How to survive, and grow a bit, in 2009

Over the past few months I have talked with web site owners, agencies and clients about their fears, needs and hopes for 2009. Combined with the survival skills learned when the tech industry went south in early 2001, here is what I personally, but firmly, believe providers of web services – interactive agencies, design shops, code shops – need to do to get through 2009 and come out a bit better at the other end.

Build for the clients you want, not the clients you have
This might sound daft, but stay with me. You’ll always make sure you serve the clients you have. But when you look in to the great unknown of 2009, you have to make sure your offerings are in line with what you want your company to be in the next year and what the market wants. Never ever let your current clients “hold you back”.

Don’t hold back
When the proverbial four-letter word hits the fan, you need to stand out (mixing metaphors!). Differentiate, explore, do something that will get you noticed. If not now when you have time on your hands, when?

Build for mobility
Content wants and needs to travel. Make sure that what ever you build, for whatever client you build it, can travel. Sharing it from a web page via Twitter to Posterous, plopping it on Tumblr or catching it via FriendFeed or even Facebook – it’s up to your audience, not the publisher. Give content license to travel.

Build for mobile
With few exceptions, everything you build should be easily, and functionally, accessible from mobile devices, especially the iPhone. Like it or not, it’s a fact.

Appreciate your freelance network
You may have to, or want to, cut the number of people on your payroll. If you do, make sure you have a rock solid network of freelancers you can rely on, and that want to work with you. Freelancers and Noded teams are already in high demand, and many are getting signed up on retainers, which will keep them off the market.

Tweak generously
You and your clients are probably equally worried about 2009. Be generous like never before. Help clients by tweaking and improving what they have, show them that you care about them even when they don’t have money to throw around. When they once again do, they’ll likely throw a lot of it your way.

Talk to the companies that are suffering the most
What businesses are cutting and slashing? Find them, pitch them, and help them! Just because a company had to lay off people or close stores doesn’t mean they don’t need to run a business. Help them do so. You may be their savior.

Now more than ever, is the time to focus on content, UX and really, really good design. This is what makes or breaks a web experience from a users POV. Everything else – including technology, SEO and whatever – is much less important.

As I am taking a break from compiling my notes for this post I notice that Jeffrey Zeldman says something similar in the February issue of .net magazine, page 52. So if you don’t believe me, believe him, or vice versa.

Be flawless
Everything that ships from your agency should be flawless. I mean f**king immaculate! You have time on your hands, and so do your clients. Everything will be scrutinized more than ever. Make it perfect. Come out with a clean bill of health and you’ll be golden!

Standards go mainstream thanks to Microsoft
This is not news in any way, but still key for a successful 2009: With IE8 web standards are finally hitting the mainstream. This is a very good time – or rather the last opportunity – to put a “=” between yourself and standards based web design.

These are my personal opinions, based on experience, analysis and by talking to and learning from great people around me. What are your thoughts? Let us know on Twitter @orvet and @jonmoss.

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