Change is a constant. Plan for it. And plan to change.
I changed to being a home-based freelance B2B copywriter long ago. So in prepping to write this article, I searched my site to see what I have written about “change” over the years. Most of the hits were in copy I wrote for my clients. I was kind of surprised, but pleased to see that they, and I, have been touting vision and adaptability for decades.
Smart businesspeople have always respected change. Businesses and industries emerge from it. Some see it coming, others have to scramble as it suddenly appears. The American steel industry. Record companies. Carriage makers. All faced sudden change. American Presidents have observed that the greatest challenges they faced in office were not the ones debated during their campaigns. That surely is the case today.
What social and business sea changes are in the works?
By the time the Coronavirus is under control, there will have been change, and it will be lasting; the only question is scale.
In the same way the Great Depression created a bipartisan Liberal viewpoint and an appreciation of both progress and frugality, maybe today’s younger adults will “See the We” in social issues. Many are on that path already, but it will accelerate.
So I assume that those who predict the next generation will see a very different world are correct. Then again, it would be very different anyway. The key issue is how? And how much?
For example, the Fisher Body company switched from making horse-drawn carriages to making auto bodies, lucratively stamping out General Motors parts for generations. (Some readers will remember the phrase “Body by Fisher” prominent in GM advertising.) David Bowie and others revolutionized recording contracts that protect the artist. Fortunately for our economy, our steel industry — after first denying the threat of Japanese expertise — learned to make the specialty steels that customers demanded. (Unfortunately for our society, they also learned to do it without needing so many workers.)
As was said of attending college, the most important education is in “learning to learn.” Some companies — and some people — will still make money from crude, simple things. But most of us should keep learning, and let others make the rebar.
To master change, we must change ourselves.
Now, even how we view change has changed. Who but science fiction fantasists thought the next World War would be waged against phalanxes of virus? Some experts on social evolution are saying that the Coronavirus shock — like Civil and World wars and the Great Depression — will change our lifestyle forever. This has not been an economy- or market-driven shift. It’s something else.
I don’t know about lifestyle and the American Dream, but likely it will have a shocking effect on business. Including your clients’ businesses, and yours.
Accelerating the trend to a Gig Economy
I suspect that, in addition to an unpredictable shakeup of our society’s economic relationships — to an extent unimagined by most of us (even Bernie supporters) just a month ago — we will see much more reliance on home-based workers. Once a company has learned to function in a virtual setting, why pay for office space and commuting and all the other expenses and delays incurred at a central location? And, if they can get away with it, why pay for the perks and benefits typically associated with full-time, on-premises employment?
But a home-based economy is not necessarily a “gig economy.” Gigs are short-term. Unrelated. Not necessarily a flight plan for growth. Must we all seek “gigs”? Hopefully, the remote relationship will strengthen companies’ appreciation of ongoing relationships, rather than further devaluing them. Or are we headed into a swirling pot of competing short-term solopreneurs?
The Gig Economy mindset dates back to when I started as a freelance copywriter
For the past 10 years, our economy has included an increasingly pervasive gig component. But it goes back much farther than that.
I suggest the mindset emerged decades ago, as corporate managers shied away from long-term investment in their companies’ futures, favoring short-term attention to next quarter’s stock prices. That included paring the employment roles to the bare minimum — a sort of Just In Time approach to personnel. Gig earnings. Gig employment. Everything viewed in the near perspective.
There are, of course, many exceptions. Companies with vision, loyalty to their employees, great places to work, and workers who are loyal in return. But over time, the overall attitude changed. In the course of a generation, business gurus went from proclaiming that a company’s real capital is embodied in its employees, to saying a company’s essence now comes down to its technology.
The short-term view may be here for an even longer term
So companies were already inclined to shed employees. And thanks to this spring’s sudden need for change, they are rapidly learning how to shed many more.
Not that it’s necessarily bad. With those technological changes, accompanied by non-technical social influences, more and more people have already chosen — or were required — to become independent contractors. Some people have been hurt by it, others have welcomed it. With the right training, attitude, discipline and technology, many people can make it can work.
Making it work
But can everyone?
Some who welcome it are, sadly, rather naive. The dream of making one’s fortune while still in pajamas comes mixed with having to fend for one’s self. A need for self-discipline and professional structure. And arranging for essential fringe benefits (such as various types of insurance, retirement, an unemployment fund, etc.). And in many cases, making one’s own markets.
For decades, I’ve worked mainly from my home office, so I may not so much feel the shock of this tidal change.
And unlike some voice actors, I’m fairly familiar with the technical side of the VO business, including computer management, audio production and collaborating from my home studio. It wasn’t just a strategic decision. Voice acting is also fun, and it’s where my career in advertising began.
But, as versatile as I am (ahem), there are vast areas where other copywriters and workers in countless other industries excel … specialties and fields and I know little or nothing about.
So there should be room in the marketplace for us all. And room to collaborate, wherever we are.
As long as we change at least a bit
Hopefully, most relocated people will continue the relationship with their current full-time employer. That is the change I hope for, and hopefully it will be essentially a one-time technical shift for which the technology will soon be sorted out.
It will take time, and meanwhile, who knows what might happen.
Yet, the same as there was no guarantee this virus thing would be over soon, past performance does not predict future events. Prepare to change your own capabilities, your niche and professional relationships.
Here’s the plan:
Look ahead. Farther ahead. And look to yourself to identify ways you and the future match.
Randall (Randy) Rensch is a senior-level advertising copywriter who worked on-staff for several advertising agencies prior to becoming a full-time freelancer. Nowadays, freelance copywriters abound, but back when Randy turned to freelancing, he had to explain to many prospective clients that he was not between jobs, that he had really hung his shingle as an independent copywriter. Over the years, he has expanded the range of his experience to match the times, particularly in business-to-business marketplaces.
He brings his imagination, analysis and results-oriented viewpoint to a wide variety of products and services. Based in New York City, he serves ad agencies, web developers and companies primarily in North America and Europe.
Randy has maintained a balance between b-to-b and the consumer advertising where his career began. As important as specialization is to successful freelancing (he's heaviest in financial, technical, retail, online, collateral, direct and radio), the synergy resulting from a broad mix is very helpful to him and his clients.
Randy's work on the "15-Minute Breakfast" campaign for International House of Pancakes won the American Marketing Association's Effie Award, given for effectiveness. Randy doesn't pursue awards, but has also earned other acknowledgements, and has been quoted in various books and publications on copywriting and the business of freelancing, including Complete Guide to Creating Successful Brochures (Gedney) and Marketing Essentials (Bickers).
Randy has written for written for agencies and directly for marketers including IBM, Sony, T. Rowe Price, United Technologies, Citibank, International House of Pancakes, E.G. Smith, Legg Mason, Wunderman, SiteSell, and hundreds of smaller companies and ad agencies — even very small marketers, helping them become as big as they want to be.
With this eclectic background, Randy continues to apply his skills to many kinds of business and consumer products and services, but he specializes in business-to-business, consumer and business financial, technological products and services, and retail (including online stores). He has also had some experience with medical products and services.
Randy began his career as a staff copywriter at a radio station in the New York City market (a position he also held for awhile in local television.) Lately, in association with Edge Studio, a commercial recording studio and training facility, he has added narration and non-marketing articles to his repertoire.
For samples and insights into Randy's work and the nature of advertising, visit www.rensch.com.