A List Apart


Filling Your Dance Card in Hard Economic Times

Filling Your Dance Card in Hard Economic Times

If you’re not peering over the cubicle wall, hoping that the global economy won’t affect your workplace, you’re either a Trump (or a Hilton) or in a watertight business—or possibly you’ve had your head in the sand. It’s mighty tempting to throw your hands in the air and declare, “I have no control over this!” But here’s the thing: you do. Maintaining our industry’s health is about taking action, about watching out for one other, and about ensuring that your every move positively affects your company and your clients.

Article Continues Below

If you’re feeling a little worried: fair enough! This is a serious situation that will affect many of us in the months to come. Past bubble-bursts notwithstanding, this is the first time our sector has faced a global economic meltdown.

The worsening economy will adversely affect our industry, at least in the short term. However, our skills and products are suited to ride out hard economic times. Marketers can easily measure return on investment for electronic media. Likewise a web address—such as an online shop—provides a wider audience and lower overhead than a street address, and could therefore be a better investment.

So how do you ensure your company isn’t a wallflower? Keeping your dance card full is about making a truly positive contribution. Here are seven steps to help get you into the rhythm.

Step one: understand that happy clients provide job security

Businesses are pretty simple: you provide products or services in exchange for a fee paid by clients. You don’t have a business if you don’t have clients and everyone (whether they’re in a customer liaison role or not) needs to ensure that your clients consider you manna from heaven.

Think carefully about every action you take. Ensure that you only ever have a positive effect on your clients. What are the consequences for your client if you make a mistake—particularly in this environment? Do your absolute best to make your clients look good to their employers, and especially to their customers. This strengthens your clients’ loyalty and helps secure your company’s future.

Get serious about your client’s targets and goals. Use your expertise to generate ideas to support them—the entire team is responsible for generating ideas—not just the strategists and creatives. Present ideas to help your client make or save money, solve a problem, or build their brand. If it’s an awesome idea your client will be stoked; if it tanks, your client will appreciate your efforts. Set a personal target: generate at least one idea per client per day.

Step two: know your company’s goals

A lot of companies are reasonably open and transparent about their direction, and it’s likely that you have a basic understanding of your company’s direction. But your company’s objectives may have changed (or need to change) as a consequence of the recent upheavals in financial markets.

To improve your contribution to the organization, ask the questions you need to ask to understand the company’s direction. Once you do, consider how you can help your company achieve its goals. For example, if the threshold for minimum project budget is being lowered, share your ideas on how these smaller projects can be produced more efficiently. Or, if your company has chosen to specialize, share your ideas on an efficient transition process for clients you will no longer support.

Even if the company’s direction hasn’t changed, consider improvements that can be made to its operations. You’d be surprised at how difficult it is for business owners/leaders to see the bottlenecks, mistakes, or retrofitting exercises that are obvious to you. Show your employer how proactive you can be. Flag the issues, put forward solutions, and then offer to implement them.

Step three: use your initiative—but use it wisely

If you see something wrong, bad, inefficient, unfair, unwise, misguided, misinformed, or just plain stupid, don’t ignore it. Talk to the relevant people. If you see a good opportunity, such as a process change that will save heaps of money, or the potential to sell a new idea to a client, or if you see a colleague doing something that deserves special recognition, tell somebody!

Before acting on any ideas, though, be sure they’re sound and in the best interests of your company and its clients. Our industry loves people with initiative—but misguided or uninformed initiative can be a real disaster. For example, be wary of building additional functionality into a project without first ensuring that there’s budget for it, and be sure to consider potential effects on other aspects of the project. You could be investing company time on a client who defaults on their payments. Keep your company’s and clients’ goals top of mind.

Step four: communication, communication, communication

Communication is particularly important in our sector because so many specialists work together to create the final result. In this economy, completing projects on-spec, on-time, and on-budget is imperative, so be sure you know what each person on your team is doing to achieve the project’s goals, and when the work has to be delivered. A daily project-team meeting can identify hurdles early, avoid duplicating work, and retrofitting. Weekly, quarterly, and annual meetings can also help.

Communicate to those beyond your project team—including parallel teams and higher ups. Flag hurdles you foresee in your collective path. Make sure decision-makers are aware of your concerns, the reasons you’re concerned, and the solutions you envision.

Step five: put in a full day’s work

People in our industry enjoy far more flexibility than ever before, due to the buoyant economy we’ve had for the last decade.  The new economy won’t eliminate flexible working arrangements, but employers and clients do have more bargaining power and may expect more of you. Your employers won’t necessarily ask you to work longer, but they will ask you to be more focused, committed, accountable, and reliable when you’re in the office.

They’ll appreciate it when you arrive on time and that you work when you’re at work. Minimize chats and distractions. Shut down personal messaging programs, Facebook, email, etc., until you’re on break or until the end of the day.

Step six: do it right

There’s no question that our clients’ industries are affected by the global economy. Get serious about doing the best quality work you can. Don’t deliver sloppy work with spelling mistakes, bugs, or with parts of the brief missing. Check your work, check it again, and get someone else to check it. Twice. Be super confident about it before you deliver it to the client.

Efficiency is paramount. If you’re stuck, don’t muddle along with a work-around, or try to solve the problem alone—ask for help.

Step seven: find the love

Ask yourself: do I want to work here? You’d be surprised how clearly job indifference shows. A lack of interest begets a lack of action and initiative. A lack of action and initiative means that your colleagues are less inclined to count on you, and worse, will do your tasks themselves rather than enlisting your help. This puts unnecessary pressure on them and maximizes the chance for error.

Furthermore, if you’re uninterested, all you’re doing is showing your employer that your job isn’t important to you—and certainly not critical to the company. If you’ve been allowing someone else to carry your load, it’s time to take it back and do your job. Find the love and let it show.

All for one and one for all

In a capitalist society, working in a healthy business is crucial for almost all of us, regardless of personal ideologies. We’re in this together, and it’s vital that we support everyone in the industry.

If your agency or company is doing well, do your best to help unemployed colleagues get new jobs or freelance work. Make introductions within your network. Help job seekers with their curriculum vitaes (CVs) and above all, show a little love. (Just dropping someone a line to say “hi” can make all the difference.)

If you lose your job, invest in career counseling and help with your CV. Accept help and career transitioning services from your former employer. Mine your networks: ask for meetings with people in the industry, get their input on your CV, and ask for suggestions on what your next steps should be. Ask for introductions to others who may be able to help you get work.

Use your time constructively by learning new skills—there’s so much information online to enable self-directed learning—or by volunteering (ideally in an organization that inspires you and/or could really use your skills).

May I have this dance?

Riding out difficult times requires honest and respectful partnerships with your employer and your colleagues, so I’ve choreographed these seven steps with everyone’s success in mind. Strike up the band!

About the Author

18 Reader Comments

Load Comments