Can You Be a Web Worker From a Small Town?

By Becky McCray

Part of the promise of working independently is to able to live and work where ever you choose. Getting away from the big city sounds great, but can you really work remotely from a small town? Can the technology support it?

The answer, of course, depends on the small town. Broadband is the most obvious issue, but isolation and general amenities are also worth thinking about. The advantages of small towns might just outweigh those problems, so let’s talk about it.

Almost everywhere in the US, some form of broadband is available. It may not be affordable, and it may not be speedy, but it does exist. Between satellite service and EVDO on cellular networks, you can get something better than dial up almost anywhere. But that is different than having real broadband direct to your home that is capable of handling the intensive bandwidth of working remotely. Direct broadband access varies considerably, with huge rural areas still on dial up. Primarily, if you locate inside a small town, your chances are better. Small towns around in my area tend to have DSL, cable, and RF options. This is definitely something to check out before making a move.

Another variable. Some small towns seem to be hotbeds of geekiness. In others, you’ll be the only technical-minded person. But no small town is going to have the same vibe and connection as a big city. You can’t just throw a Tweet-up and expect to get 20 people in Alva, Oklahoma.

Kind of like broadband, you can use technology to work around the issue of isolation. Staying connected on Twitter, Facebook, Skype, and other social networks can help you feel less alone. Attending conferences, workshops, and other meetings in the cities can also help. But at the end of the day, you’re still pretty isolated.

Co-working options are severely limited. There probably isn’t a Starbucks to go work from, or even a Panera bread. If you are lucky, you may have a McDonald’s with wifi, but I’m sure that’s not the same. This is a trend that I’d like to see our local business incubators and economic developers take on. If every business incubator in a small town opened up some space for co-working, I think they would be surprised at the response!

How could the advantages outweigh all of those problems? Well, let’s start with no traffic. That’s why you wanted to be a web worker in the first place, wasn’t it? Cost of housing is lower, usually much lower. People are friendly, helpful even. You won’t need that GPS navigator to get around town, either.

If you’ve gotten through the first step of moving your work to the web, then moving your physical location to anywhere you choose is a logical step. Hugh MacLeod, of Gaping Void, recently moved back into small town Alpine, Texas, and garnered a lot of attention. He wrote about living where you want, while building a global microbrand. His Notes from West Texas are worth a read, if you are thinking of jumping ship from a big city.

Becky McCray is a small town entrepreneur. She writes Small Biz Survival about small business and rural issues, based on her own successes and failures. She is the co-owner of a small town retail liquor store and small cattle ranch. She helps tourism related businesses from Oklahoma to Africa to maintain their web presence and helps rural nonprofits and governments with grant writing. Previously, she was worked as an antiques dealer, city administrator, nonprofit executive and newspaper reporter.

Becky is a noted speaker on small business issues, having made presentations to business associations at the state and national level.