Freelance programming can be fun, rewarding, and financially freeing. Successful freelancers can set their hours, work when they want, and often pick and choose the projects they do.
But, all this freedom and flexibility comes with a price.
You need to know how to promote yourself, make connections, generate business, and sell your services. A successful freelance programmer can’t just be a great programmer. They need to know how to bring in business and generate real value.
Many people want to open up a side gig as a freelancer or desire the freedom of a full-time freelance career but don’t really know how to start. So, in this article, I’d like to introduce you to 8 essential steps to promoting yourself as a freelance programmer.
Step 1: Decide who you want to work with.
Who is your ideal client? Do you want to do web design for small businesses? Are you interested in focusing on specific types of business like accountants or plumbers? Do you want to do cybersecurity consulting with companies that collect sensitive customer data?
You can work as a specialist with larger companies or a generalist supporting small businesses. You can specialize in different industries, skills, programming techniques, and languages.
Create a customer profile that gives the information for the type of business you want to work with. This profile includes important demographic information (business type, # of employees, where it’s located, etc.) but also helps you define the work you want to do.
Many freelancers make the mistake of accepting any and all business that comes their way. Who wants to turn down a paycheck, right?
Taking on projects that fall outside your zone of competency just to get the paycheck can lead to endless frustration as projects become harder than you expect and angry clients when you deliver a final product that doesn’t meet their expectations.
Decide right from the start what types of projects you can do and only work with the clients that meet these requirements. It will save you time, effort, and money.
Don’t fall into the trap of chasing anything or any client that could potentially pay you. You’ll end up working on projects that don’t match your skills and working with the wrong type of clients and not only you can be unhappy with the situation you may also hurt your reputation.
Step 2: Discover what they need most
Once you know who you want to work with, it’s time to get into their head and discover what they NEED and WANT. Businesses hire freelancers for two broad reasons:
- Freelancers bring skills they don’t have internally.
- Freelancers can accomplish critical tasks for the company without requiring all the formality of employment.
A freelancer has a different relationship with a business than an employee. Employees work on a broader range of things waiting for work to be assigned to them, while freelancers are typically more specialized, called in to do something specific.
You need to get inside the head of your ideal client.
- What struggles do they have?
- What issues do they need to solve?
- How can you solve frustrating technical issues?
These are the things you can help a company with as a freelancer.
Maybe you know a specific language that unlocks an essential functionality in their database management. You might have experience creating APIs that connect different programs, and a company needs you to help them integrate legacy software systems.
Maybe their website is outdated, and their online ordering is broken.
Your ticket into working with a company all comes down to whether you have skills they don’t.
As a freelancer, your #1 priority is to generate value by solving their problems efficiently and effectively. Tweet this
Step 3: Stand out from the crowd
Success as a freelancer requires that you bring something unique to the table when they hire you. There are a lot of freelance web developers, database builders, Blockchain programmers, and cybersecurity analysts. If you want to stand out from the crowd, do something different.
There are all kinds of ways you can be different.
- Combining different skills that most people don’t have
- Structuring your services in a way that other freelancers don’t use
- Offering bonuses and add-ons to your work that other freelancers don’t think about.
Think creatively about how you can bring new and different skills into working with your clients.
To stand out as a freelance developer , you must do things in a slightly different way. Don’t try to copy everyone else, charging what they charge and offering the same services.
Step out and do something different.
Step 4: Build a great portfolio website.
This is especially true if you want to freelance as a web developer or designer. But, because websites involve programming, a portfolio website often becomes a digital CV or resume. Elsewhere, I’ve written about the things to include in your portfolio site , so I won’t go into detail here. A portfolio website where you can give examples of your work, demonstrate your skills, and share testimonials from past clients is essential.
Step 5: Build relationships
Build relationships with potential clients, other freelancers, and important people in the industries and businesses that make up your potential client pool. Of course, we are talking about networking , but it’s more than getting your name and face in front of potential clients and hoping to score a quick gig.
Freelancers who focus on building good and long-term relationships with key people generate more work from those relationships and those they know. But, the people in your network need to experience a real connection with you beyond the possibility of paying you.
Developing and maintaining relationships with these people can take time. But, it’s an investment that pays off in the long run. But, always remember, if it’s a real relationship, it’s always about more than money. The client needs to know that you do care about them as more than a potential paycheck.
Good relationships make everything you do as a freelancer easier.
Step 6: Learn how to sell
Selling is scary. You’ll be nervous the first time you have to look someone in the eye and tell them how much something will cost. There’s no getting around it. However, a freelancer must be comfortable selling their services.
There are a million books that you can buy about selling. They’ll give you tactics for closing deals, advice for pitching your services, and motivation to go out there and do it. By all means, get them. There are some great resources out there. But, selling your products and services isn’t all about making and closing a “sales pitch.”
Sales is ultimately always about service. It’s about providing a valuable service to someone in exchange for a fair price. So, when you know the value of your services, the reasonable market price for your work, and are confident in your ability to agree on the project’s scope and deliver it when and how you promise, sales become much simpler.
Ultimately, you can’t learn coding by watching tutorials. You have to sit down and write code to understand how it works. Selling your services as a freelancer is the same. Read books and pick up tips. But there’s no substitute for getting out there and doing it.
Step 7: provide customized solutions
When you’ve closed your first sale and have your first client, it’s time to deliver the project. However, many programming gigs will not go exactly according to plan. How you handle a project when things don’t go as expected will often make the difference between a satisfied and unsatisfied client.
Especially as a new freelancer, but preferably as a standard way of doing business, make a habit of over-delivering.
- Go one step beyond the agreement to make sure you surprise and wow the client.
- If things get complicated and there are unexpected obstacles, maybe you do a little extra work without additional charge.
- You could create documentation to support and explain to someone in the company how to work with a software solution you built.
- You could even deliver it early.
The work you agree to do, and the timeline you agree to do it in, is the minimum baseline of your job. Your goal shouldn’t be to deliver the minimum. Your goal should be to find ways to surprise and impress the client with the results of your work.
Step 8: Collect testimonials
The best evidence of your work is real testimonials from satisfied clients. Never be afraid to ask for a recommendation or testimonial after a well-done job. If you’ve done everything we’ve discussed in this article, most clients will be happy to return the favor by giving you a recommendation or testimonial.
You can put these on your portfolio site, give them out if a potential client asks for examples of past client work, and display them proudly.
Step 9: Wash rinse repeat
Becoming a successful freelancer requires learning skills you may not currently have. Some of these skills, like sales, might initially be very intimidating. Other things, like finding ways to stand out from other freelancers, might require some creative thinking.
The payoff is extra income and a side-gig or maybe even a full-time career as a freelancer. The freedom and flexibility you get from this is something that many developers envy.
These 8 steps will help you get there, providing a framework and a pathway toward success and a fulfilling programming career as a freelancer!