I constantly meet people who learned how to program by teaching themselves or taking a few classes. They learned how to code, but are struggling with how to start and actually make money. They typically don’t have in-depth portfolios that allow them to charge much for their services, and they are afraid to ask for compensation. I have personally been through this situation, and this article is based primarily on my experience.

The problem that almost every developer faces: personal branding. Developers are afraid to classify themselves as such because they haven’t been developing for long enough (we’re talking about less than 6 months), and feel like they are somehow deceiving clients if they call themselves developers.

Here’s how to get over that fear and progress towards making the real money that you deserve:

Mental Exercises

  1. Convince yourself that you’re actually a developer. The biggest thing standing in your way right now is yourself. You don’t feel like you know enough to start telling people that you’re a developer- let alone charge people for it. Newsflash: You’re a developer. You have more experience then someone who has no idea how to code. Say this to yourself ten times: “I’m a developer”. This isn’t one of those “fake it until you make it” deals. You really are a developer- a new developer, but still a developer.
  2. Tell every new person you meet that you’re a developer.  The next step is to tell people about your developing background. When I started my consulting career as an analyst, I didn’t tell people I was “learning how to be an analyst”. I was an analyst. Next time you’re at a networking event and someone asks what you do, tell them that you’re a developer. If you just taught yourself Ruby on Rails, tell them that you’re a Ruby on Rails developer. If they ask how long you’ve been a developer, tell them the truth.
  3. Just because the work you did was free does not mean you can’t put it in your portfolio. Get that belief out of your head. Anything you create, whether it was for yourself or someone else, is a portfolio item. It’s something that you created. Nobody cares how much it cost to develop the work you’ve done; they just want to make sure you’ve done good development work before.
  4. 99% of non-developers don’t know what you actually do- they just know they need you. They don’t know what a developer really does, or the tools that a developer uses to create things. Being a Ruby on Rails developer versus an developer probably means nothing to them. They just hear “developer” and they get excited. This is why it’s important to tell people that you’re a developer. Chances are they won’t even ask for your portfolio.

Tactical Step-by-Step Approach

  1. Create your own simple, personally branded website. No need for a company name- you can just use the URL of your first and last name. Make sure the home page says that you are a designer  and/or developer, along with your up-to-date contact information.
  2. Update your LinkedIn profile. Link back to your personally branded website.
  3. Update your Twitter profile. Link back to your personally branded website.
  4. Update your email signature. Link back to your personally branded website. Make sure you include a line in there that says- you guessed it- “Developer.”
  5. When all of the above is done, e-mail five well-connected entrepreneurs and tell them that you will develop something for them at no cost. One or two of them will take you up on that offer. This gets you a portfolio item with someone that a lot of other people know, and this person can help connect you to future development opportunities. You can be completely honest with your contacts about why you are looking to do free work. Most of the entrepreneurs you reach out to will have a project that they’ve been wanting to work on, but haven’t had the time to do. That’s where you come in to help people out in your network while building up your developer portfolio.
  6. Last, but not least: Hit up the Craigslist computer gigs section. Reply back to relevant posts with a short 1-2 sentence response. Make your emails personal, but to the point. Tell the people behind the posts that you respond to that you are local and could do work for cheap. You will soon grow out of using Craigslist, but this is a great first step.

Follow the tips above- they will lead to meaningful & paid clients, internships, and jobs.

[Image: eGuidry, Flickr]