Sunday, 12 October 2008

Rethinking Freelancing In A Recession, Take Two

I follow a lot of blogs.  Maybe not all the blogs I should, all the time.  But I do try.  I haven't caught up with this blog for a while, but I think just as well I did.  It's something for me to think about.  This article, specifically , has caught my attention.

I'm sort of in this situation.  I've worked freelance and short term contracts for a few years due to ill health, and now that I'm on a medical pension I can still work, but these days my efforts have to be somewhat less strenuous than a fulltime freelancer.

I like "don't panic" as a leitmotif but really, the current economic situation is unlike anything we've ever experienced in recorded history.  It's also more than an economic situation - we have a global climate crisis, a population explosion which is causing some serious re-balancing problems for a significant percentage of species on earth, and political climate going wild all over the world.

Be conservative?  I prefer to say that we need to be frugal and each one of us take responsibility for our contributions to the current situation.  What?  You didn't?  Let me just say that unless you have been living off planet, you're full of it if you think you aren't a contributor.  In the current environment, you'd better consider the impact of EVERYTHING you do or consume or use.

Last in, first out - try contracts - post grads - all well thought out.  I personally consider short term contracts and freelance to be equivalent kinds of work, in both cases you're working short term, and the difference between a freelance job and a contract spec is minimal as far as practicality is concerned.  Studying is my least preferred option, because it's the one where you are least productive in the short term in exchange for a later increased productivity.  And that, as I'll explain a bit later, may not be nominal.

The last four or five points I won't cover in detail.  Suffice to say, there's arguments for and against each of them.  For now, consider them in light of the analysis I've made so far:

The lower part of Australia has been in an ongoing and steadily worsening drought for what is claimed to be 12 years but which I from my own experience can safely say is closer to 25 years long by now.  Our farmers also used the most modern tools at their disposal (newspapers, the postal mail, telephones, travelling to meetings which today we'd call "unconferences" or something similar) to develop strategies and methods to deal with the weather crisis they were undergoing.

In the meantime, every year more farmers walked off their properties and left them to the banks.  For them, the situation never ended, they became victims of a series of conditions which have cost entire fortunes.  When they started strategising, they assumed the situation would end soon, or at the very worst, end before it had completely ruined their chances.

Farmers presumed that if they stuck to wheat, for example, they would be the ones with the best crop when the drought finally lifted.  Others diversified into canola and other crops, and a few basically said to hell with traditional crops and went for things like macadamias, olives, and other non-traditional crops.  At this point, many of those farmers are now still in business whereas their more traditional counterparts are in dire straits.

And therein lies the lesson for IT and web workers today, in this situation.  There may not be a "breaking of this drought" in our lifetimes.  There may not be a break, full stop.  It's just too early to predict whether this will be a fairly significant bump on the graph or a new median.

Meanwhile, non-traditional endeavours will have payoffs.  Web work will be around, yes.  But so will lots of people to do it.  And while you may have regular clients, that's subject to change just as everything else is.  Short term contracts building applications and online presences will still be around, for sure.  Just maybe under a lot of competition and with a much lower financial return than you can live with.  Working as a system or network admin, a helpdesk droid, an IT technician - there will be work in the field, yes.  But ruling economic climate may well make those jobs overly lowpriced.   Don't forget, one thing that the new frugal living will do, is make high tech less popular and IT less desirable.  That's what the new green awareness will do for us.

So think about how to make whatever you're doing, truly green and environment-friendly.  Thought of a way to use existing IT resources for longer or make existing IT resources do more?  Clients and employers will be more likely to take your solution if they can be seen to be green because of it.  Same server, double the amount of your web applications can be run on it without needing an upgrade?  You can see how something that would have just been the cherry on the icing on the cake a few months ago can now be a significant selling point.

Also, of course, there's that social responsibility - we should all be thinking in terms of the difference we can make.  That's what may well be the difference between this situation easing or going on.  The difference will be made by being pro-active and not waiting for "someone else" to "do something..."

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