On HBO’s brilliant series “The Sopranos” one gangster character is recalled saying, “our thing used to be recession proof, but not anymore.” The same could be said for the self-employed – depending on what exactly your business was of course.
Today that isn’t necessarily true, and many freelancers face a double whammy that technology is making their job obsolete. As a freelance writer I have many friends and colleagues who wear similar “freelance hats,” and these include editors, writers, photographers and graphic designers. After chatting with these fellow freelancers the consensus is that we’re hit by the same recession as anyone else. And to stay competitive it means greater investment in the business.
Digital photography has meant that my photographer friends have had to learn a few new skills, and replace expensive equipment with equally expensive equipment. So much for the profit margin for shutterbugs this year! To make matters worse many media sites use the same stock photos again and again, while the Web has made it all the easier for a photographer’s work to be stolen by smaller Web sites.
As a writer/editor there is less to invest in, but technology – namely Web 2.0 – has resulted in a transition from traditional articles to blogs (such as this one). This too has an effect on the bottom line, because most bloggers are paid for a month’s worth of material instead of by the piece. Many blogs (including this one) are written as columns, and thus are more opinionated than traditional articles too. The better blogs, and better bloggers, are those that can actually defend those opinions, but too many “tech blogs” have taken the approach of silly jokes and little actual information.
And while photographers have their work stolen, writers are also seeing their work copied or stolen. This is another downside to many tech blogs, which tend to cite and repurpose material from a single source. The problem is that blog A might do a post about a new product/trend, citing a major news organization, but then blog B cites blog A, while blogs C and D cite blog B. Along the way no one did any reporting and the work of the reporter at the news organization is somewhat diminished – mainly because blogs B, C, and D never even link to the original story!
Other freelancers and self-employed individuals are feeling the pinch too. Recessions affect big businesses and small offices alike, but each are able to reduce costs in small ways. For the self-employed, especially those who work from home, it can be hard to go lean. You can turn off the A/C in the summer, turn down the heat in the winter, but it is hard to do much more to save on costs.
For many self-employed individuals, branching out in a recession is one way to stay afloat. I know freelance photographers who invested in a tuxedo to be able to turn into a wedding photographer on the weekends, and writers who have to turn to drafting manuals to make extra money.
But for the freelance accountants, small-client lawyers and other home-based workers, the recession can be tough. Let’s just hope this one is short so we can get back to the good times already!