Finding Business

A common question I get is, "Where do you find your clients?" The fact of the matter is, I don't. They find me. That's right. I invest no money in sales or advertising. I don't even have a portfolio. Yet, it's not uncommon to get a couple requests a week for work.

I believe that there are three good reasons why this is:

  1. I network
  2. I have a blog
  3. I write in places other than my blog


It's funny. I remember being approached way back when by someone asking me if I was interested in networking. I said, "Sure, I love networking," thinking they meant hooking up a bunch of machines for a LAN party. Turns out, that wasn't the kind of networking he was talking about.

Networking is basically just getting to know people so that when they have a need they think of you and vice versa. Many salespeople I know take networking extremely seriously and participate in a number of networking gatherings. This probably works very well but I imagine you have to meet a lot of people to land a sale through that kind of thing.

Within the industry

For me, networking has been more of a long-term side effect of simply being in the business of web development. At every job, there's turnover. People move on to new companies. As I moved from agency to agency, I got to know a bunch of people as friends. As they moved on to new jobs, they became huge assets in the networking game.

They are already closer to the circle of work you happen to do since you both worked for the same company (ie: you are in the same industry) — this, of course, assuming your company works primarily in your industry. Classic networking means you have to find people outside of your industry and hope they just happen to have a need within yours. Network within your industry and you are more likely to find people who have overflow work or have a particular project that they need to outsource for. This alone has been a good source of work.


To a lesser degree, attending conferences can be another great way to meet people who might one day hire you. I'm not a social butterfly so this doesn't really work for me but I know many people who have been able to capitalize heavily on the networking they have done at a conference, often gaining enough work for months afterwards. Again, you are dealing with people within your industry. If they need somebody, you want them to call you.


Having an affiliation with some group can be very handy. This is similar to a conference but more on a long-term basis. For example, my joining 9rules has connected me with a great group of people. On the member forums, job postings show up all the time. In fact, my first client as a freelancer came from a connection through 9rules.

There are plenty of forums out there, like Sitepoint, etc. Get involved and work requests will undoubtedly come.

Blog about it

This has got to be the most consequential factor. For me, much of it is probably just the longevity. Stick around long enough and good things are bound to happen.

Having the blog has been my bread and butter. It keeps the work requests coming in. The blog serves a key purpose: it demonstrates my knowledge in a certain realm. If people are looking for someone with a particular skill set, would you rather someone who simply has it on their resume, or someone who talks about it every day?

When people ask me if starting a blog can help their business, I can and do unequivocally say yes.

Spread the Word

Writing for your blog is great and all, but you're constantly hoping that those who currently read the site will share it with others. A way to be proactive about it is to contribute to other sites.

Write Elsewhere

I always thought that people would just come to me and ask me to contribute. Turns out, that's not the case. I've had to actively get out there and ask to get involved. Writing for other sites is much like marketing or advertising but instead of putting together a newspaper ad that says, "Call Now," you're informing people that you know what you're talking about (or at least faking it really well).

The first step for me was becoming a contributor to Digital Web Magazine. I emailed and asked to be involved. Sure, it doesn't pay, but writing for another site exposes you to a new audience of people. And you can almost always drive some of that audience back to your own site.

Getting into Treehouse Magazine, 24ways, or presenting at Webvisions have all been a result of asking to get involved. Almost depressingly so, I almost never get asked. I vowed to be proactive and it worked.

Get Linked

Although it wasn't on my list of three, I had to mention it. I feel that as an approach to getting business without really having to work for it (except for the whole process of designing, developing and building a site along with maintaining the site and adding new content frequently for said site for years) includes getting linked. Of course, write good content and get linked from legitimate sources. But don't underestimate gallery sites. It may seem like a lame popularity contest but gallery sites like CSSremix are frequented by people looking for designers (mostly) and developers (less so).

At the Core

At the core of it is, I try to find people that do similar stuff to me. I do it because I like to talk shop and learn and bounce ideas off people. But I've noticed that when people are looking for help, they'll come looking. The networking, the blogging, the writing... it's all because I enjoy what I do and I like sharing it. It's just a bonus that I get paid to do it, too, and I'm glad people trust me to help them out when they need it.

Published January 02, 2007
Categorized as Business
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22 Comments · RSS feed
Walker Hamilton said on January 02, 2007

I like finding people who do similar stuff, but even better is finding people who do other (random?) stuff that I enjoy.


  • Critical Mass and other (group) bike rides.
  • Drinking with the Chicago Pubocrats (political drinking group).....dont' ask about the bar brawls.
  • Bitch & Stitch (I don't do this but my girlfriend claims it's fun)

Yay! Fun activities help you meet people and then they find out what you do and that they like you (do they?) and then you are thought of when it counts.

I might call this "making friends" but perhaps a better label would be "making friendly acquaintances."

Josh Blount said on January 02, 2007

It's surprising how often I've heard similar words come from similar (great?) minds.

I'm one of the many "wish I were freelancing, not ready to take the plunge" blokes, so it's good to hear your words of encouragement. Thanks, and cheers!

Tony said on January 02, 2007

Jonathan - well I did want to hear you say something on the future of blogging

Though now I could just quote your "blog about it" part and let you pass on the meme ;)

Derek Allard said on January 02, 2007

I think you nailed it in your last paragraph. "At the core of it is, I try to find people that do similar stuff to me. I do it because I like to talk shop and learn and bounce ideas off people."

In addition to programming and staying relatively (pro)active within the communities I enjoy, I also spend a great deal of time teaching (university and corporate training). This serves the dual role of (a) forcing me to stay current and hip - which I would likely do anyhow given that I'm your classic newage web-nerd; and (b) keeps me in touch with other people who share similiar interests and are there because they are actively trying to learn more.

In one sentence, find something (or many somethings) you love about your industry and get involved!

Matthew Sanders said on January 02, 2007

I don't seem to have any trouble finding clients. I'm not famous by any means but they still come to me by word-of-mouth. I often find myself having to turn down projects because of the amount I have flowing in.

I hope to never loose this problem. :)

Jonathan Snook said on January 02, 2007

The interesting thing for me is that this goes against everything I've seen from having worked in agencies. There's sales people, RFP's, cold calls, etc. There's this hard push for sales. And that's not something I've had to worry about.

Tony: I noticed you meme-tagged me after I had this written. D'oh!

johan said on January 03, 2007

You position yourself on the market, and the tagline you have says clearly what you stand for.

johan said on January 03, 2007

what you dont have is a extended portfolio with urls and screenshots ... it seems you dont need to ...

Jonathan Snook said on January 03, 2007

johan: I keep wanting to get my portfolio up but never have time. It's definitely further down on the to-do list. But it definitely seems like I don't need to.

J Phill said on January 03, 2007

These kinds of tips are pretty helpful because I still consider myself pretty new to this web industry.

I'll be attending SXSW for the first time this year and I look to try and meet as many people as possible!

Matthew Sanders said on January 03, 2007

Jonathan: I don't see you every having to put up a portfolio. You've been around long enough to drive appropriate traffic to your site and you've got enough references on the about page to convince anyone. Maybe that's just me...

Chris said on January 03, 2007

Your tipps are really great and helpful by finding new business for my small web-company in germany.

but how do you learn new programming styles like ajax etc.?

i have not any time to learn new things. how did you manage this?

may be you are interested in some database and ajax work. then write me an email for detailed information...

Kilian Valkhof said on January 03, 2007

A nice breakdown of the way you find business.

Do you have any experience with networking groups? I might want to attend some, but I'm not sure if it's worth it.

Andy Kant said on January 03, 2007


I have found that the best way to be aware of new web techniques (as well as deal with quirks) is to frequent many of the technical blogs. Some good ones in particular are A List Apart, [Think] Vitamin, and Ajaxian which have many articles both for theory and practice. Jonathan also often writes good articles on theory and practice (which is the main reason I like this site, there aren't many good programming-oriented blogs out there). As an added suggestion, I'd say to write a lot of prototypes (good for practice and experience). I'm currently developing a database "server" written entirely in JavaScript (I guarantee you, it has a purpose ;), but if nothing else, its great practice.

If I ever finish the freelance jobs I have; I'm going to launch a programming-oriented blog (not towards any language in particular since I develop in most major languages/frameworks, but focused on web technologies). Hopefully I can complement the other blogs out there like Jonathan's.

Jonathan Snook said on January 03, 2007

Killian: the salespeople I've known have been all into it. I've been to one and didn't really get much out of it. ymmv, of course.

Cory said on January 03, 2007

Great advice here Jonathan! Networking has by far been the best form of advertising for me. It always seems to open up that "Hey, I know a guy" type of conversation that leads to work.

The CSS gallery sites are great too. I used to think that it was just a popularity contest but being featured on a gallery site can drive really good traffic and it tends to pay off eventually.

Great article.....

Tony said on January 03, 2007

It's alright, I still got to read some great insight on the topic, so it's all good =)

jack said on January 05, 2007

This is some real good advice, and has made me want to start up a blog. Once I have designed my new website, I will go about adding a blog to!

Bruno said on January 09, 2007

To me, networking is the most important factor of the 3 you mentioned. Althoug writing can be really good for your bussines, meeting people face to face creates better results. I think this is because you show yourself as a real person and not only a name in a website. It gives more confidence to your potential clients.

Jonathan Snook said on January 09, 2007

Bruno: I think it's a case of some approaches working better than others. Most of my business has come from the blog and not from networking (in the traditional sense).

Robert said on January 19, 2007

From my experinces, I really support your item #1. Network like crazy, online and offline. The more people you know, the more word of mouth gets passed around.

Jen said on February 06, 2007

Sorry coming in late on this discussion. Here lately I've gotten a lot of RFPs but not getting any conversion on them it seems. I generally try to respond to emails as soon as they come in and try to get a proposal out in 24-48 hours.

Being new to the whole freelance gig, I'm wondering if I'm doing something wrong.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.