Build a Lead Generating Network

You’ve been looking for clients. It’s just that most of the people in your network are family or fellow “enterprise” type programmers without any actual work to give.

It’d be nice if you had a network filled with friends who would help you find leads. Who, if you mentioned you were looking for work, would go out and tweet:

But how do you find these kind of friends? Do you network? Gross!

The thought of dressing up to shake hands with entrepreneurs and recruiters sounds exhausting.

And if you did add them to your “network” would they really have your best interest at heart?

Stay Away from Recruiters

Quick story: I got a voicemail from recruiter the other day. The following is an excerpt from the message:

“I wanted to see how things were going for you at… <long pause> uhm.. I guess that.. <another long pause> uh LLC and touch base”

The recruiter didn’t even know the name of my business! Or had a clue what I did. There is no way I would have ever entrusted them with helping me find clients.

These aren’t the kind of people you want to network with!

You Want People in Your Network Who Can Brag About Your Skills

What you really want are people who can speak to your skills. Who know you’re the go to person for deciding whether a project needs React or Angular.

But how do you find these people?

5 Places for Developers to Meet Other Developers

Since I’m a web developer, I’ve found it easiest to meet and “network” with other developers in the following places:

  1. Local User Groups. You’ll meet other people in different stages of their career: they may just be starting out or could be owner of a local software company. Be sure to talk to everyone and share your aspirations. It can be scary, but in my experience if you put yourself out there, people will be very willing to help. Be sure to return the favor since social capital is what keeps these groups running.
  2. Slack channels. Example: In my own little Slack channel, if someone had a question, Pete had the answer. From Pete’s perspective, he was just happy to be helpful to the community. From everyone else’s perspective he became a friend and invaluable resources. When Pete announced he wanted to start freelancing, four or five people in the channel immediately booked his time for a year out.
  3. Conferences. People at conferences spend their time and money to enhance their careers. So you know they mean business! lol Seriously though, half the leads I’ve gotten have come from friends I’ve met at conferences.
  4. Hosting workshops. These are perfect because they instantly set you up as an authority. And you don’t have to be the host, you could be a volunteer teacher/mentor. I once got a lead from a consultancy that was hosting a workshop. The connection wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had volunteered.
  5. Open Source Projects. This is a great way to network with people by doing things rather than talking. If you’re in the good graces of a project maintainer/owner and they approach you with a lead, you’ll have actual social proof of your work. It’s killing two birds with one stone!

Fill Your Network with Your Peers

You’re filling your network with your peers. People who know you’re the best fix for a particular problem. This is a huge improvement over your Mom telling random strangers to give you a call since you “know computers”.

And when you finally do need to look for work, you’ll have an army of friends ready to help you out.

Finding Your First Retainer Lead Plus a Free Worksheet

“I’ve been freelancing since February, and it’s pretty feast or famine. I enjoy it, but I need regular work.”

Ah, the feast or famine cycle. It’s a right of passage for freelancers. Everyone goes through it.

And this is where the appeal of a retainer comes from. You just want to start seeing consistent income.

The problem is, how do you find your first retainer?

There are two paths forward: pitching a retainer agreement to a prospect or selling them to clients whose projects you’ve since completed.

Don’t Pitch a Retainer to Prospects

You should avoid selling a retainer to a new client. Why?

Jarryd Drysdale offers three excellent reasons:

  • You wouldn’t know what kind of work to offer on retainer. Only the experience of actually working with them, side-by-side, provides that knowledge. I haven’t been able to get enough out of interviews, questionnaires, or any other qualifying method. The client isn’t always aware of ongoing challenges, or doesn’t expect you could help solve them. So, you need to see these things happening.
  • You don’t want to get trapped working with a client who doesn’t follow your advice or who you don’t like. No matter how hard you try to ask clever questions to weed out difficult clients, when you start a real project, there are always surprises. Use fixed-length projects to qualify clients for retainers.
  • A new client won’t trust you and will say no every time. You need to build some trust and prove you do good work during a real project before a client will commit to recurring work.

Client relationships are a lot like dating. It’d be crazy to ask someone to move in with you on the first date. And it’d be just as crazy to ask a prospect to commit to a long term financial agreement. Slow down there! That’s a question for date number three.

Pitch Retainers to Your Profitable Clients

So we’re going to focus on finding a retainer lead from past clients. Specifically your best ones.

I’ve seen two kinds of businesses that are ideal for retainers: large size ones that have problems hiring and tiny ones that don’t want to deal with extra employees.

The common thread? They’re both hugely profitable.

So if you’ve had clients like those in the past, reach out to them first.

Are They a Good Fit for Retainer?

You’ll ask the exact same questions as you would when catching up with an old friend. Except, you’re trying to dig for extra information. Specifically to find out if they are a good fit for retainer work.

  1. Do they have indefinite work that you can do?
  2. Will they be able to pay you indefinitely?

If there was a chat transcript it would look something like this:

Ryan: hey Sally! How are things?
Sally the former client: Doing ok. How about you?
Ryan: Business is good…

[Chit chat]

Ryan: We’re permanently in VB for the time being. How about you? How is the Acme Corporation? I take it they secured more funding since you’re still around?
Sally: We got funded in the spring…

[more chit chat]

Ryan: Wow. What did the new CTO do with the team? Did they expand? Cut it down?
Sally: We expanded. We got two more Ruby/Ember devs; A full-time front-end dev…

[closing chit chat]

Notice that the goal here is not to sell. It’s to find an opportunity.

In this case, the Acme Corporation sounds like a bad opportunity for a retainer. Sure they’ve got funding, but they’ve also expanded their team since I’ve been there.

If Sally had told me they’re having a hard time hiring that would have signaled a perfect retainer opportunity.

4-Step Worksheet for Finding Your First Retainer Lead

It’s not really that complicated. It just involves looking for the right opportunities.

To help with the process, I’ve designed this 4-step worksheet to help you quickly identify your best possible leads. Click here to download it for free.

What about you? Who do you reach out to for retainer opportunities? Let me know in the comments below.

The Three Characteristics of Retainer Work

I recently saw a freelancer ask “What characterizes your client retainer packages?”

And I get it. Some clients only use your services for a month and then come back two months later. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to stick with you every month?

If you worked on retainer you’d move away from $500 one-time gigs to $5,000 projects.

With the extra income you wouldn’t have to put life plans on hold. Like starting to save to purchase a house.

Retainers are nice because you get paid to be kept on a project indefinitely.

But what kind of work needs to be done to justify a retainer?

Retainer work has three characteristics:

  1. It’s indefinite.
  2. It provides consistent value.
  3. It’s Irreplaceable.

It’s Indefinite

For all the retainers I’ve worked on there was never an end to the work.

In one instance a client was trying to secure funding. Since their investors wanted a more mature application, the list of feature requests never ended.

For another client, our team replaced an entire development department. Once we completed one internal application we moved onto the next one.

You see, I wasn’t just filling an empty chair. I was doing work that produced results. Clients kept me on retainer because they could see consistent, tangible value from my work.

The client could see consistent, tangible value from my work.

This brings us to the second characteristic of retainer work.

It Provides Consistent Value

I’ve mentioned before that I have a desire to never do anything related to yard work.

Despite telling multiple lawn maintenance companies this statement I’ve had to go through four different companies. Four!

  • The first one needed me to tell them to fill in a hole after they dug up a bush.
  • The second one needed me to call them to remind them to cut our grass.
  • The third one needed me to explain that when they cut my cable line, it couldn’t be fixed by tucking the frayed wire under our vinyl siding.

The fourth company, Ashton Landscaping, has been perfect. They come every week and handle everything related to our lawn: pulling weeds, cutting grass, aerating the lawn, blowing leaves, etc.

They key lessons to take away from my favorite lawn maintenance company are:

  1. The work is at least monthly. I see them every Friday. If it rains, they make up the work on the weekend. In the fall they start to cut the grass monthly. Anything beyond a month and a retainer wouldn’t make sense.
  2. The work is tangible. How do I know they’re doing good work? I can actually see my lawn being cut.

Ashton’s services have been so good they were even able to upsell us on a backyard patio with pavers!

Now it may seem like I’m gushing over my landscaping company but there is a point. After going through the other three crappy services I’m going to stick with Ashton.

Which brings me to my last point, I stick with Ashton because in my mind no other landscaping service can replace their services.

It’s Irreplaceable

Earlier I mentioned that one client chose to pay our premium rates instead of hiring their own dev team.

This wasn’t from a lack of trying. And we tried to help them! We had them buy a booth at RailsConf, wrote the perfect web developer job description, and started evangelizing their projects and technology stack on Twitter.

Despite all of that they continued to choose us over hiring. Why?

They said they couldn’t find the right talent, but it was deeper than that. We were getting the work done.

Hiring someone and training them would mean a delay in projects that had internal deadlines. So they ate the extra costs.

Retainer work isn’t limited to developers. I used to have a Virtual Assistant on retainer to handle my weekly billing. I have a copy editor on retainer to make sure I don’t sound dumb in these articles.

I’ve seen designers on retainer to help design new marketing assets each month and offer small site tweaks with after monthly A/B testing.

Got another example? Tell me about them in the comments.

The opportunities are there. You’ve just got to spot the patterns.

Remember, retainer work must

  1. Be indefinite.
  2. Provide consistent – monthly, tangible – value.
  3. Be irreplaceable.

Next week we’re going to cover the kinds of businesses that are more open to retainers. Don’t want to miss the article? Subscribe below.

Double Your Freelance Conf Review and Checklists

Here for just the “How to Find Leads” Checklist? Download it here.

I hope your week is treating you well.

Have you ever heard this piece of advice?

“Freelancing is a business, treat it like one.”

But what does that tell you exactly? You want to work on your business but it always seems like you have a hundred things to take on.

This happened to me two weeks ago. I thought I was “done”. I had finally re-launched my book but then another hundred things popped up:

  • should I create a course?
  • should I offer one on one coaching?
  • should I include a new recipe I just learned about?

Meanwhile, taxes were due and client work wasn’t going anywhere.

How did I react? I sat on the couch and binge watched the first season of Community. That wasn’t very “business like”.

I couldn’t stay a couch potato for too long though. I was scheduled to attend first ever Double Your Freelance Conference in a week.

The goal for Brennan, the conference organizer and crazy cool human, was to give its attendees a “handful of actionable to-do items that you can incorporate immediately into your business.”

The conference absolutely crushed that goal.

Before the conference started Brennan gave me the thumbs up on live blogging the event.

You can find my notes below as well as links to some other awesome speaker/attendee recaps.

Most importantly, you can download the Double Your Freelance Conf Action Plan. I’ve compiled it based on actionable advice from all the speakers.

Download you your copy!

It got quite long as I was working on it so I’ve divided it into three parts. Subscribe in the form below to get the other two parts when they’re ready.

Otherwise, you can follow me on twitter and see when I release the updates to this post.

Once you give it a look and come up with five things to work on for your business, leave a comment here. I’ve already left mine :).

The more you set your intention, the more likely you are to get it.

If you want to state it privately feel free to send me an email and I’ll follow up.

Notes from Speaker Talks

If you want to dig into each topic the notes also include additional reading as well as twitter accounts and websites of each speaker.

Live Notes From Other Attendees

Speaker and Attendee Recaps


Moving forward this is a conference I plan on attending every year. It’s officially part of my big 3 with the other two being BaconBiz and MicroConf.

If you don’t live in the US make sure to leave a comment here and let Brennan know you want to see a similar conference in Europe. Also be sure to support the conference by buying the videos while they’re still offered at a discounted price.

DYFConf Notes: Brennan Dunn – The End of Consulting

Build a business that fits the life you want to live

With agencies you end up becoming manager.

Wanted to emulate another agency. Didn’t have any direction. Had built a business that had to build a life around.

  • Commuting
  • 9-6
  • Kids about to be asleep when got home
  • Only saw family on the weekends

3 Options

  1. You want to become a premium consultant. No exit plan
  2. You want to scale, and ultimately build an asset. You can build a company. You can build one that doesn’t require you as an input.
  3. You want to use client work to finance building _other _assets. Client work subsidizes other work. Shout out to

The little red hen.

Indecision kills productivity

You have a finite bank of decision making points. Rank by effectiveness

Think of the things that actually produce results effectively.

Your task isn’t write a book. It’s something you can actually define. Write a table of contents. Write a first chapter.

Journal like Thomas Jeffereson – kept journals. 1. tracked every seed he ever planted 2. tracked every for correspondence 3. Tracked weather

  1. What did I do?
  2. What worked?
  3. What didn’t?
  4. What (financial) impact?

Reflect daily

You’re going to have bad weeks/months

If you can see a trend showing forward movement, that’s the best way to overcome doubt.

Start or join a mastermind.

  • Even if you’re the sole owner of an agency.
  • Or higher level strategies.

“you don’t know if we’re going to be around in a month”.

Don’t be afraid to turn around.

There is a reluctance to admit to ourselves that we’ve made a mistake.

Abstract ideas are going to remain abstract until you map out a way to accomplish them.

Further Reading:



DYFConf Notes: Kai Davis – How to Build an Audience

First mindshift “I’m not an expert”

“What would I talk about?”

  1. teach them how to solve a simple problem
  2. Share a controversial opinion
  3. Teach your expertise

Second mindshift “stop thinking leads, start thinking audience”

Builds a relationship with people. These aren’t leads. These are people in your audience.

Gives an example of Nick D and his weekly newsletter.

Playing the two year game. Long game.

Nick didn’t have to maintain much time in investing on individual relationships.

“The Garden principle” – we want to teach as much as we know. Water your audience with content to grow them as people and as businesses.

“Bigger checks take longer to grow.”

3rd Mindshift “Reaching your Audience”

“Looking sideways” – who is already reaching this audience. We want to use someone else’s audience as leverage. How can I work with the owner of this audience? How would it be valuable to them?

Make a list of your dream placements and partners. How can you be helpful to these partners?

Colleagues aren’t competitors

Schedule time to meet other professionals. How can we work together to share useful information to your audience?

There’s no “one right way” to build an audience

4th Mindshift “Pitching, Following Up and Presenting”

The most impactful marketing tool? Direct personal contact.

One email every day to our dream list.

What makes a great pitch email?

  • well-researched
  • relevant to the recipient
  • clear call to action

Be persistent. Follow up until they hate you.

What separates those who succeed versus those who fail? Their ego. No response doesn’t mean failure. Keep following up.

Don’t take a lack of response as a “no”.

It can take 7-10 emails until someone is ready to collaborate with you.

Plan each and every email in a follow up sequence. take a couple hours to predict different scenarios.

This is moving from reacting to acting first.

Once you move forward and build your relationship, have a clear call to action and a next step for their audience.

For podcast interviews include specific call to actions rather than just “you can follow me on twitter”. Have a CTA to a lead magnet that warms them up.

“If you want to learn more, visit URL and enter your email.” This is a clear next step.

It can be a static page on your site based on where the audience is coming from (use the audience or collaborator name in the url). Create added bonuses for that specific audience.

Action list:

  • Accept the fact that you’re an expert
  • Pick three topics to write about
  • Choose 20 dream placements of your content
  • Send out one email per day
  • Set up a landing page and have a clear call to action for that audience

Further Reading:



DYFConf Notes: Brian Casel – Productize to $10k/month

How to use a productized service to accelerate your transition to software.

  • Built software in WP
  • project to project, but frustrating

times when would land $20k project and the thought would be “this sucks, now I’ve got to do work for this client”

Productized service as a business

Transition to product business is tough. Making a product and getting a client to pay for it isn’t all there is to it.

Client work takes you away from your new thing, day job, bills, kids, family & friends.

Don’t want to compromise on your lifestyle.

Talking to friends and family

Freelancers who are used to getting paid for one hour of work are not used to the risk of losing one hour of billable work to products.

The path of least resistance – Productized Services

Building systems and processes

When first tried Restaurant engine he built software first. For Audience ops they started with the service first.

Software with a Service (SWaS) Software + Service

Combine software with a done for you service component.

The software provides the tool

The service delivers the results

Easier for clients to buy a SWaS than it is to just buy software (maybe the software won’t work for you)

It’s easier than just hiring freelancers.

no more discovery meetings. no more requirement gathering. negotiations. no scope.

Productized service allows you to skip past all of that. You’re working with your ideal customer and skipping all the traditional freelance steps.

Better than selling software by itself because you’re taking a very hands on approach to deliver what your clients actually want.

Owning the Tool is Optional

What if you don’t own the tool for the service? You could build your service on top of an existing tool.

What do your customers really want?

Do they want a tool or a result?

Leveraging paycheck to invest in the business. Streamline the service. Delegating the work to employees.

Launch Service, get revenue/results from day one.

Reinvest the revenue into developing the service with software

But can it scale?

I removed myself to the point that I spent < 3 hours/month managing the business.

Remove yourself

First, get the solution right. Then remove yourself from the delivery


focus on one problem, one solution, for one customer

Whatever you can do to take action and get something out the door. The faster you can do that that faster you can get things right.

Price on Value. Scale the Costs.

Leverage Everything. Focus on taking the path of least resistance.

Further Reading/Listening:


DYFConf Notes: Amy Hoy – Consulting-ized Products

Brainwashing and why you should do it to your clients.

“Don’t write a book for the money” – Publishing companies

Write it for the exposure!

eBook as onboarding for clients AKA brainwashing

Done right, an ebook, online course, workshop – can lead to lead gen, respect, trust, money

#1 Cause of Client Failure – you expect us to actually do what we paid you to tell us to do?

The second law of consulting

No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem – “Secrets of consulting”, Weinberg

New clients. you gonna waste my time? no? let’s work together? What are you doing? Why is the secretary here? Liar!

You can brainwash your clients before you work with them.

“Don’t build a better X, Build a better user of X” – Kathy Sierra

Don’t build a better project management app, build a better project manager

Don’t build a better consultant, build a better user of consultants AKA clients

Number one cause of failure is inaction.

a better class? build a better student.

Brainwashing to create a positive life change.

Marketing funnel that leads to an actual big buy. Making them better.

  • help learn
  • help think
  • help act
  • help win/result
  • they will trust you more

How many of us have gotten jobs when someone just tired/failed themselves and wanted to hire you?

  • What do your clients suck at?
  • Help them achieve what they want to achieve
  • Help them how you already help them
  • Create a consulting-ized product
  • Give them a manual for your process. so they can know exactly what they are buying
  • Provide an emergency exit an escape hatch for an escape plan. You can do the work for them!

Focus on your client’s business, not your tools

  • you’re a consultant, not someone who runs photoshop
  • Help your clients understand what they’re struggling with

Your best clients

What do they need, want, and buy?

look for the intersection between need, want, buy

People who love Excel will never let go of Excel even with their cold, dead fingers

Build a better client

If they’re not ready to hire you yet, how can you help them become ready?

“I never have to write a proposal again” – Nick D, dues to the success of Cadence and Slang

Idea of multiple “yes”. Persuasion is a gradient

  • yes, I’ll read this [blog post] $0
  • yes, I’ll give my email $0
  • yes, I’ll attend this webinar $0
  • yes, I’ll buy this book $49
  • yes, I’ll take this workshop $449
  • yes, I’ll hire this person $10,000+

even with the $0 they are still paying you in time and effort.

Consulting-ized product

  1. What do your *clients suck at? *Help them achieve what they want to achieve
  2. Help them *how you already help them. *Create a consulting-ized product
  3. Give them a manual for your process **so they can know exactly what they are buying
  4. Provide an emergency exit. *an escape hatch for an escape plan. *You can do the work for them!

Q&A – creating a consulting-ized product

Problem: Startups – clients come to you after they’ve tried the cheaper solution.

Amy: How can you educate startups from trying out the cheaper solution. That could be a $30 info product

“You don’t want to put info products out for people who are so broken that they can’t be saved.” You can’t polish shit.

Pick your best clients and optimize for educating them

“Focus on the people actually taking your advice” Double down on the people who are actually doing it.

GTD gets most of their money from executive training. GTD wasn’t designed for creatives. It was designed for executives.

How do you sell something that is boring?

Who in the value chain are the ones that care for time tracking software? Managers of internal departments. Mainly because they’ll enter the information incorrectly.

Further Reading:



DYFConf Notes: Julie Elster – Getting Paid

Worked for 10 yrs in Customer service, finance claims, AR credits

Helped Kurt with collecting payments <3

  • qualifying clients
  • communication
  • marketing yourself
  • know your value
  • pick up the phone
  • embracing the awkward
  • firing toxic clients

Learned it’s ok to be picky with guys. You can be just as picky about clients!!!

Get to know what you’re getting into with your clients before you work with them. Qualify clients.

It’s ok to ask questions about potential customers before you work with them.

You don’t need to have the mentality that you should bend over backwards just to close a client deal.

You need to be looking at whether a client is a good fit for your business or not

How do we qualify clients? Communication

  • be upfront
  • talk to your client
  • honesty: best policy
  • **get it in writing. **Even if it is an acquaintance of a friend. lol 🙂
  • make expectations clear

What can we do to prevent invoices from being paid late or not being paid?

Business owner versus Freelancer. Know Your Value. Don’t call yourself a freelancer. “Freelancer is our word”

You’re charging too low. If you have bargain rates you’ll attract clients looking for bargains.

Start charging upfront. Do you really want to be working with someone who cares about leverage?

Attitude should be that you don’t care if they don’t agree to your terms. It’s ok to say goodbye.

Let clients know a week before a payment is due.

Scope creep – by collecting money upfront you can avoid any problems with this.

Don’t go anymore than 15 day payment terms. Anymore and you’re potentially getting forgotten

Avoid Holding Payments Hostage. worked on a project, sent the invoice. “Oh, we need you to fix something”. Waited on the payment.

Firing Toxic Clients

You shouldn’t have to deal with toxic clients. If you’re thinking about firing a client you should do it. If you’re thinking about it, it’s too late.

3 ways to fire a client

  1. The slow fade
    • finish up
    • deliver it
    • offer referral. Do this if they try to give you more work
  2. The Cmd+Z
    • Only works if you’re just getting involved with the client
    • “Not a good fit”
    • Full Refund
    • Offer referral. Again do this if they continue to persist the relationship.
  3. Keeping the cash
    • Consult your contract
    • open & honest
    • Offer referral

My client paid late: Now what do I do?

  • don’t get emotional
  • Use your phone.
  • Get comfortable talking to clients on the phone.

Further Reading/Listening: