Freelance fish

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Josh is a freelance web developer. He specialises in building web apps that help people learn things.  So educational platforms or web apps with a strong learning component. He's currently working on a product called Client Tree that teaches freelancer how to find more clients by word of mouth.

The whole interview is worth listening to. You’ll get some interesting bits on:

  • Picking up a reade early in your career
  • How Josh learnt the importance of niching down and specialising
  • How to go from being a rehabalitative excercise coach to becoming a web developer
  • How to find work by helping the shit out of people
  • Hitting the ball out of the park with the project proposal and its benefits for the client and the consultant
  • Finding clients as a beginner
  • Why charging 10% more than what you're comfotable with helps you give an exceptional service to your client

What I learnt from this conversation ?

Picking up a trade early on

This helps you understand the nitty gritties of interfacing with the real world.

For Josh, this was starting as a personal trainer progressing towards rehabilitative excercise coach while he was in college.

Josh started out searching for a trade before college. This led him through the path of becoming and independent personal trainer. Then he specialised even more to become a rehabilitative excercise coach for back pain.

Going down this path helped him deepen his business skills as eventually he had to find clients himself as a specialist.

The importance of niching down and specialising

The more specific the better - niche down as much as possible. It’s easier to specialise as you connect the dots by looking at hindsight instead of forcing yourself to pick a sure specialist niche from day 1.

Work towards clients and projects that interest you, and this will eventually take you towards a niche as your expertise deepens. Being intentional about it accelerates the rate at which you specialise.

As a business owner, I'd find value in someone who can fix my specific problems in a super targeted way. It's way more valuable for a business by being more specific.

You also end up becoming more valuable for the client, because you understand the nitty gritty of the problem. Plus you don’t have to spent tons of time in troubleshooting the business. You just get hired and fix the problem in a short span of time.

Finding work by helping the shit out of people

You create an a referral network when you help and stay in touch with people.

Helping people helps you create a a level of trust with your network. It also keeps your fresh in their memory. Doing this twice a year makes sure you don't forget what they're upto and how you can help them. The added benefit is also they remember what you are upto, and would refer you whenever the opportunity arises.

For more context here is a write up from when Josh just started helping the shit out of people. Here are reports on some of the people and projects he worked with


The last one being a case study he did with Google.

What differentiates a pro from a beginner freelancer ?

Establishing what the goal is at the very beginning is very very critical.

The general interaction that you help a client provide you with when you try to work on a project. If I can put an analogy, it's the difference between staying at a Marriott and living at a beach shack. The client really has a phenomenal experience from start to finish and very little head scratching.

A first time client doesn’t know how a product gets built. They don’t know how you work. So its your responsibility to lay all of this out. This is how it’s going to go. This is the correct times to ask me these things. These are the milestones.

The most important things is understanding the project brief. Sitting down with the client and really understanding what they want. Stress testing their assumptions. Repeat this process until its very clear what this project is going to entail.

This helps both you and the client have a clearer picture of the path forward.

So the first step when a client comes with a project is to digest the problem and ask a whole bunch of questions. Rather than giving the client options, offer them your expert opinion

So when you go back to your client your say  “I think this is the best way to do it and here are the trade offs"

If they don’t like that, you can then give them the alternatives and ask them what they'd prefer. But don't confuse them with options. As an expert or a person being hired, it's your job to get all of that done.

Only clients who have built a lot of products in the niche you work onare the exception to this rule. But these clients most probably have a go to team. Also statistically, these type of clients are like 1 in a 100.

What a client says they want may not mean what they really want because they don’t know the right words for it.

It's really your responsibility to figure out what they are trying to say, instead of blaming them for miscommunication. Measure the brief twice and give a quick prototype to them if you can. Looking at the real deal will help them get a better picture.

How do you find clients  ?

Two ways

  1. Majority of my work comes from word of mouth. I have a core of clients I work with. I check in with them a few times a year and that’s how I find work.
  2. Outreach. Create a list of projects that you can add a lot of value too. Then pitch them your value and how it will be tremendously valuable to what they are doing or what they are currently experiencing. Start a few conversations with decision makers in your niche and eventually if you can really add value it will end in project eventually

Hyper specialisation not only helps you get paid more but also helps you find clients better

  1. You develop really good answers for people in the space to learn.
  2. You have a clear list of people you can go after
  3. You can add tremendous amounts of value compared to a generalist freelancer, because you know so much more of the unknowns as you spend time in that niche
  4. This only adds more value to the business you're helping, so they're willing to pay a premium for it ( caveat being this should be an expensive problem from the business )

Going a level deeper on this would be to productise your consulting service

Instead of charging people by the hour, figure out what it is people can buy from you and package it.

Figure out all variables, so that a client can come to your site and buy the service. You can just avoid 30 emails back and forth to decide whats going to happen. Its simple, clean and its beautiful.

Charge 10% more than you are comfortable charging.

If you charge what you think your worth you think the client is getting a really good deal.

If you charge 10% more than you’re worth, you put the extra 110%. Basically you promised something and overdeliver. This not only makes the client happier, but also you really push yourself to get better and grow.

A good place to start, would be to read Productised Consulting by Jane Portman.

How do you find clients as a beginner ?

When you start out you dont have a client list . A professional network is some who may someone who needs your services .

If someone I know on a first name basis, and they dont bring my name up if someone is conversing about learning apps (or whatever it is that you do), you’ve done a really bad job of explaining to them what you do.

Have I been in touch with this person in the last year ?

Over the course of touching base with them, you’re trying to figure 3 things

  1. What they’re doing at the moment
  2. What you’re doing at the moment
  3. How you can help them ? Something that you can do that would be helpful. Could be unique to them or something generic.

The idea is to get these three data points for everyone from your professional network.
Then you can just start helping people. Eventually, you'll get recommended and referrered.

Josh is building a tool to help you manage all of the above so that you have a professional network that’s constantly sending you work.

What is one thing that had an outside impact on your freelancing career ?

Going to town with proposals. Getting really clear with people about what the project is about before you start work.

Josh now charge people for this process, but it helps the client and Josh get tons of clarity.

Some people may be hesitant thinking a client won't pay for this, but clients find this natural. If you're building a house, you pay an architect for the blueprint. A proposal is very similar.

One thing you would have done differently at the start of your freelance career

I would specialise sooner. Finding a really expensive problem that I can solve for people.

Courses that have influenced Josh  the most ?

  1. Creative Class - Paul Jarvis
  2. Justin Jackson - Marketing for Developers
  3. Jane Portman - Productized consulting manual
  4. Brian Casel - Productizing your entire service
  5. Danny Marguiles - Six Figure Up Worker

One thing you could do right after the podcast to up your game

Make your signature referrable and easy to understand for your professional network. Be as specific as you can.

It should sound like this

"Do you know any (target market) who needs help with (the problem you can help solve). Please refer me ! ( a link to your website/personal portfolio)"

  1. Personal Website
  2. Client Tree