How I Get Fractional Lead Contracts Without "Doing Sales"

I am often asked how I find the clients for my Fractional Engineering Lead practice. Here’s what I do. It has worked for me for about two and a half years now, but it might not work for you and it might not even work for me a month from now.

I don’t do sales. I don’t do “lead gen” or “biz dev.” I don’t even really network in the traditional sense. I also don’t have someone to do these things for me.

What I do is I help people. I don’t help them so that they give me contracts some day. I help them because I like helping people, particularly other Software Engineers, and I help them because it’s the right thing to do.

The other thing I do is I ask people to help me. I don’t ask for contracts, because either someone has work that’s a good fit for me, or they don’t. I ask people to give me advice, to help troubleshoot an issue, or to introduce me to their friends.

Every contract I’ve ever gotten has been someone who I’ve helped and/or someone who has helped me. It’s usually not anytime close to when we had that first interaction. They usually email me up out of the blue and say “I have / heard about a project, and I think you could help.”

When I started working as a Fractional Engineering Lead, I got my first contract from an amazing kind former coworker of mine. I helped her (in a very small way) to get that job, and she helped me fix some HR snags at that company. A couple years later, she heard that I’d lost my job and she connected me to my first incredible client. I don’t think I would have the business I have today without her!

Ok, but you probably want some practical steps you can take. That’s very reasonable.

  1. Join communities where people who do what you do hang out. When they ask for advice or need help solving problems, help them. Volunteer yourself to get on a call. You must do this in the spirit of genuinely helping and making the community better, or it won’t work.
  2. Fix bugs in open source software. Particularly fix the bugs that no one else wants to fix.
  3. Re-post jobs and the posts of those seeking work. Proactively connect people you know to jobs that are open, and vice-versa.
  4. Ask for calls with people you like and respect. Ask for advice, and ask if there’s anything you can offer in exchange. If what you need is a contract, be honest. Hey, I’m trying my hand at consulting, I’d like to have a short call to (1) get your advice (2) tell you what I’m trying to do and see if you know anyone who could benefit.
  5. Don’t filter people out just because they’re “not the target demographic” or whatever. That’s sales. If you say to yourself “I shouldn’t talk to this person, because they probably don’t need my services” then you are doing sales. Don’t sell. Everyone on this earth needs help, and in my experience, the vast majority of people on this planet want to help others.


Three Things I Like This Week (2023-02-03)

  • The Weakerthans’s 2003 album Reconstruction Site. One of my intentions for this year is to listen to more complete albums instead of hopping from single to single. I’ve loved this album since it came out, but I rediscovered it this week after the track Plea from a Cat Named Virtute spontaneously appeared in my brain again. Every single track is good, but the album is even better as a whole.
  • Consumer Reports released an app called Permission Slip that lets you easily opt-out of data collection and sharing with many companies with a few simple taps. In some cases, you can even request that a company delete your data entirely. They estimate that they’ve saved their users something like 150,000 hours since launch. Amazing and totally free.
  • KeokeN Interactive’s Deliver Us the Moon is a sci-fi thriller adventure puzzle game. The Earth has been totally depleted of resources, and humanity’s only hope for long-term survival seemed to be a Moon-based fusion reactor and the Microwave Power Transmission (MPT) system. Then five years ago, without any warning or explanation, the lunar colonies stopped transmitting and the MPT failed, blacking out the whole world. You play as a lone astronaut sent on a longshot mission to investigate what happened and bring the MPT back on line. I became aware of this game when a sequel (Deliver Us Mars) was released this week.


Three Things I Like This Week

  1. I’ve been digging Oxide and Friends from Oxide Computer Company. Oxide is doing something very difficult— building completely custom, completely secure (from the 1st instruction) servers. Oxide and Friends is the team chatting about the interesting parts of that monumental challenge. I only understand a fraction of what they are talking about, but it is still fascinating. It makes me wish I had finished my Computer Engineering degree. My favorite episode so far is the episode about the various circuit boards they’ve designed both for the server AND as tools to doing their work in the lab..
  2. is a delightful place to “get the best internet address that you’ve ever had.” What that means is that it is a simple and very cute service that provides linktree-style profile pages, email accounts, fediverse accounts, link shortening, and more with one subscription— all attached to the handle you choose for yourself. You can use their URLs, or attach the service to your own domain.
  3. I’ve been enjoying Becky Chambers’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built. The story follows a tea monk whose life is upended when they meet the first robot anyone has seen seen the robots walked off the job and into the wilderness centuries ago. The robot brings with it a seemingly simple and practically impossible-to-answer question: “what do people need?”