Our world has become almost unrecognisable in five years. Other changes, too, have presented challenges to a generation of traditional independent "quallies". In particular our clients have changed. Insight managers are now pulled in many more directions and are involved in a much wider range of projects and "roles". They have had to become far more business-minded than previously and "procurement" has meant that research buying decisions that were taken on a "mate" basis are now more professional and accountable. So they need something a bit different from their research suppliers.

The move toward pretending qual is a science has led to more focus on "products" and brands. Many individual researchers of yore were magicians/artists/craftsmen who wouldn't go down well at boardroom level today. And they feel more "risky" as a basis for decisions to chippy insight managers who are not hugely experienced, or to brand teams buying research directly with little idea of the difference between qual and quant. They need the support and reassurance that an agency offers — be it from an infrastructure/process point of view, or from tried and tested methodologies and approaches with case studies galore.

Hence the move to "boutique" agencies — an area of our industry that is thriving, and whose advantages are speed, polish and "partnering" in a more complete way. They often have relatively current websites and broader teams of quallies more closely aligned age-wise to the average client-side insight manager, too.

Timeframes continue to be squeezed, with everything faster than it was five years ago. The pace of many projects means there's almost no way an independent can cope, whereas a team can spread the load.

Research proposals and presentations especially have changed dramatically. The quality of deliverables is on a different planet compared to a few years ago and this calls for depth of resource. Qual agencies are using design professionals nowadays, and interns who can help with video editing so every debrief comes with some vox pops. Again, a tough call for freelancers.

Workshopping the recommendations on through the client organisation is an increasingly common requirement of qual suppliers — requiring time and a slightly different skillset.

So what can we learn? Here's a checklist for those independents too busy doing their job to run their business: website essentials; creating impressive deliverables; workshop facilitation; modern business/marketing management. And how solo practitioners might combine forces effectively. For those who are busy stoking someone else's business but feel there may be more to the job there is the analysis and interpretation of qualitative data. And fighting for the time to do it properly. Always.