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Ivaylo Gelov – Developer from Sofia, Bulgaria

Ivaylo started freelancing less than a year ago and he kind of regrets not having taken the leap earlier. He is a self-proclaimed book worm and taught himself how to code when he was only 12 years old. His tip for fellow freelancers is to focus on providing the best service instead of having the best skills…

1) Hello Ivaylo, thanks for taking part in our freelancer insides series. Firstly, can you tell us bit about yourself and what are you up to these days?

I was born and live in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. This is now a small Balkan country which used to rule the whole peninsula through the ancient centuries. I started freelancing less than a year ago and I regret not having started earlier.I like simplicity and often take an effort to simplify complex things. I despise sloppy work and usually try to clean up the mess. I often sacrifice my time which is a bad habit – the whole idea of the freelancing is to work less and earn more.

2) So,where did your interest in technology come from and when did you start writing code? Did you know that it was going to be your career?

On my 10th birthday one of the presents I received was a book called “I do programming at 9”. I thought “Hey, I am late”. I read the book but did not quite understand it. So I started looking for other sources of information – books, magazines, etc. I learnt the theory, but needed some more practice. When I asked my parents to buy me a computer they answered “We can`t afford it, when you grow up and start working – you can buy it yourself”. After a year - at the age of 12 - I had saved the necessary amount of money to buy the cheapest computer “Pravetz-8D”, a clone of “Orik-1”. It was essentially just a keyboard – I had to use a TV-set as monitor and tape-recorder as external memory.
I learnt BASIC, then Assembler and I felt the power. Sometime around 1996 I became aware of MODPLAY – tracker music was quite popular back then. I was curious how this player manages to play such nice realistic sounds without a sound card, using just the internal PC speaker. I did extensive reverse engineering, got familiar with the code and then created my own player. I even added bass/treble corrections with digital filters. I think this was the time when I realized this is what I want to do in my life.

3) What was your inspiration and when did you actually decide to become a freelancer?

I started working for my full-time employer Mr. Ivaylo Penchev in August 2002 at one of his companies, Extrapack (a manufacturer of plastic and paper bags). After a couple of years he moved me into Walltopia, another company of him. I was also doing work for HRT and Composite-X where he was a major shareholder. It was quite interesting for me to develop business-related software and to solve real business problems. I was the only member of the IT department and I had to do a lot of different things.
After 13 years I realized I am exhausted and stuck at one place. I was bored and wanted some new challenges and more freedom. Eventually, I even wanted start my own business. And so I quit and started working on my skills – reading books, watching video courses. I realized how many exciting things are out there and how much I have missed out in all those years.

4) Was it difficult for you to start freelancing? Did you face many problems?

A couple of years ago I invested my savings into property, and this passive income allowed me to quit the full-time job without any worries about earning a living. The only “problem” was my parents asking me when I would start looking for a new full-time job. Even without my investment, I had accumulated enough money to allow myself more than a year to prepare for freelancing. I was calm and confident in my competence, I had a lot of ideas for software projects but I wanted to take some time to update myself with the modern technologies and methodologies.
I made an account at Upwork 2 months ago and just started writing proposals. I was not in desperate need to win a project so I applied only for those which were appealing to me. I won a couple of projects and this helped me to believe even more in myself. Sending 30+ proposals and having under 5 answers can be quite demotivating. Now I know I have to improve my marketing and selling skills, and will do that.
Things work differently for different people, so you should try different strategies – do not use the same template for all bids and hope that it will always work. Recommendations are a powerful instrument – try to engage all of your offline clients to become online (e.g. through Upwork) and to leave a feedback for you.

By the way, many gurus teach you to always write each proposal from scratch. It may be a wise advice – but you just do not have so much time. Your time is too valuable – you should use most of it for productive work or investing it in learning new skills. But until you collect several returning customers, you will have to write too many proposals. Try to prepare one or two good looking templates (or ask a fellow designer). Always start talking about the client’s needs, not about yourself. The client is not interested in you – he is interested in HOW and WHETHER you can solve HIS problem.

5) Do you use other freelancers or companies to provide skills that you don’t possess?

Unfortunately, I have too few connections. I would be very happy to start some new relationships, but being an introvert and not a talkative person makes the things a little harder for me. I am a very good listener and I like to ask questions. But I do not like the empty talks without transferring some sensible information. So this is something I should work on.

6) Now tell us, how do you find new clients that are interested in your services? Could you share any marketing tips and tricks with our freelancers?

If you have a blog or a rich profile on GitHub, it will be of great help. Remember Seth Godin's advice in his books the “Purple cow” and “Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?”– you have to have something different (habits, services, quality, etc.) to stand out from the crowd. And the only thing that can`t be copied by your competitors is you - your temperament, your character, your life principles, your aptitudes, your individuality. So just be yourself, seek for continuous self-improvement, learn from others, and simply stop envying. Someone is successful, so what – you are successful too, just from other point of view.

7) How do you set yourself apart from your competitors? What makes you special?

Well, this is a work in progress, I am still learning how to market myself. I try to focus on my soft skills, leaving the technical mastery on the 2nd place. People are social animals and if you are friendly, kind, helpful, trustworthy, reliable, care about the success of your customer, truly want to help him and his business, constantly show your positive and “can do” attitude, share your knowledge, provide small tips – you will soon become invaluable for your clients. There is enough work for all of us – you only have to find several regular clients which are easy to work with. You may find some inspiration in the Danny Margulies blog (

8) How do you manage the pressure of meeting deadlines? Do you use any specific apps or software tools for self-organization, invoicing and/or something else?

Currently I have only fixed-price projects and time constraints are quite flexible. I found out that working on more than 2-3 projects at the same time is quite unproductive, especially if I´m working on something I haven’ t done before or there is a big timezone difference and I have to wait 10 hours for my questions to be answered. I do not use any specific apps for time management or invoicing, I am still at the beginning and just not that busy yet. I have heard about Kimai, maybe I will give it a try.

9) What are your future plans? Will you continue working as a freelancer or would you like to switch to full-time employment again?

The freedom of freelancing is just too sweet to make a step backwards to a full-time job. The company I would work for should consist of very good people who can actually teach me many new things, and the management must be excellent in order for me to accept an offer. The high salary often gets you lazy and if there are no smarter colleagues to follow – you have a little incentive to improve.
Freelancing is very helpful for your own development. You earn all the needed skills which will allow you to start your own business. Your success starts depending only on your own efforts and capabilities. You will never be able to make the leap if you stick with full-time jobs only. If you need some motivation – read “The 7-day weekend” by Ricardo Semler, “Practice what you preach” by David Maister, “Freelance confidential” by Amanda Hackwith, “Everything is negotiable” by Gavin Kennedy, “Selling the wheel” by Jeff Cox, “How to make money out of thin air” by Brian Sher, the books of Dr. Izhak Adizes, and watch the Jacque Fresco`s movies.

10) What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a free-lance career? And what does it takes to be successful as a freelancer?

If you already think about freelancing – the first step is already made. Put your fears away, set some money aside to ensure 6 months buffer and start working for yourself. The easiest way to start if you are in the IT field is by finding some ugly or difficult to use websites, doing a better redesign and offering the result to the site owner. For example, you may choose the legal industry and redesign the websites of several attorneys. Or you could look around for a couple small businesses in your town and offer them to develop a business automation software. There are actually only 3 paths:
  • Find something which solves someone`s problem(s)
  • Choose something which is only for the rich – and try to find a way to offer it with less costs so that more people can afford it
  • Invent something original and become the next Twitter or Facebook
Success comes if you are consistent and don`t give up. Most coaches teach that you should become the top notch specialist in a narrow niche to eliminate the competition. Actually the winning strategy is diversification. Usually your first project is about what you can do the best. But if you are a narrow specialist, next task of the client can be in entirely different niche and you won`t get the job. Most clients are busy people and often prefer to have long-term relationship with a small number of reliable persons instead of looking for new freelancers every time. If you are a generalist, it may help you to create and retain such long-term relationships. Returning clients and the word of mouth are your only way to get out of the competition race.

Freestyle! Is there anything you would like to tell our readers?

The most important thing is the service. People remember how you treated them, not how fast or how well you solved their problem. You should constantly outperform their expectations, always offer something more. Discounts and promotions are the wrong path – you sell value, not your time. You sell your time when you do a full-time job.
The second most important thing is marketing yourself. We have to learn how to write good proposals and to sell our ability for value creation. I recently found an excellent blog on the subject -
And here are several other useful links:

Where to find Ivaylo:

Link to profile:
Link to website: – coming soon!
Skype:  tmcdos

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Pic: © Ivaylo Gelov
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