November 10, 2008
If you work at a medium to large interactive agency there’s a good chance you may soon lose your job, if you haven’t already. While the US is not yet in a recession (economic terms have specific meaning), a recession may indeed be imminent. Regardless, economic fears of all sorts—rational and irrational—are coloring business decisions in many market sectors; the results of which will quickly filter down to interactive agencies. Therefore, several things are likely to happen, resulting in the least able and least prepared among us rightly falling victim to marketplace Darwinism. But even for the rest of you it may be time to quit your job and make something of yourself.
I suspect the next year or two will be the best time ever for freelance designers and developers, and even for small agencies in the US. But only the most savvy and professional freelancers will be able to survive the economy we’re entering. Small businesses have had certain advantages ever since the advent of the Web, but I believe we’re entering primetime for agile and opportunistic squirrels, as the larger beasts lumber and sputter along. I think the coming years will in many ways be a return to the early days and wide-open frontier of Web design and development business. Web 0.2. This situation favors free agents, and here’s why.
This is what I expect is going to happen
With the exposed crisis and evolving fears in the foundations of the financial markets, large companies are either being forced or will choose to make decisions that affect everyone else down river. And with a largely anti-capitalist administration about to assume control of the US government, more companies are going to be hanging onto their wallets and looking for ways of reducing expenses while minimizing their profit exposure and the resultant penalties. In other words, smart companies realize that now is not the time to grow, but difficulties in maintaining stature will increase.
Smart companies also know, however, that now is not the time to cede the Web to their competitors. Redesigns and marketing must continue, but in a smaller, more focused way.
- While very large companies will continue to utilize large creative agencies—they are often neither equipped for nor understand how to do anything else—medium sized companies will be more apt to utilize freelancers and smaller agencies.
- Because of the reduction in projects and scope, larger and medium sized interactive agencies will be letting go of staff and utilizing freelancers more than any time since the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
- Those designers who also understand front-end development, CMS integration, and scripting will do best. Unprepared and unprofessional freelancers will do very poorly during this time.
- Freelance job boards are going to become more active and more valuable (and more profitable!) than ever. The very best of these will grab the lion share of this increase in activity, and rightly so.
- Those companies and organizations that find positive, professional experiences with small agencies and freelancers will continue to develop those relationships going forward, even as economic situations change.
- Companies and organizations that encounter poor and unprofessional experiences will likely be put off freelancers and quickly return to larger agencies as soon as they can.
The coming market will not favor the timid or inept or those with weak character.
My advice to you: learn how to run projects, learn how to run a business, learn about and adopt uncompromising professionalism. Whether you’re a freelancer or an agency designer, there’s an opportunity here for you to leverage your online blog/portfolio reputation and build yourself a strong place in the profession. If you work at a dysfunctional or mildly-professional agency, strongly consider leaving that tepid environment in favor of freelance. In fact, that decision might just be made for you sometime soon. The coming market will not favor the timid or inept or those with weak character.
But let me also suggest that now (as ever) is not the time to coddle and enable bad companies and those that insist on flawed interaction with design agencies and freelancers. I suggest that you be choosy about which companies and organizations you accept work from. Many will be coming from larger agencies where project mismanagement and lack of professionalism are rampant. Make your value, your values, and your principles clear and insist on clients adhering to your processes rather than their own ideas of how a project should go; anything less amounts to a big waste of their money. You’re the professional and you’re the one who knows how to run a design or development project most efficiently and toward the best results. Your client knows how to run his business, but not how to run a project. This is no time to allow clients to steal your profession.
To sum up
I believe that many companies, your potential client base, will flounder for a bit and then seize on the smart move toward utilizing smaller agencies and freelancers—as will larger agencies. I think the future is bright for smart freelancers and small agencies …and quite grim for badly run agencies and unprepared designers/developers at large and medium sized agencies.
I’ve made some mild predictions and bold suggestions here, but only because I think it’s prudent to consider these very likely possibilities and respond appropriately. I could be wrong about some or all of this, but I think time will show I was spot on or very near the mark. Some may laugh now, but we’ll see who’s laughing in a year or so.
Fortune favors the lucky. Luck = preparation + opportunity. Opportunity will likely come knocking. Are you prepared?