Finding customers as a freelancer or contractor starting out is hard. These are some failed attempts at getting customers and what I learned.
Prospect 1: Work For Free
The first prospective client I spoke with was through a Slack networking channel. He saw when I posted I was looking for freelance work and asked me to join his other Slack channel that pooled freelancers. He said his team posted for freelance work needed on projects and those in the channel could claim the work.
This sounded fine. Until he described the work he needed me to do. For free. He mentioned that since I wasn’t an expert, he didn’t want to pay me. We spent some time negotiating a lower fee with specific deadlines and expectations. It didn’t pan out and I got the impression he just didn’t want to pay for the work.
Prospect 2: Online Course Instructor
The second prospective client was found through Upwork. This position was for teaching a few lectures on common topics like Git, Test Driven Development, and DevOps. This sounded like a piece of cake. When I contacted the hiring department, we agreed upon expectations as well as pay. They asked me to do a sample lecture on a topic of my choice as an interview for the position. I did well on the interview. They sent me a contract to sign. And I never heard from them again. Sadly, I never got the contact info of the department that had reviewed and approved my interview, otherwise this might have turned into actual work.
Prospect 3: StartUp Chats
On several different occasions, I’ve met with CTOs, CEOs, or COOs of various startups to discuss potential freelance work. All of the startups are in the same position: they have a good base of engineers, they can’t afford to hire more, and they need a few more people temporarily to get their project to the next milestone. For each of them I described what specific work I could do on their project, for how long, and for what rate. Every single one of them said “I can definitely find a way to have us work together.” No, I didn’t really believe them but at some point one of them might be telling the truth. One of them was a friend of mine and he kept me updated on the contract progress. He was slowly suffocating under a mountain of work to the point where he didn’t even had time to list enough of it to create a freelancing contract. I’ve chosen to assume that all of the startups have similar challenges and won’t sweat the loss. On the other hand, I also gave them my contact information rather than getting theirs. This meant I couldn’t follow up with them. Now I know I always need to get a business card.
How did I meet these people?
Learning From Failure
I don’t see these failed attempts at landing clients failures since each time I learn something new. With the first client I learned that people will ask me to work for free and I need to be firm on saying no. With the second client, I learned that talking to hiring departments is a waste of time if my contract will be with a different department. With all the startups, I learned the importance of following up. A little nudge is enough to get you a lot of work.