Originally published June 27, 2018 on The Original BritishPandaChick blog. I made tweaks to the original post so it would work for Code Newbie.
Today’s post continues the search for your first client in the next lesson of Skillcrush 300. This lesson is about finding clients online. Many freelancers often rely on the internet to maintain a regular flow of clients.
This is often done through social media, online communities, freelancing sites, and more. Although freelancers might mix-match different resources online, everything they use helps them get closer to finding their ideal clients by expanding the branding they use or online presence. Skillcrush instructors, teaching assistants, webinar guests, and even Skillcrush alumni all use online communities and freelancing sites to help them find their first clients.
The internet has made it possible for people to connect from all over the world, making it much easier to find potential clients in the everyone else circle I talked about in the last post. During this review, I will be reviewing some of the important information Skillcrush advises students on regarding freelance websites and online communities. This post is going to cover creating a profile on these sites, what criteria you can use to evaluate which communities you can join, and even some online communities you can start using to look for clients. I'll be sharing ones Skillcrush recommends as well as ones I use regularly to network and meet potential clients.
Why do freelancers love online networks?
We'll be talking more about networking later, but online networks are favorites with many freelancers. Many freelancers from different webinars and podcasts often talk about how valuable an online network is to helping them find clients. This is due to the fact the internet has made it possible to keep expanding their circles with people all over the world.
Building an online network is similar to building any network. It takes time, lots of work, and a serious amount of discipline. As long as you keep at it, each little bit you do will help you pay off in the end. Skillcrush likes to think of this as planting a tree. With a little help, a seed can grow into a tree.
Online networks will help grow your circles over time and allow you to be active in your ideal client's favorite places from the comfort of your own home. This is especially beneficial for those that can't attend many in-person events or don't have a lot of time.
Why does building an online network takes lots of time, hard work, and discipline?
Building an online network isn't just about joining the sites and communities your ideal clients might like to spend time on. Although it may sound easy, it actually takes more work than people realize. Freelancers have to find the right groups to join, create good profiles that will get a client's attention, and interacting with clients. This means reading posts, writing thoughtful responses, and waiting to hear back from a potential lead.
If this process might sound familiar, it is the same process people do when they are doing online dating. It doesn't matter if it is an online dating site or a dating app. People using these tools do the same freelancers do by looking at profiles/posts, creating a good profile, writing responses, and even thinking about the right sites to best meet the type of people they are interested in. It takes a lot of work, but for several people, this pays off with them getting dates.
Online communities and freelancing sites aren't just a tool you use only once. Freelancers heavily rely on these tools because this helps them ensure they are always making money. They are human and they are going to be concerned about work gaps as well as where their next job is coming from.
This is a constant worry on any freelancer's mind from newbies to those with over years of experience. Therefore they constantly balance working on projects with building their online network in order to prepare for any work gaps that might happen. As you build your online network, you want to use the same approach to building your online presence.
This means being visible, proactive, and transparent. You want to be seen as helpful, not obnoxious. In the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, Macy's and Gimbels demonstrate how the helpful approach won over customers and increased their business profits vs. an obnoxious one that pressured customers. You can apply this in real life by sharing what you learned or providing value to a potential lead.
This might be an answer to the question, solving a technical issue they are having, or giving feedback on a design. You can even share what you learned from writing a blog post or just sharing on social media your thoughts on a book you read. Many developers have taken this a step further by creating coding challenges, online courses, and tutorials which all provide value to others learning how to code.
Finding the Right Online Communities
The internet is a huge place with tons of online communities for everything you might think of. Joining the right online communities will help you maintain a consistent stream of clients. Since there are lots of places online to find clients, freelancers have to put themselves in their clients' shoes.
Where would their ideal clients go to solve a problem or get advice? Thinking like your clients is key to helping you find them quickly. It might be tempting to just join every online community you come across.
However, I don't recommend doing this since it is very hard to keep track of overtime. It can also make things overwhelming for you. I'm very guilty of this since I often join communities I think are interesting then forget to participate in them.
If you are just starting, I recommend joining a couple of online communities to start with then add more communities gradually over time. As you look for different online communities, feel free to reach out to others in your network to see what they use. I recommend attending webinars and listening to podcasts since many of these speakers will shout out different communities, tools, and resources they use. Many of the communities I join and participate in are ones I heard about in webinars or on podcasts.
Before you begin joining any communities . . .
First, read any of the group rules before you start posting. Many of these groups often have rules all members need to follow before they post any content as well as describing what the group is all about. As you start searching for communities to join, read the about descriptions you find on these groups. This will help you evaluate if this group is a place your ideal client might use and one you'll be able to use regularly.
Once you join your communities, remember you need to be helpful vs. spammy. No one likes seeing members spam the group regularly posting their services every chance they get. Chances are you've been annoyed when you've seen these posts so you don't want to do that either. Instead focus on answering people's questions, giving feedback, or even figuring out a solution a member might be having.
The ultimate goal of these online communities is to build your credibility with your ideal clients and show them you are the right one for the position.
This will show you are an expert and begin building trust with potential leads. Many of these groups will feature opportunities to do small jobs. In order to get these jobs, Skillcrush recommends students use this approach.
First, you offer to help someone for free from advice, feedback, to finding a solution to an issue they are having. Next, you follow up with your potential lead and do an upsell if you like. An upsell is a freelancer's way of offering a special low-cost project to interested clients. Be careful with this approach since it won't be appropriate for all clients.
In this lesson, Skillcrush shares three types of groups their students can use to start building their virtual network in the tech community. They include a brief description of each, how to find communities to join in each of these groups, how they work, and much more. Below I've summarized the important information about these specific types of groups. I've even included some communities I regularly use to give you some ideas if you need them.
Slack is a popular communication tool in the tech community. This tool allows for remote communication. This tool isn’t just used to create online communities. Slack is a tool many companies are using and expect candidates to use. Think of Slack as a professional form of an instant messenger.
There are a ton of Slack groups on different skills and niches so you’ll need to take some time to see what groups you should join. I recommend talking to other freelancers to see what Slack groups they use and send an invite request to join the group. There are some groups that do charge a fee to join, but there are other ones that are for free.
Skillcrush recommends joining the free Slack groups first so you can become more familiar with how the tool works. Once you feel ready, join some of the paid membership groups that interest you.
Slack is one of the tools I check as regularly as my e-mail.
I’ve signed up for several Slack groups, but I found that the larger the group, the more noise you’ll have on all the channels. This will make it harder to keep up or even ask questions since one question can easily get lost in the crowd if everyone is writing messages at the same time. Once you enter a Slack workspace, join the channels that you are interested in then mute some of the larger channels like #general or #random. This way you can focus on smaller communities you’re interested in and don’t get overwhelmed with the Slack conversations.
Some of the Slack groups I’m a member of are Skillcrush Alumni, Grow with Google Nanodegree, KeepCo, and CodeNewbie. I just joined a Slack group that is meant for other techies around where I live. I am also active on my mastermind’s group new Slack. We originally started as a channel on Skillcrush Alumni Slack, but we made the decision recently to start our own Slack so we can customize everything with our own plugins as well as grow our mastermind group with more members.
Many freelancers swear by this. They often find clients in Facebook groups. Facebook groups serve as a way for clients and freelancers to find each other. These groups are very niche-based so they are easy to target people specifically in these groups.
You can find general freelance groups as well, but you will want to look for niche-specific groups to join. Skillcrush recommends searching Facebook using keywords your ideal client might use to find a group to join. Once the search results pop up, select groups from the top navigation bar to see what communities are available.
I rarely do this. Instead, I follow Skillcrush’s other suggestion which is getting recommendations from others in the tech community. I also learn about different Facebook groups through e-mail newsletters and what others post on social media.
There are tons of Facebook groups depending on what your skills and niche are, but I recommend joining ones that you are interested in.
This means you should just join ones that are just professional related. I have a mix of different Facebook groups I’m a member of. Some of the groups I’m a member of are:
- Code Newbie
- Tech Ladies
- Learn to Code with Me community (formerly Newbie Coder Warehouse)
Building a virtual network isn't just about joining professional groups. You can meet your ideal clients in surprising places.
Don't be afraid to join groups that might be interesting to you. I joined an online tutoring Facebook group and have been offering feedback occasionally on other tutors' websites. This led to me scheduling a free consultation with one of my first potential leads on ways she can best improve her website.
Skillcrush thinks these are the best communities to join since they will give you a greater chance of finding your ideal client since they are niche-specific. When it comes to searching for communities that will maintain your stream of clients, Skillcrush encourages students to look for a few things so you really need to think like your ideal client with niche communities. It is very likely your ideal client is a member of these communities so you will want to join ones that will give you the best chance of finding them.
Freelancers don't join niche communities because of their clients. Freelancers like these groups since it lets them be active in groups that focus on specific skills you offer. If you like to design branding, there are niche-specific groups that concentrate on offering only branding to interested clients.
In addition, there are general relevant groups that fit under these niche communities such as freelancers or small business owners. Online niche communities aren't always about skills. These groups are a great way to connect with local businesses and niche communities in your area.
Online communities aren’t the only way to find clients. Freelancers use freelance marketplaces and job boards to help find work online. A freelance marketplace is similar to how a marketplace looks in real life. This is a platform businesses can post jobs on.
Freelancers create profiles then bid on those projects as well as showing off their portfolios to attract clients. Freelance marketplaces take more time and work than job boards since you must be a member to apply for jobs. This means creating a profile as well as building a reputation so clients will consider you for jobs. Although these platforms require members to do lots of setup, this will pay off later by making it easier to connect and find potential clients.
A lot of freelancers have mixed feelings about freelance marketplaces.
Many encourage freelancers to avoid these like a plague since there is a lot of competition while others recommend using these sites. There have been many reasons why some freelancers tend to stay away from these platforms, but for many, the pay is often the biggest reason. Sites like Upwork and Fiverr are very competitive over available jobs and many freelancers often try bidding the lowest price to get picked for jobs. This means freelancers often compromise their rates to find work.
My advice is to just try these websites and see if you like them. If you like them and regularly get clients from them, keep using these sites. If you don’t, that is ok, and try something else.
Freelancing is similar to trying on clothes. If one platform doesn’t work, just move onto the next one to see which one is the right fit for you.
Freelance Job Boards
Did you know that there are specific job boards just for freelancers? Freelance job boards are similar to other job boards such as Indeed and Monster. While the freelance marketplaces can be seen as job boards, the ones that fit this category are much more niche-specific.
For example, there are several job boards just dedicated to freelancers in the tech industry. Check out the link to a Skillcrush blog post below which lists 25 sites to find freelance jobs.
Freelancers can use different filters to find specific jobs and positions. You don't need to be a member to use these sites so don't worry about needing a profile to apply for these jobs. All you need is just time and an idea of what you are looking for.
The problem with job board websites is that these are often easy to apply to. This means you can bet on lots of people applying for the job. In order to have an edge over the competition, many freelancers recommend finding a connection to the company and asking them to be a referral. A fellow developer once told me that referrals will boost your chances of being offered an interview since companies will often interview the ones with referrals from people in the company.
Finding the Right Clients
It is a universal truth that every client is going to be different. There are good clients you'll want to work with and ones that you should avoid. Therefore, freelancers have to make quick decisions to decide which ones are the good ones and which ones they should avoid.
This might sound tougher than it looks, but Skillcrush has a few tips to help you decide which clients are the best for you to work with.
1. Does this client fit with your niche?
If high paying clients had to choose, many would choose specialists over a freelancer that can do everything. So if you aren't quite sure if this is the right client for you, ask yourself if this client fits with your niche. Your niche is always going to be a guide in these situations. As you gain more experience, it will get easier to find clients you can trust.
2. Read ads very closely!
You can tell a lot about a potential freelance job just by the ad posted on job boards or ones sent via e-mail. As you freelance, you'll begin learning how to read these ads closely to see which ones are real or scams. To help you get started, Skillcrush offers students a few clues to help them spot warning signs.
- Ads with lots of grammar and spelling mistakes
- Promises of “exposure” in exchange for your hard work. This is just a fancy way of saying they aren’t going to pay you.
- Payment structure that is not a guarantee. You might see this payment as companies happening to make money off your work.
If you want even more warning signs, I recommend talking to other freelancers for their tips. You can also learn more tips by checking out different freelancing resources such as blogs, podcasts, or even attending webinars. Most importantly, listen and act on your gut. If your gut gets a bad feeling from this post, don't be afraid to turn down a job.
3. Follow the directions.
Job postings will often have lots of people applying or bidding. This means clients are going to always pick the ones that follow their directions completely. You also want to read the directions in order to help guide you with tailoring your pitch and getting a sense if you can do this job in the timeline the posting requires.
That’s a wrap for this week’s topic. Now you know some of Skillcrush's secrets to find clients online. I reviewed some of the best places online to look for clients as well as ones I use myself. Finally, I talked about how you can use freelance job boards and marketplaces to find clients.
Tomorrow's post will be all about Skillcrush's lesson on networking. You'll learn about how to network, finding the right events, and creating a good elevator pitch.