The past several days had a way of reminding me why I wound down the types of part-time consulting I did most often as part of Small Initiatives.
My Scripps job keeps me hopping, now more than ever, as we rethink what it means to be a local news media company from this point forward. That rethinking also makes the job far more interesting, mostly in good ways. I am certainly not being denied the strategic responsibilities I coveted so long.
Meanwhile, consulting tasks people most frequently asked me to do when I ran SI — and about which I still get questions most every day — frankly become less interesting by the minute:
Web site design/architecture: OK, this work can be highly interesting if it's the right kind of site and project. Unfortunately, for me, they rarely are. Instead, I get inquiries about small businesses needing to sell or service online, or start-ups needing a brochure Web presence or light content management. Those kinds of problems have been solved so thoroughly, so well at this point that I don't bring enough unique value to justify my time or rates.
Have you seen Intuit's TV spots for its small business Web site builder? You get 30 days free then it costs $4.99 a month for a decent template-driven brochure site, all search-engine optimized. Yes, Intuit will gladly upsell a custom domain name and other services to improve its margins, but why would an independent consultant try to compete at these price points?
Want e-commerce? Talk to Yahoo! or Amazon, and forget about a custom build unless, well, you are Yahoo! or Amazon.
At the highest end, top-grade graphic design and user experience work requires more immersion, more time spent refining skills, than I can do. Even if someone gift-wrapped an avant-garde project, at this point, I'm not the best person to execute on it.
Content management systems, and hosting/administration of same: I am a technologist only as self-defense, not by training. Sure, I've implemented Web content systems, kept them running for clients, and tried to optimize for performance and reliability. Had fun the first time I got a big system working; now, not so much.
Meanwhile, content management and hosting also fall in the “problem-solved/case-closed” category. Need a solo blog/social status/mobile publishing application? See WordPress. Need a robust, flexible, capable, extensible, well-supported Web content/commerce system for a wide swath of use cases? One word: Drupal. No charge for that advice. You're welcome.
(Scripps followers might have thought I would suggest Ellington or Django applications, but no. Those, too, are fine systems and tools, but not as flexible, heavily used, or well-supported as Drupal. Mind you, I stand by our decision to purchase Ellington for Scripps sites almost four years ago, and it still performs well for us. That, however, was a different era in the history of both suites.)
Does that leave any gigs I would take? Yes.
I remain highly interested in short-term consulting on overall Internet-focused business strategy. That can take the form of strategic evaluations, strategic planning sessions, training, and user experience assessments (both in a business-strategy sense and more technical heuristic evaluations). And I can still provide general advice on Web design, content systems, hosting etc. — even help screen service providers in those specialties. I'm just out of the business of “putting up Web sites” for people.
Regardless of my navel-gazing, I was not Small Initiatives' best revenue producer the past two years, anyway. Ka gets that title, for her consulting work in banking, credit unions, insurance and small business strategy. Since we mothballed SI and split out our blogs, she has added posts that demonstrate her expertise in these areas, including a new one this weekend: How's that corporate responsibility working for you? (She's also on the hunt for that next great career step post-consulting, Knoxville friends; tough economy or not, if you know of anything suitable, contact either of us.)