Growth October 17, 2020

My career feels like it's at a stand still. Advice?


Hi everyone,

My name is Stuart, I'm a freelance full stack software engineer from the UK.

I'm proud to say I'm an experienced developer. I used to work for Apple, building their website across 68 regions (within a team), I've since built websites and software for Jamie Oliver, Swansea FC, Polaroid and Shell.

I've recently left a full time position as an app developer, and have gone freelance once again (I freelanced for a year in 2018).

As hard as I try to establish new clients/connections to build software/websites for, I feel like I'm shouting into a black hole. I rarely get a response, even when I make sure to write polite, fine tuned, specific content for each company.

I'm aware that social media is key, and I've tried for months to engage on there with good content but to no luck either.

I've been on sites like PeoplePerHour and completed work, but I can't get by building sites for £200 each and expect to maintain a living.

I appreciate this is a tough time in the world for everyone, so I know it's not the best time to be looking for work, but does anyone have any advice? I feel like I really exceed when I have a project, and my clients have always been super happy with what I produce. I just can't seem to find new work. Help?!

Here's some of my links:

Wishing everyone all the best and hope others are having more luck out there!

  1. 3

    Hi Stuart. I don't have perfect advice for you, but I will try to offer you some suggestions that you can try. For background, I've been programming for over 20 years and have run a software consultancy business since 2005 in one form or another.

    I guess my very best advice would be that you need to be open to how opportunities might look. Remember that not everyone is an expert at hiring people, especially hiring tech people, so they may not know the right words to use that match the way that you might search back for them. Try looking for work that is outside your specialty. Many times those jobs are open because a company thinks that they need a certain candidate, but they may actually need you. and if you can't do the work for them, it's helpful for you to refer them to somebody who can help them.

    To overemphasize this point, most companies are terrible at listing jobs and explaining what exactly they need done. If you can find these companies who are looking for work but they are bad at explaining it, you can come in and make your value proposition to them. As an example, a lot of companies think that they want a website. What they actually need is a marketing website that has sales funnels and landing pages beyond just being a brochure website. However most companies don't know to look for that.

    So, part of your role will be to educate them on what they actually need, which will be doing the very number one thing that you can do as a contractor: provide insight.

    Also, make sure to look at regular jobs. Many companies don't consider that a contractor would be a better value for them, however that's an excellent conversation for you as a freelancer to have with them. I don't know all of the laws in the UK or the EU, but I know that employment regulations are fairly high there. I'm sure a lot of companies don't want to hire a bum employee that they can't fire and pay them a ton of benefits, which is why you can make the play that although your hourly rate is high or your project rate is high, the total cost to employ you for a specific period of time is significantly lower than hiring an employee.

    Referrals are the very best source of work. They take almost no time to convince, it's a very warm if not hot lead, and as long as you are reasonably capable and doing the work it's pretty much a slam dunk. The best way to get referrals is to be in business for a while and to ask for them, and to continue to make known to your network that you are looking for work . This can be uncomfortable, but I promise that it's more comfortable than being broke.

    When you find a good job or go through a nice season where you are making a lot of money, don't pay yourself anymore than usual. Keep all of the extra money on top of your normal pay in savings, and meter it out to yourself during the low times.

    Savings gives you big balls; make sure you save so that you can fire bad clients.

    Make sure that you don't accept bad clients out of desperation, which is the start of a negative, vicious cycle.

    Feel free to ask more!

    1. 2

      Hi Jordan, thanks so much for taking the time to send me such a detailed response! Much appreciated!

      Your point about the wording of clients is really interesting, as I've just been in touch with someone from a similar situation! A little more basic though, they were after a team and I spoke to them to suggest I could handle the project without a team and the reasons why. I think it's worked!

      Referrals have been tricky, much of my work has been through another outlet such as a small design firm or small agency, so the end client has probably never actually heard of my name, which makes it difficult to get referrals sadly.

      I really like your idea about targeting businesses looking to fill full time positions, as I totally agree that a contractor is much less hassle in regards to overheads, and long term salary etc.

      Totally agree that putting aside money when times are good makes so much sense, not just for stability, but it gives you the "balls" to chuck lesser paying/difficult clients and target higher paying clients, who are fewer and far between!

      Thanks so much again for your time Jordan, it's been a great help and all been noted!

      All the best!

  2. 2

    Sorry about your situation man. In my experience, I've only got consulting jobs through contacts. So I think emailing everyone you know in the tech scene to gently tell them that you're available for hire - do they know any opportunities - is a good shout. But I guess you may have done that already.

    1. 2

      Hey mate thanks for getting in touch. Yeah I tend to go through periods of reaching out to different types of businesses. I recently tried to contact 22 of the biggest London agencies, with a nice intro, a link to my portfolio etc. 0 replies haha. Very tough!

  3. 2

    I'm surprised no one has suggested doing contracting? If you have the technical skills (and you clearly do), it should be fairly easy to land a gig that brings in about 10k euro/month or more. That might or might not be enough (after taxes... which are not to be underestimated) depending where you live.

    If you're skilled with Angular and/or React and/or Node.js, send me a message and I'll see what I can do to get you in touch with possible clients.

    1. 1

      Hey Laurens thanks for getting in touch! Contracting is certainly something I've considered. I guess the only reason I've hesitated previously is I really value the time I'm able to spend on different projects whilst being freelance, and I'm worried about losing that if I take up a contract position. But I suppose a 1/2/3 month contract certainly wouldn't harm!

      Thank you very much for the offer, I'm very experienced in ReactJS, and I also work with VueJS. I'm familiar with nodejs as a build tool, and I have built a few APIs with it too but less so. Thank you Laurens!

  4. 2

    After reading the details, I feel you are looking for a premium client. So please don't go after marketplace websites like Upwork, PPH, etc.
    Rather than go after the freelancer agency, find the premium agency.

    On the side, try to build a channel (only if you are thinking to continue freelancing as long term.) to generate the client. It completely depends upon what interests you.

    For example, if you like to teach. Try to build a course and sell it to the marketplace. + share your learning on YouTube.
    There are other ways, find an open-source project and try to help the community, and share your learning over social media.

    The main aim is to- Create the channel so that the world will know more about you. The client will automatically follow.

    Please share your feedback on whatever strategy you follow. In the end, it is easier to say than done.

    1. 1

      Hi Ankur,

      I think I totally agree and am really targeting higher end clients to work with. I think I'll try to reposition myself.

      I've actually tried a bit of teaching and do tutor a few people each week, but that's a small amount per hour and would be very hard to make a living from. I did release a short video tutorial on YouTube a while back and it's something I do want to do more of:

      I totally agree that it's about building a reputation online, and I think that just takes time. In the end I love chatting to other developers about tech and to help others, so hopefully I can do that whilst also making money on the side with freelance work!

      Thanks for the tips Ankur!

      1. 1

        As I talked to other developers, Most of says SEO with React application is pretty hard. Do you mind if you share some of your knowledge regarding this?

        1. 1

          Yeah that's always been a frustration with React/Vue any SPA driven JS frameworks. Search engines are getting better with SEO for these but not good enough yet.

          I've used technologies like next.js before. Essentially it renders the JS on the server first, so on first load the markup from React is already loaded onto the DOM. This means search engines can scan the whole document, rather than see a single #app div tag.

          next.js for React and nuxt.js for Vue are great. You could also look at static site generators such as Gatsby!

          Hope that helps!

          1. 1

            Thanks for advice. Will definitely look into it

  5. 1

    I'm not a developer, but I have hired people to build websites and apps for me.

    I've been in sales and marketing my entire career. I failed at a few startups. I've built an e-commerce brand, and I've recently started a consulting/coaching business to help people build and monetize their brand. I've never hit that home run, but I do keep stepping up to the plate!

    You've worked with some amazing brands. That is your number one selling point, and this needs to come across in your sales pitch, bios, etc.

    Building out social media is great. Once you have a following, everything gets easier. People want to work with you. You are known.

    At the same time, I have never hired a developer from social media. I have tried TopTal, but the number one way to hire a developer is via a referral, as @jordanambra pointed out.

    In my startup attempts. I made huge hiring mistakes. I hired a graphic designer who did great work, but was a complete asshole. So much so, that we were lucky all our meetings were virtual. And that was my best hire, all the others were worse (at least he did good work)! All of these hires came from Elance because I was cheap. I don't remember where I got the graphic designer guy from, perhaps random Google search.

    But - when I started working with referrals, the game changed. Good people who have done good work for others and were vetted by people I already trusted. Goldmine!

    My advice is to set up a sales process. How does someone normally search for a developer?

    For me it is this:

    • Look in my local area via Google Maps. Check out their website and portfolio.
    • Go to my go-to industry forum and search to see if their are any recommended vendors.
    • Look for vendors that work particularly with my required software, theme, etc. (for example, my latest is a designer who specializes in Thrive Themes.
    • Someone that specializes in my overall niche (e-commerce, coaching business or, apps, etc.)
    • Recommendations from trusted friends and associates.

    So, understand what your client is looking for and how they search for a vendor. Then build a process around this.

    Start getting people into your sales funnel. Then perfect your pitch. Remember, your pitch isn't about you. It is how you can uniquely help the customer.

    Have a portfolio ready (which you have), have recommendations and testimonials.

    Most importantly, build out a referral strategy. Let potential clients know up front that you get all your work from referrals. This sets the expectation that they will also provide referrals. For big projects, find past clients who are willing to talk to your potential client and say how great you are.

    After the project is completed, have a close out meeting. Show them your work. Have a customer feedback form so that you can see what areas you did great in and where you can improve (always be improving). Ask for the referral. Maybe offer a referral incentive.

    I had a quick look at your website, here are a few suggestions:

    • Add your photo in the header. I want to see who I'm working with. It establishes trust and a bit or rapport.
    • Your headline tells me who you are. I'd switch it to who you help. " I help (your perfect customer) build (your favorite kind of project) using React, React Native, Wordpress & Laravel."
    • Your client list - You list a bunch of past clients which is great. but it looks like a bunch of words. It doesn't say why they are there. Don't try to get me to guess. Say something like: Just a few of my amazing past clients:
    • Add a testimonial or two.

    I also love the advice below about looking at job listings. I've done this in my sales role to get engineering work. Why hire a full-time engineer?

    Partner and collaborate - Find people that you can collaborate with to win deals together. This takes some of the sales burden off yourself and multiplies your efforts. Find a great designer so now you can offer dev and design as a package. Their all sorts of ways of doing this.

    In the meantime, you can keep building your social profile. Just remember that takes time and will be low impact for quite a while. Go sell!

    Hope this helps!

  6. 1

    Hey Stuart, I was in a similar boat in 2013. I found the site Toptal ( Disclosure, it’s a referral link. If you join, we both get $500 😀. They offer hourly and part time gigs as well as full time, and you can pick the jobs you want to apply for from their marketplace. Kept me busy for years.

    Feel free to message if you want some tips for their application process.

    1. 1

      Hi John,

      Thanks for getting in touch! I've actually considered TopTal before, seems like a great site. I do have a frustration though, and it's something I've been frustrated with in full time position interviews before too. I'm a full-stack software engineer. So I enjoy building a backend in PHP, the DB and everything, and then plan out and execute the front end with ReactJS or VueJS for example. That is the service I'm trying to offer.

      So I don't understand why on TopTal, and in other interviews I've had, why I have to do some coding challenge to work out some algorithm to work out what the 10000th index of a Fibonacci sequence is 😆 Maybe I'm missing something as this has happened a few times. I just don't understand why I'd ever need that - I've not needed anything remotely similar in the 8 years I've had in the industry!

      Anyway, sorry to rant 😆 TopTal seems a great site and it's something I really want to get on, I just don't understand why I need to do that to prove I can build an API and front end 😊

      What do you think John?

      1. 1

        Yeah, agree. It’s a pain. I believe they have gotten better over the years with interviewing frontenders, but I know what you mean. I nearly dropped out during the application process, but in hindsight I’m glad I persisted.

        1. 1

          I'm glad you agree, it's something I've always found a bit strange to be tested on! I think I'll give TopTal a go, and I'll use your referral code!

          Thanks John 👍

  7. 1

    I'm from the UK and a software engineer (~10 years), so I'll try to give some localized advice:

    1. Consider taking a remote role for a company based in London, as lot of roles in London are currently accepting remote within timezone due to COVID - that's if you're not already based in London.

    2. Another IHer mentioned going contracting. As a contractor, I can definitely attest to this - although IR35 is making things a bit of a headache - but this is worth considering for sure.

    3. From an industry standpoint, financial services pays significantly above any other when it comes to software engineering in the UK - so getting into this space/getting in touch with recruiters in this space it definitely something you should consider.

    If you've got a LinkedIn, I'd be happy to talk to you more on there/share your profile with a multitude of recruiters in the financial services space.

    1. 1

      Hi Yousef, thanks for getting in touch!

      I just left a remote role as sadly the role was changing towards something I wasn't particularly enjoying. I've always much preferred freelancing, it's just obviously much harder to get constant work!

      Interesting regarding the financial industry, I've never thought of that. Thanks!

      I do have linkedin but it's very out of date and a platform I've never really utilised much. Although I appreciate that I definitely should!

  8. 1

    Stuart, your work looks great!

    I was in a similar position a few years back and found 'niching down' really made things click for my freelance biz – becoming a specialist for a certain industry rather than just working with anyone. It made the marketing side sooo much easier, and after a while people just started finding me as I built up a reputation in the space.

    This guy is awesome and helped me do it – – you should check out some of his articles and resources.

    For example, looking at your site and the lists of tech you work with... do you clients know that they need this, or would it be better to frame it around the problems you can solve for them?

    1. 1

      Hi Mike, thanks very much!

      I definitely agree that 'niching down' would be a sensible thing to do, to help target my clients a little better. Congrats on building a successful freelance business Mike! I think the part I'm not great with is the marketing. If, for example, I want to niche down and focus on building B2B software (a glorified CRM for businesses of some sort for example), how would I go about targeting the right companies for this, and what marketing strategy have you found works best?

      Thanks again for reaching out!

  9. 1

    First, I am a London based developer and feel about the whole thing exactly the same way you do. There's absolutely no way one can pay London rent and work for Asian rates.
    I've been contracting for the last 2 years, with overall 7 years of dev experience and Software Engineering degree.
    I despise the idea of coming back to work for somebody else and I'm trying to start my own things up which takes a lot of... everything including time. I'm trying to find small gigs here and there in the meantime as side income but it's nearly impossible. I've done some work for a EU based startup for a third of what I'm normally charging but as soon as the issue was solved they went quiet (understandably).
    It has been a long time dream of mine to have a software house specializing in bespoke systems. Echoing other responses, clients who would need such services are premium clients and as such they never go for a one man band. I have therefore abandoned the idea years ago. Perhaps you should think about teaming up with other devs and setting up a software agency to appear more like a 'proper' software house.

    1. 2

      Hi Jake, it's good to hear others in the industry feel the same, although I wish we were all having a bit more luck of course!

      Sounds like I'm very similar to yourself, I've freelanced for 2/3 years on and off, with 8 years experience in the industry but I don't have a CS degree, I learned it all from hard work off and on the job!

      I agree, as much as I'm aware that a full time position is much more secure, I really want to make a living off my own back - it's something I've always wanted to do. I too have little side projects I'm trying to push in the hope they can support me month by month!

      That's a shame regarding the EU project. I've had many a time when I've done an entry level price for a client on the basis there is more work, only for them to go quiet after the first project, even when they have been super happy with the outcome. Such a shame when there is a lack of trust with these clients when you put so much work in!

      You seem to share a similar goal to me, I either want a successful SaaS project, or a software house of some sorts and have also thought of the idea of getting in touch with other devs to see if they would pair up on a project or something.

  10. 1

    Hey Stuart,

    I'm also a freelance software developer but not nearly experienced as you 😆

    Have you tried looking into r/forhire? I've always found good clients there.

    Also Hacker News puts up a post at the beggining of each month where you can primote your freelance service or look for a freelance gig so I'd keep my eyes on it.

    I've hear good things about SolidGigs so you could check them out too.

    Hope this helps you out.

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Hey Athos,

      Thanks for getting in touch! No I haven't tried any of the avenues you mentioned, thanks a lot I'll check them out!

      Have you had much success over the last few months during this current climate? Hope you have!

      All the best,


      1. 1

        For some weird reason, eversince pandemic started I've got more leads than ever.


        1. 1

          That's great news Adem! Congrats! What have you found is the best way to find clients other than scanner the sites you mentioned above?

          1. 1

            People would usually contact me first to see if I'm available for work.

            I'd just keep my GitHub updated and interact with people here and Reddit.


  11. 1

    Try teaching.

    You're already experienced, and there are a lot of tricks up your sleeve that you can share. As you share more valuable tips, you build an authority figure among your peers. As you share more of your experience (e.g. "How I made this cool animation for Jamie Oliver's website") will establish your reputation as a top performer in the field.

    Some ideas:
    On Twitter: share punchline tips.
    On Instagram/TikTok/whatnot: share cool effects or quick things you've built.
    On YouTube: share more elaborate, thoughtful explanations of how you made things work.

    1. 1

      That's a great idea, thank you Daniel! Really appreciate the advice!

  12. 1

    I think your experience puts you in the high-end, so you should be listing on the more premium market places. Not People per hour. I can’t remember the exact names of these, but I know several exsist (one came up on the latest Bootstrap web podcast).

    I freelanced for a year in 2019 as a designer and I got all of my work through freelance agency’s. These agencies will have the relationships and the trust with the bigger brands that would love to work with you.

    My guess is that the second point could really pay off for you. Also will buy you some time to build your own relationships with clients.

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Thanks for taking the time Oli!

      I've been trying to find the more high end versions of PPH, I am on upwork but again that sort of feels the same!

      Great, I've added "Bootstrap web podcast" to my listen list! :)

      That's a great tip though, freelance agencies. So do you have to pay them a fee for getting the work I suppose?

      Thanks again Oli.

      1. 1

        No worries at all.
        Yep, they take a cut, but also find the client/job and act a bit like an account manager for you. So, make sure you're doing ok and manage the client. They usually also pay you fortnightly/weekly, so you get paid regularly and don't have to wait till the client's been charged.
        I freelanced in Melbourne, Aus, but chatted to a couple of freelance agency in London (where I now live). I think 'Become' have developer roles and they were really friendly.

        Also, my partner just told me a fitness influencer who she follows on Instagram is looking for a freelance developer:

        1. 1

          Ah super interesting, that sounds exactly what I'm after in all honesty! Do you have any links at all, I found, is that the right one? Any more links would be much appreciated!

          Thanks for the heads up regarding the fitness influencer, I'll check it out!

          How have you found working in London? Tougher to find work than in Melbourne or easier?

          1. 1

            That's them. I worked through the Melbourne office, but met up with the London guys once.
            Umm, hard to say mate. Whilst I spend 80% of my free time working as a developer on my own web app and previously an IOT component, my career is as a branding and packaging designer (specialising in alcohol). In London, I managed to find a fulltime job in about 3 months. There was a lot of badly paid jobs on offer though (that I didn't apply for).
            Melbourne was good, but I found freelance a bit too inconsistent (maybe working 50% of the time). During that year of freelance I looked for another fulltime job, but had no luck. Graphic design can be super competitive though.

            How have you found London for fulltime jobs? There's a lot of big companies based here I suppose.

            1. 1

              That's great I'll get in touch with them! Thanks!

              That's interesting regarding your brand work. I've always tried to design but not something I'm particularly comfortable with! What's the web app you're working on?

              Yeah, finding work seems to be tough everywhere. I worked for Apple for ~2 years in London, then ran a web agency with a friend for a few years out of London Bridge but don't live in London, and have since started to work from home as freelance. I did find work in Oxford for a year too!

              1. 1

                Nice, good luck.
                It's a Shopify app called PreProduct. It's growing slowly but surely and I'm really enjoying it. Also find it stops me getting as wound up by things in my day job.
                Have you got any side projects etc after winding down the agency?

                Nice, Oxford is lovely!

                1. 1

                  Ah that's great, I see it's got 5 stars, congrats!

                  I've been working on this recently: I'll keep pushing to see if it takes off!

                  1. 1

           looks great. Good luck!

  13. 1

    I've definitely been here. I consulted/freelanced for 3 years and never really got the hang of getting clients. In fact, I pretty much got zero work from my own initiation. I did get lucky and a lot of people that I used to work with always had plenty of work that I could pick up. You can try leveraging your network to see if anyone has anything or knows anyone who has anything. Start messaging everyone you know, even if you haven't spoken to them in years. I've found that either they won't respond or they'll be happy to hear from you.

    1. 1

      I'm the same, I do get work but it's from old relationships (which is great) but I sort of feel like if those relationships went away, I'd struggle to fill the gap! That's a good idea though, I tend not to reach out to people I know...not sure why. I'll try it though! Thanks!

  14. 1

    I honestly find your portfolio quite impressive :)

    I'm not a freelancer myself, so I'm not very qualified to give advice, however I do feel like there are a lot of "free" options out there for people that need websites now. For example Wordpress, Wix, Squarespace, etc. Most people don't need to hire a developer to create a website, so I think your market may be too small?

    Small observation: The Twitter account link in your website is not working.

    1. 2

      I really appreciate that, thank you!

      I agree, those sort of sites definitely make it harder to offer solutions to potential clients, as something that I will build for £X,000, it's hard to argue why that's a better deal than a beautiful Squarespace site for £10? a month.

      My idea project is building "platforms/software" for people. CRMs, asset management tools etc.

  15. 1

    @morris14 Welcome to life in the fast lane, my friend. Yeah, it's a grind, for certain. ATS' don't help either. I've been pivoting the last 18 months and it has been really rough. There is just a lot of noise on the internet and people are severely distracted.

    Maybe it's time for web 3.0. You think? ; )

    1. 1

      Totally agree, there is a lot of noise and it's hard to be heard above it all! Wishing you the best of luck whilst you carry on your journey my friend!

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