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Jun 26, 2012

Work Not Jobs

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For the last four years that I lived in Asheville, NC, I taught ninth grade English.  I had had no plans to be a teacher, and I wasn’t satisfied with that being my career.  I wanted to own my own business or at least work for myself.  So, I started looking for writing or editing work.  I had an MFA in Writing and was teaching grammar as a profession, so I was pretty well equipped for a writing or editing job.  I bought a book from the bookstore that was a catalog of the writing marketplace, and I began to send samples and resumes to publications across the nation.  Lots of postage.  Lots of waiting.  Eventually, I became impatient with the process and began looking for alternatives on the Internet.  This was in 2002, so the Internet was a different place than it is today.  It was less fluid and organized (it seemed).  It was less ubiquitous in people’s lives too.  But, I found a website where I could bid on writing and editing work.  So, I signed up.  I paid the fees with my credit card.  I beefed up my profile and resume.  And I began to bid on projects.

The first project I was awarded was to copy edit and format a book for publication.  I was bidding against vendors from all over the world, and I had no idea where this particular client was located. So, I contacted the client by email and asked how he would like to get started.  He asked if we could speak on the phone.  I said, yes of course.  He asked what time zone I was in.  I said, EST.  He said, me too.  He asked what state was I in.  I said, North Carolina.  He said, me too.  He asked what city I was in.  I said, Asheville.  He said, me too.  He asked what neighborhood or part I was in.  I said, Kenilworth.  He said, me too.

Well… it turns out he was in his home just around the corner from my home.  We both walked out into the street and met each other in person there and shook hands. What we both learned that day is that the Internet has no boundaries large or small.  Each of us could have been anywhere in the world, yet we were only a few houses from one another.  We never met in person again.  We did everything by email.  I saw him occasionally pulling into his drive and would wave.  He was a nice guy.

In the macro history of the human experience, the Internet is an absolute game-changer.  Like the wheel or fire or the combustible engine or the microchip, the Internet is more than a big deal.  It affects the way we access information and communicate with one another, thus changing the human experience.  It is changing how we migrate, how we live, how we play, how we work, how we learn, and how we create productivity.

We are in a new age – the Connectivity Age – in which our economy hinges on the creative use of communications, connectivity, and access.

So, after the one writing project, I did another.  Then, another and another.  Eventually, I was getting more projects than I could do, so instead of turning them away, I approached my competitors in those online bidding spaces, and I formed teams of writers.  I then expanded the team with editors and a project manager then an account manager.  Then, when we moved back to York County, I quit my teaching job and went at this freelance writing thing full time.

What all of us in those bidding spaces had in common was this: we sought work, not jobs.  None of us wanted jobs.  We wanted work.  With work, we controlled it.  I could decide what projects I wanted to work on and at what rate of pay.  Though, I had to win them, and that is not easy.  But, the trade off was worth it to me.

Over the course of a few years, the web writing focus evolved into full web marketing services focus with the founding of my current company, RevenFlo.  We developed a model with RevenFlo in which we provide web teams to organizations of all sizes all across the nation.  The core of our business is strategy and project management.  The next layer is talent with niche skills: designers, developers, writers, videographers, SEO managers, and more.  When we bring in revenue, we are essentially bringing in contracted work.  It’s like construction.  When someone is hired to build a house, that is work for the builder, the project managers, the carpenters, the electricians, the plumbers, the masons, and so on.  Yet, the construction/housing market is bust, and the technology and creative marketplaces are growing.  Plus, this analogy falls short also because the Web has turned into a fluid communications marketplace, thus needs of service are constant for most organizations.  You don’t build a website and move on, instead you have to put in place a team that functions on an on-going basis as your contracted staff.

RevenFlo is not alone in what we are discovering about knowledge teams and contracting.  The model of the contracted worker and the flatter marketplace is all over the map.  We are seeing it everywhere.  Think of financial professionals who have been laid-off or quit their jobs to open up their own shops.  Think of the health care professionals who are essentially independent contractors.  No longer does an organization hire a janitor for 30 years, but instead contracts a team of cleaning professionals.

Also, the new worker is a knowledge worker.  The new jobs are facilitation, management, and organization.  The new assembly line is information and processes and communications.  Thus, the new entrepreneur is the person who innovates in these areas, in these services models.

I recently went to Monster.com and searched 29730 (our zip code here at my office in Rock Hill), and here are the job titles I got as results to my query:

  • Business Analyst
  • PHP Developer
  • Cost Accountant
  • Web Application Engineer
  • Lead Web Application Developer
  • Sr. Java Developer
  • Tax Manager
  • Service Operations Process Architect
  • Information Systems Architect

And you should see the job descriptions to these positions. It’s all about knowledge, technology manipulation, and systems development.

The technology sector in particular is growing because it constitutes the support sector for the growth and change of every other industry.  For health care to grow, for professional services to grow, they are looking at how to use technology effectively, to manage processes more effectively, to innovate and to create.

The new economy is a services economy, a technology economy, an innovation economy, a knowledge economy, and a creative economy.  We see huge job growth in Educational Services, Health Services, and Professional/Business Services.

Professional/Business Services includes:

  • Information Technology
  • Financial
  • Architectural / Engineering
  • Marketing / Communications

Here in York County, SC, we currently have over 11,000 independent contractors functioning as service businesses (according to Bruce Yandle, economist at Clemson University).  These are 1099 contractors who are each their own business and function in the new services economy.

As the Information Technology sector grows (with huge increases in spending going into this sector from every other sector), we are seeing consultants and developers and coders and project managers and designers and writers and illustrators and administrators and marketing professionals (SEOs, PPCs, Copywriters, Etc.).

These are the service providers of the small business marketplace, with an estimated 70% of small businesses outsourcing web marketing, consulting, and development; and an estimated 55% of small businesses outsourcing their IT.

These folks are not all looking for jobs.  Many of them are looking for work, not jobs.  We hear politicians say “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”  Maybe they should be saying, “Work, work, work.” Work can lead to a W2 employee position or a 1099 contract or the hiring of a vendor.  Regardless, it is employment for the worker and outcome for the consumer.

I believe that we, as knowledge workers, can ultimately work on the projects and in the capacities that are the most compelling and interesting and engaging to us, that we can best serve groups and ultimately our communities in the places where we are most passionate to serve.  We can create our own lives and enjoy what we do, living a whole life, not one split between work and life.

My wife’s grandfather is 86, and he always asks me, “How many people do you have working for you now?”  He asks this because, to him, it is a measure of how successful I am to date.  It shows how much power and responsibility I wield and is correlated to how much money I am making (which he would see as the key measurement on success, but he can’t come out and ask me that, for it would be rude to do so).  This man is not a shallow man or a callous man.  On the contrary, he is a generous man who cares about enjoying life and family.  Yet, he doesn’t ask, “How much do you enjoy what you do now?”  That would seem more of a measurement of success to me.  And if in a longer more serious conversation he would agree.  But he doesn’t ask that because his question is about professional success.  It’s about work.  My business.  He’s inquiring how my work is going?  And he’s trying to gage how much success I am having, and therefore, the most poignant question he can ask, from his point of view is, “How many people do you have working for you now?”

The answer to this question is, of course, always the same.  None.  Though I don’t want to start this conversation with my wife’s grandfather because when he asks, he is not looking for a dissertation on the shifting workplace of the new economy.  So, I say, “Well, we run 11 or so out of our Rock Hill office and more offsite.”  That answer satisfies what he’s looking for, and we’re able to communicate fine with that.  But the real answer to the question is zero.  No one works for me.  They each work for themselves.  This is always true.  No employee gets out of bed every morning for his boss.  He does it for himself.  He works a job because it is good for him to do so.  It fits his life, his plan, somehow.  So, really, everybody works for himself.  At RevenFlo, this is truer than at most places.  At RevenFlo, everyone really works for himself – legally.  Everyone is a 1099 contractor.  So, each person is his or her own business.

Consider the lives of the professionals in the following industries:

  • Internet Marketing and Communications
  • Web and Application Technology
  • Computer Hardware/Software and Information Technology
  • Creative Arts
  • Musical Arts
  • Audio/Video Production

Consider that these individuals are independent professionals – knowledge workers – functioning as single-person businesses. They move from contract to contract, putting together their own portfolios of work.

According to MartinProsperity.org:

  • Approximately 1/3 of the US labor force is employed in the Creative Economy.
  • The Creative Class earns approximately 50% of overall income in the economy in the U.S.
  • Creative Occupations represent 70% of disposable income.
  • The Creative Class is expected to grow by 40% from 2006-2016. In the previous decade it grew by 30%.

Though the Creative Class is driving these Work Not Jobs shifts in behavior, contracting is also increasingly present in Financial, Legal, Health, and even the Commercial services.  The real estate and construction marketplace was thriving off such models just before the bust.

The new economy need is knowledge-based / skilled labor.  The new economy model is more focused on the individual, whether that individual is an employee, a consultant, part of a boutique service provider, or an independent contractor.

Many of these professionals can live in a small city and serve clients all over the area, region, nation, and world. These creative and motivated folks, can gather and work wherever they choose.

Understanding such behavior and thinking is a critical aspect to success for a small city in the new economy.

Author Details
Jason
Jason Broadwater

Jason is a keynote speaker and project designer for economic development and community collaboration in the New Economy. Jason is also founder of RevenFlo (an internet marketing and application development company).