There's hope after all for independent web developers

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post describing my thoughts on the web development industry, and things looked pretty bleak. I did promise a brighter outlook in a short while, and this post is the fulfillment of that promise.

So, what can we do to ensure that we’ll continue to have jobs? Well, we can do any of the following, and these are loose thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Develop our skills even further, and become more specialized in the new and cutting edge technologies, that aren’t yet offered by the “masses”. Make a living from that, although we’ll live in constant stress, always re-learning, always jumping on the next “hot” technology.
  • Form networks of peers, and work together on projects while maintaining our cherished independence. I’m not talking about cheesy networking, I’m talking about finding people who are really good at doing certain separate things, and sticking together in teams, then bidding for projects and sharing the revenues.
  • Who says we can’t lead? We can form our own companies, and hire specialized developers for the projects we have contracts to do. But that would mean we wouldn’t be by ourselves anymore, and I for one like being by myself.
  • If you can’t beat them, join them. We can seek employment with the larger companies that will gobble up the market, or are already doing so. Or, we can seek employment with already established brick and mortar companies that need web developers as they realize more and more of their technologies will need to move from the desktop to the web.
  • Develop free or low cost turn-key solutions, and hope we make enough money from donations or from the sales volume to sustain our efforts and allow us to make a living.
  • Develop systems that fill specific needs, and support those systems. Sell them to niche industries. Question is, how do you gain credibility as a one-man team when companies are looking for long-term solutions where support can be provided indefinitely? If you’re gone, what happens to the system? Those are real questions that demand good answers.
  • Move offshore and do our work from there. I would imagine there’s an offshore market for Americans who understand American business and the Americans as a people.

Furthermore, we can differentiate ourselves on service, on approachability, on geographical closeness, on people-to-people relationships, through networks, because of no language barriers, through innovation, truthfulness, and trustworthiness. Those are all very, very real and tangible assets that we can develop and possess, to our most definite advantage.

I think nowadays, by far the biggest differentiator is innovation. Just look at the slew of Web 2.0 companies that have sprung up, and they’re all getting funding! It’s shocking, even to me. But while innovation opens doors, good work, reliability and good customer service keep people coming through those doors. And the great thing is that while not all web developers are innovators, all web developers can and should strive to do good work, create reliable products, and provide good customer service.

You may think I’m being dismissive, but it’s true, and I speak from personal experience when I say this. Treat your clients well, make good products, and they’ll keep coming back. Not only that, but they’ll recommend you to others. You want to know something? I have never gotten a client solely through my website. It’s shocking to say that about a web development business, but it’s true. My clients may have used my site to research me and to read more about my services, but I get clients after personal meetings with them. And they usually find out about me not from my website, but from my previous or existing clients. Or, they’ll have interacted with me in a completely different setting, like my community or my church, where my occupation didn’t matter that much, they liked what they saw in me, then contacted me for work-related purposes. That’s important to remember!

Another important aspect is trustworthiness, and I can’t emphasize this enough. You’ve got to be credible. Your clients need to be able to trust you. My clients trust me with their SSNs and credit card numbers and passwords to various accounts. I don’t ask them for that information, they give it to me and ask me to help them conduct transactions related to the projects we’re working on. It goes without saying that I do my best to delete that information from my mind and computer, because I don’t need to know it beyond the project itself, but if that’s not trust, I don’t know what is. And that’s the sort of relationship you need to establish with your client. When they trust you like that, you know they’re going to stick with you. And if you continue to be honest and hold to your promises, that relationship will only strengthen.

So it turns out that the secret to a good career as a web developer is no secret at all. It’s simply good business, and that’s a relief! Here’s to our collective entrepreneurial success!