On this weeks show: Surviving the recession with Andy Budd, providing effective browser support and free boagworld consultancy.
Unfortunately we have a bit of housekeeping to get out of the way before we begin:
- Boagworld Christmas Appeal – I really want to thank everybody who gave so generously to this year’s Christmas Appeal. You guys have raised over £2000 for Sarah and Simon’s work in India and they are both over the moon. This money will allow them to provide better facilities for the growing number of children they work with, and doubles the amount raised last year.
- Transcribers – After such an amazing effort for the Christmas appeal I feel bad asking you for more. However, we really need people to help transcribe the podcast interviews. We believe it is important to make our show as accessible as possible and we need your help to do that. If you feel you could help or have questions about what is involved email Ryan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- .net Magazine offer – Fortunately my next piece of housekeeping allows me to give something back to you guys. I know you love the offers and competitions we run from time to time and this is a particularly good one. .net magazine have been kind enough to offer boagworld listeners some massive discounts on their annual subscription. In case you haven’t heard of .net magazine it is the UKs premier web design magazine and has some truly phenomenal content each month. If you are based in the UK, you can now get the magazine for 50% off. That is only £9.75 every 3 months. In the USA the discount is even bigger at 54%. That means an entire years subscription is only £64.99. In the EU you pay £55 for a year and the rest of the world pays £67. Those are excellent prices for a really good magazine. To take advantage of these offers visit the special boagworld offer page.
- Free consultancy – My final piece of housekeeping is a little competition we would like to run. We are always giving away other people’s stuff but never give away anything ourselves. To rectify this problem we are giving away a day of our time to a lucky winner. Myself and Marcus will provide a free days consultancy where we will dispense advice on ways you can take your website forward. If you are interested in entering, email myself by the end of January. Include your name, company (if you have one), URL and why you want our help. We will pick the most deserving case and contact them at the end of the month.
News and events
Obviously a lot has happened in the world of web design while we have been on our Christmas break. To make matters worse, I must confess to not following the news while we were away. I have therefore gone for the first four stories that caught my eye. Apologies for the lack of professionalism!
A roundup of 24 ways
Way back in show 146 I mentioned the return of the 24 Ways website. As I explained on that show 24 ways is an advent calendar for web geeks. Each day throughout December they publish a daily dose of web design and development goodness to bring a little Christmas cheer.
As I said before 24 Ways is without a doubt one of my favourite web design sites. However, it does have one fatal flaw – it releases one article every day throughout December and I just can’t keep up. December is always mad with clients wanting stuff wrapped up before Christmas and people taking holiday felt right and center. I simply do not have time to read everything they publish.
Fortunately their archive of articles are still all waiting for me on my return and make perfect reading as I struggle to return to work.
This year has a truly bumper crop that I cannot wait to get into. The top titles that have grabbed my attention are:
- Sitewide Search On A Shoe String by Christian Heilmann
- The IE6 Equation by Jeremy Keith (Deciding when to support IE using Algebra!)
- The First Tool You Reach For by Kevin Yank (A look at CSS tables)
- Making Modular Layout Systems by Jason Santa Maria (Gaining greater flexibility in laying out content)
- Shiny Happy Buttons by John Allsopp (Styling HTML buttons without resorting to images)
- Recession Tips For Web Designers by Jeffrey Zeldman
- Contract Killer by Andy Clarke (Writing the perfect contract)
Most of these I have yet to read but they promise to keep me entertained and informed until next year.
WCAG 2.0. is official
Probably the most significant story while we have been away is the release of WCAG 2.0. WCAG 2 has taken an age to be released but has also come a long way from its controversial beginnings. When I read some of the initial drafts it was horribly complex and anything but accessible. However the final release is extremely well thought through and communicates complex concepts and ideas in an easy to understand manor.
I think what impresses me most about WCAG 2 is the way the guidelines are conveyed. It has four layers of guidance which include:
- Principles – These are broad principles of accessibility which need to be understood by everybody. If you had to explain web accessibility to senior management you would probably talk in terms of these top level principles. They include the need for a website to be perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust.
- Guidelines – There are a total of 12 guidelines organised into the 4 overarching principles. These are ideal for website owners or project managers that need to understand more detail on how to achieve the broader principles but do not need to understand the technical detail.
- Success Criteria – For each guideline, testable success criteria are provided that allow designers and developers to know specifically how to conform to a guideline. These are the equivalent of the WCAG 1 guidelines and are still organised into Priority 1, 2 and 3.
- Techniques – Finally, designers and developers can also access techniques that may help them to fulfil the success criteria but are not in themselves mandatory.
It is a very logical approach and makes it easy for anybody to understand how to make their site accessible. With these guidelines now official it is important that you begin to learn about these guidelines now, even if you just start with the 4 broad principles.
Issuu Smart Look
From WCAG 2 to something that encourages website owners to ignore accessibility! I often find myself torn over whether to share something on this show or not. Part of me wants to teach and encourage best practice, but another part is more pragmatic and accepts that sometimes we have to compromise. The next item is an example of the latter.
Website owners love to post PDF, Word files, and Powerpoint presentations on their site. It is quick, easy and gets their content online with minimal fuss. However, it creates accessibility problems requiring users to have appropriate software or plug-ins. It also makes it hard for search engines to index their content and increases demands on bandwidth.
If you are a website owner and you do this – stop it!
That said, if you have no choice or you are a web designer being forced at gunpoint by your client, then there maybe some hope.
A List Apart discusses content
Finally, I wanted to mention two articles posted on A List Apart over the Christmas break. Both article tackle the subject of Content Strategy. Without a doubt content is the most ignored aspect of our websites and yet is also the most important. It is great to see the profile of content increasing and seeing sites like A List Apart promoting it.
However, I do have doubts about the way content specialists are promoting their work. This particularly shines through in the two recent List Apart articles. First, there is an obvious sense of frustration that people do not value their profession. This is entirely understandable. However, sometimes it comes across as them ‘justifying their own existence’ rather than emphasising the value of content. Second, and probably more significantly, they seem to be fracturing their profession into more and more specialist areas. Where once there was a content editor there are now content strategists, copywriters, editorial specialists, content analysts and more.
Although this specialisation is not out of line with the way the entire web design sector is moving (after all once upon a time a ‘web designer’ built your entire site) I don’t believe the majority of clients are ready for this complexity.
Everything I read in these two posts was excellent, but both struck me as expensive and complex. I still struggle to convince clients of the value of investing in content and I don’t feel these articles do anything to aid that cause. Of course, that wasn’t really their aim. However, what I need is a simple and coherent argument for investing in people to write good copy before we start breaking the skillset down even further.
That said, these are great articles and certainly worth reading, if for no other reason than to understand the importance and complexity of our content.
Feature: Effective Browser Support
Browser support should focus on usability and accessibility rather than pixel perfect design. Sites should render in all browsers, but provide advanced features and aesthetics to those which can support it. Read More
Interview: Andy Budd on how to recession proof your business
Paul: So here we are a new year and our first interview of the year and who else would we get on the show except Andy Budd? Hello Andy.
Andy: Hi Paul. How are you doing?
Paul: I’m doing very well. It’s been so long since we’ve had you on the show. Probably for good reason.
Andy: Are you running out of guests or something?
Paul: Yeah, we’re just having to repeat now, endlessly. There’s only three people that can string a sentence together, that’s the problem, of which I am not one of them.
Andy: Aww, you do yourself a disservice.
Paul: So we thought we’d pick a nice cheery subject. Me and Andy had a little chat earlier about what subject we would talk about today and we thought, "New year, new opportunities, exciting times, let’s talk about the recession and the economic downturn." So here we are. Everybody’s been going on so much at the moment that it’s all doom and gloom and I have to say, I don’t know about you, but you know I’m seeing with regularity on twitter people saying, "I’ve just been made redundant," and it’s a bit of a scary time, isn’t it really?
Andy: Um yeah I think it is. I think a lot of people at really good companies, really good people at Yahoo! and whatever have been made redundant in the last few weeks. Last.fm have been having redundancies as well and it’s like, "Oh wow, really smart people are being made redundant," so it is a bit of a worry for everybody I think.
Paul: The trouble is, everybody’s a bit cagey, aren’t they about their own situation and what’s going on so I thought, "Let’s talk a little bit, try and clear up some of the mystery around it," and I thought, "Let’s start by talking a little bit about our own experiences," you run a small agency, I run a small agency. I mean from our personal point of view at Headscape we have seen a little bit of a downturn. Not dramatic. You know I keep kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop and everything to dry up but certainly we’ve seen maybe a slight reduction in the value, the budget that people have and they seem to be taking longer to make a decision and thinking more carefully about what they’re doing. Is that similar to what you’re experiencing with Clearleft or is everything lovely with you guys?
Andy: No, I think that’s probably very similar here. I mean I know sort of before Christmas we really hadn’t experienced much of an effect at all, in fact kind of October, November, December, particularly October – November, was the busiest time we’ve ever had as a company. We were kind of really really rushed off our feet, but things have slowed down now. I guess the difficult question though is, "What have they slowed down?" I think in part it’s because of the recession, but partly it’s because people have been on holiday over Christmas and stuff so I think the real what we just need to see is what’s gonna happen over the next few months. Christmas is one big milestone because obviously a lot of companies their financial years end on the calendar year and they will start to get new budgets at the start of the new year. So what normally happens is January is usually quite quiet anyway and it starts to pick up toward the end of January when people have now got their budgets and they’re setting their schedules and their priorities for the coming year. Another kind of key point is March. You know March – April when a lot of other companies’ financial years kick in. So I think we need to kind of give it a couple of months, give it until March and then we’ll have a much better idea about the effect it’s had on clients’ budgets. But yeah, I would agree. I think people are just more cautious. I think all of this discussion about doom and gloom, frankly a lot of the reason why we are in the situation we are at the moment is because of media. The more people worry about this stuff, the more cautious people are going to be and it becomes a bit of a cyclic effect. But yeah, I’d say the same. I’d say clients are being a bit more cautious. We haven’t had too many issues with companies. We had one Icelandic bank that pulled out of a project in November which was quite amusing. They contacted us like a week before Iceland, kind of, you know, blew up. And we were like, "Yeah, we could have seen that coming," but apart from that it’s OK. Slackened off but it’s seeming to be OK at the moment.
Paul: So what about you? You’re talk about clients being cautious. What about you at Clearleft? Are you guys being a bit more cautious in what you’re doing? You know, your outgoings and that kind of thing?
Andy: I think we’ve always been reasonably cautious and I think that hopefully will set us in good stead for the next six to nine months. One of the things that we were really really conscious is running a good stable business and we’ve seen a lot of scare stories from the last .com boom with companies growing really really rapidly. They’d basically expand as much and as fast as they possibly could to fulfill the demand. That’s really great in the good times when people are throwing money and projects at you, but as soon as the projects dry up you’ve suddenly got a lot of mouths to feed, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true of Yahoo! but I think it’s probably true of some of the startups like Last.fm. You know, Last.fm have grown hugely over the course of the ten or twelve or eighteen months, and then all of a sudden when people start reigning in their budgets there’s not the work out there and they have to make people redundant. I think we’ve always tried to grow at a steady rate, you know we’ve been through boom times where we’ve been literally turning work down and we could have hired another couple of developers, couple of designers easily, but we chose not to because we didn’t want to get into that situation of the work drying up and not having any business. So yeah, we’ve been fairly careful how we’ve grown.
Paul: Do you think there’s, I mean, the kind of other side of the coin is to take the approach that perhaps Carsonified have done where they’ve actually been proactive in cutting their overheads by admittedly laying off staff in preparation for what is to come. I mean, you know I don’t kind of want to get personal about the guys at Carsonified but that’s certainly an approach that someone like Jason Calacanis would recommend. That actually before things get too bad you should shrink your business so that you’ve got you know, "a long runway," as he puts it, of money behind you over the long period. Is that and approach that you would consider? Well obviously you’re not going turn around and say, "We’re going to lay off all our staff now," but do you know what I mean?
Andy: Yeah, absolutely understand the question. The answer to that is, "Absolutely not," but it’s actually a two-part question. Um, you should, if you’re running your business well, you should ideally have a certain amount of money in the bank to cover operating costs. Now again, one of the things we were very clear of when we set up Clearleft is we would always have, would always aim to have six months of operating money in the bank. Now it’s not always like that. Sometimes it’s four months, sometimes it’s five or six. But that’s kind of what we try and aim to do. So before taking any money out of the company, before buying a nice car or giving ourselves a bonus we try and make sure that there’s enough money in the company that should we lose a couple of clients or should anything bad happen we can carry on paying people’s wages. I think in this industry, in the web design industry it’s all about people. We can’t build good products, you can’t build good services without having good people. So it’s the people that make the companies, it’s the people that make the industries, and I think as the boss, I think as an employee you have to put the good of your company and the good of your staff ahead of your own personal gain. So I think there are two ways of running a company. I think some people run a company almost like a general that commands their troops from the back of the battle front where they send all these people out ahead of them and they get picked off one by one until eventually you’re the only person left. I actually think as somebody running a company you have to take charge yourself and I would much prefer to lose, I would definitely cut my lifestyle and cut my wages before I would let anybody go in the company because you start slashing staff now and then when times are good you have a hiring problem or you get known as a company that will just sacrifice their staff. And I’m not speaking about any particular companies specifically but I think it’s important to realize that the wealth of your company is in the people that work for you. So yeah, I would always consider that as a last option, not a first option. Might not be good accounting sense. I’m sure if you’re just looking at sort of the figures, it might not be good from an accounting sense but people come and work with you and they stick with you through the good times and the bad and I think you’ve got to afford them every opportunity so that’s kind of my philosophy.
Paul: I think to some degree it could be good from an accounting sense as well. I mean it’s very easy to underestimate the cost of rehiring staff. By the time you take into account finding the people in the first place, that often involves going to the dreaded recruitment agency and the horrible costs and pain of that, you know if you don’t have a big network of people you can draw on. But also the cost in time of interviewing and all of that kind of stuff can really mount up so I guess to some degree it depends on how long this goes on, if it goes on at all. I mean we’re still waiting for something to happen. I can understand the whole philosophy about having a runway if you’re a startup company without regular revenue that’s dependant on venture capital or whatever but if your business is like an agency or if you’re a freelancer or something like that then hopefully you’re going to continue to have revenue coming in from work.
Andy: Well I think if you’re running your business responsibly you need to make sure that there’s always a runway. There’s some proverb or fable about making hay while the sun shines or whatever. You need to try to put a bit of a war chest, for want of a better word, in the bank or you’re getting good money because you know times, you know winter is coming and you need to kind of buckle down, but some people just go and as soon as they’ve got money they go and spend it on nice cars, nice apartment, holidays or whatever and as soon as things start to get tough then you’re in difficulty. But yet like I said I think you should always have a bit of money in the bank. You shouldn’t expand too quickly and I think if you end up hiring a large number of staff and then letting them go sort of shortly afterward it’s probably an indication of you probably shouldn’t have hired that many people so quickly in the first instance so it’s difficult. I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way of doing this. Everyone’s got their own approach.
Paul: I mean of course a lot of the people listening to this show aren’t going to be running their own businesses anyway so that kind of comes on to another question about if you’re working somewhere at the moment what should you do? Are you better off just tucking your head down and hoping that things go well in the company you’re working for or should you look at maybe now is the time to start your own business. I mean there was an interesting article by Drew, isn’t there, about you know the myth of stability and that actually you’re almost more stable being in control of your own destiny as a freelancer cause at least you know what’s happening with your business in preference to being employed. So, what advice would you give for people perhaps worried about their job at the moment?
Andy: That’s a difficult thing. There’s always been this myth that if you go and work for a big company there’s stability but I think recent events have shown that’s not true. If you’re running your own company you obviously have a much better understanding of what’s going on and you’re much more able to control the near future. Obviously you can’t plan too far ahead because most web design companies only book up projects three to six months in advance. So you can only really plan financially up to a certain stage but I think it’s good running your own company to a certain extent because you have a bit of a master in your own domain. You know what’s going on. On the other hand there is a certain level of security of working with a company, at least in the UK, a large company particularly because if you do get made redundant you get a redundancy package. If you’re a good productive member of the community or productive member of the company there’s a good chance they’ll try to rehire you in a different role. So I don’t think there’s any certainties there.
Paul: Do you think it would be a ridiculously stupid time to go freelance?
Andy: I think it’s a difficult time to go freelance. I think the problem at the moment is that there’s a lot of people freelancing in the industry and there’s a lot of people who are just not very good. I hate to say that but I think there’s a lot of people who are getting by at the moment on a subsistent wage who are a bit too much of a jack of all trades and a master of none and are kind of operating in a slightly more bottom end of the market. So I think that one of the first things that’s going to happen with the economic shift is the bottom end of the market is going to get even tighter and you’re going to be finding it really difficult if you do a little bit of PHP and a little bit of HTML, a little bit of design, a little bit of this, and a little bit of CMS stuff. It’s going to be a lot more competitive. However, if you’re really good at one thing, if you’re a really awesome designer, if you’re a really awesome coder, if you’re a really great Rails developer, if you’re a great User Experience person, if you’ve got a real skill that you’re well known for there is always going to be a market for good people. There’ll be more people on the market. There’s people being made redundant from Yahoo! and other companies who are really really good at what they do so it’s gonna get more competitive so I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s a good opportunity for people to necessarily go freelance unless they’re really really talented and have a good existing stream of revenue and they know a lot of people but I think there’s opportunities in other areas in terms of setting up your own projects and doing startup and doing work outside the office. I think there’s interesting opportunities there.
Paul: So if there are people listening to this show that are going, "Crap! He’s just described me. I’m a freelancer that works on that kind of bottom end of the market." What should these guys be doing? How can they go about improving their position?
Andy: I think again while the industry was going at a rate of not to new, last year there was so much demand for people, companies, clients would hire anybody no matter what your skills were. I think now we’re in a situation where to really stand out you’ve got to be good at what you do. You’ve got to be highly skilled, and I think people need to see training as an investment. I think we’re really bad as an industry of investing in ourselves of investing in our own personal development. We’re all very happy to go spend £500 on an iPhone or £1000 on a new Mac but spending 500 quid on a training course, people go, "Well that’s just a waste of money," but I don’t think it is. I think you need to invest in your personal development and your professional development so I would say figure out what it is you’re really good at, figure out what it is you enjoy and then see if there are training courses go on or conferences you can attend that can help teach you those skills.
Paul: You missed a perfect opportunity there to pimp UX London, didn’t you there?
Andy: I guess so, yeah.
Paul: You’re just too nice. Tell us a bit about UX London, Andy.
Andy: A lot of what we do again, you know me and you know what the company’s like. A lot of what we do isn’t necessarily about our gain as individuals just purely from a financial point of view. We run conferences like dConstruct because we want everybody in industry to benefit. We want people to get better at what they do, to produce better websites and I think by doing that everyone benefits. And again UX London the whole purpose of UX London, it’s a conference we’re organizing in London in June it’s a very targeted conference. It’s much smaller numbers than dConstruct. It’s 160 people and it’s a real education-based event, to teach people how to be really good User Experience designers, User Experience developers, information architects and usability people. So we’ve got some of the best speakers in the industry coming over. We’ve got Don Norman who’s like the Godfather of User Experience, we’ve got Dan Saffer, we’ve got Peter Merholz, Jared Spool, Jeff Veen, we’ve really had an opportunity here to play fantasy league conference and put together the kind of event that we wish that we could have gone to five years ago. Particularly User Experience is a growing field and I think within the recession or within the looming economic crisis, companies are going to be spending less and less or are going to be able to spend less and less on acquiring new customers and where they’re going to need to spend their money is satisfying existing customers and making sure that the customers that they’ve got don’t go to other brands, other companies and are much better at converting and User Experience is one of the ways we can do this. So I definitely think if you’re interested in getting into the User Experience realm going to something like UX London would be a great opportunity. It’s essentially three days of workshops and practical hands-on stuff. I mean it’s not just a standard talking head kind of conference it really is getting in there and learning new skills. Not just UX London, there’s all kinds of conferences and events out there, there’s all kinds of training courses. There’s development training courses, there’s usability training courses, there’s designing courses, but pick something you’re really passionate about and get really really good at it and if you get really good at it people will find you. There is still a massive demand for Rails developers, there is still a massive demand for good visual designers and there’s still a massive demand for really good UX people and I think those three practices are going to get more and more important so yeah that’s what I’d say.
Paul: You said something there about if you get really good at something people will find you. Do you think that that’s actually going to remain true or are we going to have become more active at going out there and finding work? I mean to some extent people like you and me are we not a little bit spoiled because we’ve already built up this reputation, people are aware of us, because in my case because of the podcast, because of your book and the various things that you do. Is that all that you do to win business? Write a book or put on a podcast? There’s got to be more to it than that.
Andy: It doesn’t hurt, I can kind of say that but that’s the situation we’re in now obviously but the reason that we were able to do this, the reason that I was able to write a book and you were able to do the podcast was because five, six, seven years ago we just sat around writing blog posts about what we were passionate about, what we were interested in and the Internet has an amazing capacity for putting like-minded people in touch, whether it’s through your blog, whether it’s through your twitter stream, whether it’s through meeting people at conferences. I mean again, going to a conference is a great opportunity to network and meet people and I think there’s a community in the Web and you need to be a part of it. If you’re not part of it, if you’re just sitting on the fringes then you’re going find it a lot more difficult to pick up work, but if you throw yourself into this community and actively participate it’s not that difficult, if you’ve got a skill, if you’ve got a talent it’s not that difficult to make people aware of it. You do have to do a bit of promotion though, you do have to write some articles or contact a magazine and say, "Hey do you mind if I write something for your magazine?" Or go around to some of your favorite bloggers and leave messages on their blogs and write to them and say, "Hey look, I’m doing this, that and the other." I’m probably going to get inundated with responses now but we’re always on the lookout for really good people. Despite the number of people working in the industry we find it really difficult finding good visual designers we find it really difficult finding good Information Architects and we find it really difficult getting good front end coders. We see a lot of average people. There’s a scary number of really bad people out there, but finding good people is difficult and we’re not just falling over people in the street. I’m spending a lot of my time actively asking around and asking friends and contacts and doing searches on Google for people so if you make yourself available and you go out of your way to put yourself in that situation it can only be of benefit. I was talking to you before we started the podcast about something we’re doing at Clearleft is that we run an internship program and part of the purpose of this internship program is to get people that haven’t had that commercial experience, that maybe have just left University after doing a graduate degree or maybe are in the middle of a Master’s Degree or maybe are just transitioning to a different career area and maybe they were starting off doing more design and they want to get more codey or they were a coder and they want to do more information architecture and actually having the opportunity to go and work for a company for ten weeks is an amazing training opportunity, sorry if I sound like I’m promoting myself a bit too much but we had a really great guy come in over the Summer a guy called Amild who was from Sweden and he was part way through a University course and in the Summer he came over and he worked for us for ten weeks and he got to work on real-life projects he got to sit down and program with Natalie and argue semantics with Jeremy and be involved in every single part of the process and doing that, you get so much knowledge and training out of going and working hands on like ourselves or yourselves, much more so than you’d probably get doing little side projects over the course of a couple of years I mean I know we’ve had a couple of interns now and the amount of stuff that they know when they leave working with us is two or three times the amount they knew when they came in and actually ironically people come to Clearleft quite often a little bit cocky because they’ve heard about us and they know we’re good at CSS and Web Standards and they come in thinking, "Yeah, I do this," but when they sit down with someone like Natalie and she explains all this stuff their eyes and their universe ends up opening and it’s like, "Oh my God I didn’t know this stuff existed. I didn’t know people would go to so much effort to craft a nice, well designed, well put together website." So yeah we’re running an internship for Spring so if anyone listening out there wants to come work down in Brighton in the Clearleft offices for ten weeks and is really interested in good front end code and HTML and CSS then please go to clearleft.com/jobs and there’s some details of the internship there. We’ll be running it again during the Summer maybe May, June July time. At the moment we’re looking for a front end developer to be an intern. The last intern, the last before one intern we had was more of a User Experience person, we might be looking for design intern next we might be looking for a bit more of a generalist so I can’t really tell you what we’ll be looking for in the Summer, but at the moment yeah we’re looking for a front end developer to come and help us out.
Paul: I think as well, if I was in that position to have the guts to just approach random companies and I get people contact me regularly asking whether we do internships which we occasionally do and a lot of time I’m having to say no to people, I don’t mind them writing. Having the guts to approach a company to say, "I really like what you do, I’d love to work with you." I think that’s great. You’ve just got to go for it and put yourself out there whenever possible.
Andy: Absolutely. If you’re trying to get work, send your CVs around, drop people emails saying "Hey, I’m a freelancer. I’m doing this. I’m doing that, " and stay in touch. It’s really difficult for you as a business owner to keep in your head of who’s available, you don’t have a clue who’s available when and the people we end up working with, the freelancers we end up working with, you work with them once and you probably never let them go again because they’re usually really good. They’re usually awesome and once they start working with us, we stick by people. So it’s worth once you send your CV to someone, drop them a line every couple of months, every time you’ve updated a website or you’ve done something you think is particularly interesting and just keep on the radar and the more you keep doing that, the more you promote yourself the better it will be.
Paul: Of course that works very well if you’re a freelancer, this whole thing of getting involved in the community and building relationships and all of that. It’s great if you’re a freelancer where you’re working for someone like Clearleft or Headscape in that kind of relationship but what about people that are working directly for clients who aren’t part of the Web Design Community? They stand outside of that, have you got any advice for engaging with them, how to find out about what jobs are out there, how to get on those tendering lists and that kind of stuff?
Andy: Well you don’t need to be getting on tendering list I’d say because most organizations that have tendering lists have got a lot of hoops that you need to jump though, it’s very time consuming, there’s usually financial constraints about how big you are as a company, how many staff you’ve got, all that kind of malarkey which I’m sure you’re very familiar with. I think it’s really difficult as a freelancer. I think there’s a glass ceiling in the kind of scale and size of work you do. I think it’s tough. I think you end up doing smaller projects but lots of them, usually for not a huge amount of value and so it’s really difficult when somebody big comes along and says, "Show me the last big project you did," and it’s, "We haven’t really done any because I’m a freelancer and I’m working directly with clients," so the way you can get experience and exposure of working with larger clients is to go and be a freelancer with agencies and actually if you’re a freelancer it makes much more sense to try and approach two or three decent agencies that continuously pass you work than it is to constantly try and get small £1000, £2000 projects. Then also if you’re doing that you’ve got a lot of marketing to do, all of the accounting, the bill chasing, it’s a lot harder and like you say I think it’s gonna get a lot tougher at that end of the market so yeah I think being a freelancer you’re probably best off targeting agencies if you want a more stable income.
Paul: Here’s a tough question and I certainly don’t know the answer to this so I forgive you if you don’t either I mean we’re seeing people being made redundant at the moment, we’re also seeing people that have gone through years of University training going, "I’m gonna become a Web Designer," and they’re stepping out into probably the worst economic situation since the .com bust for web design. What are these guys supposed to do? How are they going to go about finding a job? Does this just come back to the networking issue again?
Andy: I think we’re in a really interesting position. We’re in a really tricky position for a lot of recent graduates. When me and you started doing websites, or when I started doing websites the designs I was producing were rubbish. It really was terrible. The markup was terrible, the design was terrible, but luckily every other website out there was also equally bad so we weren’t worse or better than anyone else we were just meh. As we’ve matured and as the web’s matured we’ve got better at what we do, we got better at the stuff we produce. I went to a local agency in Brighton that kind of supports the local digital markets had a portfolio clinic last year where they had people fresh out of University and the quality of the designs they were producing was about the same level of the quality of design I was producing when I came into the market, but the problem is the bar has now been set so much higher so it’s really really tough. If you go into a three year degree where you spend one semester learning Dreamweaver, one semester learning Flash, coming out built a really lovely Flash animation of a monkey riding a bike and thinking, "OK, I’m gonna get loads of work with my great Flash animation skills," you’re gonna be coming into quite a harsh marketplace. What you need to do is you need to train yourself. You need to up skill. You need to do as much work as possible. You need to get your skills up. You need to get your design up. You need to specialize and to be really good at one thing. Be really good at design. Be really good at HTML and then you’ve got a chance of getting a foot in the door. Internships are good, training are good, but you need to have innate skill and actually in a kind of a weird perverse way I think the shake out is possibly good for the industry because like the last industry shake out is a lot of people who probably shouldn’t have been working in this industry, who didn’t have the passion ended up losing their jobs and going on and working in another industry, but people that stuck with it are the people who are good at it and passionate about it, stayed with it and survived through it and so I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think there’s a problem with education that is trying to convince kids that they can go through a three year Bachelor’s Degree and come out and get a job. I think the industries that are going to be hardest hit in this recession are obviously financial industries are kind of stuck, or kind of enterprise level applications that any people working at enterprise apps are going to find it tough. I think people that are working in particular vertical markets, if you’re just a company that just solely focuses on doing startup business, the startup funding is drying up. It’s not gone completely and there’s a big argument to say that actually in times of economic recession that’s the time you want to invest in innovation, you want to invest in startups because once you come out of that recession you’ve got a product that’s ready to go that has been developed for a lot less money because resources are much more prevalent. You can hire developers much cheaper now and if you can start building your ideas up now very very cheaply, come two years time you’ll be two years ahead of the competition and if you’ve got a really really good idea you’ll come out of the market ahead. But I think at the moment if you’re only focusing on developing sites as startups you’re going to have a problem, you need to have a diversified portfolio of clients. I think the other thing is if you’re focusing on getting the majority of your income from just one or two big companies and that is quite common particularly in the entertainment industry. I mean are these Flash games developers or Flash entertainment sites developers that will just work with one or two large media brands. If suddenly they start pulling back on their funding you lose one client that is worth thirty percent or forty percent of your revenue you’re gonna be stuck so I think as a freelancer coming out of the industry it would make sense to focus on where there is growth in the market where the market’s stable. I don’t think it’s in producing Flash games necessarily and I don’t think it is producing multi million dollar blue chip corporate websites I think it is in creating websites that show real return on investment and that is in usability and accessibility, that’s web standards that’s understanding the psychology of human behavior. It’s all those kind of things we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years are becoming even more important.
Paul: You said an interesting thing point though. You talked about innovation and I think that’s quite a good place to end though all of this situation is going to effect innovation and kind of the evolution of the Web, do you think these kinds of slow downs will affect the growth of the Web?
Andy: It’s obviously going to affect the growth of the web because by the very name of recession it means growth of the economy isn’t growing it’s receding so I don’t think it’s going to be a time of growing much I think companies, large companies particularly are going to be taking stock and focusing on what they do well, their core assets. However I think what happens is it provides space for smaller companies to grow so you’ve now got these big companies competing for the same market as you so you can come up with new innovative ideas. You can come into the market much quicker. You can do it much cheaper. You are much more able to spot gaps in the market or gaps in the experience curve you know you’ve got a lot of companies doing this. You’ve got people like TripIt who have seen that there’s a gap between buying tickets and managing your calendar so identifying a gap in the market, "Because the airlines aren’t helping manage your trip, we’ll help you manage it for you," I mean dot was doing exactly the same thing so I think if you’re smart, if you’re clever and good at what you can do and you can see opportunities, there will always be opportunities, big companies going out of business, people cutting back on their R&D, people cutting back on their spending gives you an opportunity because it means less competition in the marketplace, there’s more available talent, there’s more available attention which is a big thing. You can grab people’s attention doing something different. There’s opportunities for making people money, in times of recession people are going to want to save money so if you can come up with an app that helps people save money, helps them, obvious examples are big slew of apps at the moment revolving around either managing your finances or getting better deals on car insurance all this kind of stuff, anything that can actually make people better off or more efficient. Productivity apps I think are gonna thrive.
Paul: Thank you Andy! That was both good and depressing at the same time!
Andy: Oh thank you. I’m glad talking to me you find depressing. Cheers!
Paul: Actually it isn’t depressing. I’m very upbeat about the coming year. I feel that, "OK, we are in an economic slowdown but it does provide lots of opportunities." Even being made redundant has its upside. As somebody that was made redundant and then went in to set up Headscape I really know and understand that these things can be turned to good so I think yeah, I’m positive about the coming year although hopefully I won’t be made redundant from my own company because that would be embarrassing. So there we go. Thank you very much Andy! We’ll get you back on the show soon and Happy New Year!
Andy: Happy New Year to you too and to all the Boagworld listeners out there!
Thanks goes to Todd Dietrich for transcribing this interview.