Ghost coding, at it's simplest, is when you do programming work for someone else, and they're paying you to get to pass that work off as their own. Similar to "ghost writing", the end customer should never know you've done work for them.
I'm pretty sure I'm the first person to coin the term "Ghost Coding" in relation to white-label work for other agencies (willing to stand corrected on that, but I can't find any evidence otherwise).
In a few more words, Ghost Coding refers to the practice of doing programming / web development work for someone else, and selling them the rights to pass your work off as their own. The term is based off the term "ghostwriter" which is defined as "a person hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are putatively credited to another person as the author".
Let's go over some of the Benefits of Ghost Coding as well as some of the downsides, and at the end I'll give you a few tips to help you get started!
It's the agency's job to track down and land new clients (and they most likely already have a team dedicated to doing just that). I just end up with a list of tasks that keeps refilling week after week.
I'd much rather have to swoon a couple of clients than have to constantly chase down my next meal. By locking down 2-3 agencies that each have 10-15+ clients at least, and continuing to provide consistent value day in & day out, you'll never run out of work to do.
There's a fairly good chance that your clients won't all have work at the same time (unless it's Oct/Nov and you work in E-commerce 😅). By multiplying your pool of potential work through Ghost Coding, you'll quickly end up with a full queue. If the work is slowing down with one agency, you can most likely reach out to one of the other two, and keep your plate as full as it can be.
By funneling a majority of your work through a couple of agencies, you vastly simplify the amount of admin and task management work you have to do.
3 big invoices instead of 30+ small ones? I'll take it.
3 meetings a week instead of 3 tiny free spaces on my calendar? Sign me up.
If you look at my portfolio, there's not a whole lot new on there recently, yet lately I've been busier than ever. What gives?
NDAs are what gives, and that's ok.
The agency is giving me money for the privilege to claim my work as their own in the same way that a lot of your favorite Musicians claim other's work as their own.
I've spent the better part of the last two years doing a ton of different types of work for dozens of small and medium sized e-commerce businesses.
But if something happens and just 1 or 2 key relationships get soured (if any of my agency contacts are reading this, i love you, i'm not going anywhere, please don't fire me) I'd have a whole lot of nothing to show for it.
The ease of finding the work is nice, but make sure you don't have all your eggs in just some other agency's basket.
By primarily relying on 2-3 agencies, you increase the likelihood and size of the emergency if you happen to lose just one of those clients. 2-3 agencies is better than just a single job, but having a couple other clients floating around alongside your Ghost Coding clients is probably a pretty good idea.
Ghost coding is a great way to take your freelance programming career to the next level. Here are a couple tips if you want to get started Ghost Coding.
Agencies are going to want to see that you can handle a variety of different types of work with varying levels of scope. If you can build out a portfolio over the course of a year's worth of part-time freelancing, that will be a huge bonus in your corner.
Just because you can't talk about the specific work you've done or the clients you've worked with, that doesn't mean you can't shout from the roof tops that you do Ghost Coding. Someone in your circle or your circle's circle runs a development agency and has a whole backlog of work (aka 💸💸💸💸) waiting to be knocked out.
Two of my current Ghost Coding clients came from social media, and content I created online. Who knew 💩-posting on Twitter would actually be part of my job?
Find an agency that specializes in the thing you specialize ( or have a decent enough grasp ) in. Find their main contact email, or their CEO on Twitter, and Just Ask.
"Hey there! My name is Jack Harner and I'm a freelance
By maintaining a few solid relationships you can multiply your pool of potential work and even bring some stability to the feast-or-famine freelance pay-cycle.
You probably should be a little ways into your freelance career already. The real-life work experience is what agency owners are looking for. That's not to say don't ask if you're just starting out! The worst that's going to happen is they say no. They might just bring you on for a one off project to start, and if it doesn't work out more long term, at least you got a little more real-life work experience to help you land the next gig.
Leave me a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@JackHarner) if you have any questions!