WARNING: Are You Ruining Your Career by Following This Common Piece of Freelancing Advice?

When I first entered the web design world, I felt like a fish out of water. For a long time, I felt like I really didn’t belong.

Admittedly, my background is probably a bit atypical. I wasn’t born a “geek”. I grew up in a military and sports-oriented family.

My first job ever was working construction for my dad. I was a star football player in high school. And, I had a fairly extensive background in sales my first few years in the workforce.

I certainly wasn’t in the Mark Zuckerberg mold of learning to code from age 7. I was 23 before I even know what web design was.

So, there were a lot of things that those who’ve “grown up” in a tech-heavy environment take for granted that really stood out to me.

More specifically, a lot of ideas that get accepted as dogma… that aren’t necessarily looked at the same way by the rest of the world.

ONE of those ideas is incredibly dangerous for your freelance career. I’ve literally watched it kill the careers of some of those most talented coders I know because they refused to change their thinking.

I’ve also watched mediocre coders ignore this dogmatic advice and go on to have fantastic careers without ever really becoming what I’d consider a highly-talented developer.

Here’s how it works…

I know a guy who is probably the most talented web developer I’ve ever met.

I’ve watched him run circles around people I thought were coding geniuses. I’ve seen him master a new coding language in a matter of weeks… several different times. And I’ve watched him build some of the more complex applications I’ve read in a matter of days.

In my mind, he should be a household name among web developers. And, he should have clients beating down his door to hire him.

But, for the better part of his career he’s been broke… and has struggled to find work.

At first, it doesn’t make sense. How is this ultra-talented guy not highly sought-after?

It took me awhile to figure out, but eventually it became pretty clear. He had accepted an idea about the nature of business that was killing him career-wise.

You see, he had a great disdain for anyone and anything “sales” or “marketing” related. Like a lot of coders, he believed salespeople or anyone being “salesy” by default was a sleezeball.

And, like a lot of coders, he didn’t want to “mess with” having to sell himself or come anywhere close to appearing “salesy”.

And, as a result… he wasn’t very good at it.

And so, as talented as he was… nobody knew about it.

Driven by his desire to get as far away as he could from anything remotely “salesy”, he convinced himself that all he needed to do was just keep getting better… and eventually “everyone would see”.

They’d see how great he was and he wouldn’t “have” to sell himself. People would just “know” and hire him.

It never happened.

And, for me it provides a stark contrast between his career and my own.

I consider myself an “okay coder”. I’m nowhere near as talented as my friend. In fact, among the coders I know closely… I’m near the bottom in terms of talent.

Yet, my career has advanced for more rapidly than any of theirs. And, it’s almost solely because I’m not afraid to sell myself. I’m not afraid to risk coming across “salesy” in order to get people to let me help them.

Sometimes, I’m really bad at it and piss off a lot of people. But, I learn from those mistakes and keep getting better and better.

And, learning how to sell myself has done more for my career than any chunk of code or new language ever will.

The idea you have to accept is:

It’s easy to understand why we think this way because we’ve all been inundated with bad marketing so much that we’ve come to believe it HAS to be that way to work.

It doesn’t.

In fact, it’s HARDER to do it that way. Instead, the best way to sell yourself is by simply helping others.

As of this writing, I have 94 YouTube videos that have received 1,109,813 view. I have over 100 blog posts on my web site. I get tweets, Facebook messages, and emails each and every day asking for help that I try to answer.

THAT is my marketing.

The people who watch those videos, read those articles, or ask those questions… many of them become clients at some time or another.

Your marketing doesn’t have to (and SHOULDN’T) be you telling potential clients how great you are.

It’s as simple as helping them BEFORE they hire you via YouTube videos, blog posts, code snippets, etc… and then telling them how you can help them more.

In reality…

Selling = Helping

When you take that approach… not only will YOU be more comfortable selling yourself… it actually work better too.

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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Gerald Lopez

    Thanks John, you are right. When I was a photographer I met other photographers who were crap, but they were successful businesses. They didn’t get caught up by how good they were. They just went out and sold their services, did a satisfactory job, and then went to get more. There is a group of us who are perfectionists, and are waiting forever to be “good enough.” Meantime, other upstarts are cleaning the market. I’m trying to change my attitude! Thanks for your encouragement!

    1. John Morris

      @gerald_lopez:disqus Yes. It’s an easy trap to fall into because it’s easy to be very self-righteous and say everyone else is junk and you’re just a “perfectionist”… when often I find (with coders at least) it’s just that they’re scared. I was the same way. It’s a short, fast road to nowhere. To break through you just have to go for it whether you feel you’re 100% ready or not. Thanks for the chat!

  2. kelvin

    That’s exactly where i am at the moment waiting to get that perfect portfolio before i applied for that web developer role when i know i could sweep through that web application with little trouble i mean i find my self mastering different languages,Platforms and patterns yet no job. I know i absolutely good enough for the developer role i’m afraid of. Thanks John you saved me.

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