How has the web and email changed the way
we do business – and is it for the better?

The web has changed the way we do business in an unforeseen manner. As a freelance designer and photographer it is great – I can (and do) work for clients not just in the UK, but all around the world. But the weird thing is that I have lost 'locality'. Since I moved from the South East to Devon (some 10 years ago) I have found it difficult to get new business in the South West. In the South East I continue to get business through recommendation from existing clients and word of mouth but only in areas where I am more established, so perversely I continue to create new contacts in the South East, but not down here.

Now you could argue that it doesn't matter – as long as I get business. But I miss the personal contact. I still travel across the country visiting clients, and personal ‘face to face’ contact is important because that's where ideas flow from. It is better for me as a designer because I can get a good idea of what the client wants, and it's better for the client because the bouncing around of ideas opens up avenues of thought and solutions to problems that email and phone conversations never will.

So new technology can have some unforeseen dangers.

Let me give an example. I used to design packaging and promotional material for a pharmaceutical company. They had about six brand managers, so in one location I had six ‘clients’. One day, after I had picked up a job from one of them, I returned to the car park to find I had locked my keys in the car. So I had a choice – get a taxi to collect a spare set from home (about 25 miles away) or smash the quarter-light and drive away. The costs of each course of action were about the same, so which was best?

I'm glad to say I took the former course, and so, whilst waiting for the taxi bringing my keys, I went back into the client, explained my predicament and settled down to wait. In the hour it took for the replacement keys to arrive, I picked up four additional jobs – just because I was there, and the various brand managers greeted me, usually with the opening sentence "I'm glad you're here because I wanted to talk about. . . ".

That was a big lesson for me. Face to face contact doesn't just create business. It creates a relationship with a client that the web and email can never replace. Use technology by all means, but don't forget the basics.

And lock your keys in the car every now and then. Go on. Who knows where it will take you.