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I've been working as a consultant for the past 4 years in a country in Norther Europe. Most of these years were through an agency and only the past 6 months were directly with my current client. Consultancy agencies from my experience can only make things worse. Their markup might vary from 50€/day to 100€/day including a "we don't tell you" markup. They can also withhold or alter your client's feedback while spending plenty of your time asking for your feedback. I even witnessed the absurdity of asking me for the questions of the coding challenge as if I didn't know they were preparing another candidate for the same position.

I was reading this answer about the pros and cons of a consultancy agency and none of the pros applies to what I've experienced. They are merely the key holders of the job. Bottom line is that I prefer to work directly with my client. To my disappointment, most of the traditional communication channels like LinkedIn are taken by consultancy agencies. Are there any possible means of circumventing consultancy agencies and get contracts directly from the clients?

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for some reason the client prefers to pay an agency a lot more than go out and look for developers

The reason is very simple, and is the same reason because companies prefer head hunters instead of direct hiring. In the reality, reasons are more than one. First of all they save a lot of time. Testing several people to choose the right one is a big time wasting for a company, if someone can do this for you, you'll be glad to pay even a lot of money. Moreover you may not have enough expertise to evaluate candidates. Agencies have this expertise. If you hire directly and the employee decides to leave (may be even suddenly), you're left on your own devices, and need to repeat the hiring process from scratch. If that person was through an agency, it's and agency's problem to find another one for you, and normally they do very quickly. Summarizing, most companies prefer to buy a service, instead of searching a person, even if it costs more.

Apart all of this, I'm a freelance that work directly with end customers. Yes, it's possible, but it's a world of trust. It's very very hard (not to say impossible) to go to one company and say "Hey, I'm the best freelancer in town, please hire me". If you want to be hired, company must trust in you. How can you achieve this ? In my opinion, the best way is word of mouth. I began working through an agency, but I used to have a strong relationship with end customers. They were appreciating me and happened, 2 or 3 times, that some of them recommended me to friends owning other companies. Because these other companies were not customers of my agency, it was perfectly ethical to work directly with them (while it's not ethical, if not even illegal, to stole a customer to your agency). If you're enough professional, you may see that word of mouth may take you to several customers in few months.

Another way is social activity. I don't mean direct searching of customers through LinkedIn or similar. This is a very hard job, and, as you told, almost totally in the hands of agencies. I mean having your own blog, where you post, with some regularity, interesting facts about your jobs (but never post "I want to be hired", just post information that may help your typical customer). Then spread your posts through social (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). If you can, you can even write a book and publish on Amazon. You'll never raise money from a book (if you're not Dan Browne), but you may get popularity and you'll be authorized to say "I even wrote a book on this matter". Normally this impresses a lot. Most entrepreneurs think that who write a book is a guru of the matter. If, some of these, read your book, they may try to contact you directly. So link, in some way, your book to your blog, and be sure to be contactable through it. Anyway, social activity, for me is just an idea I never leveraged, so I may not be the right person to give you suggestions....

One final word regarding the way of working directly. Normally, the bigger the company is, more likely it'll go through agencies. So, if you plan to go alone, be prepared to address smaller companies. Small companies, normally, don't hire developers as is. They need ways to solve problems, so you'll need to be first a consultant, then an analyst, and finally a developer. You may be forced to change your way of working. Don't expect a small company to give you a detailed analysis document to start from. You need to prepare the analysis document by yourself, and then discuss it whit company's boss, and adjust it to his wills. You may even discover (it was not my case, but maybe) that direct customer pay you less than agency. A big customer may pay 100 to agency, and you may get 70. A small customer may want to pay just 60 for the same job. It's not uncommon. Another caveat of working alone is that you need to manage yourself. Now is an agency job to decide when and where you've to work. If you're alone you've to plan this by yourself. You may have weeks when you turn your thumbs, and other when you don't know how to fulfill all the requests. Be prepared for this. Best way to fill empty hours is to develop for the future. You may do thinks that no one ordered you, but may become very useful in the future. it's a bet, sometimes you win, sometimes you waste time.

Hope you can find your way.

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  • Thanks Massimo I hope that myself :) I wish I could upvote but... SE and its rules. Although I strongly disagree with the beginning and the end of your post: Agencies have this expertise. Unfortunately they don't. They are trying to place someone to one position as quickly as possible. That's my experience A big customer may pay 100[...]A small customer [...] 60 I've witnessed both cases (direct and through agency) in the same company and people leveraged that 60 to 100 margin pretty well. I hope you don't mind to wait for additional answers before I choose. :) – anon May 27 at 13:17
  • Ok, let me say: "professional agencies have this expertise". I agree that some agencies are not very professional.... – Massimo May 28 at 9:21
  • Regarding the 100/60, it's not a general rule. I said "it's not uncommon". Doesn't mean it's frequent, but may happen. It was just an advice to be prepared. Regarding working in the same company where you worked through agency, I think is not ethical. In my country is even illegal if done within 2 years from agency exit. It's classified as unfair competition. – Massimo May 28 at 9:31
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To my disappointment, most of the traditional communication channels like LinkedIn are taken by recruitment agencies.

What do you mean? What communication channels, exactly? Surely you can find direct contact info for these potential clients, no?

Are there any possible means of circumventing recruitment agencies and get contracts directly from the clients?

Surely you could reach out directly to these potential clients. What's stopping or preventing you from doing that?

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  • I'm sorry but I'm afraid you misunderstood my question. Moreover you provide an answer with questions that might have better been a comment :) To answer your questions: Surely you can find direct contact info for these potential clients no and that's my problem! What's stopping or preventing you from doing that? for some reason the client prefers to pay an agency a lot more than go out and look for developers. So if I knew the answer to this, I wouldn't be seeking for answers here :) – anon May 26 at 16:53
  • In Denmark, many of the largest clients (banks and so on) require going through one of their 'consultant providers'. Even when they could hire directly, they insist on using this middle man. – morsor May 27 at 8:28
  • @morsor not only in Denmark. The thing is that in a seller's market like the one in software development, these banks just make it better for me to go to the next job ad -just like they'd do with my CV. They can keep their agencies. – anon May 27 at 13:22

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