Stories about Software


You Don’t Pick Niches — You Discover Them

As I continue along this meandering odyssey of posts about freelancing, I’ve arrived at the point where I should talk about marketing.  After all, I just talked about sales, and then about how not to market.

But the trouble is that, until you pick some kind of niche, your marketing is essentially just platitudinous bullshit.

Marketing is really about making consumers aware of how your offering could (or couldn’t) help them.  What, then, does marketing generalist labor look like?

  • I’m passionate and I believe in quality!
  • I have good communication skills and I believe in under-promising and over-delivering.
  • My credit score is 800!

It quickly descends into the farcical, particularly since there is only one true, accurate piece of generalist marketing: “I’m cheaper than the other people you’re talking to.”

Don’t believe me?  Consider the only two generalist arguments about hourly rates:

  1. I’m the cheapest!
  2. Sure, the other dude is cheaper, but I’m higher quality, which means you’ll actually pay less in the long run, which — plot twist! — actually makes me the cheapest.

So before we can talk about marketing, we need something worth marketing.  We need to get you a niche.

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In Defense of (Initial) Generalist Freelancing

As I’ve dripped out this series I’m doing on the business of freelancing, I’ve staked out a pretty aggressive position.  In the very first post, I argued that freelancing is an interim, and not end state.  And I’ve doubled down since then.

Today, however, I’d like to add a little nuance.

If you’ll recall the diagram from that first post, I pointed out that freelancers either figure out business ownership, or else they wind up employees.  (Whether someone else’s employees, or just employees of their own, dead-end freelancing ‘business.’)  Because of this, you might assume that the ideal would be to minimize, or even skip, the freelancing state.

But today I’m going to argue that, no, that’s not necessarily ideal.  The interim freelancing state serves an important risk reduction purpose that a lot of folks (past me included) need. 

So yes, you should definitely enter freelancing with an exit, business-owner state in mind.  But no, I wouldn’t advise skipping it until or unless you thoroughly understand it.

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To Market Yourself as a Freelance Dev, Stop Posturing for Your Peers

In my last post, I offered freelancers a primer on sales.  And in that post, I promised to start talking about marketing.

After all, effective marketing — getting buyers to come to you — is the main success driver for effective sales.

But as I laced my fingers, inverted my wrists, and stretched in the universal “I’m about to do stuff” pose, I realized something.  Before we can get started on how you should market, we’re going to need to spend some time unlearning a bad habit.

In fact, an entire post’s worth of time.

The bad habit in question is how you, the freelance developer, LOVE to appeal to the wrong audience.

Specifically, you love to appeal to other software developers — your peers.  You probably give occasional talks at user groups and conferences and have a nice Stack Overflow score.  You’re looking endlessly for semi-objective signposts that make you stand out from the crowd when hiring authorities (or buyers) grade you.

This is a failure pattern.  And I’m going to spend this post beating it out of you.

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Sales 101 for Freelance Devs — Avoiding the Pain You’re About to Experience

Back in March, I made a fake tweet for a blog post draft.

It was a blog post about how not to handle a situation where your large, only client (i.e. your salaried employer) abruptly breaks up with you.  But given that the economy collapsed in on itself like a neutron star a week later, the post seemed in poor taste and I never published it.

Still, no sense letting a good fake tweet go to waste.  So I’m going to use it instead for a post about freelance dev sales, which is basically a rounding error away from salaried dev job interviews.

What I’m going to do is walk you through the sales strategies that a dev freelancer will suffer through, in numbered order, before figuring out something that actually works.  I’ll also have a couple of interludes to explain a little bit about sales along the way.  The goal is that hopefully you can skip some of missteps and create a strategy for faster joy.

1. Introduction to Affiliate Sales: The I Just Got Fired Tweet

Here’s something that seemingly every developer tweets at some point in their career:

Usually it has approximately 8 billion retweets and likes, a handful of comments, and, I’d assume, a conversion rate just north of the Planck constant into useful job leads.

Why would I presume that?

Well, because the call to action invites people to do something super easy.  “Smash that retweet button and do your good deed for the day.”  So people do… exactly, and only, that.

And then they call it a day, assuming that someone else down the line will do the actual thing that might help this person.  And, if it ever happened, the “actual thing” would probably be just introducing them to a corporate recruiter or, maybe a dev manager or something.

It’s a classic case of vanity metrics in the world of marketing.  But I want to talk about the sales strategy here.  Let’s save freelancer marketing for another day.

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Generalizing is Freelancer Purgatory — How to Niche FTW

Following my last post, I could have gone in a few different directions, but I’ve opted to write on the subject of niches.  After all, I’m nothing, if not a man of the people.

(Actually, that’s probably a terrible way to describe myself, but I’m going to try not to get too off the rails, too quickly, here).

So let’s talk about niches.  I’m no longer going to ask you to believe me, axiomatically, that it’s better to get away from being a generalist as fast as you can.  I’m going to build my case in this post.

There’s a Lot of Generic Niche Advice Out There.  Don’t Worry About That Advice.

I did some extensive research to see if anyone had some good arguments in favor of niching for freelancers.  And, by “extensive research,” I mean I did this Google search.

Then I braced myself for the onslaught of people hawking “I’ll teach you to freelance” info-products and dug in.  Yes, I braved the pop-up email capture forms and squeeze pages so that you don’t have to.

It turns out that people were, in fact, making that case.  And sometimes they were even doing it in a way that wasn’t the kind of bad advice you can expect from self-proclaimed freelancing gurus.

But it was always a feels argument and never a numbers argument.  So let’s toss around some numbers, shall we?

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