Can web designers be optimistic as the crunch begins to bite?

Falling stock market

I suppose I should start this article with the caveat that I have only been self employed on a full time basis for about four months. I am not a financial expert or advisor - heck, I don’t even know what they really do in the city. I certainly don’t have a glass ball or any other means of seeing into the future. But I have an opinion.

If the media is to be believed (and I’m not doubting them) we are in the midst of a global economic crisis possibly more serious than that of the great economic depression of the 1930s. The banks have lost trillions, whole nations are going bankrupt, the cost of living is going through the roof, unemployment is on the rise, etc etc. ‘Doom and gloom’ doesn’t come close to describing the nature of this wretched pessimism and hopelessness that has dominated the news stands for the last few weeks.

Whilst I believe the media can be guilty of over-egging it from time to time, lets face facts: the banks have lost that money, my car is a lot more expensive to drive than it used to be, and people are losing their jobs. This is real. Yet I, and I say this with sincere modesty, am experiencing better times than I ever anticipated before I went self employed.

And looking around I’m not the only one standing with optimism: Benjamin Dyer believes the tech world has a lot to be positive about; Paul from Getextra cites evidence that Internet marketing may avoid the credit crunch; Catherine Ward-Brown writes in .net magazine how web agencies can position themselves to beat the credit crunch.

Is this fools optimism? Are we raising our heads above the financial parapet more in bemusement than optimism? Does the great economic depression of 2010 have our heads in its sight?

The truth is, as freelance web designers we have good reason to be optimistic. With slashed budgets, marketers may increasingly turn to email, viral and web marketing as they seek better value for money and return on investment. And when companies begin to lay off staff, it is often the freelancer who benefits when they step in to complete the work that starts overflowing.

But before I give the categorical (and naive) impression that there’s nothing to worry about - credit crunch, what bloody credit crunch - let me pour in a massive dose of realism. Today has been dubbed as Momentous Monday, there is a feeling within the media that the worst may have passed… for the banks maybe - but for you and me, this thing ain’t got started yet!

The credit crunch is but one contributing factor to a myriad of combining forces that will ultimately lead us into a recession. How deep this downturn will be is anybodies guess, but no one is in doubt that it’s coming. To say that anyone, no matter what their industry, will fare better than anyone else, is massively premature.

If the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that it’s impossible to know what lay around the corner. If, for example, the local web design agency goes under - that’s a dozen more freelancers working on my patch. If for any reason the work does dry up, then it won’t be many weeks before I’m twiddling my thumbs wondering how to pay next months bills.

The truth is, we are heading into uncertain times. Optimistic we can and should be, but cautious we must be too.

Are you noticing the downturn?

This article posted in response to reading Sarah Parmenter’s thoughts on the topic. How about you, are you noticing a downturn or is business better than ever? Have you taken any actions to minimise the effects of a downturn?