According to my best friend Wikipedia, “in business literature,commoditization is defined as the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers.”
As any web developer might know, the act of building websites has been commoditized. The DIY industry is booming as wallets get crunched. Advanced and fully customizable wordpress themes, Shopify, Square Space, Wix… the options are endless for people who want a website - even a complicated or extensive website - and don’t want to pay for it. There are commercials on TV featuring a small business owner talking about how he “went to a web design company and they tried to charge him a ton of money” - implying to the world that a fully functional, beautiful, effective, and custom built website isn’t worth the money. And maybe that’s true - for people with more or less average computer skills, a professionally built site is no longer worth the money.
Well, it’s not all bad. There are still plenty of available clients who value the work that we do, or don’t have the time or energy to do it themselves. There are entrepreneurs who realize that outsourcing the design and build of their website to an expert will yield them superior results. There are also people who, despite their desire or effort (or not!), just don’t know what to do, even with a DIY site builder. These are all the people we should be seeking as clients.
We must be vigilant about scoping clients that have the budget to pay for our services and the respect and admiration for what we do. We must also learn to recognize that sometimes a client who wants us to drastically lower our fee or doesn’t think our services are worth it might not understand what it is we do and therefore might be a really crappy client to work for.
But the commoditization of web development also means we can’t sit back and let the shrinking pool of clients disappear. To grow the pool of potential clients, we ourselves must grow. We must add to our talents, and consistently focus our efforts on increasing the value that we can bring to the table, and finding a niche market that we can always serve.
For instance, I’m still new in this arena, but I’m really not spending much time at all designing or coding beautiful sites from the ground up. I do spend a lot of time making small customizations to Wordpress sites and adding little things or functionality that even a DIYer can’t do on their own. I’ve had an overwhelming amount of interest in my email marketing expertise. I sell clients on my ability to improve and perfect the base work that they have already done - a pitch that yields long term relationships and excellent referrals.
While it might get easier and easier for those who need a website to get one on their own, there will always be room for the freelance web developer. But the freelance web developer must face the realities of a commoditized market and expand their skills, services, and interests to stay relevant and valuable.