My father had worked for Transamerica Life Insurance for 25 years. Three years away from when he could retire from the company, they moved his whole division to North Carolina. After a year there, they laid him off, with only a third of his retirement. After he was back in California they offered him his old job back at half his salary. Returning from North Carolina, he walked through the door and said, “Stay away from the corporate world Wes, it’s polluted.” That left an impression on me. I look back at that time now, not in spite of big corporate America, but as a witness of what used to be. That was the beginning, as I saw it, of the unraveling of 9 to 5 corporate jobs that our father’s and grandfather’s all seemed to be a part of. This was history unfolding before my eyes. It wasn’t a transition. It was the slamming of a door that symbolized the elimination of strength, security and a future for many American families. From here on out, they were on their own.
My father got caught up in the wave of change called “Corporate Downsizing” in the mid-eighty’s. Before that we enjoyed decades of growth from the 50’s to the 80’s that made us all feel pretty comfortable. Back then, a degree wasn’t even required, you just got a job with a big company and then they would train you. It was the mentality back then, get a job with a big company, get a pension and then retire. It’s how you did it. Even when I went to college, the big push was, get your degree, then go to work for a big company, get a pension and then retire. Who would have imagined, decades later, we’d end up in a world where small companies and contractors rule. As I graduated from college, I never thought that working for myself would be more secure than working for a company.
How we got here
A lot of change has happened in the last ten years. The “Dot Com” era ushered in a whole new way of doing business. More importantly, people didn’t have to be in the same geographical location to immediately interact with you. It also became much easier to spin up companies and refugees from the corporate world were incentivized by quick profits of the “Dot Com Bubble.” When the “Dot Com Bubble” burst in the early 2000’s, it was like buckshot breaking everyone apart and scattering seeds everywhere. With the economy in shock and hiring down, people turned inward, working for themselves and with each other. As the years went by, these individuals that started their own consulting businesses, started to grow. The difference now was that people had learned from the bubble burst and intentionally kept things small, by not hiring employees and picking from the plethora of consultants that were now working on their own. In the past it may have been harder for anyone to call themselves a “Consultant” and get plenty of work to support themselves on a consistent basis, but now there was a demand. Big changes were happening.
Rise of the independents
If you have a skill that is in demand, you have a lot of options. In the wake of the “Dot Com Bubble Burst,” Web Designers, Graphic Designers, Web Developers and Web Programmers all found themselves on the street looking for jobs. As the ship sank, many peoples fortunes and careers were lost. It was irrecoverable. This sent shockwaves around the globe and many of us that were there during that time remember it well. Almost too well. Deeply scarred, many misplaced owners and workers wanted something different. Owners were scared to start big companies again and workers were gun shy of being tied down to another sinking ship. This climate was ripe for the Independent Web Professional to flourish. What happened was a lot of small companies came on the scene with new motivation. They wanted more control, more flexibility and drive to do it better. It was a win for companies, because they didn’t incur the large cost of hiring, maintaining and warehousing employees. It was a win for independents, because they wanted flexibility, shelter from disasters and freedom to try new things. There was no question this was a time of innovation, but not everyone was on board. There were others that had different plans.
We will all be contractors is a three part series that examines how the rise of the Web Professional Contractor came to be and how it is flourishing in this unique and special time.