How the Recession Saved My Career

Before I explain how the recession saved my career, take a quick look at the site that almost ruined it: The Lovin’ Oven. Go ahead and take a look, I’ll wait…

Cute, isn’t it? Intimidating, is more like it. Allow me to explain.

The Lovin’ Oven is one of my uncle’s clients. He and his wife build and host Web sites for small businesses. So what could be so intimidating about The Lovin’ Oven to a seasoned interactive designer at a successful ad agency?

Back in Christmas of 2000, while I was visiting my uncle for the first time in about 10 years, we were showing each other our portfolios. He looked at all of my sites, and I looked at all of his sites. He and his wife make a modest income billing $100 for a home-page design with a logo, about $75 for each additional page, and some more for hosting.

The agency I work for charges about that much hourly for site design, plus other costs like copywriting, programming, proofreading, and account services. Of course, at the time, my agency’s clients were high-tech firms worth millions and even billions. My sites were much more important than The Lovin’ Oven Web site, right? Uh, right?

The sites I had designed were thoughtful and beautiful, and they served their purpose successfully. I should have been proud of my work, but I couldn’t help but think that in the Grand Scheme of Things, my sites weren’t amounting to diddlysquat in most people’s lives. However, The Lovin’ Oven Web site had more than doubled the volume of business leads for its owner. Her catering orders had reached peak capacity. She and her family are enjoying a more prosperous life because of that $100 Web site. What my uncle and his wife had created had really made a difference.

In contrast, almost all of the sites I had created seemed to be tiny particles in some huge, churning money vortex. I felt like a pawn in the initial-public-offering (IPO) wars, and my toils were of little lasting significance to the frantic dot-com stampede with all of its utopian promises and slacker geniuses.

I was beginning to think about getting out of the high-tech-design industry and finding something more meaningful to do with my life. I struggled internally for the whole month of January, but I eventually chalked it all up to a funky-holiday-blues thing. I reminded myself that no matter how irrelevant it seemed, my task was fun to perform and I was surrounded by friends. It was a killer gig, so I stayed on.

Then came the big Internet bust. We all know how that went. Finally, the spiraling dot-com economy seems to be leveling off, and online companies are trading at their actual values. Scores of e-businesses are closing down, and major Internet ad shops are dropping off the planet. Companies are no longer eager to pay for “e-consultants,” “strategists,” and “Web producers” who never really produce anything. I think these jobs were invented to increase billings in a money-flooded industry. I lost money last year in the market, but it was a small price to pay for what I gained: a new kind of optimism for my industry and my clients.

I’m so glad it’s all over; now the cream is rising to the top. Now we pay respect to the persistent programmers and the diligent designers — the hardworking heart of the online ad world. Finally, all those “pretend” companies are disappearing. The survivors are the clients that actually do something. Finally, I can do real work in the real business world and not be a forgotten part of the Great IPO Rush.

We are all starting over. As we mourn the casualties — all those decent people caught in the crossfire — we must not forget what has transpired. Let’s rebuild this industry into something we can all respect and enjoy. Now the real progress can begin.

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