7 Tips for Landing Your First Client as a Freelance Developer

Jay Raj
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!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Landing Your First Client as a Freelance Developer

How can I build a strong portfolio as a freelance developer?

Building a strong portfolio is crucial for a freelance developer. It showcases your skills, experience, and expertise to potential clients. Start by working on personal projects or contributing to open-source projects. These projects will give you practical experience and tangible proof of your abilities. Include a variety of projects that demonstrate your range of skills. Make sure to provide a detailed description of each project, highlighting the challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Also, include the technologies and tools you used. Remember, your portfolio is a reflection of your work, so keep it updated and professional.

How can I set competitive rates for my services?

Setting competitive rates is a balancing act. You want to price your services high enough to reflect your skills and experience, but not so high that you scare away potential clients. Start by researching what other freelance developers with similar skills and experience are charging. Websites like Upwork and Fiverr can give you a general idea. Consider your overhead costs, the complexity of the project, and the value you’re providing to the client. Remember, your rates can always be adjusted as you gain more experience and skills.

How can I find potential clients?

Finding potential clients is often the most challenging part of freelancing. Start by networking both online and offline. Join online communities and forums where potential clients may hang out. Attend industry events and meetups. Use social media platforms like LinkedIn to connect with potential clients. You can also use freelance job boards and platforms like Upwork and Fiverr to find job postings. Remember, finding clients takes time and persistence, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t land a client right away.

How can I effectively communicate with clients?

Effective communication is key to a successful freelance career. Be clear and concise in your communication. Make sure you understand the client’s needs and expectations before starting a project. Use tools like email, video conferencing, and project management software to stay in touch with your clients. Regularly update your clients on the progress of the project. Remember, good communication builds trust and can lead to long-term relationships with clients.

How can I manage my time effectively as a freelance developer?

Time management is crucial for a freelance developer. Start by setting clear goals and priorities. Use tools like calendars, to-do lists, and project management software to stay organized. Break down large projects into smaller, manageable tasks. Set aside specific times for work, breaks, and personal time. Avoid multitasking as it can lead to mistakes and burnout. Remember, effective time management can increase your productivity and reduce stress.

How can I handle client feedback and revisions?

Handling client feedback and revisions is part of the job as a freelance developer. Be open to feedback and willing to make revisions. Understand that feedback is not a criticism of your skills, but a way to improve the project. Always maintain a professional attitude when dealing with feedback. If you disagree with a client’s feedback, explain your perspective politely and professionally. Remember, handling feedback well can lead to satisfied clients and repeat business.

How can I stay updated with the latest technologies and trends?

Staying updated with the latest technologies and trends is crucial for a freelance developer. Follow industry blogs, podcasts, and newsletters. Attend webinars, workshops, and conferences. Take online courses and tutorials to learn new skills. Join online communities and forums where you can learn from other developers. Remember, continuous learning is key to staying competitive in the fast-paced world of technology.

How can I handle the financial aspects of freelancing?

Handling the financial aspects of freelancing can be challenging. Start by setting a budget and tracking your expenses. Use accounting software to manage your invoices and payments. Set aside money for taxes, insurance, and retirement. Consider hiring a financial advisor or accountant to help you with financial planning. Remember, good financial management can ensure the sustainability of your freelance career.

How can I deal with the uncertainty and instability of freelancing?

Dealing with the uncertainty and instability of freelancing can be stressful. Start by building a financial cushion to cover your expenses during slow periods. Diversify your client base to reduce dependence on a single client. Keep your skills and portfolio updated to stay competitive. Consider joining a freelancer’s union or association for support and resources. Remember, while freelancing can be unstable, it also offers flexibility and independence.

How can I maintain a healthy work-life balance as a freelance developer?

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for a freelance developer. Set clear boundaries between work and personal time. Take regular breaks and make time for hobbies and relaxation. Stay physically active and maintain a healthy diet. Use tools and techniques like mindfulness and meditation to manage stress. Remember, a healthy work-life balance can improve your productivity and overall well-being.