augmentation gigs. These are easier since someone will just be telling you what to work on, and you do it. You will make less for these and this sort of work doesn't scale as well. I would only ever do this for straight a straight hourly rate.

Managing projects doesn't mean you will (necessarily) be managing people, just managing the project. With this, someone needs something built, but may not know how. It requires an additional skill set of knowing a bit of sales, knowing how to set/re-set expectations and how to negotiate. You can get a much higher rate for this, and it is possible to scale this a bit better because you can sub out some of the work.

Another thing you will run into very quickly is how to structure the relationship. There are people out there who are incompetent and others who are nefarious. It is important to know how to protect yourself legally and practically for both. For the legal aspect, find a local attorney who can look over contracts and help you craft a reusable template. Always have an attorney look over contracts before you sign. Most of the time someone gives you a contract to sign, it will be written to be in their best interests. Other times, they will just be poorly written.

For the practical aspect, understand there is a difference between working with someone in-state, out-of-state and out of country. You have the most legal recourse with someone in-state. If they are out-of-state, you may have to go there to pursue any legal action. (which is a massive pain) If they are out of country you may not have any legal recourse. So you will want to structure the business relationship to protect yourself, which might be as simple as half of the estimate up-front. The remainder on completion, and they get no code until it is complete.

A lot of times I structure it by milestone or iteration, with time limits, requiring permission to continue, but all billed hourly. Each iteration or milestone delivers something tangible. They get code on payment. This way I get paid for the work I do, and they won't get unexpected costs and they always have a pretty good idea where things are. Risk is mitigated in both directions. At any point, they can decide to pull the plug and they still have something for what they've paid so far.

It is not uncommon for potential clients to ask for fixed-bids. My advice is to steer away from them. They require you to be able to make good estimates then inflate them to cover your risk. That risk is all on you. They also require you to have tight definitions and manage scope changes mercilessly. If you don't, then you eat it. That said, some people like them because they're really easy.

Some other pieces of advice:

* You're not dedicated to a particular project until either they've given you a deposit, or something is set up legally so that if you start working, you'll get paid.

* Generally ask for a deposit from new clients.

* It is ok to drop bad clients. Sometimes they're not worth the trouble.

* Think about it in terms of collecting/building long term relationships rather than "work". Once you get an established base of good clients, the work will tend to come to you.

* Remember, you're not their friend and not their employee. You are in it because it is a business relationship that has mutual benefit.

* Keep good records of time, expenses and income.

Email me at curtis [at] saltydogtechnology [dot] com if you have more questions. What sort of work are you looking for?

curtis makes some excellent points about the whole concept of freelancing and how to make real long term work by bringing real value to your customers. These will generally not argue on price since they understand and see the value that the price is getting them (either increased income or decrease cost). With that said, I personally would not think recommend the paid hourly work even with the structure of milestones. I have experimented with both hourly and fixed bid (as well as spent a couple of years working in business to understand their view point) and here is what I have found out from my own experiences (which should not be generalized of course):

* sometimes (read quite often in my experience) a high value solution to a client takes you a very little amount of time if you bill hourly you sell yourself short against the only measure that matters for your clients and that is how much value did this project bring me

* Hourly billing tends to make clients cut projects before the actual objective of the project is achieved so that they can save cost and what this means to you is that for this client (and anyone they talk to) the project was a- a failure and b- not completed by you

* Hourly billing allows you to choose to be lazy. What this means is that you will not take the time to assess the project and its scope because heck your are being paid by the hour and if you are lazy you get in trouble

* Clients need to assess risk to reward ratio of any project they take (just like you should) an open ended project is not a good thing for them. Without a cost it is difficult to assess whether a project ROI is useful.

Now with the above said there are times when billing by the hour is the only course of action. In my experience these are as follows: * Old clients that have learned that you bring high value who want to grow their business strategically and want you to add iterations to them. These you can bill by the hour because there will be alot of time set aside discussing strategy and building for future and changing things. The key here is that they know you are worth it. * New clients where are referred to you who do not know what they want. This is when a client can not tell you really why they want the project or what is its success metric. I usually stay clear of this unless I am sold on what the vision is since it is difficult to define success.

Warning however must be said you have to stand your ground when it comes to fixed bids scope. You can change scope a bit if a new change takes out an old one but you have to be firm. In my experience a fixed bid project without a defined metric of success is doomed to cost you more then its worth.

Thanks for your reply. I hear what you're saying about hourly, and completely agree with your points -- if it is hourly without structure.

The difference is I treat each milestone/iteration as a small project, requiring assesment, scoping and client buy-off (A change order to the contract, along with an estimate). If they want time limits before continuing past x number hours, I'm fine with that too.

I see the advantages are:

* Lower risk to me because the price is not fixed

* Lower customer risk because they see progress and can adjust as the project unfolds.

* Lower cost to them -- they don't pay extra to cover my risk.

* The client has more control since they can make course corrections along the way.

* Regular client touch-points are built in - they get more visibility, I can adjust expectations

* Scope changes just mean more billable hours

The feedback I've gotten is they like the flexibility, and are often more willing to say yes because of reduced risk.

Gun.io is pretty good, IMO. I'd stay away from odesk and elance.

Much love :)

I tried atleast 10 times via Gun.io but was unable to find any work through it. I might not be a suitable for the job but I never received any update on my submission. I also tried sending emails to Gun.io team but got no response from them

really really sorry about that - can you email me at teja@gun.io when you get a chance?

Thanks. Just sent you an email.

I might be able to hire you. Email me your stack, u/n @ gmail.

Check your local contracting agencies

Craigslist (Yes!)

MY STRATEGY works somewhat? but is old and dusty. old and dusty warning and YMWV - mileage will vary.

-1.) It has nothing to do with your willpower or even your skillsets.

0.) the key strategy is rule out - some big companies, even stingy and the case of CIO chef info officer is clueless - AVOID THEM like the plague. U get a great job. affter change of bosses - once every 9 months for 3 years; you get 'fired' and put on the blacklist.


1.) it's all about MBA work, screening and positioning. get to know the rankings of the S&P 500 rank listing well. this is ONLY a template and guide. oh by the way, over 51 + 7 years of experience; various fields, and some odd experiences.

4.) before I get to the GOOD SEXY FREE MILLIONAIRE STUFF, figure out how to crash the local conferences/convensions. Yes, pay off the low part time work who moved goods. I am a substitute.

get the business card. say NADADADA! research the hell out of them. then it is mano a mano. eyeball to eyeball. i know u need this. this is what your competitors know here a ANONYMOUS QUOTE.

oh, no i am not a journalist. media, lawyer, stranger, etc etc. U R DOING THEM A FAVOR.

5.) ask reasonable questions. no i dont need the money but i really love programming / s?redacted? x, etc etc

6.) remember the obscure system engineer who does unix or the assoc vp does not want a referral free. Grass is always greener on the other side.

7.) it's just me but five dimensional programming code on an origama (YES I AM ASIAN) ORIGAMA ball /can be be fun. and a nice prop. wave it around like a big CIGAR.

8.) most of the workplace have the 'hacks'; unix engineers like i former trying to become a database engineer consult etc. cold mail and cold call - is fine, but the wall street method rule applies - 250 dials a day. 4 days a wekk on various times. wt ???? 250??? is a lot. note - this is dials and yes i have done freelance 'boiler room similar looking like work' - i am not a stock broker film db BOILER ROOM !! yeahhhh baaaabbyy

9.) the MEAT the millionaire the sexy the GOOD STUFF. please delete this comment. or the censors may take it out. ok with me.

here it is...... the Rotary Club works on a non-compete, diversified P2P network. ROTARY CLUB. non-compete since only one real estate agent in any one circle.

THE SCENARIO: my good 'friend' and associate REAL ESTATE AGENT or fill in blank spends a lot of time in the WOMAN CLUB. So, the wife of the VP of the data center mentions how ASTOUNDING is this person.

the VP, is a man married and will give you at least a courtesy interview. Provide value, turn down 20% of the jobs.. shadddde the truth???? but

i have read at least 20 of the top books. compiled linux kernel,blah blah learn a new language Haskell with succky books so the problems are NEVER technical or delivery.

it has only to do with some clueless CIOsss who barely passed certification Micosoft exams. sorry, no person offense meant. IT HAS ONLY at least in USA, to do with some system engineer who WANTS U DESPERATELY but has a outsource contract with a guy who cannot understand code comments in ENGLISH or deal with HR where talent TALENT talent is a priority.

and of course, U are DOOMED. sorry to say. the extra income and part time jobs / health benefits / DESTRUCTION OF THE USA MIDDLE CLASS continues!

PS. full time -?? been there, done tthat kinda. i always allocate at least 10% to make boss look good; frills and bells; make the code look pretty and beautiful; and othher WORTHLESS GARBAGE. this is called the hidden tax.

also, 20% for learning and at least finding HOLES IN THE COMPANY SOFTWARE. logic flaws, security flaws, bad code, bad process, bad procedures, bad SQL, bad db architecture,

warninggg! this can be dangerous. doing the job of the cluelesss CIO chief inof officer can lead to BLACKLIST.

does tthzyat help?

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