Guide To Freelancing

Turbo 360

Freelancing as a software engineer requires a blend of skills that extends well beyond just coding. Presenting yourself, branding, finding leads, closing deals, managing clients, negotiating rates, building a steady pipeline - all of these elements are non-coding based yet are incredibly important for freelance engineers (or "contractors" or "consultants"). In this series, we deeply explore the concrete steps needed to break into the software industry as a contractor and maintain a growing client base. Topics include:

• Types of freelancing
• Portfolio Preparation and Branding
• Finding Leads
• Negotiating and Setting Rates
• Building a Pipeline

Throughout the series, we show ACTUAL examples of contract assignments that were secured from start to finish. We also explain key negotiating strategies and how to maximize your hourly rate. This series is an absolute must for software developers who are considering freelance and need to learn more about the business side of it.

Choosing a Path

Introduction - 0:00
Within the concept of “Freelancing”, there are a variety of paths available for you to take. For many people, identifying a path and proceeding with confidence, knowing that it’s the path for you is the first major obstacle. That’s to say nothing of the actual work involved thereafter. Beginning now, Beginning now, Dan introduces his own start-up project: Turbo360. He’s been a freelance engineer in New York City since 2012 after a couple years teaching high school math. We then introduce the learning tracts and take a brief overview of the selection criteria you’ll use to choose the one that’s right for you.

Breaking into the Market as a Freelance Engineer - 3:30
Here, we introduce two primary tracts: Standard and Startup, then compare and contrast those particular markets in the context of modern web development. Each has different goals, requires different skill sets and rewards individuals along separate pay scales, all of which are important to understand as you decide what is right for you.

Standard Path - 5:45
We call this the “Standard” track because it tends to involve functions people most readily associate with web development. With this business, you can produce a higher volume of projects to build up a steady stream of recurring income, as many people have successfully done since the inception of the internet. Here, however, you’ll learn to compete with the most modern tools available.

Startup Path - 9:15
We call this the “Startup” track because it’s a “boutique” business in which you produce a lower overall volume of highly customized projects. It’s fast-paced, but you’ll learn to use the most cutting edge technologies in the most cut-throat market in the world. Here Dan explains from experience, as this was the track he’s primarily worked on.

Looking Back - 16:00
Dan reflects on his career to this point and discusses how he might have changed his approach knowing then what he knows now. There are benefits to each track that aren’t obvious at first, so this discussion takes in many of the pros and cons beginners won’t be able to assess without the benefit of someone else’s hindsight.

Pitfalls to Avoid - 20:00
It’s important to realize why we consider these tracts to be distinct and elaborate on some of the pitfalls we continue to see from those who fail to fully grasp those distinctions. Beginning developers often squander their own time and the goodwill of their early clients by falling into a number of common pitfalls. We discuss those here.

Portfolio Preparation

Introduction - 0:00
In Part 2 of this series, we’ll discuss some of the steps you’ll need to take in order to make it as a contract developer, in either of the two tracts which we’ve previously discussed. This discussion covers the strategies you’ll use to market yourself and the skills you’ll need to demonstrate to prospective clients.

Build Working Projects - 2:05
Regardless of tract, you need to build working, deployed projects. We discuss this from the client’s perspective, which is often that of a non-developer. Code repositories are valuable tools, but alone, they aren’t enough. You need a couple of projects that showcase a good breadth of skill, covering the type of work you’d like to win. Also, make sure to take the time to build solutions to problems that are widespread enough for you to monetize. At the same time, we ways to display more specialized aspects of your skillset.

Appearance Matters - 6:45
We discuss the importance of seeing things, always, from the perspective of your prospective client. Appearance matters more than many beginner-level developers realize. We expand on this discussion further as it will be the running theme in this video, including real life, recent examples. We further revisit previous discussions on common pitfalls, including failure of purpose in conflating these two tracts.

Sample Portfolio - 12:49
Here, Dan curates a few of the live, deployed sample applications built on the Turbo360 platform. We highlight aspects that might stand out to prospective clients in order for you to visualize the concepts we’ve discussed. One important piece of the narrative that’s easy to miss is managing your portfolio as you begin to work, to ensure that you’ve always got work to show new prospects, independent of the success (or, often, failure) of your existing clientbase. Another important takeaway is to always be in sales mode.

Managing Your Business - 21:18
As important as your portfolio is, it’s also critical that you build out non-code tools and aspects of your business, things like your sales pitch. Have engagement letters for each part of your business ready to be customized quickly. That way, once you close your sale, it turns right into a written agreement and you can begin work with confidence.

Online Resume - 27:01
Everyone needs an online resume. It’s an easy project to build and is something every prospective employer will at least need to have a look at as part of their due diligence. Make it clean and easy by posting it online and show off your accumulation of skills. We also discuss ways to judge the efficacy of your outreach by response rate. It’s important to always maintain an accessible and professional image.

Finding Leads

Introduction - 0:00
We start with a brief introduction, revisiting past subjects before diving into this video. In the first video, we discussed some of the choices you’ll need to make in deciding what kind of business you wish to pursue. In the previous video, we discussed how to set yourself up to be marketed Now, we’re actually moving forward, looking for clients.

Pipeline Management - 1:42
A good contract engineer has to prospect on a continuous basis. It’s exceedingly rare for deals to wrap up immediately, so you need to persist while always fine-tuning your strategy and execution. This means that you need to maintain a pipeline of deals. Start by reaching out to businesses through Craigslist, LinkedIn or wherever you find businesses in need of your skillset.

Hone Your Pitch - 4:45
Keep an eye on your response rate, you should see a decent percentage of responses to your outreach, if you’re sending too many out without a response, have a look. One you’re past that initial hurdle, start to hone your sales pitch. Listen. Tailor your pitch to the needs of the marketplace. Get your reps in, hone your pitch. Learn to manage the give-and-take of your meetings with clients.

Find Your Prospects - 9:15
If you’re on a higher volume track, you can afford to go out and find clients. Look at local businesses’ websites (from Google Places or Yelp), reach out to the ones who look like they could use some help, either because their existing site looks bad or out-of-date, or because they are an entirely new business. Remember, this is similar to a “cold calling” strategy so your response rate will be pretty low. Be prepared to handle rejection in whichever form it takes.

Network - 15:50
Network. If you live in an urban environment, go out and meet people. Find social events, parties and meetups, but be selective and find niches. If you can’t host or lead a meetup, try to find a way to speak or present, give yourself some instant credibility. Find ways to “meet” people that are more efficient than “cold” one-on-one meet-and-greets. Avoid time wasters by selectively attending conferences and events.

Always Be Closing - 26:10
Don’t forget your purpose, whenever you’re presenting yourself. You are there to generate business, make sure your website is the first and last thing people see. Make your contact information readily available.

Identifying Real Prospects - 29:15
We review some real-life examples of prospects, both good and bad. We look at shared characteristics of each type that you can use to identify, and avoid, “time wasters”. We look at examples written by developers who clearly know what they want and explain themselves in clear and concise terms. We also look at a post that has all the characteristics of what you want to avoid, especially the partnership/equity arrangement. Recognize recruiter-created posts and understand that the specific technologies they use don’t always match what it is that you’ll be doing.

Three Strikes and They’re Out - 38:05
A post can be missing a pay rate or be written by a recruiter and still lead to a good job. We discuss the need to look at these posts in their totality. Once the “strikes” start to pile up, however, that’s when you want to move on. Expend your own resources judiciously by developing a process and keeping an eye out for warning signs. Look for people who “understand the game”. Avoid “ideas guys” who overvalue their idea and are looking to low-ball the people they need to implement their next great idea.

Angel List - 42:23
Look for contracts on Just like with other areas, learn what you need to avoid. Jobs paying above a certain scale are typically full-time gigs masquerading as contracts, so if you’re looking to freelance, you’ll want to avoid those. We touch on search terms briefly, then location. We then revisit why portfolio strength matters. We continue to discuss “zones” where ideal contract bids are put out. Be careful when dealing internationally. Again, just like with networking, be selective.

Always Be Closing - 56:00
We revisit this theme because, for a freelancer, this will be your life. Be honest with yourself, know that this is what you want. Put a system in place that works for you, that brings you the kind of work you want and keep at it. Whatever you’re doing, where ever you are, always be selling yourself, always be closing.

Other Good Sources - 59:50
Join different programming-based Slack channels. Most have job boards. Hacker News and We Work Remote are good additional sources. Same idea with Reddit.

Ride Trends - 1:06
Look at the hot technologies and try to catch the trends on the way up. We discuss some of the ways emerging technologies get discussed and how to identify the next trend. This includes real-world examples of how Dan is profiting from this today.

Negotiating and Closing Deals

Introduction - 0:00
We begin revisiting deals we discussed in Video 3, deals which have now closed, then we introduce the topic for today’s video: Negotiating & Closing Deals.

Closing the Deal - 2:15
We start by discussing the interview process. The first phone call is typically a personality screen, a step many programmers undervalue. It’s important to present yourself as professional and accessible. The next step, once the technical interview begins, you want to ask targeted questions that help you gather information, while also establishing your own expertise. By doing this, you avoid the need for hopeful declarations as to your suitability for the project, your questions provide a preponderance of evidence to your suitability. We also briefly touch on the importance of continuous learning, as discussed in a previous video (Talkers vs Doers).

Negotiating - 11:22
If you’ve been putting in the work and can articulate your worth, the only thing that’s left is the rate negotiation. Great developers are in such demand that they can command a high rate. You’ll always hear people ask if you’ve got any room on your rate, if you’ve done well, you can decide for yourself. We then discuss managing clients, ideally, you always want more than one. Maintain leverage, understand everybody’s working with scarce resources, so don’t take anything to do with business personally.

Smoke & Mirrors - 15:15
Never declare yourself wide open, even if you are. Keep up appearances to maintain your leverage in negotiations. People want what is in demand. Listen to your prospects, sometimes you’ll hear in their voice where they are in their search. Understand that with freelancing, there’s a game you need to be ready to play that’s entirely apart from the engineering.

Billing - 27:46
Always bill by the hour, never by project, otherwise the scope will expand while the fee remains the same. Bill relative to your local market and skill level. Keep an eye out for what tech is next. The key is to keep an eye out for pockets of scarcity in the labor market.

Know Your Client - 33:50
Do your homework on your client. Know where they raised their money and who they are. If you’re dealing with a start-up spending investment capital, know that they’re going to view their resources differently than a dev-shop. If you’re working with a dev-shop, you want to know who their client is because that drives their budget and that determines how you find your leverage.

Don’t Get Emotional - 37:30
Never let emotions get in the way of business. Business is never personal. Startup founders will always try to befriend you for the purpose of asking for a haircut on rates later or hopefully have you join full time. Know that going in.

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