One of the things I hope to illustrate with this site is how I got to the point of being a freelancer who is able to work from anywhere. Well, anywhere with a good WiFi connection. I’ll give you a little bit of insight into my journey thus far.
Into the Real World
I originally graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business from Bethel University in St. Paul, MN back in 1999. Great school, by the way. Not only did I graduate there, but so did my wife, one of my brothers, my mom, my sister-in-law, and my brother-in-law. But I hope my own kids go somewhere cheaper someday!
After graduating, I really had no intention of working at a demanding job right away. You see, I was born to rock and roll. At least that’s what I thought at that point in my life. I had a gig playing guitar in a local rock band that was playing out a lot at that time. Therefore, I went to the old standby for “working” musicians: The temp agency.
My first and only job through the temp agency was a position at the regional headquarters for The Salvation Army. My title was “development assistant” which is really a cute name for my role as an administrative assistant (read secretary) in the Development Department. My time in that temp position lasted only a few months before I was promoted (and officially hired) as database specialist. I basically maintained lists and reports of various financial donors to the organization. It wasn’t a bad job at all. In fact, it gave me my first taste of working from “anywhere” as they allowed me to take some of my tasks home to work on them after-hours.
I continued in that position for a while as I also continued to make sweet loud music. And then of course I met the love of my life. My wife Sarah came along and we married a little more than a year after we started dating. In that span, I also decided I wasn’t the rock star I thought I was. I also tried a few other occupations (like social worker?!) before I realized I really wanted to get into the web field. At that point I went back to school for a one-year web certification. Nothing big and fancy like a PhD, but with my existing business degree I figured I could make it work.
While attending school full-time (I’d tell you all about the school but it doesn’t even exist anymore), I started working part-time at a cabinet shop in St. Paul. This in itself was amazing. I have never been the hands-on type as far as power tools and building materials. Yet somehow I worked at that shop all through school and even went part-time after finishing school.
When I went full-time, a new owner had taken over and he really gave me a chance to put some marketing skills to work. In addition to building cabinets, I spent about half my time there building the website, making sales calls, organizing a sales prospecting system, and designing print materials. It was great experience and really helped me get the ball rolling.
A Good Job
A few months after going full-time, I was offered an internship with an up-and-coming marketing services company called Vencio. The company started out as a direct mailing shop, and had since grown into web and print. They already had a full-time graphic/web designer, and were “auditioning” for a full-time programming position. I spent three months interning with them while still working at the cabinet shop part-time. In the end, they offered me a full-time job and I took it.
A little more than a year after I became a Vencio employee, my wife and I had our first daughter. If that doesn’t turn a person’s world upside down, I don’t know what does. I was really enjoying the work at Vencio, but I was getting frustrated by 1) the 45-minute commute each way which seemed like time wasted and 2) living in a metro area in general.
Growing up in a small, quiet town, I was hoping I could somehow give that same experience to my children. The city life was too fast and too big for my tastes. Nothing against anyone who loves the city life. In fact, now that I live in a small town, I totally love traveling down to the big city again. But I also love making the drive back to my small-town life.
About six months after my daughter was born, I was offered a position with a very small web firm in Grand Rapids, MN. I jumped at the opportunity to move. First of all, Grand Rapids is located in an incredible area where people spend their summer vacations. There are tons of lakes, lots of trees, and not a lot of people. Yet it still has Target, Walmart, Caribou Coffee, McDonald’s, etc. Perfect.
Accepting the new job meant we had to sell our home and find a new one. Somehow, someway, we managed to sell our home for a decent profit (right before the market went sour). After that we found a cute little rambler for a much lower price in Grand Rapids. We actually found it about two weeks before we were supposed to move out of our old house. The timing was right.
The Beginning of Anywhere
I worked for the firm in Grand Rapids for about six months before getting a call from Vencio. They were desperate for a programmer who knew their stuff, so they offered me a better pay-rate with the added condition that I could telecommute from Grand Rapids. They would rent me an office, pay for the high-speed internet and phone, and provide the hardware necessary to have a setup exactly the same as what I had when I worked in their St. Paul office.
I couldn’t turn that opportunity down, and so I went with it. Ironically, while I actually worked at Vencio’s main office, I used to joke that since my job was web-based, I should move to a cabin in Montana yet keep my job. Now I practically could. We were really loving Grand Rapids, though, and the new work situation was great.
I kept that going for about a year and a half, during which our second daughter was born. And eventually I got the entrepreneurial itch.
On My Own
There were things I wanted to learn and try which were not necessarily in the scope of Vencio. I started doing some side jobs to build up my skills. As my confidence in running my own business grew, so did my client base. So in January of 2008, I decided to make the leap and go full-time with my side company, Lift Development.
I remained a contractor with Vencio on an as-needed basis, and I continue to do the occasional project for them. My main source of income, however, is from my own client base. It has been a fun and challenging experience thus far.
With the decision to make the leap, I also had to make a decision on work location. Just starting out, I didn’t feel like I could afford to work from a rented office. I talked to my wife and she agreed to let me turn our basement guest-room into a home office. Since March of this year I have been working from that location (as well as various coffee shops or the library) and that’s where I’m currently typing this post. There are positives and negatives to basing the business from home, but I’ll get into those in the coming weeks.
Now you know how I got to this point. I look forward to sharing the lessons I’ve learned, tips to make your transition easier, and resources to make your “anywhere” life the best it can be.