I was recently contacted by a developer who is relatively new into Rails freelancing, and asked me for advice on growing his business. As this is not the first time I’ve been asked about this topic, I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts here.
Hi Jaime, My name is (...), and I'm an upcoming Rails developer (...). I have been doing Rails freelancing for the past 2 years. I know you have been very successful with both the ProRuby team and your own consulting practice, and I really respect your business, and totally resonate with the culture that comes across. I needed some advice on growing my business and dev skills and was wondering if I could send you a brief email with a few questions?
These were the questions he had:
1) What would you say are the top three problems businesses face when they come to you, that you solve with custom development? I realize I need a much better understanding of what customers are looking for before I can build a reliable sales funnel for myself. 2) As a solo freelancer, where would you suggest I look for these customers? IE, customers who likely have problems that can be solved with custom software development, and are willing to pay to have them solved. 3) Last question: As a busy consultancy, how do you guys deal with the problem of too much work? I'd like to make myself available to help out consultancies and dev shops deal with overflow work, and was wondering what a good strategy would be to approach these agencies and build relationships with them.
And my reply:
I'm afraid my approach into Rails consultancy is quite different and these questions don't fit quite well with my way of working. Let me explain, it looks like you're looking for a way to sell your services to your clients, identifying their pain points and offering a solution. Instead, I'm just announcing myself as a Rails consultant, letting them know that I'm available, so if they're looking for one, here I am. Regarding your first question, about the top three problems businesses face, my customers are startups who need someone to develop their product. So it's not about solving a problem, it's about building their product. They have the idea, the plan, and I help them build it. About your second question, I don't look for customers, they find me instead. They look for Rails developers to build their products. And finally, about your third question: I never approach agencies directly. They find me, or are referred to me by a friend. That's what we do when we have too much work, we refer clients to our friends if we know they might be available. So, a good tip would be to go meet other Rails developers, find a local group, go to conferences, build personal relationships with other devs, work in open source, etc.
Then, he had an additional question:
Thanks a ton for your reply! I totally get where you're coming from - and where you're at is ideally where I'd like to be in the future. I have definitely started connecting with other developers in my local group and it has been very helpful. If you don't mind I'd like to ask a follow-up question to one of your answers: In your experience so far, has there been any pattern to what kind of products the startups you work for are looking to build? It's interesting to me that they look specifically for Rails developers to build their products.
And my final thought:
If you look at my portfolio you'll see that I've worked for startups on different fields: music, health, TV, creative agencies, social networks for teenagers... So they were looking to build very different products. But they all had one thing in common: they were startups that had already decided to build their product in Rails, so they needed Rails developers. And currently, there seems to be more demand than offer for Rails developers :)
This conversation made me realize that in all my years of freelancing (and I’ve been freelancing since 2003), I haven’t made much effort into ‘growing my business’ or ‘building a sales funnel’. It has all been a very natural process, I have just been in contact with other developers at local meetings, I’ve helped organize conferences, I’ve travelled to meet new people, and I’ve had tons of fun in the process.
And it looks like it’s going to continue this way for a long time :)