By Jay Raj

7 Tips for Landing Your First Client as a Freelance Developer

By Jay Raj

If you’re a software developer, you’ve probably felt at least a twinge of envy when talking to your friends who have switched to freelancing.

As a freelance developer, you can earn more than you would in a full-time job.

You also have the freedom to be your own boss and enjoy flexible work times and many more perks.

But it’s a bad idea to quit your job and strike out on your own if you don’t yet have a stable client base.

And to build that client list, you first need to get noticed.

The following are 7 tips that will help you get some attention as a freelance web developer, grab a few projects and begin to build your reputation.

1. Build an online portfolio

One thing a client looks for in a potential freelancer is whether you’ll be able to deliver. If you’re new to freelancing, there’s a 90% chance you’ll lose out on projects to a more experienced freelancer. After all, clients are spending a lot of money on their projects, and they want every penny to count.

Occasionally, though, a prospective client doesn’t just choose the most experience freelancer, but instead spends the time to review the profiles of other freelancers who offered to work at a lower rate.

Now you have a chance to convince the client that you are worth a try.

To make a great impression with the client, you need to have a convincing portfolio.

By portfolio, I don’t mean one with a lot of showy graphics and design. Good portfolios use a simple design and show off the best work you have done. If you have worked on some big projects at your daily job, put up some screen shots and a description of the project.

Don’t brag too much–just be clear and to the point.

The tips that follow will include some additional items that you can include in your portfolio.

2. Work for free

Beginning freelancers face a tough dilemma: To get projects, you need to have a reputation based on projects you’ve already completed. But since you’re starting from zero, you have no projects and no reputation.

So how do you start to build your reputation?

When you find yourself in this position, your main objective should be building your reputation, rather than getting paid. This will help you gain some experience, make some new contacts and begin to build your portfolio.

But how do you grab a “charity project”? Here are some effective approaches:

  • Get in touch with startup companies–preferably ones not related to software–and offer to build them a website or write some utility software. Since they’re not dealing in software, there’s a good chance they’ll welcome your services.
  • Check with local organizations and see if they are looking for any software development services that you can offer.
  • Communicate with your friends and family. Nowadays, every small business is going online. Your existing network can likely get you in touch with someone looking for the services you offer.
  • Create a neatly designed business e-card with your name on it and email it all your contacts. Let them know that you’ll be offering your freelance services at a discounted price for a limited period.

3. Get testimonials, then flaunt them

Recommendations play a major role in getting business. You’re more likely to hire a mechanic recommended by a friend than one you saw in a newspaper advertisement.

Testimonials can give your reputation as a freelancer a major boost. After you complete a project, make it a point to get a testimonial from your client.

When you’re adding testimonials to your portfolio, be sure to include the client’s name and company. It makes a difference, especially if prospective clients have heard of the clients or companies you list.

All testimonials are not equal. Detailed, results-focused testimonials leave a lasting impression and work better than vague praise.

When you contact clients for testimonials, ask them for feedback based on numbers. Or at least ask them to be more specific in their feedback.

Here’s an example of a testimonial that’s overly vague:

“Working with XYZ was a great experience.”

And here’s one that’s more concrete:

“XYX helped to increase our profit margin by 30% this quarter. “

Testimonials can be crucial for freelancers. So don’t forget to include testimonials received from charity projects in your portfolio.

4. Contribute articles/tutorials to other sites

The best way to gain authority in your field is through writing.

I didn’t know it when I started out, but writing AngularJS tutorials for SitePoint would later help me bag my first freelance project. Writing articles/tutorials for a well known website like SitePoint can give you a lot of exposure. And the best part is, you even get paid for it.

Once you’ve published some articles, include links to the best ones in your online portfolio.

5. Spread the word and market yourself

Marketing plays an important role when it comes to landing projects. You need to make yourself known in places where you are likely to find potential clients.

You can meet clients both online and offline, and you should have a strategy for both.

When meeting a potential client in person, maintain a casual and friendly tone. A potential client is more likely to hire you if you can connect with him or her personally, so avoid being overly formal.

If the person doesn’t seem interested in working with you right now, transition the conversation into a personal chat. Get to know them a bit and build a good, friendly relationship. Be sure to follow up with the prospect later and keep him in the loop, in case he requires your expertise in future.

Blogging is one tool that allows you to establish a presence online. Blog about your area of expertise and show off your best work samples.

You can also take part in online discussions related to your area of expertise. Interact and engage with people by answering questions on forums and sites like StackOverflow.

6. Attend meetups

Social connection can have a drastic impact on your career growth. The more well connected you are, the more likely you are to get projects.

But how can you get better connected?

While social networking sites can be a great way to interact with people and to make new connections, I would suggest that you start the old fashioned way. Having a leisure chat with someone over a cup of coffee helps parties understand the other better, and it can help you leave a lasting impression.

Attending technical meetups is another excellent way to interact with people and promote yourself. Meetups give you a chance to share your knowledge as well as learn new things from fellow attendees.

7. Contribute to open source projects

While many potential clients don’t have a software development background, others do, and these clients prefer freelancers with quality experience. Working on an open source project is an excellent way to establish your credibility with clients like these.

Contributing to open source projects gives you an advantage over other freelancers. And it’s not difficult to do, although it can be confusing when you’re getting started.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Look for projects that are relatively young but seem to be gaining popularity. Newer projects have fewer lines of code and less complexity than more mature projects.
  • Once you’ve selected a project, look through the project’s issues list, then pick a small bug and try to fix it.
  • Or start a project of your own. Create a hobby project or utility and open source it on GitHub. If it appeals to other developers, they’ll request new features or updates, and now your project is growing.

Be sure to mention your open source achievements in your portfolio!

Success builds on success

To succeed as a freelancer, you need a expertise, a good portfolio and a strong network. Fortunately, you can get started without these assets and build them up over time.

As you go, always look for ways to turn your successes into lasting advantages that will help you get more business in the future.

Have you gone freelance? Share your best tips in the comments!

  • Work for free ?

    Haha :)

    This is the worst thing a freelancer can ever do.

    Make your own projects… Open Source them. Don’t work for free! Ever, no matter what!

    • Jay

      @danielgheorghe:disqus But doing some charity projects, initially, to build a portfolio and to get a heads up won’t really hurt in the long run :)

      • Randy_A

        Doing websites for free actually does work rather well for someone just starting out. There are quite a few benefits that can come from it, and not only just the notch on the belt your portfolio receives. Insist that a link to your personal portfolio/design website stay in the footer, and also host the site for them and things can in fact work out quite well for you. For example, if you host the site for them, charge for hosting at or above standard charge. This allows you to do just a few websites in the same manner, yet have enough money to upgrade to a server that can handle a crap ton of websites. When your next clients pay you for hosting, you instead get to pocket the money on an annual basis. How much would you pay to be able to insist that a link to your web design company stays on a particular website of choice for life? If you are smart about the sites you do for free, it’s basically just like paying for an advertisement slot, which can be quite expensive. So… be wise about the site you do for free, and you’ll find yourself getting a link into the public eye that you choose. How much would it cost to run a facebook ad for 10 years straight? Who knows… but with adblocker plus, who even really cares!!! Get the point? I’d strongly disagree Daniel.

      • Still don’t agree. But of course I respect your opinion. Cheers

      • amit d

        I agree with @Jay:disqus, working for free initially helps to build a portfolio and assists in getting future projects at a good amount.

    • Matt West

      I’d have to agree with this. Build a mock project or do open source work, but if you do work for a client, get paid. I landed my first freelance client without a webpage, experience or a business card. I just attended a local small business meet, offered my services, and a very reasonable price. (I think it was $350 for a four page site.) I completed the site, collected my fee and got a referral for another client. My next bid was for $3000.

      If you’re going to be in business you have to know how to sell! Luckily the basics of it are pretty simple. Offer a product, gauge if someone is interested, talk with them a bit about it, and then close (ie, tell them the price.) You’ll either get a sale or you’ll move on, just understand that if someone rejects your offer they aren’t rejecting you personally, and try to leave the door open to work with them in the future.

      I ran my own business for 14 years. Honestly, my biggest tips for success are:

      1) If someone is looking for what you do, make sure they can find you online
      2) Answer the phone or return phone calls / emails prompty
      3) Have a great attitude and be friendly. Remember people’s names.
      4) Do quality work, on time, without drama.
      5) Charge what you’re worth and don’t apologize for your prices. It should be a no-brainer to charge as much as you can get away with. Why not? Anything else is more work for no increase in revenue.
      6) Don’t be afraid to pay other people to help you, so long as you are still profitable at the end of the day
      7) Don’t waste a lot of time on sales. Each sale will take a certain amount of time, and this is longer depending on how much money you are charging, Don’t take any more time than necessary. Get to the close and close.

  • The testimonial example is spot on. Showing them how you made a difference is a big deal. Also, meetups are a great place to meet other developers, learn, share and generate business. Very cool article :)

    • Jay

      Thnks for the feedback @vinayraghu:disqus

  • Nag

    Thanks for the Information Mr.Jay .
    Plain and Simple.Points you mentioned are very helpful to a person,who want to start his freelance career.Please post links to articles,any blog’s related to Freelancing How to and Where to start?
    Thanks in Advance :)

  • Thankyou @disqus_CR7gPIRJpz:disqus

    Right Advice at Right time for me.
    These tips really help me to boost my freelancing career.


  • Manuel Ruiz

    Thank you very much Jay for your advices.

  • any career is rewarding if one excels at the skill: baking, motivational
    speaking, hair cutting, engineering.. anything at all – but only if one’s heart is in it.

  • Manvir Kaur

    Thanks for this article Jay:-) Right article at the right time. I am just starting my freelancing career & will be considering your suggestions.

  • arvind

    thanks jay i like your ideas.
    visit me

    its my own IT company and looking for some projects.

  • Rajaram Sahasranaman

    Thanks Jay for the post. Excellent tips. I am about to start freelancing, so looking for best ways to do it. This is definitely a good guideline for me..Thank you.

  • Nice points, point 2 is controversial (working for free), but I at my company OjbLabs use this and have been getting some success. Basically I do the first sample project for free. My learning from running software consulting firm is you have to work as hard as offline as you do online to make it succeed.

  • shoroMario

    Thanks for the tips. I can work for free only for a friend/family never for a company., and Im pretty sure that an online portfolio is one of the keys.

  • Americo Chaquisse

    Nice post.

    Thank you

  • Nice informative article for those who are starting their own freelancing business.

  • Aqeel Al-Abadi

    I have have taken several courses in C and Matlab and since two days I have started to learn web-development from the ground to be a freelancer as well as to make my own website.

    I spend at least 3 hours daily to learn and practice ( youtube tutorial then I apply what I learn through several ways like using code academy . ( is this enough?)

    any additional tip will be great. I also want to say that I like the ideas here in these comments. As a result I got an idea to make a website for one of my relative to help him with his business and I think I will start build it in as I move in to be my result of time spent on learning new ideas.

    thank you all for the ideas here

  • Ramu

    Thank you Jay. Very helpful tips to grow in the Market.


    Great Interesting tips.Started freelancing a couple of days ago. I find your tips very useful.

    Thank you.

    • beginner

      did you learn from courses or online sites ? i would like to learn programming online

  • kirti joshi

    very nice aricle…..thank u

  • Richard Williams

    Great tutorial, wish I would have read this about a year or two ago. Perhaps you can do a tutorial on how to fix a botched deal and repair your reputation. I made a lot of deal mistakes with my last client – which was also my first client.

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