The Midwest is filled with small cities and towns. These cities have people with the skills and abilities to perform freelance work, not to mention the drive and desire to start their own businesses. Doing freelance work in a small city presents a unique set of challenges, though, that are often overlooked in online articles and YouTube videos about freelance life. Most of these videos and articles only talk about the challenges faced in cities like LA or Chicago and ignore the many freelancers working in smaller cities, such as those with fewer than 500,000 people.
The first thing that should be addressed is the fact that freelancing in a small city doesn’t only bring challenges. It also brings opportunities you cannot find in larger cities.
Opportunity: Less competition
Nathan Comstock, who is a freelance graphic designer in Lincoln, Nebraska, says the biggest advantage he sees to freelancing in a small city is there is less competition from other freelancers and agencies. Instead of being lost in a giant sea of competitors, it is much easier to get a client’s attention. Smaller cities have tight-knit business communities where everyone knows nearly everyone else. You won’t have to fight as hard, pay as much for advertising, or be as otherworldly in your skills to attract clients.
This can be both an advantage and a disadvantage for the client. “Clients may have a limited amount of talent to choose from,” explains Comstock. “This could foster deep relationships with certain teams or individuals, but could also be a source of frustration if a client doesn’t find what they are looking for.”
Lauren Bonk, who moved from Omaha, Nebraska, to do copywriting in Kearney, Nebraska (population: 30,787), says, “One of the biggest advantages I noticed was becoming a ‘big fish’ in a small pond. If you’re willing to put in the footwork, get out and talk to people, and make yourself visible, you’ve got a pretty good chance of getting work.”
Challenge: Lower ceiling
The downside is you may not be able to charge quite as much. Because there are fewer clients, there is also less competition on the side of the businesses, so they may not need to pay as much. “It can be hard to convince potential clients that your rates are valid sometimes,” says Bonk. “Most of my remote clients simply say, ‘Okay, that sounds fair.’ Here, however, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people’s eyes grow to dinner plates when I tell them what I charge hourly.”
Bonk says she has been able to handle this challenge by connecting with local business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce. “Kearney, specifically, is a large hub in the center of a huge network of small towns,” she explains. “Most of these towns have fairly active chambers. Speaking at meetings, and even joining those smaller chambers can open you up to a whole new audience.”
Opportunity: You can bring clients with you
If you are moving to a small city and you already have freelance clients, you may be in a great position. It can sometimes be challenging to find as many freelance clients in a small city because there are fewer businesses, but the beauty of freelance work is it can often be done from anywhere. So if you are able to move to a more affordable location and bring your work with you, you are set.
Challenge: Fewer opportunities
If you’re not bringing clients with you from a larger market, there is the obvious disadvantage of having fewer potential clients. Comstock says this is the biggest disadvantage he sees working in a smaller city. “There are fewer opportunities, not as many businesses, and fewer networking chances,” he explains.
Even if you live in a small city and don’t have clients, though, it doesn’t mean you can’t find clients from other cities. While it is more of a challenge to target clients who aren’t near you, it is possible. Comstock says that one of the ways he has been able to handle the challenge of fewer opportunities is by working with remote clients and connecting with creative groups online.
Opportunity: Your knowledge may better fit your client’s needs
Living in the same general area as the companies you are working for can be an advantage, because you will likely better understand the local needs, cultures, and norms. You will be able to tailor your work to fit the specific needs of your clients so you can build a long-term relationship.
Bonk says one surprising phenomenon she has seen is when larger, national companies peddle services to smaller cities in aggressive marketing campaigns. She has seen instances where local business owners received a phone call from a web design company in a distant city, convincing them to purchase a website.
“The sites are clearly cookie-cutter quality, not always mobile-friendly, and designed to keep the client dependent on the company for as long as possible,” explains Bonk. “I do my best to gently let those business owners know there are local options of higher quality, with their business’s well-being in mind.”
Freelancing in a small city isn’t without its challenges. But it brings opportunities too. For this reason, many people are choosing to stay in smaller cities to pursue their freelancing careers. When asked whether she prefers freelancing in a small city, Bonk says, “You know, I actually do. I could see how, if you’re someone with anxiety about networking, a larger city with more advertising opportunities might be preferable. For me, though, I get a kick out of slapping on a name tag, shaking hands, and doing my best to be memorable.”
Lauren Bonk, owner of Curtain and Pen, is a freelance copywriter hailing from Kearney, Nebraska. With a background in both theatre and English, Lauren loves to help companies find a voice, fine tune it, and authentically utilize it in written collateral. This includes blog posts, website copy, and social media content. You can typically find her drinking coffee, listening to music that’s probably a little too loud, and daydreaming about drinking more coffee the next morning. www.curtainandpen.com
Nathan Comstock has been in the arena of graphic design for 10 years, starting with college. He has been freelancing part-time since the middle of 2019. Becoming self employed has been a goal of his since college, and he finally decided to start giving it a go! He loves being able to work on projects when and where he wants. www.comstock.design
This article originally appeared at brennanhallock.com/freelancing-in-a-small-city-the-advantages-and-disadvantages/
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