Building a Freelance Culture in Rural Communities.
How do you answer the question “what do you do?”
If you’re a freelancer there is no easy answer — certainly not one that’s going to be understood by everyone who asks.
Freelancers are independent professionals. Those who aren’t self-employed are often confused by people who work from home in their pyjama bottoms (and collared shirt,) set their own schedule, work for people they haven’t met in person, get paid online, have no employment benefits and no foreseeable retirement — and yet prefer that over a traditional job. There are many variations of this scenario but all require lengthy explanations to people whose eyes glaze over when they hear “I’m a freelancer.”
This disconnect makes being a freelancer in a rural community challenging. It also presents a barrier to entry for the exact demographic we are trying to attract.
I’m talking about a group of millennials who already have work that pays them well, that they can take with them wherever they go. They are starting families and searching for community. These independent professionals work online in editing, writing, graphic design, video, audio, consulting, teaching, training, accounting, administration, programming, support…and the list goes on. Within a decade they are predicted to make up the majority of the workforce.
Did you know…
· The world average hourly rate for a freelancer is $19/hr (Payoneer)
· North American averages are much higher for top freelancers at $37.87 in the U.S. and $40,17 in Canada (Hubstaff)
· The global average for a freelancer with a High School Education is $19/hr and the average for a freelancer with a Masters Degree/PhD is $21/hr (education comes second after experience, portfolios and ratings)
· Women freelancers make 80% of what men earn for similar work (still bad but closing the gender gap faster than the overall workforce) Globally, women earn an average of 54% of what men earn for similar work — total workforce (World Economic Forum)
· Over 50% of freelancers are under the age of 30
· Freelancers upgrade their skills more often than full-time employees - 65% vs 45% (UpWork)
· In the US 72% of freelancers are open to crossing party lines if a candidate indicated that they support freelancer interests.
Would it surprise you to know that 18% of all freelancers already live in rural communities? They are a pretty isolated and misunderstood bunch. They crave connection with like-minded people who understand and appreciate what they do. That’s one of the reasons urban centres are so popular with freelancers. It’s easy to find a freelance community with large coworking centres and networking events.
What can we do in rural communities to attract freelancers and support the ones already here?
Take an interest in them.
After you ask the question and get the answer “I’m a freelancer” ask more questions. It’s ok to be curious and freelancers, for the most part, are happy to talk about what they are doing. They simply don’t get the opportunity in small communities. The best way to learn is by having these discussions with people working in the digital economy. You never know where a single conversation could lead.
Create “Freelancer Friendly” services.
Build coworking add-ons to your business where freelancers have an opportunity to get out of their house and work alongside other freelancers or entrepreneurs in the community. As long as you have good Internet, a workspace and coffee, you have the essentials for coworking. Other community examples could include a daycare that partners with a coworking space to offer drop-in or daily childcare options…or a lighting store that has a special on SAD lights or an information sheet on limiting blue light exposure before bed…or a bank that offers a workshop on self-employment financial options…or a yoga studio that runs special lunch hour yoga breaks for coworking freelancers. There are very few businesses that can’t find a way to support this group of people (and make a little extra money.)
Run Networking Events.
Networking and collaboration opportunities are very important for freelancers. Small communities have associations and organizations (business, professional, social) that could consider running events for independent professionals (freelancers, home-based businesses, entrepreneurs) or at the very least, include them in existing ones. Connecting them with likeminded people in the community will go a long way towards building a freelance culture that will support and attract them.
High Speed Internet
This is a show stopper! Rural communities have to continue to fight hard for Internet access with all levels of government as well as the private sector. Chalk boards and landlines simply aren’t going to cut it.
The reciprocal nature of supporting freelancers strengthens the entire community. The word in biology that best describes it is “symbiosis,” a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups. Rural communities thrive on symbiotic relationships. It’s what sets us apart from urban environments where there are large enough groups that they can operate independently. Not so in rural communities. Our interdependence can be a strength or a weakness. The good news is that that’s entirely in our control. Aside from the new energy, ideas, and opportunities that are generated, the economy improves with every established freelancer moving into the area, bringing with them their own work and income.
Rural on Purpose is a social enterprise that works with communities to pilot new programs and test concepts that support Entrepreneurship in rural regions.
Our current program is the Rural Coworking Pilot. The objective is to organize and run a Coworking Takeover Week to test the readiness and viability of a rural coworking ecosystem in your community. For more information on how to participate in the pilot and run a Coworking Takeover Week in your community go to ruralonpurpose.com