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Erik Dietrich
Erik Dietrich

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Mitigating Risk When Depending on Remote Work

A while back, I wrote a post about remote programming jobs and why you ought to go looking for them.  I'm probably the poster-person for remote work these days, given that my work is 100% remote, and that my wife and I take full advantage of that to vagabond.  Oh, and I love it and have never looked back.

When I wrote that post, someone weighed in with a question in the comments.  So let's make today's reader question Tuesday post about remote work.  Here's a slightly abbreviated version (you can read the full question in the comments).

The Reader Question about the Risk of Remote Work

My wife and I have just recently talked about a medium-to-long term plan of moving out of our home in a metropolitan area in California to somewhere more rural in another state.

Certainly there are the considerations of leaving family and friends but on top of that is the concerns I have over how it will affect my career.

I’ve done pretty well for myself thus far, both in terms of salary and in terms of the kind of work I’ve been able to do all at companies where technology is a strategic asset to the business.

My worry is that there won’t be enough good remote opportunities, or that I won’t have the connections to score those jobs (all the jobs I’ve had except for my first were achieved in large part because I had former colleagues already at the new company who asked me to join them).

I’d be interested to hear what social media channels you recommend. I’d also be interested to hear what people have to say about working remotely from a rural locale.

Answering the Explicit Questions: Remote Work from a Rural Location and Social Media

I'd be doing a pretty bad job of answering reader questions if I didn't actually answer the questions.  So let's do that first.  Though I will elaborate on the subject of risk after I do that, since that's really the core issue here.

First of all, remote work from somewhere rural, for me, mostly isn't any different.  I have an office at our house in Michigan, and we have good internet.  When I'm there, it's the same as working anywhere else, suburban, urban, or whatever.  The main difference is that I don't have much access to throwback stuff, like printing things out, signing, faxing, and whatnot.  I've mostly optimized my life not to do things like that, but on the occasion that I have to, it can be a headache to drive a ways for these sorts of chores.

And, as for social media channels, I actually don't recommend that as a solution.  So I can't really speak to which ones help remote workers.  Social media can be fun and provide interesting interactions.  But unless it's with people you know through some other channels, it creates relatively superficial relationships.  These aren't the sorts of things that help you close six figure deals.  (And that's exactly what programming jobs are.)

Let's Re-Frame the Question and Jobs in Terms of Risk

Speaking of jobs as six figure deals, let's re-frame jobs in general.  For the purposes of the rest of the post, I want to blur the line between having a job and being a free agent.  Let's consider having a job to be a subset of free agency.  With a wage job, you're a free agent that has one single client that exerts a ton of leverage over you.

Let's also reframe the question not to be one about social media or the nature of being in a rural place, per se.  At issue here is the idea that moving to a rural locale will make jobs (i.e. clients) hard to come by.

So what we're really talking about here involves a switch in availability of prospects.  You have a single client that accounts for 100% of your business.  Any entrepreneur/free agent will tell you that this is an extremely high-risk situation.  You currently mitigate that risk by having a city full of other prospective clients for whom you can swap the current one if your current client goes away.

But now, you're going to move somewhere that makes those prospective backup clients harder to find and harder to close.

First Order of Business, Secure a Remote Gig Before Moving

Since we're talking about an eventual move here, you can do some work ahead of time to make life easier.  So let's lay the groundwork for maximum success.

First order of business is to secure a remote arrangement now, while you live somewhere that jobs are plentiful.  There are a few reasons for that.

  1. Obviously, you want steady work and income lined up in general and they probably won't have that where you're going.
  2. Future remote-friendly companies are more likely to hire people with a track record of working remotely.
  3. This will give you a feel for either finding a remote gig or converting a non-remote one.

This tracks with the path I followed myself.  Though, in my case, I didn't have an initial and explicit goal of going fully remote.  I just took travel-heavy gigs, and would grow weary of the travel, resulting in remote arrangements.

But the broader point here is that you should actually regard "remote" as a skill that you develop for your resume.  And if you want a job showcasing skill X in a couple of years, the best course of action is to start cultivating that now.

Get a List of Remote Companies and Start Getting on Their Radar

Finding a remote gig will facilitate your move, certainly.  The company isn't going to care where you move.  But we're talking about a steady-state situation following the move and that's where the risk profile of a single source of income with no backup comes into play.

You need to create not just that first remote job, but a backlog of prospective ones.

The first tactic I'll offer for this is to compile a list of companies for whom doing remote work would be a possibility.  In that last post about remote work, I mention some initial places to look online for such lists.  That's a good starting point for seeding the list.  But keep your ears open constantly and add to it at every opportunity.

And just having and maintaining that list isn't enough.  Make friends with people that work at those companies.  You can initially make contact via social media like LinkedIn or Twitter, but you'll want to progress beyond that superficial relationship.  Here are some ideas about how you might do that.

  • Contribute to the same open source projects.
  • Ask to pick their brains about remote work over email.
  • While still in the meatspace, attend common conferences or meetups and buy them a beer or coffee.
  • Start blogging about remote work and interview them.

You'll have to figure out what makes sense for you, but you want to approach this like a business with a high ticket item that's cultivating prospects.  Because that's actually what you are.

See Who in Your Own Network Works in Remote-Friendly Places

The flip side of this approach, finding remote companies and befriending people at them, is to find out who among your current friends and contacts works at remote-friendly companies.  This has the advantage of not requiring a courtship phase, so to speak.  But the signal to noise ratio will probably be pretty low.

Still, it's worth pursuing.

You can do some legwork on your own, compiling, say, a list of the companies for whom your LinkedIn contacts work.  Go through those companies, ticking off the ones that support remote work arrangements.  And, once you've got that list, reach out to the people in question and ask them about the remote options and what it's like.  This doesn't have to be awkward; you can just say that you're contemplating becoming a remote worker yourself, and you're doing research.

With both of these approaches, the key is to start talking to people when you don't have pressing need.  It's always a little burdensome when someone emails you and says "hey, I just got laid off, and I'm hoping you can help me get a job."  But when someone emails you and says, "hey, I was wondering what it's like to be a remote worker?"  Not so much.

Diversify Your Income

So far, all of these tactics involve broadening the pool of prospective job replacements if that first one goes away.  You're trying to make your rural paradise as opportunity-rich as your current suburban/urban environment.  But I'm going to close with a different piece of advice -- the one that really justifies me treating a wage job as a special case of "in business for yourself."

Any business with only one client and one revenue stream should really diversify.  And so should you.

Think about building an app, writing a book, creating an info product, or really just any kind of side hustle.  Your goal with this isn't to immediately replace your current income.  Instead, it's to give you an income option that has nothing to do with serial wage employment.

Think of it this way.  Let's say that you move somewhere remote and, after a while, that job becomes untenable.  By default, you'll search frantically for other jobs.  But say you've built and nurtured some app that you sell to the point where it brings in $1,000 per month or something.  When you've done this, a completely dry job market still leaves you with an option.  "If I built $1,000 per month of revenue in something I spent 5-10 hours per week on, what might I be able to do with 40 hours...?"

You have some runway to turn your prospect-poor rural environment into a prospect-rich one.  By all means, do that by identifying a healthy backlog of possible jobs.  But don't limit the scope of your ideas to wage jobs as you do it.  The key difference between rural and urban is that you need to be open to as many options as possible, rather than following the default employment script.

This post originally appeared on the DaedTech blog about a year and a half ago. If you'd like to ask a reader question, you can do so at the "ask me" page.

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