Authentic Jobs: Advice for Staying Gainfully Employed

~ 07 May 2009 ~

The redesign for Authentic Jobs, which is coming along swimmingly thanks to your feedback, will include a blog to allow myself and others to post articles on the topic of employment, freelancing, and the like.

The following is one such article. I’ve been bookmarking the links below over the past few months in anticipation of the new blog. However, because the redesign is taking longer than I had hoped, I’ve decided to post the article now given the timeliness of the subject.

The last 6 months or so have been rocky for just about everyone and every business, and with layoffs and budget cutbacks, job search is certainly no exception. Many more applicants, but far fewer job openings. The good news is that things seem to be on the way up. We saw the same number of freelance listings in April as we did in January, but full-time listings increased by 34%. Currently on the site, you’ll find listings from Apple, HUGE, Facebook, frog design inc., Berklee College of Music,, Comcast, Magnani Caruso Dutton, and plenty of other great companies small and large.

On to the advice. Whether you’re on the clock with an employer or a full-time freelancer, I’m fairly certain you’ll find the following remarks from authors around the globe to be helpful for staying gainfully employed in today’s economy.

Ross Johnson: How to Respond to an Authentic Jobs Posting

Ross Johnson of 3.7 Designs posted a freelance listing on Authentic Jobs, then in turn offered advice to those replying to his and other listings. He offers 6 tips for applying, one of which is the following:

I was surprised at how many applications failed to answer questions I specifically asked to have included. Others ignored large portions of the listing (like experience with common open source CMS solutions). Even if you had no experience (or little) I spent twice as long considering the applicants who at least addressed all of the points.

smashLAB: Stop acting like a sissy and market your company

Eric Karjaluoto of smashLAB argues in favor of maintaining or even increasing marketing efforts during tough times, not decreasing them. “The problem-of-the-day has less to do with numbers,” Eric mentions, and more to do with “fear, panic and our own knee-jerk reactions.”

What baffles me about all of this is how people are choosing to cut their spending. I can appreciate reducing office space or negotiating a lower lease rate. I similarly understand reducing staff members or entertaining job sharing options. What I can’t quite grasp, however, is this tendency to narrow the pipe for incoming sales. When you aren’t getting dates, you don’t go home and watch re-runs of Matlock; you get out of the house and meet people.
A nice office space doesn’t directly drive sales. Office perks may heighten morale but they don’t necessarily bring in new clients. In times like these, all of us have to look at what keeps the machine running. As such, there’s one simple truth that I want you to embrace: your company has to accelerate its marketing and sales efforts.

Design Observer: Designing Through the Recession

A top-notch article by none other than top-notch advice giver Michael Bierut.

In your desperation to compete for work, you’ll be tempted to do things that you might not do when times are good: take on work for a shady client, start a project without a contract, ship a finished job to someone who’s fallen behind on an agreed payment schedule. Do not do these things. Not only will they not help, they will almost certainly end in tears, probably your own.
The modern design studio can’t help but subscribe to the cult of asap. But while working at full speed is great for profit margins, it’s not so good for quality control. A design solution almost always benefits from a second, third or fourth look. Take advantage of the slower pace of a recession by remembering what it was like in design school to spend a full semester on a single project. What seemed then like torture may now feel like a luxury, and your work will benefit.

New York Times Opinion: Designing Through a Depression

Partly a response to The Times’ own article arguing design loves depression (which received a well-deserved rebuttal from Design Observer), Allison Arieff’s piece encourages using the power of design to make smarter choices for the consumer and the environment.

Maybe one way the recession as good for design is to see it not as a form of punishment for frivolous designers but rather as an opportunity to allow for a rethinking of design itself — and the role of the designer within it. This rethinking needs to come not just from designers but from the manufacturers, companies and other clients who decide what products and projects will be produced. There’s no excuse not to examine and re-examine what’s made, how it’s manufactured, what materials are used (and which are recyclable), what benefit it’s giving the consumer (or lack thereof) and what contribution, if any, it’s making to anything other than landfill.

D. Keith Robinson: Hanging In and Helping

Keith, co-founder of Blue Flavor, on staying ethical in difficult times:

If you’re running your business scared and making all your decisions by fear I think you’re doing it wrong, regardless of the economic situation. I know I didn’t start a business just to survive and get by. This will pass. It might take awhile, but it will and I want to be right with my business and myself when it does. I’d rather go down fighting for what’s right than bend a bunch of rules just to get by.

A List Apart: Filling Your Dance Card in Hard Economic Times

A solid round-up of advice by Pepi Ronalds for freelancers and full-timers alike.

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.

Boagworld: 5 options when website budgets get slashed

Paul Boag:

We spend the majority of our ever decreasing budgets on adding bells and whistles to existing websites when there are large number of potential customers who never reach our sites. Instead of sinking your budget and efforts solely into your website consider looking further afield. Could your web strategy be better served by putting resources into a Facebook group or a twitter account for example? … Ask yourself where your target audience congregates. Instead of constantly trying to draw users to your site begin to spend time where they already meet.

New York Times: Weary of Looking for Work, Some Create Their Own

A report from the New York Times on several entrepreneurs around the United States making the most of a largely barren job market.

Economists say there are some peculiarities to this wave of downturn start-ups. Chiefly, the Internet has given people an extraordinary tool not just to market their ideas but also to find business partners and suppliers, and to do all kinds of functions on the cheap: keeping the books, interacting with customers, even turning a small idea into a big idea.
The goal for many entrepreneurs nowadays is not to create a company that will someday make billions but to come up with an idea that will produce revenue quickly, said Jerome S. Engel, director for the center for entrepreneurship at the Berkeley Haas School of Business. Mr. Engel said many people will focus on serving immediate needs for individuals and businesses.

Think Vitamin: 15 Tips for Freelancers Starting Their Own Business

A generally helpful list of tips from Ed Raynham, particularly this one:

You should contact the customer on a regular basis (every 3 months if the job is over) to inquire how things are going. This will help to make the customer feel important and that you are still interested in their business even though the project is finished. It will also help to keep you in their mind for future projects. Try to avoid a sales push with every contact else this goodwill will be broken and they will dread your calls.

Jeffrey Zeldman: Recession Tips For Web Designers

Running a traditional business is like securing a political position in Chicago: it costs a fortune. That’s why bad times crush so many companies. But you are a creature of the internets. You don’t need an office to do great work. I ran Happy Cog out of my apartment for far longer than anyone realized. My clients, when they learned my secret, didn’t care.
Web design is a people business. If things are slow, email former clients. If you just lost your job, email former agency clients with whom you worked closely to inform them of your freelance business and find out how they’re doing. Best practice: focus the email on wishing them a happy holiday and asking how they’re doing. Let your email signature file tell them you’re now the president of Your Name Design. Leading with the fact that you just lost your job may earn sympathy (or commiseration: the client may have lost her job, too) but it’s not exactly a sure-fire project getter.

Shimon Rura: Working from Home: Why It Sucks

The reason I’ve included this article? It highlights the imperative need for in-person feedback. I take for granted how helpful this is in full-time employment. And if I ever go back to freelancing, this observation has changed my perception (positively) towards flying in to meet with every client at the start and throughout the project.

In an office you get feedback constantly. At the coffee pot in the morning, eye contact shows interest in your latest tasks, or nods express sympathy about difficult colleagues and bosses. When you have a question about something, your coworker’s eyes and facial expressions will tell you, consciously or subconsciously, if you’re sounding smart or stupid. Chances are, you depend on this feedback more than you realize. You need it both for work-specific communication, which is easy to see, and for maintaining your self-image, esteem, and motivation–which is harder to see because the mechanisms are subconscious.

There you have it. Take some time to peruse the articles I’ve linked to. Add a comment for other articles that should have been included here.



Veer Veer: Visual Elements for Creatives.
Stock photography, type, and killer tees. Genuinely recommended by Authentic Boredom.

1   Jason ~ 07 May 2009

Really helpful article… very relevant for me as I’ve recently gone freelance. Look forward to having some time to read it properly.

2   Ian Tearle ~ 07 May 2009

Great post as always Cameron, and I have take a lot away with me too, some very interesting and thought provoking ideas, in which I am sure ill think closer, as I begin work on some personal projects I have in the pipeline.

3   robert ~ 07 May 2009

Very great site and very interested artcle. But, in europe goes the freelance a other way

4   Evan Meagher ~ 07 May 2009

Those are all really solid articles. It’s good to see value being recognized and compiled from the past. So much of modern internet media narrowly focuses on the “right now” and as a consequence, articles written more than 10 minutes ago often get overshadowed and forgotten. Thanks for posting! I look forward to the new blog.

5   Shavonne ~ 07 May 2009

I definitely agree with Eric Karjaluoto - that this is not a time to pull back when it comes to marketing efforts. I strongly believe this is the time to rise above the rest. There are many innovative and creative ways to do this that are still possible during a recession. I’ve been really excited about an idea I came across recently - where you can have an online portal from which your clients can directly order prints of your work. I found it at

6   Ally ~ 09 May 2009

As a one man part-time design studio and having the luxury of a full time design job, I can put effort into marketing myself and spend quality time on my work without any hardships.

I can understand the little guys like myself without the luxury of full-time jobs, having to cut corners or bend the rules and bigger studios reducing marketing efforts.

And I know of many talented individuals looking for jobs… They used to work for some of the bigger companies.

Its sad that we have to experience these times.

Great articles!

7   Doug C. ~ 18 May 2009

I like this layout here much better than the new one you are making. This one always reminded me of something rare, special, and antique. The new one just looks like all the rest now.

8   Claire ~ 27 May 2009

It is a tough time, hopefully we have been through the worst. We were getting told to spend, then to save, then to spend again, what were we meant to do? I have been very weary as my partner lost the job he loved, all because he was there for 6 months - less than others. 5 others also lost it, but it just shows, you can be great at your job, but if you have been there less time than other employees, chances are you will go first anyway! He still suffers and is stuck in a shop job, as the industry (AV) is now nearly flat, as it depended on big businesses and banks having conferences.

9   On Poster Printing ~ 01 June 2009

I love Eric Karjaluoto’s quote: “When you aren’t getting dates, you don’t go home and watch re-runs of Matlock; you get out of the house and meet people.”

So that’s my problem!

Seriously, though, this is all great stuff. I have been a job seeker in the recent past, and I know how competitive the job market is right now. Very good advice. Thanks for posting.


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