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Workshifting from a Small Town

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Becky McCray comes and hangs out with us today to provide the small town workshifting perspective.  Becky is the co-owner of a retail liquor store and a cattle ranch. She publishes the popular SmallBizSurvival.com about small business and rural issues, based on her own successes and failures. She works with clients in the US and Africa on grant writing, web presence and marketing.  You can find Becky over on Twitter most days.

Once you accept the idea that you can work from anywhere, it isn’t too big of a jump to realize you can make your home anywhere, too. So one step beyond workshifting, is what you could call cattleranch.jpglifeshifting: live where you want, and work worldwide.

For me, that means working from a small town. I’m far from the major tech enclaves, but right where I want to be. For you, it might be moving nearer to family, to a part of the country you love, or really, just about anywhere in the world. That likely means a smaller town, too. You know the tools and tactics that let you work from where ever you like; how can you extend that to living where ever you like? Here are just a few of the practical considerations, especially if you’re looking at a smaller town.

If you’re thinking of relocating, be sure to check into the availability of high speed internet. Although it may seem universally accessible, once you get more remote than the suburbs, coverage isn’t guaranteed. You also have to watch out for coverage gaps, and places where what the provider claims is covered isn’t quite what is actually available. You’d rather find out about any access problems before you buy, rather than after. 

Workshifters working from small towns also have to make back up plans for internet access. What will you do when the satellite service goes down, or you have to wait weeks for a repair to your phone line? That means seeking out all your local public wifi and internet sources. Most public libraries, even in small towns, offer either internet terminals or wifi access, or both. Also check around for motels with wifi that will permit you to work in a pinch; make friends with managers before you need their help! And yes, you might even check out the local coffee shops.

Workshifters know the feeling of being isolated by not working in a traditional office. They fight it by working in coffee shops, scheduling in person meetings, and co-working at events like Jelly. Workshifters face an even more intense isolation in small towns. It’s hard to hold an effective Jelly in a town of 250 people. Networking online takes on the more serious purpose of replacing that in-person contact. You can also make local connections that are not necessarily tech related. Look for the local chamber of commerce or civic organizations. As a bonus, it’s easier to get involved and make a difference in a small town.

Get to know which shipping companies are best for your locale. In my hometown of Alva, Oklahoma, for example, UPS is the primary package service. FedEx is slower to get deliveries here the city folks expect, and there isn’t a drop off point, so forget about shipping via FedEx without driving almost an hour. So I have to let people know that before they send me a package, or it will take longer than they expect. 

Those are just a few of the small town workshifting issues. I’d love to hear your own stories and suggestions of how you can live where you want, but work all over the world.

Photo by: StevenM_61

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  • Judy Dunn

    Wow, Becky. You have nailed the major issues here. From one small town (rural island!) small biz owner to another, excellent suggestions here.
    Looking into high speed Internet (or lack thereof) before the move is key. We fell in love with this island and were temporarily blinded (and almost blindsided) by this issue. With graphic design and Web development as part of our services, we rented at first, taking a chance on the availability of high-speed Internet down the road, which the phone company promised. We later bought the house and do have high-speed now, but it was a little dicey at first.
    I agree on the shipping issue. It can be a challenge when a client needs to send you something to complete a project and they only have a FedEx account. (FedEx delivers only one day a week here!) Still haven’t completely figured out that one.
    The only thing I would add here is our experience at Cat’s Eye with a “changing client base.” We found it a very good strategy to start weeding out the “old-fashioned” clients who need a sit-down, in-person meeting for every project. Now we “pre-screen” to make sure the clients we take on are comfortable with online relationships. We are (fondly) saying good-bye to some, but, at the same time, attracting new ones who are a better fit.
    With all the challenges, it’s still worth it living on this gorgeous island on Puget Sound! Thanks, Becky, for another thoughtful post full of insights.

  • beckymccray

    Judy, thanks for sharing your experience. You’ve learned how to match your clients to your new service model. And you’re right, it can be completely worth it to live where you want.

  • Bobbie Stacey

    I would add that access to air travel should be considered by most, especially if a chunk of your income will come from speaking engagements or consulting.

  • paulmerrill.myvidoop.com

    Yay Becky!!
    If she can do it in Alva, Oklahoma, you can do it anywhere. (Yes, the Frank Sinatra song rings in my ears.)

  • beckymccray

    Bobbie, you’re right. This is an important factor to keep in mind. Drive times to airports can be misleading though. You can be pretty far from the big city, but still within an hour or so of a major airport. I live just over 2 hours from ICT, under 3 hours from OKC, and 3.5 hours from TUL. I know several big-city folks who drive two hours to get to their airport, too.
    Paul, thanks for the cheers!