Is there anywhere decent to look for freelance web work?
November 5, 2013 10:34 PM   Subscribe

I'm a frontend web developer with quite a long resume. I work full-time but I'd like to pick up some freelance, remote work in my spare time. I'm wondering if there are any places to look besides my personal network, Craigslist, and those awful "Rent-a-coder" sites where you get underbid by overseas folks who'll do it for $9/hr.

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get the answer I want, but I figured I'd try anyway. I'm just not interested in "lowest-bid" sites. Anything that pays under $50/hr or so is just not worth my time- I'm sorry if that sounds bad, that's just how it is. (If I was going to freelance at an office, the market rate for my skillset would probably be around $80-120/hr, but I'm willing to take much less b/c I need to work off-site on nights and weekends, and I can't afford to be picky.)

My skillset is mostly on the frontend- html, css, advanced js architecture and ability to pick up flavor-of-the-month js frameworks as needed. I can also do enough Rails to get by if the "full-stack" buzzword comes into play. Overall I have 14 years of experience as a programmer.

I've asked people personally and had one "almost" that fell through, and I've browsed CL until the people wanting professional devs to work for literally a cup of coffee makes my eyes roll back in my head, but I'm kind of at a loss of what else to do. If there is any resource or technique I'm missing, please let me know. Thanks!

(I'm sure other questions like this have been posted; posting this anyway b/c things change so fast in tech)
posted by drjimmy11 to Work & Money (7 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 37 Signals just launched We Work Remotely, that might have some good leads.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:45 PM on November 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

Generally, all the good work is via networking, none of it by Internet sites or other technology based means of connecting with jobs, which are prey to low bidders.

I charge a lot more than $50/hr (after meeting someone on here who charges $150/hr for straight PHP work), but it all comes through my contacts--frontend dev and customer referrals. It took a few years to build up the network, but it's steady now, and I'm passing paying clients on to friends.

If your network isn't bringing in work, go to user groups for the technologies you want to work with. Some of the freelancers there will be looking for competent colleagues to whom they can hand work; some paying clients will also lurk there looking for freelancers with capacity.
posted by fatbird at 11:42 PM on November 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lets say I want to hire someone like you. Experience has taught me that that automatically hiring the lowest bidder for a job is not a good idea and I consider it a good investment to pay a good rate for somebody who knows what they are doing. My first step might be to ask the people I know for recommendations - but that doesn't give me any great leads so I decide to look online. I am not going to hire you without two things: I want to see some examples of your work. That is important but not sufficient - I can't really know that it was you who did it and you might be pain to deal with anyway. So I also will be looking for what your online reputation is: testimonies from satisfied customers are essential. Those which are moderated by a third party - rather than edited by you - are the most trust-worthy. I am wary of those who seem suspiciously cheap and happy to pay a fat premium if I can get the time of somebody considered outstanding by their clients.

For this reason I believe many freelancers using websites start out working at a discounted rate until they build up a solid set of positive testimony. Once the order books are full they can increase their rates. But don't discount too deeply otherwise you will only pick up cheapskate, delusional, clients. If you want to eventually charge $50 per hour then you might to start out at $40.
posted by rongorongo at 4:37 AM on November 6, 2013

Response by poster: For this reason I believe many freelancers using websites start out working at a discounted rate until they build up a solid set of positive testimony.

Sorry, nope. As I mentioned I have been doing this for over 14 years and have more than enough reputation and references to distinguish myself from fly-by-night folks. $50 is a very deeply-discounted, rock-bottom rate I'd be willing to settle for because I'm looking to make money quickly in the next few months and can't afford to be picky. As I mentioned above, the "full" rate for someone with my skills is typically well over $100.

jason_steakums, thanks for the links, found some good prospects there.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:37 AM on November 6, 2013

Some hiring companies who use Elance, Odesk, and Freelancer prefer to hire domestic people at higher rates. I wouldn't totally write off that possibility.
posted by Dansaman at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2013

I've not been impressed by any of the freelance sites I've tried. As others have said: word of mouth. Have a website with examples of work. Even a private url that you can pass along is worthwhile here. 10 screenshots with explanations of what it was and what you did. So, networking. Sorry.

Always explain your side time constraints, set a rate, say "no" a lot to the well-meaning folks who think you can be your partner. Screw that, you're the Pro from Dover the sequence is small deposit, work, payment.

For the kind of work you're doing, I'd say meet* web agencies, ad agencies, SEO experts and let them know you exist and the kinds of problems of theirs you can solve with your special expertise. Look for people on twitter looking for help, other social networks likewise. Given your background, ruby/RoR users groups may also be a vector for you. Talented frontend is hard to come by and subbing may be worthwhile. Always potentially risky to subcontract but worth exploring.

You're the Pro from Dover, remember that. Know what you can do, and do that. And if you can't do something, know and refer someone who can. Become valuable and people will value you.

There's regional differences in some of this. $120/hr some places is equivalent to $40/hr in other places which is the same as $9/hour others. The thing that distinguishes the Pro from Dover is that she knows the questions to ask, and gets shit done. At $9/hr there's many hours of flailing.

As long as you communicate up front your rate you'll disqualify clients, that's cool. The reason you charge what you charge is because that's what you charge. The Pro from Dover is a valuable entity. Not afraid of saying, "well, then we don't have a match, best of luck" and as they burn time trying to find the bargain, that's work and projects they're not getting done. That's time wasted, and that's a real cost to them.

But honestly, I never made a go of freelancing full time. The client acquisition part you're talking about: it's brutal. I do love having a side project though, with reasonable deadlines and realistic expectations. I count on the dayjob and freelancing gives me a little side income and keeps my skills fresh.

*meet may be lunch, coffeehouse, skype, phone, facebook, email, twitter. Avoid craigslist at all costs other than to identify companies doing work which you may be useful to.
posted by artlung at 1:31 PM on November 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had good luck w/ targeting a niche type of client and cold-emailing lots of them (w/ a personalized, kind email that lets them know they're not on a list, has examples of my work that are relevant to them, etc. etc.).
posted by nosila at 7:02 AM on November 7, 2013

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