Filling Your Dance Card in Hard Economic Times
Issue № 278

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.

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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#section2

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#section3

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#section4

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#section5

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#section6

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#section7

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#section8

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#section9

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?#section10

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

Pepi Ronalds

Pepi Ronalds is a freelance writer and digital media consultant based in Melbourne, Australia. Over the past fifteen years she’s worked in client and general management roles at interactive agencies and portals including Reactive, Grey Interactive and You can find her online at

18 Reader Comments

  1. This is easily the most important factor in this list. If you think about the balance of things over time, you have to come to the conclusion that those who just work a few hours a day (because they make 3 times as much per hour) will eventually fail when times catch up, either because there is 1/3 of the work, or because there is 3 times the competition. It’s just common sense. Also, who the heck wouldn’t want to make 3 times as much now when they can?

  2. Great insight, but I don’t entirely agree with the “Full Work Day” comment, above. Quality of time outweighs quantity of time any day of the week. I do agree that the strain of this economic heart attack will put onsite employees/contractors under the microscope, so if you’re in that situation you had better straighten up and fly right. I believe freelancers and offsite employees/contractors can continue to enjoy the benefits of being scored by their results, rather than their time cards, if they keep their wits about them.

    The part about shutting off distractions is key: start work early with a list of tasks for the day and knock them out with as much focus and resolve as your caffeine soaked brain can muster. It’s not about working less because you make more, it’s about working fewer hours at a higher level of output. Get your day’s work done by lunch time and spend the rest of the day “finding the love” or mining your networks. This works at the office too, if you spend your free time on quality points, like helping other project teams, putting on creative sessions or mentoring junior creatives.

  3. Pepi,

    This is a great article for people who work for a sound company, and want to make sure they do all they can to keep it that way.

    I’m not sure everyone is in that position though.

    bq. …ensur[e] that your every move positively affects your company and your clients.

    I’d add a third party you need to positively affect: yourself. Here in London I see a lot of poorly run web businesses that may not survive the crisis. Working your arse off for these guys—only to lose your job when they downsize, or go under—might not be such a good strategy.

    It’s important to make sure that you’re benefiting from the work, as well as the company and the client—experience, portfolio, relationships. Personal projects are good too. And ask the boss how business is going—if you’re an employee, it’s your right to know.

  4. bq. Set a personal target: generate at least one idea per client per day.

    I’d find this hard to do. When I’m working on current projects, most of my attention goes towards them. I feel that the chnage of focus by thinking about clients whose projects aren’t current would result in less productivity.

  5. Technology aside, one of the most important bellwethers in web contracting is keeping an eye on the Accounts Receivable. In these difficult economic times, it’s an unfortunate but necessary aspect of the business to make sure your clients don’t go long on your invoices.

    If your Net 30 accounts start turning into Net 45+ realities, you need to consider disengagement from the client and a move to a new source of income.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    I agree it is hard to generate an idea a day (per John’s comment) especially when you have your mind on less abstract things – like running a business or a project.

    But it’s kind of like going to the gym – you have to exercise that capacity. At first all you’ll come up with is lame ideas – but after a while the creative process gets going and vooom! You’re an idea’s machine 😉

    Also agree with Jonathan – you always need to do what’s right for you and if a company or an employer isn’t worth it then they’re just not worth it. Having said that, when I think back on my career and the perceptions of various people I’ve worked with on their workplaces I think the idea of a ‘worthy employer’ is dependent on your life experience. What I’m trying to say here is before you decide your employer isn’t worth it, just make sure that they *really* aren’t worth it. There’s nothing like the benefit of hindsight to see how good something actually was. I think this approach is particularly important in the current economic environment.

    Right on for the smart work day Dustin – and yeah, if you can do more work in less time then you should be remunerated for that too.

    Jim you’re so right re making sure the money is coming in – afterall, that’s one of the key reasons that we’re all here. Your advice to keep an eye on clients and move on if they appear to have trouble paying is well worth considering.

    OK – enough of this distraction – let’s all get back to work!

  7. I am among the despairing underemployed and found this article very encouraging and perhaps even therapeutic. Joblessness leads to a dark sort of self-absorption. Hours are spent second-guessing decisions I made for former employers, which inevitably leads to doubts of my own competence: had I turned left rather than right, would I still be working?

    This article reminded me that I was indeed working competently, and even excellently; and that joblessness isn’t always personal. I always believed in the “suit up and show up” philosophy — the full work day, communication, etc. are good not only for appearances, but also serve as personal yardsticks of performance. Looking back, I know I was disciplined about these things; therefore my recent dearth of work is more likely due to the tight supply of cash than my shortcomings.

    Also, I agree whole-heartedly with the “spread the love” idea: my old colleagues have been life-savers by getting me work connections. We should remember to get each others’ backs!

  8. This article is something that i agree with. and rewards at the workplace are undeniable and the main thing is the satisfaction you get from applying it at work. There is somthing to be said for a honest days pay for a honest days work. Its just what any employer asks of any employee.

  9. There is a great article located on our blog that discusses how SEO is less affected by the downturn in the economy because it is seen as economical compared to PPC or media buys. I think there is definitely hard times on the horizon since no matter how economical a service is, if it can’t be supported by the economy and its businesses it won’t matter.

  10. Great article — but missing one point. It’s very important to also look at other opportunities in the market both for your company, and for you personally, especially during down times. It’s a good time to develop new niches and take advantage of any edge you have at a time when potential competitors are hunkering down and avoiding new projects.

  11. I think i have read a lot of thoughts and articles like this one. These are not hints, these are your own thoughts and a company has to do what it has to do; a company must not follow any rule if it wants to succeed. The only rule it must follow is: be free, get focused and keep moving.

  12. Some of the information you provided is obvious, but it is not always obvious to many people that they have forgotten these tips and need to be reminded.

    I own one of the best Portland carpet cleaning companies and something I have learned, that is true to almost every business, is that people forget their customers. Many business seem to always be searching for more and more customers, without mining their gold mine. Their gold mine is all of their current and past customers. Yes, look for new customers, but do not forget to follow up with the customers in your database. Just by following up to say, “Hello” can create tons of revenue.

    Great information…Thank you!!

  13. I strongly agree with the author’s points on knowing the company’s scope and vision and communication. After all you bring value to the company if are effective in achieving their goals. If the company decides to get leaner, they would highly consider keeping someone with that type of value.

    As far as communication is concerned while it’s vitally important you communicate well with your superiors and colleagues, you should take the extra step to communicate and develop relationships with the company clients. This goes back to my first point of bringing value to the company.

  14. In these hard economic times the sales pitch has should take a back seat to sincerely caring for your client’s best interest.
    I work in the financial services industry and – as opposed to my co-workers – I leave the sales pitch out and focus on my client’s needs first.
    With the wealth of resources available on the Web I’m sure most of our prospective new accounts have heard a mountain of sales pitches before they find our website…why would I want to assault them with more of the same?

  15. I think it’s important to remember that the question isn’t “Will the recession end?”, but that it’s “When will the recession end?”

    Right now, it’s best just to think about how to get through hard times, really just to figure out a way to ride the recession out. Unfortunately, some people don’t have the resources (i.e., savings, partner’s income) to get them through, and this economy can really devastate them.

    I really feel for those who are losing their homes, savings, etc. You gave a lot of great tips, and I really hope they will help get people through these difficult times.

  16. and lots of good input in this thread.

    I’d say that it’s important always to pay attention to your customers, and to look at where your company is going.

    That said, in any case, it’s most vital to ensure that, no matter what happens, you land on your feet. If that means studying further on your own time, do it. If it means building up a little clientele of your own, so be it. If you’re the company owner, it’s vital to look at where you’re going when “what if” happens. The what-if’s are the future scenario for Plan B.

  17. One thing that we should know early, but sometimes get knowing late, its how to manage time. How to accept the right jobs, how to refuse that ones that you can’t deliver in time, or that you can’t handle. I know, all it’s question of communication. But sometimes people expect to much on you, or they want things without argue in a very short time. And they think that internet is a work with more techinic and less creativity (which we know that its more both), so they think that we have to be faster, and faster. But I’m telling it for one reason: we can’t make mistakes, and we can’t deliver late our projects, and not knowing how to manage time, and how to tell people that time is needed, you’ll be taked to make mistakes and delay your jobs. How quickly you take control of this, you’ll be able to control your career.

    One of the other things that I learned recently, its that sometimes you have to review the value you give for the things. Sometimes you think that you love your job but you don’t really love your job but the idea you made on it. And loving the idea don’t make you the same. It just can make the opposite, as making you hate your job when you see that it isn’t as the idea you made for. So you have to think about what you really love, and go after that, without fear. And if you see that you don’t really love what you do, find what you love and change, its never late! But doing something that you enjoy, that you like to research about, it’s essencial for sucess.

  18. I’ve conclusively found in my own life that the amount of hours put into any particular activity is going to yield some fruit. Thuse the quantitative argument put forth here rings true. On the other hand, I can be rather distracted when working on a project. I’ll run multiple monitors at a time and it’s easy to find one of them constantly tracking my email/rss feed/facebook account. This decreases efficiency and I end up getting a lot less done. So the qualitative argument holds true. A blend of both seems to be true.

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