Since most developers are looking for the top-end projects and most of those projects come from the United States or the United Kingdom, understanding those markets is key to getting noticed by prospective employers. Let’s focus on the largest market, the U.S.
Every client is unique. Projects, needs and expectations always vary. But there are some important things to remember, no matter who the client.
Not a Native English Speaker? Work on the English for your project bid message
If English is not your first language, or American or British English isn’t, it’s important to make sure your project bid is written in a way that shows you will be able to comprehend the work and communicate easily with your prospective client.
Using bad English is the biggest mistake you can make when you bid on a project. If you are a native English speaker, you can skip this one, but if you are not, this is a huge issue.
If the project creator has a difficult time understanding you, he is not going to want to deal with the hassle of communication along with working out the technical project. You can get around this, but it takes some extra effort. You do also need to consider whether your ability to communicate in English is good enough that it will be passable in email communications or Skype calls with the client. If not, you may want to consider brushing up before you start bidding.
But, assuming your speaking and causal writing skills are up to snuff, there are ways to work around any deficiencies in your formal project bids. The most obvious is to have a few standard pitches that are checked by a native speaker.
You can use these pitches over and over with a slight variation. So let’s say I am bidding on a WordPress site for a restaurant. I would make my bid amount, and my pitch would be something like:
“Hi, I have read through your requirements carefully and understand what you need. I have completed several websites similar to this in the past and would love an opportunity to hear more about what you need. I also understand item #1 as being a challenge, but have worked on this in the past. I am available to chat whenever is convenient for you.”
Let’s break that pitch down. First, project to them that you understand what they need. Most hirers put a good deal of effort into their project requirements, and reading them carefully is important. It is also important to mention something specific from the requirements in your pitch. It proves that you read and understood it well. The last part is making sure they know you are available to chat via private message. Make yourself available. Sometimes the one who gets the project is the one who is online.
I can’t stress enough that you need to address their specific requirements in your bid. Many people looking for work on these sites simply cut and paste generic pitches. In almost all cases, these bids are dismissed. If you can’t take the time to address the specific project needs, then why would someone hire you?
It’s equally important to address whether you have done similar work. Be prepared to back this up with examples if the conversation moves forward.
Also, remember to find a native speaker to review your pitch for errors. If the hirer cannot read your pitch, chances are you won’t be considered.
Coders are traditionally not the most warm and friendly people. Most people, when they think about coders, think of this:
Yes that is a depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Award, difficult to deal with, but a genius.
That is not a terrible thing, and people looking to hire coders often just want someone who is extremely good at their job. It does help if you can listen and react well, but sometimes, it’s more about the code you create. So like it’s been said a million times on this site, go and create things. They do not have to be commercial ideas, they can be scrapers or algorithms, just have something in your portfolio that is impressive.
Then, when you get in front of a company, you do not have to explain what you know, you can just show them.
It also helps to create something that pushes the limits of what you know and applies as much coding knowledge as you have. Go nuts!
It’s great to go through a coding school and learn the in’s and out’s of whatever code language is in question, but potential hirers want to see what you have built. Often times, it does not have to be specific to what they do, they just want to see your ability to be creative and apply your knowledge. In the best case scenario, you will be able to get a few freelance clients, which often leads to more and more conversation about you (assuming you do a good job).
One Project Leads to Another
Sometimes a client may subtly ask you questions that seem not to pertain to the current project you are working on. If you are smart about reading your client, you may begin to understand that he or she is feeling you out for a potential new project. When your client asks strange questions about other things, sit back and answer the questions carefully, and just assume that there may be other work in the future.
In addition, you may want to subtly mention to your client about something else you are building or working on—not because you want to scare him or her about your availability, but because it will increase his or her perception of your value. Patience
Honestly, sometimes it just takes time. There are only so many large projects to be had out there, and only so many will fall into your particular skill set. Generally, it is a good idea to sync up with other developers or other people and work as a team so sometimes you get a piece of a big job you don’t have to get yourself.
If you would prefer to work alone, give it time and seek out large projects that fit you perfectly.
A big trend in the past couple years has been clickbait content ads. If you are reading a story on Taylor Swift and you get to the bottom and see a bunch of pictures and titles of other pieces of interesting content, chances are, they are ads. These are quite popular and have the potential to pay publishers off huge ($5-$8 CPM is what they claim). The problem is, in order for them to pay off huge, you need to have a strong click-through rate. For instance, a user who clicks through a content link and then leaves the other site quickly is far less valuable than a user who clicks through the photo gallery they are showing.
That is on the publisher side of things. If you are looking to get hired, you can choose to target your audience with a well placed piece of content. For example, if you are looking to get hired as an SEO specialist, You could write an article about the “biggest SEO break-through of the year” and then use sites like Taboola, Content.ad, and Zergnet to promote it. It costs only around $.05 per click, and whereas a high % of your audience won’t be what you want, you can best some % of the audience will.
Set low budgets and start small. But even if it takes a small investment from you, isn’t it worth it to be noticed in the end?
The easiest advice you can give someone who is looking for side web design/development work is to sign up for one of the freelance websites like ODesk, Elance or Freelancer. These sites are hugely popular, and companies or individuals will often use them when they have no options for completing a website or specific tasks. There are some real benefits to these sites, both in the number and variety of projects available.
The main problem with these freelance websites is that there’s an oversaturation of developers on them, and the competition can be fierce. Often, projects will receive 20 or more competitive bids ranging from individuals to agencies.
The breakdown of developers/agencies on the site often acts as a pyramid, with the ones who are most likely to get the job at the very top due to a large amount of completed projects and reviews. The agencies have a real advantage here, with dozens, sometimes hundreds of developers of varying skill sets. This allows them to bid on projects involving JQuery, Ruby, PHP, C++ and anything else you can think of.
Agencies can also be shady and misrepresent themselves as individual developers, depending on the situation they are in.
Just because there is a lot of competition on these sites doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get work. You can get hired, but you have to be realistic and take the right approach.
Going through freelance sites is a good place to get started, but it is a tough road. I would estimate that for every 20 bids, you may get one lead on a project. If you are just starting out, the odds are stacked even more against you, as there is no history of you on the site.
To succeed, it takes perseverance and an ability to shrug off jobs you don’t get and projects for which you never even get considered. You will lose way more often than you win, but it’s important to keep playing the game. Using the freelance sites is a long-distance race. It doesn’t matter how slow you go in the beginning. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you will get to the finish line eventually.
In the very beginning, start small. Bid on projects that range from $20-$100. Agencies won’t be very interested in these, and well-established freelancers will find those budgets too small to worry about.
If you go after these jobs, you will be bidding primarily against other new members and will generally have a better chance of success.
Just like with anything else, Web design and development (and content creation) is a balancing act and there is a lot of compromise between user experience and Google results. If SEO is a big part of your marketing strategy, then it should win out most arguments about user experience.
Good SEO strategy is building a solid foundation for getting you noticed – one that can survive a storm. If that storm never comes, well, you haven’t really lost anything. But, when it inevitably does, you’ll be glad you put the work into building a strong, stable foundation. So instead of opting for a fancy visual-driven site, you may opt for a blog approach in order to get attention.
Bold, Italic, Headings, Font-size, Spacing
When you write a paper for school there are clear rules as to what fonts you should in what sizes. Google and the other search engines are less clear, but once again function wins out over form. Neat and clean may seem like the way to go, but uniformity can sometimes be an SEO negative.
Here’s an issue you can’t really control (unless you have a time machine and we’re guessing you don’t)… longevity. A big part of search engine algorithms is understanding how long a site has been useful to people. If a site has been a trusted source for car repair since 1999, then why would Google give your new car repair site placement above it?
An older site does not always trump a newer one, but an older, credible site with a long history of what Google sees as satisfied customers, almost always does.
You can’t control how long your site has been around nor can you control how long other sites or pages seeking the same customers have existed. You can however know how long it takes until Google sees you as having achieved an age where just being around and being good may tip things in your favor over an upstart competitor.
Bounce Rate, Site Experience
We’ve said it before, but it’s worth endlessly repeating. The Google search engine is smart. It knows if a user had a good experience with a website. How?
Well, it has nothing to do with Google Analytics. There has been no direct correlation found between Analytics and Search, and Google executives have made this clear in the past. It doesn’t mean that they don’t tie page rankings in some fashion to whether a site uses Analytics, but since not every site uses Google’s page-tracking code, it would be pretty unfair to link the two. (That said, Google has long been rumored to tip the scales in favor of companies which embed its products in their sites, so it’s never a bad idea to do so).
Of course, search engines like Yahoo and Bing certainly wouldn’t have access to your Google Analytics results, so it’s clear those search engines can’t base results on information recorded in Google Analytics. What all search engines know is how long a user spends on your site before directly bouncing back to the search engine.
If a user clicks on a link delivered from a search query and heads right back to the search page in a few seconds, it’s likely that what you provided wasn’t what the searcher was looking for. That can happen and some quick bounces are to be expected, but if it happens too much Google and the other search engines start to see your article or content as not being a good match for that specific keyword combination.
Synonyms, Plurals, Acronyms and Like Keywords
Search engines are getting better and better understanding the subtle nature of communication. So if you are debating whether or not to add an ‘s’ to the word ‘concert’, relax. Most of the time, Google knows that both mean essentially the same thing. The big difference would be words like ‘boot’ or ‘boots’ which could mean radically different things… one being kicking some out or the other a footwear product.
Google and the other search engines are also getting smarter about words that mean the same thing. So, for instance, the word “teacher” would be interpreted in a very similar way to the word “educator.” It’s important to focus on which keyword you use, but try not to get hung up on too much nuance.
Avoid Simple Content
It used to be that answering simple questions simply was a good SEO strategy. For instance, a high ranking for “What is the area of a circle” could be the difference between no traffic and millions of hits. The story would, in those good old days, just answer the question and Google would send a steady stream of traffic to it.
Those days are over however as Google now providers answers to simple queries in a widget at the top of its search results. It may even choose your page for the widget, but it pulls the actual answer out leaving people no reason to actually clickthrough and visit your site.
If your site is ad revenue-driven, realize that you won’t get rich from Google’s ad network — Google AdSense — unless you can deliver millions of pageviews. And if you are doing millions of pageviews, you should be able to monetize better. That does not mean you can’t make good money from ad networks, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that Google offers a perfect solution for everybody.
AdSense is a good product from a credible company, but in most cases for smaller sites, it pays a very low cost per thousand impressions (CPMs). On the plus side, Google offers great tools for tracking your payouts and an easy-to-use system to actually get paid. Google’s tools are superior to nearly every ad network, but — and it’s a big but — the rates it pays tend to be on the low side.
While Google AdSense pays a low rate, it’s important to remember that an ad network that’s bad for us (in most cases) may not always be bad for you. Ad networks, even ones as large as Google, sell ads to advertisers who want them displayed on a certain type of site. If AdSense, or any other network, has an advertiser looking for exactly the type of site you have, then it will pay more to serve those ads on your site. Timing is also important; for instance, election season almost always means higher CPMs with a flood of political ads.
So if your website caters to people who dress up as cats, and Google has an advertiser that makes human-size scratching posts, you may be in luck. To make the whole ad picture even more complicated, a network might do well short-term for a flukey reason such as the scenario just detailed, but it may not perform in general.
To get around that, you’ll want to work with more than one network and track which ones perform best for your site. Again, we recommend using Adsense, but only in the very beginning. It is easy to sign up for and implement. But there are many more options, and sometimes it can be very beneficial to use a network where you can set a high rate and then, if they can’t fill it, pass the ad space back to Google Adsense. Networks such as Souvrn, Pulse Point and Switch Ads all have the ability to set a minimum rate and pass back. Unlike with Google, you have to get approved for these networks, but 6-12 months out, this should be part of your ad strategy.
CPM rates can change dramatically from day to day. Your site is just another one in the mix for these networks, so everything is just supply and demand. For most Google Adsense websites, you can expect $.05-$.25 per 1,000 visitors. If you use the pass-back technique, you could ask for $1 per 1,000 visitors and it may be filled 10% of the time and then passed back. So just that one step could increase your revenue by 4-6% immediately.
The Customers Matter
Another mistake to avoid is allowing the ad networks to muck up your user experience. Every network with reps who talk to potential customers offers the “service” of helping you place their ads on your site. Their answer is always better real estate, more obtrusive ads, pop-ups, videos and lots of other things that will perform well for the advertiser while chasing away your visitors.
It’s important to maximize revenue, but you have to balance that with maintaining user experience. Turning your site into a clanging billboard may work in the short term, but will ultimately destroy your business.
In general, put yourself in the place of a potential visitor to your site and ask the following questions:
Is whatever I’m about to show them worth them having to click through an interstitial or a pop-up ad?
Will they know that before they decide to just leave?
If the answer to both questions is not “yes,” then avoid taking ads that make it hard to get to whatever you are offering. Similarly, keep your overall ad load low enough that your site remains pleasant to visit.
Ads are a balancing act. If you are trying to make all your money from ads, you may have to sacrifice user experience. If you are an e-commerce site, you may want to include one ad space (that doesn’t compete with you directly) for additional revenue.
Geography also has a big effect on CPM rates. U.S. traffic tends to be the most valuable, followed by European countries. If the majority of your traffic comes from emerging economies, expect a lower CPM rate.
It’s not all CPM
While we prefer CPM ads on most of our sites (because they pay regardless of whether someone actually clicks on the ad), certain types of sites do well with other types of ads. Don’t forget to consider these:
Cost-Per-Click: CPC ads pay only when someone actually clicks on the ad (and yes, there is technology in place to prevent you from sitting at a computer all day and clicking the ads).
Cost-Per-Action: CPA ads go deeper than CPC ads. Not only do you have to click them, you actually have to complete an action, which can range from entering an email to taking a survey or making a purchase. These ads can pay a lot more than CPC and CPM-based ads.
Affiliate deals: These are ads where you get a percentage or a set fee if someone clicks through from your site and actually buys something. For example, Amazon offers affiliate deals, so if your site writes about books or other products Amazon sells, you can make money by offering links so people can actually buy the products. There are all sorts of affiliate deals out there for everything from web hosting to sex toys. You can also look into Share-A-Sale and Commission Junction for more affiliate options.
Picking an ad network requires a lot of legwork, but picking ad types requires even more. A CPC or CPC deal can be lucrative, but it can also bring visitors away from your site. The same is true for affiliate deals, so you have to balance the payout versus the risk of customers leaving.
CPC, CPA and affiliate deals can be incredibly lucrative, but they take more management than CPM-based ad spots. For example, we own a number of tech tutorial websites aimed at web developers. We got an offer to feature an affiliate deal for eco-friendly web hosting, which paid very well and had made a lot of money for someone we know.
The difference was that our friend had a website focused on creating your first website. The audience for that site was exactly the audience a web hosting company would need. Yet our sites spoke to developers, people who already had web hosts and weren’t likely to switch just because a new one was offering “green” hosting.
That’s where we avoided another mistake that can doom your web business. We did not stick with a failing monetization plan too long. We tested the hosting offer, saw it got a lot of clicks (but no sales for a reasonable period of time) and dropped it in favor of something else.
Building your monetization — the thing that will ultimately make your website a business — requires a lot of controlled failure. Experiment a lot and slowly figure out what works, when it works, and why it works. It’s an endless process that will remain important until the time when you can either directly sell ad space on your site or find a way to make money that is not tied directly to ad impressions and pageviews.
If I had to pinpoint the most important step in my freelance career, it would be finding individuals to partner with that had no coding abilities.
When I got started, I didn’t know anyone who had design/development work. I began answering ads in my local classifieds and through that, met some people who worked as consultants to businesses. These were people who were experts in marketing or business development, who do not code websites. After getting to know these individuals, we often sparked up a friendship and made a deal that they would pass along my name to companies or individuals with website needs, and I would give them a percentage of the deals made (generally 10-15%). This isn’t as direct as bidding on projects from a freelancer site, but it can potentially result in very lucrative projects.
Sometimes these relationships fade, but it might be a good idea to put something in writing. You don’t have to get a lawyer involved, but a simple agreement with the project percentage breakdown may spark your contact to be proactive.
Finding your rainmaker is a tough task, and often takes time, but here are some ways to start.
Friends and Family
Start with the people you know. If it’s not direct family members, then move on to friends. Talk about how you are looking for web work and that if someone could give you a lead on a new client, you would pay for that lead. Most people don’t even realize that this kind of partnership could be had, so they may be more interested in working with you if this kind of plan is laid out.
The people you want to make this sort of deal with may not have a website themselves, but are well connected with other business owners that do. Offer them a percentage of a project, and it may spark their interest. The idea of making money just by giving an introduction may be attractive for them.
This should be part of your strategy anyway. Everyone has a local newspaper, but it’s more important to turn to websites. Most importantly: Craigslist. No matter where you live, there are certain rules to follow when manipulating Craigslist, and this is covered later on.
Occasionally through Craigslist you won’t be dealing directly with the client in question; it will be a consultant. Work with that consultant well on the first project, and you can develop a relationship. You may not get another project out of that consultant quickly, but when a new project does arise, you will be at the top of their list.
Overall, maintaining relationships is important. Do good work, communicate well and be easy to work with, and people will want to work with you again or recommend you.
One of the dirty secrets of working with clients is that in many cases, they won’t want to recommend you to others. This is out of pure selfishness, as they will want you to be available when they need you.
However, if you have worked on a project for someone and it’s pretty clear that there will not be a lot more work available in the future, have a conversation about referrals. Again, offer him something, such as 10% of referred projects. If the person had a good experience with you, they will see it as a no-brainer to make some money by referring others to you.
There is no easy way out here. You need to develop and cultivate relationships in the same way you develop and cultivate websites.
This is a long process, but the “you” in two years will really appreciate it. If you want a long-lasting and healthy freelance career, treat people well and do not burn bridges. Treat each client like he or she is your direct boss, and make sure you complete each project on time and to budget. If a client has long-term value to you and it is a very difficult working process, suck it up and get it done right. You will make up for the time you lost later.
Most importantly, if you agreed on a budget, stick to it. Unless you feel that the client is being extremely unreasonable, you should never ask for more money. The relationship and good feelings you acquire are worth a lot.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to the fact that you are just trying to make a living by doing web design or development. Sometimes, if your skills are too specific or you are getting frustrated by a lack of clients, you may want to supplement some of your time with your own project. Your skills are valuable, so put them to use. Whether it is a blog, code snippets, or just tutorials.
While you wait for paying work, consider producing your own themes for CMS or other coding platforms. A content website with tutorials, lists of tools and resources, or news. Either way, if you spend half of your day chasing down clients, use the other half constructively. Even a mediocre site can monetize well, especially if you leverage your social media following.
I would only recommend this route if you are looking to supplement your current client project workload. It is a long process to create a website or app from scratch and have it be able to pay your bills. Generally it’s about 18-24 months (though some do much better) before a content website can begin to pay off from ads or other methods. And you will have to produce a lot of smart, targeted content in order to come up organically in Google.
If you have an ecommerce site or are creating themes, expect to wait about 12-18 months before you begin to see any traction. Partnerships and other relationships can help speed up the process.
Ultimately, your own site can be a nice supplement to what you do with clients, but don’t expect too much. You can also build websites and try to flip them on wholesale sites like Flippa.com, but again, most sales are under $1,000.
You’re better off treating your own website as a passion and welcomed distraction from your daily routine. Just be consistent with your updates to the site, and watch it grow.
Another important issue to discuss is how you handle the projects you do get. You can get hundreds of projects in your career but still be struggling. Here is the breakdown of the number of projects you should have completed in order to be a stable freelance developer:
Large projects (over $10,000): 1-3
Medium projects ($1,000-$10,000): 5-6
Small projects (less than $1,000): 8-10
If you have completed this number of projects in the past, you should be a stable developer right now with too much demand for your services. If not, you are not treating your clients well.
By completing the number of projects above, you should have plenty of clients needing more work from you all the time. I have about a 75% conversion rate.
This means that if I complete a singular project, 75% of the time I will get more work from that client in the future. It’s common to have a 50-75% conversion rate, and if it is any lower, then you may be doing it wrong.
So, back to the above breakdown. If I have completed around 18 projects at various levels, with a 75% conversion rate I would have around 13 clients that would call on me for future work. This would be sustaining enough to form a lasting career.
It’s important to treat your clients well, and there are a few very crucial tips I am going to give you to maximize your relationships. Remember, it is far more difficult to get a new client than it is to maintain a current one.
And remember, on your website, be sure to list the technologies used for each project and your involvement in each project.
With Your Website, Be Available and Respond Quickly
Ever get an email and say to yourself, “I’ll get to that later?” With clients, respond immediately, even if you are not going to complete the task at that moment. Tell them you understand and will get back to them as soon as possible. If you are able to work on the task, respond and let them know you are on it. (If you are in a different time zone than your client, this can mean having to check your email during non-work hours.)
Too often, hirers will ask a developer about something and not get a response for days. That can be very frustrating, and they are likely losing money during that period of non-communication. Don’t be that developer who is always causing problems, and your chances of getting and maintaining clients will go.