What does the future look like for those selling online business-to-business services (B2B)? Today, I’d like to take a closer look as to what the future might hold for freelancers and digital agencies.
I think the future will look much like the past – but with a different coat of paint. Let me explain.
The Year Was 1988
I was just getting my start in the world of graphic design. There was one computer in the agency… and a bunch of artists working with inking pens, mylar, pencils, tape, chemicals, etc.
Technology changed all of that. I didn’t stay there long enough to see the tape, pencils and inking pens disappear. I still have a giant leather portfolio collecting dust from back in the day. I’m still not exactly sure why I keep in.
All the tools from 30 years are still around today. I guess that means some people are still using them? But, not very many.
I’m sure some people are still using rotary phones, too. But again, not very many.
It just so happened that I was alive at a time when a chapter of history was ending, while another was just beginning.
Back in 1988, my skillset brought in over $100+ per hour in the graphic design industry. That’s how much AT&T paid per hour to have me there. That was 30-years ago, so do the math. Do graphic designers make that much today? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, prices in 2018 are 113.14% higher than prices in 1988.
So, if you took my position in 1988 and brought it 30-years into the future to TODAY, that $100+ per hour would turn into $213+ per hour in 2018.
By 1993 (four years later) I was able to do the same job on a PC in about half the time.
The Year Was 1996
I was living in a condo at the topic, and I happened to stop to talk with one of my neighbors. He was a network tech at the time and making big money. One day he basically told me, “Once the cable lines are laid and all foundations for all the new networks are built… the work is going to dry up.” That’s what he said in so many words.
As fate would have it, I finally got to know him about two months before he moved. He was right, though. A few years later, that’s exactly what happened.
The difference between what happened in 1988 and what happened in 1996 was telling.
The first was in an industry that was, for the most part, the same for decades leading up the 1990s. The next example of dramatic change happened in a very short span of time.
As we entered the 2000s… the gaps of time between normal and significant change became increasingly shorter.
The effects of change in the sectors I’ve personally been involved with usually played out in two ways.
- Less work/jobs/opportunities
- Lower profit margins
The first personal computers were expensive. The next generation, that closely followed, we’re less expensive. I was one of the individuals that, on occasion, built, repaired, and upgraded my own.
Hundreds of different brands filled the shelves at the time.
Today, warranties aside, we don’t repair much of anything. Everything is more or less throwaway in that respect. And the hundreds of computer brands? Gone.
Our Current Time
Over the past eight years or so, we’ve seen tremendous changes in the web development, SaaS, and digital marketing industries. That’s just to name a few.
WordPress changed the way most of us build and develop websites. I started using it for my own business back in 2008. It’s hard to believe it has been 10-years already, but it has. Page builders significantly changed the landscape again over the last few years.
I don’t want to be too loose with the numbers, but I’d say these tools also cut the development time (roughly) in half.
So, what do all these changes add up to? For one, the latest advances have enabled an entirely new group of people to enter the marketplace. In many industries, TECH is THE WALL. It’s the hurdle. It’s the thing that kept many people off the playing field. Once that wall has been toppled, masses of people flood in.
If you’re on a budget, there are plenty of options available to you. There are more today than in the past. With the supplies now meeting the demand (and then some), businesses are now scrutinizing the value of what they’re purchasing very closely.
Keep in mind, I’m making general statements based upon what I’m seeing in today’s market, here in the USA.
This may or may not be affecting your business as of this writing because there are so many variables in play.
That said, this is not the time to coast into the future with a “whatever will be will be” attitude.
How Is Your Industry Currently Being Affected?
If you’re selling a professional service, you already know that non-professionals can get similar results using some of the new tools that are on the market.
Even though the results aren’t as good… it’s hard to deny the change the new tools and technology bring to the marketplace.
Ultimately, this leaves us with the challenge of adjusting our approach, so we can continue to bring a service that’s highly valued in our marketplace. Certain skill sets or combination of skills remain highly valued. I’m talking about skills that a software product or app can’t easily duplicate.
Even though a new “robot reporter” wrote over 850 articles in its first year for the Washington Post, media outlets using AI say it’s meant to enable journalists to do more high-value work, not take their jobs. That sounds like the old factor workers being replaced by machines story, doesn’t it?
So, as a skilled service provider of some kind, consider aligning your services with the “flow” of change instead of fighting it. For example, how many SEO tools, apps, and systems are on the market today? More than you can probably count. How many funnels systems? Same thing.
Pick Your Fights Carefully
If I were planning to enter the software market, I’d know right from the start that I’d need deep enough pockets to compete with the bigger players or I wouldn’t bother.
There are a lot of skilled software creators who create products they end up abandoning because they just can’t compete against the bigger shops.
If that’s you, you can fight to compete with the bigger shops, get bigger yourself, or find a way to work with them? Would it be possible to white label your products and license them to a bigger shop? Again, why fight a machine if you have the opportunity to leverage its presence?
Again, this is a road I’ve been down myself. In the past, I’ve put myself in a few unwinnable fights. Basically, I approached a few longshot business opportunities I’d identified with a lottery-like mentality.
I thought, if I don’t play, I most certainly can’t win. If I do… anything is possible. Sometimes you just have to go for it and see for yourself. Not knowing what might have happened is even worse than trying and failing.
What About the BIG MONEY?
Let’s talk about money. If the product that used to sell for $100 now sells for $40… what do you do? The short answer is, you need to sell twice as much – plus. This is the pattern we see repeating itself over and over again. Couple that with the increased cost of living and you can see why most households have become two-income households.
What about the BIG money, though? Can you get rich? I can’t answer that question for you as well as you can. If you don’t believe you can, you’ll probably overlook opportunities along the way that can make that possible.
It all requires work, timing and other things that are not completely within our control. The average person today struggles for many reasons. I hate to talk averages because I believe seeing yourself as average is basically the same as putting a leash or chain around your neck that only allows you to only go so far.
There are some very wealthy people who believe it was luck that got them to where they are today. The problem with that is, luck isn’t something they have any control over. So, they live in fear of losing what they have. As a result, they don’t enjoy any of it nearly as much as they could.
Don’t downplay the effects the inner-you has on your outer experience. You’ve been living with yourself long enough now where that shouldn’t be too hard to believe, right?
Don’t Freeze – React to the Threat
You may be looking at your business right now feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospects of what tomorrow may bring. Living here in Florida, I’ve faced the same feeling outwardly during our “hurricane season.” I’ve learned how to respond to danger approaching on the not too distant horizon.
Having gone through 25 years of hurricane seasons, I’ve learned to manage the stress associated with it and not overreact. There are things you can do to be prepared. And yes, there are also things that are completely beyond your control.
Back in 2017, we did all we could to prepare when we learned Hurricane Irma was heading in our direction. The highest wind gusts, according to Google, were clocked at 185mph over the ocean!
We prepared, then we prayed and put our home, possessions, and well-being in God’s hands.
Over the course of hours, everything intensified. At the height of the storm, the intensity of the wind made it sound as though a freight training were passing over our roof. That persisted for eight, long hours without more than 30-seconds or so of a let-up.
It was intense. But, when all was said and done, we were still here.
In your business life, threats will come to your industry. You have no way of knowing the extent of the damage they may cause. You can, however, do what’s in your power to do to protect yourself and your assets.
For the most part, I believe the days of setting up camp and growing old in one spot are long gone. Today, change is the new normal.
Markets Will Test More Cost-Effective Options Through 2019-2020
There were a lot of online business casualties back in late 2016, early 2017. Personally, I don’t see it stopping. Business, at least here in the USA, are hyper-focused on ROI. As a result, I can see many bigger agencies toppling over the next few years. Why? Their business models are better suited for the late 1990s than they are 2019-20.
Smaller agencies (even freelancers) are stealing their clients with increased frequency – causing the cracks in their already shaking foundations to grow wider. Believe me, I don’t say this with even a hint of a smile on my face.
I hate to see anyone lose their jobs or source of income. Every “Goliath Inc.” is powered by hardworking (often underpaid) people looking to make ends meet.
What won’t change is – people will still pay good money to solve real problems. If you have to convince and persuade someone they have a problem, to them, it’s not a real problem. For example, let’s say I try to convince you to hire a housekeeper to come by once a week and clean your home.
I might tell you how many hours you’ll save a month by having someone else do the work instead of doing it yourself. I may even tell you how the end result will better than if you did it yourself. I can assure you, “They’ll get all the little things, like the top of the refrigerator, that you regularly miss.”
After I leave, you’ll probably say, “Everything he said makes sense. But I’m still not going to hire a housekeeper. I’d rather spend that money on something else.” To you, it’s not a real problem
Demand is either there or it isn’t. I learned that lesson more times than I can count. Just because you have something that makes life a little bit easier doesn’t mean people will buy it. If the market isn’t demanding something, the money won’t follow.
I hope I’ve given you some things to think about? Let me leave you with one more thought. If you could add a new skill to your existing repertoire… and I’m talking about something people would pay good money for, what would it be?
Why not block out 90-days and learn that skill? In boot camp, it takes approximately 27 days (if I remember correctly) to learn a new skill. The rest of the time spent there is practicing it. From there, you go out into the real world.
Just something for you to think about.
Thank you for reading and feel free to share your thoughts below.