Jack, Jill and Hill of all trades.

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

When the likes of the Oliver Twins and David Brayben were writing video games in their bedrooms back in the mid-eighties, I’ll bet they had no idea just how advanced the world of games development was to become. These days a commercial video game takes a team of hundreds, with a budget of millions (which incidentally, is why there are very few original games released these days – nobody wants to bank roll an unproven idea).

In recent years, the web industry has begun to wander down a similar path. With the scope of the average web project being so much greater than a decade ago, the most successful web agencies are those housing multiple specialists.
These days a web project needs information architecture, copy writing, user experience & interface design, database design and development, back end coding, front end coding, user testing, a dash of marketing and some project management to tie it all together.

So where does this leave the ‘Jack of all trades’? With the recent economic ‘apocalypse’, a lot of people and especially freelancers, are wondering where their next paycheck may be coming from… How do we weather the storm?

In a recent interview, Andy Budd suggested that in today’s climate we all need to specialise or die. He makes a compelling argument, but I don’t entirely agree. I think it depends what you’re looking to achieve.
Sure, specialising in one aspect of the industry is essential if you want to get picked up by a large agency, or if you want to talk on the conference circuit, publish a book or work for one of the big players… But I think there’s still room in this industry for the multi-skilled ‘website creators’. Our target market is the small business. Not everyone can afford to hire a big agency and in my experience they wouldn’t see the value of the investment even if they could.

There are quite literally millions of businesses out there that have no idea how much a good web presence would benefit them. This is where we step in, the small-time heroes of the internet. We come armed with ideas and with passion, with experience and vision. We know that our website project can revolutionise their business. It will generate enquiries, or a new revenue stream. It will save them time and money. It will exceed their expectations and all will be right in the world.

It probably seems over the top, but this is the level of enthusiasm I have at the start of every new project. I think that at this, the smaller end of the scale, we have an opportunity to create things of real value to our clients.

I may never do work for the BBC or Google. I may not invent the next Facebook or be revered amongst my peers as the best in my field… But I’ll change the life of Jason, the locksmith who lives around the corner.

That’s rewarding… Hell, that’s exciting
When Jason calls to tell me that I’ve saved him five man-hours a day in admin time with an invoicing system I built him for a few grand… that’s the best damned feeling in the world.
It might not make it onto an awards site and be featured in .NET magazine – but Jason spends more time with his kids and tells all his friends what a wonderful job I’ve done.

Jason, of course, had no idea this was possible – he was just looking for a website to advertise his business. He didn’t have an online strategy or a marketing budget, and he didn’t invite several high profile web agencies to tender for his business. He asked his friend who’d created their website and he gave me a call.

There are plenty of Jasons out there.
Find them, make their lives better and get paid for it… and keep smiling… life is awesome.

Filed under: General, Website Development.


  1. Anthony @afovea

    Mar 25th, 2009
    4:12 pm

    I can whole-heartedly appreciate the argument for specialising if you are in the market to be picked up by an agency, especially if you’re looking for a large agency to work for. However, i haven’t seen one job advertised for many many months where that hasn’t been a requirement for a skill set as long as your arm in order to be considered for the position.

    It also becomes abundantly apparant that you have to be a ‘jack of all trades’ in order to do your job properly… explanation: What part of your specialist role can you perform to any amount of satisfactory status without having a clear and thorough understanding of other peoples specialist roles, what’s involved in what they do, and how your work will effect/benefit them.

    Awesome post. Glad to see that people can be proud to help others and not have to compete in the ‘my agency is bigger than yours’ game that some perpetuate within this industry.

  2. Paul Randall

    Mar 25th, 2009
    7:35 pm

    I totally agree on this.

    A lot of people don’t want, or can’t see the value in copywriting and UX/UI or even user testing to any great extent.

    There are plenty of SME companies out there, who maybe have between £250-£2500 for a website, and working in this sector can be very rewarding. You are usually their main contact, and get to see every aspect of the website inception.

    For sites like this, working as a ‘Jack of all trades’ will help, as you tend to have lower overheads than some larger companies and can therefore offer them more for their money. Something everyone is looking for at the moment.


Simian Enterprises is the trading name of Gary Stanton, a freelance web developer working by the sea in Brighton, UK. Gary's been creating websites since 1996 and still loves it. Read more


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