Living & Working Here

Living & Working Here

Teleworking – what`s that?
Well, it`s not taking a laptop home from the office and working late into the night answering e-mails from Japan. Nor is it stuffing envelopes for tuppence a hundred or taking part in dubious pyramid selling schemes. It`s an autonomous way of working which, handled right, can help free you from the tyranny of the 9-to-5 and empower you to live where and how you damn well want.

Want to know more? Well, many people discount the whole idea of moving to a remote area like the Scottish Highlands for what they call “practical reasons”.

Chief among these are concerns about money. “What would we live on?” they say. “Everyone knows there`s no jobs in the Highlands. It`s all very well if you`ve got a private income, but …”

I`m not suggesting you should chuck in the job, up sticks and move to the back of beyond with never a thought for the finances. Simply enjoying the scenery whilst running through what capital or savings you have is no-one`s idea of good sense. But there`s absolutely no reason to wait for retirement before you go in search of a new way of life. With a little forward planning and a frank look at your own skills and those of your family, you`ll be surprised what you can do – right now.

However, if your only idea of work is putting on a city suit, jumping in a company car and driving to the office every day – or you know one trade and you don`t want to learn anything else – then the Highlands may not be your kind of place. There`s little in the way of secure 9-5 employment unless you`re planning to live in or near Inverness, and out on the west coast few people have one job as they would in London, Lancashire or Kent.

But many people come here because they`re actively looking for a different lifestyle – something which will give them more control of their working day and the opportunity to live fuller lives, seeing more of their families. That freedom is there for the taking if you want it badly enough. Living out here on the margins doesn`t mean you can`t make a living – and if you`re enterprising enough, a very good living. What you need to have is FITE – Flexibility, Imagination, Tenacity and Enterprise.

Let`s take each of these areas in turn:

All over the world – not just in the Highlands – society is moving from the old post-industrial model to something which combines the best of what`s old and new. Because of the industrial and agricultural revolutions – and in Scotland the Highland Clearances had much to do with this as well – there was a movement of labour into the cities and away from the land.

Even now, at the dawn of a new millennium, many people assume that they must move into urban centres or their suburbs in order to get a job and make a decent living. The current economic problems with traditional rural businesses such as farming only serve to underline this in people`s minds.

Like the song says, it ain`t necessarily so…

In remote rural areas, people have long understood the need to have several jobs rather than a single, monolithic “career”. The part-time postman may also farm sheep or mend computers. The lady who runs the village shop may also drive the school bus. The music teacher may play in a ceilidh band.

Whereas the language of the traditional job ad or personnel department is entirely linear. It`s all about progressing, moving up some imaginary scale or hierarchy:

  • “Your career path so far….”
  • “Are you keen to climb the career ladder?”
  • “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
  • “Get ahead in your career…”
  • “Send your Curriculum Vitae…”

The model for the Highlands is much more circular and collective. Instead of doing a single job for a single employer which pays a single salary, you do lots of smaller jobs on a freelance basis which, together, add up to a decent living – and if you can network and cooperate with your neighbours as well, you can do even more. Traditionally, crofting townships were fuelled by a sense of cooperation between neighbours. Translate this to the 21st century, and it fits the weblike structure of the Internet perfectly.

The Internet frightens many people who imagine it to be a technological monster or a hotbed of vice and pornography – yet in reality it is one of the greatest liberating forces for ordinary people since the 1944 Education Act. It enables anyone with a computer and a phone line to have access to a vast bank of knowledge and opportunity from around the world and it puts people in contact with one another not just on a local level, but on a global one. Need some info on almost any topic? There`s the World Wide Web at your disposal. If it`s specific advice you need, try the thousands of available newsgroups. The person who helps you with information and advice is as likely to come from Iowa or India as Inverness.

Many of you will already know all this. But how does it help you earn hard cash?

Because this increased access to information is also increased access to opportunity. Just as you don`t have to rely on your neighbour, your mum or your Auntie Bella for advice any more, you don`t have to rely on the nearest city for a job. The Internet is your open sesame to all kinds of paid work which you can do from your own home. All you need is a computer, a phone line and an Internet account.

You guessed it – this is where imagination comes in.

Many people start their working lives with a strong idea of identity shaped by their job description. They see themselves in terms of a label which says “secretary”, “manager”, “shopkeeper” or “clerk”. But the truth is that almost anyone is capable of far more than their label says they are. With the opportunities the Internet gives you, your only limit is the breadth of your imagination and your ability to live up to what it shows you.

Think creatively about what you can do. Don`t be limited by the past. Just because you`ve always worked as part of a team in an office, it doesn`t mean you can`t adapt those skills to working alone, or as part of a “virtual network” of colleagues who keep in contact via the Internet. Just because you`ve worked in service industries, there`s no reason why you can`t make a living providing a different kind of service – either wholly online, or via a traditional business which you market using the Internet.

Types of work which can be done wholly online, working from home:

  • Writing – magazine articles, online content for websites and ISPs, copywriting, fiction, technical authoring, CV writing
  • Editing – copy editing, proofreading, abstraction and classification of specialised articles
  • Indexing – producing indexes for books and magazines
    Data Entry – compiling databases and spreadsheets for corporate clients
  • Research – using the Web to discover and collate information for clients
  • Computer programming – much of this work can now be done from home
  • Art – graphics, illustration
  • Web Design
  • E-business – using the web as a marketing tool for your own locally-made goods or services
  • Online Auctions – buying and selling through the internet

Almost any small business can be efficiently marketed online, from a B&B or self-catering cottage to a company with goods to sell or a service to provide. In remote areas like this one, the Internet has far more potential impact than it does in populous areas because people need it in order to stay in touch with the rest of the world.

Here are just a few examples of successful ventures recently established in the area…

  • One of my own best-paid assignments involves working for a client in New York. Three mornings each week, I get up early to pick up an Internet news feed – consumer health stories written for an American audience. My job is to select those stories from the ticker which have interest value for British readers and “translate” them from American English to British, adding hyperlinks to local sources of information in the UK. Once edited, I post them on the website of the American company`s British associate. I get paid in big-city dollars, and I spend them here in the local shops of Wester Ross…. a positive take on the redistribution of wealth.
  • Ric and Jill Holmes, have a greetings card design and production company Ric is a qualified sailing instructor who offers boating and sailing courses and cruises on Loch Ewe and beyond.
  • Joanne Mackenzie-Winters runs a highly successful website design business from her home in Inverness.

Couldn`t you adapt some of these working models to suit yourself? Think laterally: how could your existing skills or that of your family be adapted to teleworking? What could you be doing right now to take control of your working life?

There`s a down side to everything, and it must be said that a life as a teleworker isn`t for those who want constant supervision, or who need everything delivered to them on a plate. It`s not the same as homeworking, where an employee has a computer supplied by the office – apparently to make the job more flexible, but really so that the corporate machine can squeeze even more hours out of that “attractive salary with benefits” you`re on.

Working for yourself may offer freedom from supervision and interference, but it also demands tenacity: you need to keep at it with determination and patience. If you`re starting from scratch, there will be setbacks at first: those who persevere, assuming they have what it takes, win through. It`s hard work. You can`t afford to be nervous, negative, or to hang back and miss opportunities. Working hours can be irregular, often involving late nights and leisure-free weekends, but you can wear what you want, work where you want and you can choose your own timetable.

When you start out, it`s also true that freelancing can be a difficult and unstable way to earn a living. It`s probably not a good idea to try and start a completely new business the day after you land in Wester Ross or Lochaber. Many people experiment with teleworking before they make their move, building up a basic client base which they can simply take with them when they relocate. When I moved from Cambridge to the Highlands, I lost only one client out of fourteen; no-one else even cared about my move, over and above updating their rolodex.

Many people begin by teleworking around other jobs or activities, or start by doing it part-time while involved in bringing up a family. Eventually, though, established freelancing for a range of clients is a more secure way of earning a living than having a “proper” salaried job. You`re not at risk from redundancy or dismissal. If you lose one client, well, tough, but you still have all the others. And because you don`t have all your eggs in one basket, you have much more autonomy than an ordinary employee would. If you don`t like a job, there`s a personality clash or you simply find yourself overworked, you can simply sever your relationship with a “difficult” client or temporally cut back on the volume of work you accept.

If you plan carefully, it is possible to have a stable working life which is under your own control and which you can pursue when and how you choose. With the advent of laptop computers, mobile and satellite phones and the Internet, it`s also a completely portable career — which is great for those of us who want to live off the beaten track.

Just like Jean-Luc Picard and his doughty crew, you`ll need something to take you over that final frontier. That something is Enterprise, and it`s not a starship – at least, only in the metaphorical sense. It`s the quality in you which will keep you supplied with ideas, fuel you with endlessly renewable energy and let you explore all new experiences you dreamed about. It`s what will sell you and your skills to new employers and clients. It`s what will help you identify new marketplaces and new arenas for your activities in that marvellous world-in-microcosm that is the Internet. It`s what`s helped me change from a depressed and depressing wage slave in the south-east of England to a liberated and happy cybercrofter in the Scottish Highlands.

There`s plenty out there to help you. You can find tips, leads and links to get you started as a freelancer on my writing homepage or for an overview of all our work look at our main site.

You have much more power and potential than you think. The decision to use it, though, is up to no-one but you…