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Remote software work by bidding sites & online ads

This is a followup to this thread:

http://discuss.fogcreek.com/joelonsoftware/default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=157166

Thanks for the responses. In every case where there was a reasonable rate, it seems like the relationship was actually established face to face but the work itself was done remotely.  I didn't exactly mean that type of situation.

What I was 'really' looking for were people who have gotten decent paying remote work in which all of the introduction and negotiation was done over the internet and/or by phone calls, and was initiated by an online ad or an online RFP.

IE: I was curious if there are any Rentacoder, Guru.com, Prosavvy, Craig's List (remote work only), or Elance success stories among JOS users reading. Not specifically those channels only, but those places typify the genre.

By "Success" story I mean work in which you actually earned (collected! not just invoiced!) at least $20/hr US or more net. This is a very modest target, but I am disqualifying offshore type rates and supposedly decent fixed price projects that string along forever w/o payment because the client is being a jerk.

Bored Bystander
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

When I was in college, I was contacted by one person in US to do PHP programming for his website. He found me through Devshed forums.

I worked for him at 45$/hr for couple of years and finally he stopped giving work to me because he wanted someone right in his office. I never met him nor did I ever talked with him on phone! He used to send me mail with list of things to be done, I will do those changes, upload code on his server and he would pay me once the invoice goes over 1000$. He was wonderful client and I wish I can still work with him!

I had many few one off type assignments which I found by people contacting me but this was the only major one which I could sustain for more than year without ever meeting him/talking to him. Amazingly, whenever I tried to reach client myself [e.g. replying to ad he might have put on rentacoder OR devshed forums], I never got any response. The few clients I did have in past, they all reached me rather than I reaching them.

JD
http://jdk.phpkid.org

JD
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I've attained 3 clients since last August all of which have been via online methods.  All of the rates are at least twice $20/hour or more.  One of them has turned into pretty steady work with about 10-15 *billable* hours a week.  The other is fairly sporadic but I have a very good relationship with them (maybe avg 10 hrs a month).  And I just recently found another one that has been heavy the last 1 1/2 weeks.

I've gotten all of these by responding to an online ad in a forum.  I do mostly ASP.NET/SQL but also do some classic ASP.  My biggest selling point is that I do this full time, 9ish to 5ish+.  There are so many people out there that respond to these ads that want to do "contract" work but they can only work at night or weekends.  All of my clients work during the day.  They don't want to be constant chasing people.  If something breaks, I'm available.  So I'm able to project a lot more professional image.  All 3 of these clients do web development for their own clients so I'm their programmer and they typically already have the design talent in-house.  I'll also add that 2 of my 3 clients have had a bad experience with off-shore programmers.  The other one has never tried.

An additional thing is that I'm able to speak the business speak for the most part and I communicate with them intensely.  Most of this communication is via email or IM.  I am involved with some conference calls when we need to talk to one of their clients.  I really like this arrangement because I have people out there drumming up work for me (their sales people) to keep me a fairly constant flow of work.

You won't get rich working by the hour, but it works out well for me now.  I am young (24) , but most of my clients had no idea my age when we really originally started.  My expenses are fairly low but I don't live in the slums or eat raman noodles all the time.  I have a home office and do all of my work from home.

With two clients I've had since August, I've created an excellent relationships with them and I do excellent work for them.  My ultimate goal is delivering to them so they can deliver to their clients because if they don't get paid, I don't get paid.

My relationship is very important with my client.  I communicate all the time about the progress.  I make sure that I add value.  In some cases, I'm almost like an employee but I still make sure that there is some dividing line so that if I want to take off Friday, then it's no questions or if I have other work to do as long as I get done what I promise.

I haven't used any services like E-Lance, RentACoder, etc.  I did have a fairly large client that I designed an application for and still run their site and I'm sure that has helped some with getting these clients.

I've never met any of these clients in person.  Interestingly enough, two of them are about 3-4 hours away from me and the other is across the country.

Jonathan A.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

My experience matches JD. The few times I have gotten decent paying work without meeting the client, it was they who contacted me. In all cases it was because I have expertise in a field that few have ever heard of and probably I am one of only two or three people in the world that would be able to do the project.

I'd also be curious to know if there are other situations in which people will pay fair rates for IT development sight unseen.

It seems that the entire rentacoder scene is based on the rates being radically discounted due to exactly this uncertainty.

Meeting face to face is worth big bucks and those who don't want to do it are absolutely short changing themselves by a huge amount.

Bystander, Let me lay down the deal for you  as I see it - you don't want to meet the client for some reason. Knowing that you can be paid perhaps ten times as much for the same work if you do meet with them, is your reason for not wanting to meet the client really so compelling after all? Are you horribly disfigured?

Bob Ratchett
Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I know some people who are simply considering relocating to remote low-cost areas.  Telework would allow them to continue developing even though that sort of work is rare in such locations.

Drudy Mialnam
Thursday, July 01, 2004

Guys, thanks for the data points so far.

Bob, I'll explain my interest. These inquiries/straw polls are a sort of debunking. I'm trying to figure out if decent remote work is a fiction or if it can actually happen.

I am not pursuing any remote, offsite, or online "anything". My experiences in initiating contact with clients who advertise online have been resoundingly and uniformly negative. The pattern seems to be set by rentacoder with the hoards of offshore people who swamp every reasonable RFP. I simply wanted to know if anyone had made a living at this.

I've personally always found remote work to be an *exceptionally* hard sell: the prospects always seem to be lying, inflating  the truth, or playing games, but they always assume that the contractor is likewise lying or being deceptive about his qualifications or abilities. "The customer is always right" becomes "the customer must constantly have his ass kissed" when you're courting remote work.

In my experience, anyway.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, July 01, 2004

I kind of agree with BB about RFPs which are posted online on sites like eLance or rentacoder.com. Those guys are pretty much screwed and I will certainly not sacrifice my happiness working on their stupid project.

But yes, in my limited experience I have found that client who finds me really understands what he is looking for, he pays fair and overall it's win-win situation for both of us. Heck, I remember doing one PHP image gallery script for webmaster of one of the sites and he gave me quite a few referrals for PHP work of his clients.

After that I have decided never to respond to any project which is posted online and always look out for referrals from my current clients or do some product making if I can not find work.

JD

JD
Thursday, July 01, 2004

We've had at least 5 or 6 new clients come to us directly from the web in the last two years or so. The work for them has been a mixture of one off development projects and ongoing work. It's not enough for it to be our only source of work but it's picking up slowly.

Rates are good as I'm only including the clients for whom we've actually done work in the "5 or 6" above; there are plenty more who want the moon on a stick and change from $1 but unless they're providing the trip to the moon and we really fancy going to the moon and we're not otherwise busy then we tend to avoid those kind of projects ;)

In some cases it's all been done by email, in others people wanted conference calls to discuss the projects, in others we ended up doing short consulting gigs on site off the back of the requests. We're based in the UK and the online clients have been from Canada, US and Europe. The clients have ranged from large corporates to one man software companies.

Payment has been, at times, interesting. But then I expect that's just part of our business skills growing up. We used to be too very keen to win these clients which often led to us being too flexible with payment terms etc; this led to some bad debt, most of which we've since recovered. Now we take a proportion of the fee in advance and require the rest before shipping the completed code. That seems to work better for us. We'd be happy to use a payment escrow if clients insist but so far that hasn't been the case.

We don't use eLance, etc as we're not interested in competing on price with school kids ;). We tend to 'seed the market' with code we'd like to write more systems with by writing articles and giving source away for free on www.codeguru.com, our company web site www.jetbyte.com and my blog www.lenholgate.com. "Write it, and they will come" is not a very cunning business plan, but then it's not our only source of clients.

Len Holgate (www.lenholgate.com)
Thursday, July 01, 2004

I replied in the earlier thread, but after the activity was done. 

As I said there, I'm just finishing up a project review, where I read the code of a partially finished project to look for performance, security or functional problems.  I did it on fixed bid, they are happy with the report and my rate was well over $100 US/hour.

As several others have pointed out, this worked well because they contacted me due to my expertise.  Once the client has posted the work on a site, I'm not interested.  I don't compete on rates.

a regular reader
Thursday, July 01, 2004

I'm an offshore developer who's been working through Elance for more than a year. It's perfectly possible to have steady work $20+/hour, but you have to invest a lot of time and efforr into building your reputation on the bidding site (Elance in my case). You have to have excellent feedback reviews and impressive earnigs visible in your profile before you can net the big fish.

Egor
Thursday, July 01, 2004

Reg. reader, I saw your reply on the other thread, thanks.

>> this worked well because they contacted me due to my expertise.  Once the client has posted the work on a site, I'm not interested.

This seems to be the consistent pattern. If the client is advertising on one of these places, they don't want to pay anything, or they aren't really serious. If the client contacts you, then they have a higher chance of being serious.

I have dabbled in responding to online RFPs for years. I did so back in the early 90s, pre-mass market internet, on Compuserve. CIS had a classified ad system and once in awhile someone would advertise for a developer.

Basically, every ad presented like this was someone with no money seeing if they could get their pet idea developed for almost nothing. Generally the ads were coming from private individuals without a business, doing the work out of pocket.  I did get paying work from one guy who wanted a small consumer product developed. The guy was an amateur at it and kept inflating the specifications after we agreed to a feature set. I wound up returning 1/2 his money and telling him to get lost. Another guy sent $500 in advance fees for a chunk of development work but I spent hours negotiating minor details of his "ideas". Usually the RFP maker was a big talker who would vanish after initial contact.

So I think the same thing applies today to the online bidding sites. A real business with an actual "need" isn't going to waste a month of auction bidding wading through dozens of responses from semi qualified people whose only claim is being dirt cheap and each supposedly having mastery of 3 dozen current skills run together like alphabet soup.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, July 01, 2004

Bored, in case it helps, the one way in which I've been hired without the client having seen me is when they recruited me via a contract agency, with the client being overseas.

Christopher Wells
Sunday, July 04, 2004

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