Jul 30

Finding Opportunities in Downturns

In a recent online discussion, a fellow freelancer bemoaned that a recent round of cost cutting at a large publisher would result in fewer opportunities for freelancers and other independent contractors. Such events are great opportunities for freelancers.

youre-firedIt’s always sad when someone loses their job. It’s even worse when that happens through no fault of their own but through changing market conditions and the shortsightedness of management. That’s what is happening in the publishing industry right across the world.

When this happens, people get very nervous. But I think it can be a great opportunity.

I think there are five things that happen when there are severe staff cuts.

1 – Company is in trouble

For whatever reason, your potential or current client is facing some sort of economic crisis. In my view, many of these problems are caused when companies fail to see the threat caused by a changing business environment. It applies equally to print versus online publishers as it did to Blockbuster when Netflix arrived.

2 – Cuts staff

The net result is that the “old world” business starts to cut costs in order to maintain profits. An easy way to cut costs is to reduce staff, close stores or reduce costs in some other radical way

3 – Remaining staff can’t do all the required work

The trouble with this is that it’s unlikely that the number of customers that need to be served or the number of pages that need to be filled shrink – at least not at a rate that matches the staff cuts. Or, perhaps the cost cutting has resulted in a niche no longer being filled. That’s another opportunity. When i look at the movie rental stores that have survived the arrival of streaming video, they have diversified into things like console games, foreign language movies and other services that online services struggle to deliver.

4 – Freelancers are used ad hoc

In order to fill the pages or cover for the busy times that still exist, casual staff or freelance experts are engaged in order to fill the gaps that the remaining staff can’t manage.

5 – Freelancers do great work and do more work

Here’s the opportunity – do great work on those ad hoc jobs, create relationships and reap the whirlwind.
Of course, this all sounds really easy. It does require some preparation. But as Thomas Jefferson once said
“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”
In order to reap that whirlwind you need to be ready. Here are some things I recommend.
  • Keep your ear to the ground. When you hear of some cost cutting, make contact with the survivors but give them a little time so that the dust settles and they find their feet in their new work environment. Let them know you’re available to help but don’t get pushy. As a freelancer or contractor, your number one priority is to be a solution to their problems. Pushy sales people are a problem to get rid of.
  • Make sure you keep track of what’s happening. If the potential client seems to have the same byline for everything or is using syndicated copy then it’s a sign that they might be ready to hear from you.
  • Maintain relationships with the people that have left – you never know where they’ll land and what opportunities they might have for you at their new employer.

Next time you hear of a client or potential client cutting costs, look for where you might be able to help rather than crossing them out of your budget.

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