Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do Freelancers Have More Job Security?

Michele Goodman of The Anti 9-to-5 Guide made an interesting argument recently on her blog. She posited that freelancers have more job security than nine-to-fivers - and are actually better equipped to survive the current economic crisis . Naturally, this got my attention.

I'd read last week how the government has extended unemployment benefits by seven or more weeks, and it got me thinking (a little morosely) how freelancers who work on a 1099 "independent contractor" basis like me don't qualify for unemployment. That gave me a little anxiety. The phrase "lack of a safety net" came to mind.

But Michele's perspective turned my thinking around. Because the serious upside for a freelancer like me is that I can't get laid off, ever, and if I'm good, I shouldn't need unemployment because I have the ability to adapt to a changing marketplace. In other words, to apply my skills to new industries (like the booming green space, my newest foray) and "follow the money."

Here's an excerpt of the four things she says make freelancers the ultimate survivors:

* Our checks come from multiple companies rather than just one. If one client tanks, we replace them with another.
* We’re endlessly flexible. If one market dies off, we adapt. Diversification is key, even when the economy isn’t taking a nosedive.
* We’re old pros at interviewing and selling ourselves. Freelancers are constantly “interviewing” on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. Plus, we have the most up-to-date bios, resumes, and portfolios around.
* It’s still cheaper for companies to hire freelancers than employees. If a company has 100 hours of work that no one on staff has the time or expertise to complete, they’re going to outsource it.

One final thought that applies to everyone. Whether you're full-time or freelance, you have a skill set that goes with you. So even in an era of layoffs, just remember: you don't always need an employer to have employment!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Someone's Been Kissing My Crush

Meg Cooch, that's who. But I can forgive her because she sent me this great scouting report on New Mexico after visiting in October for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Here's what she had to say:

J and I had a fabulous time in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. We spent two days in Santa Fe at an adorable bed and breakfast off the center square called Madeleine Inn, which is also home to the Absolute Nirvana Spa. We loved the fresh cookies daily plus wine and cheese at 5:00 p.m. in front of the outdoor fire.

Overall, the food in Santa Fe was amazing, the art fabulous though depressingly expensive and the people super friendly. October is a great time to go - high 70s during the day, low 60s/high 50s at night. The only thing that made us pause was that there is little nightlife beyond 11:00 p.m. or midnight. It is a pretty slow town, but gorgeous. Albuquerque was good as well - far less quaint, but they have a great area near the University of New Mexico, which felt funky and cool. Again nightlife was less active, although there is a strip of bars/lounges in downtown.

The balloon festival was a sight to behold - hundreds of hot air balloons in the sky. Watching the balloons glowing as the sun went down was amazing. One downer was that it rained two days in a row so we missed the mass ascension because we were flying out the next morning, but apparently rain is very rare, and they had never really canceled festivities before this year.


--Less-than-kicking nightlife, which I had heard before and am debating how much of a factor it is to me. Probably not a major one at this stage.

--The spa culture and New Age sensibilities? Groovy. Bring on the zen, even the eccentricity, I say. I like places that embrace individuality, and I plan to get a little kooky in my old age.

--Not much rain. I'm used to that in California. No biggie. (In LA, we average 15 inches of rainfall per year. Santa Fe averages 14 inches per year.)

--And finally, from her lovely photo of the changing Aspen trees, I was reminded how much I miss seasonal change here in LA. It's a big draw to have that again. (I'll recant once I'm buried in snow.)

Bottom line: No real deterrents. Only fuel to my fire. My crush remains alive and well!

Thanks, Meg!

p.s. For more photos of Santa Fe in autumn, check out this blog I recently discovered (and plan to follow regularly): http://choosing-santa-fe.blogspot.com/. It's about a woman who decided to leave the big city (Boston, in this case) for Santa Fe in 2006.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

There's a new poll in the right sidebar. Take it...now!

Essentially, I want to know how the current recession (let's just call it what it is) is affecting your ability and/or desire to break up with your current city and jump into bed with your dream town. My hunch is that homeowners and renters will have very different responses.

Speaking to a good friend last week, she described feeling stuck as a homeowner. In short, she didn't think there was any way she and her husband could sell their home and move as a result of the down market. There would be no takers. Then there's those in "upside down" mortgages - meaning, who owe more than their home is currently worth - who couldn't sell even if there was a buyer because of the huge loss. An estimated 12 million Americans are in that predicament, according to this sobering article.

But renters may be more apt to move, I suspect. Layoffs and declining business could drive those not tied to a home to areas with better job prospects or a lower cost of living. For me, the economic crisis has only underscored why it just doesn't make much sense for me to live in the city with second-least-affordable housing in the US.

You see, LA and I just don't have the same financial values, and we all know that's a deal breaker in relationships. LA believes in million-dollar mortgages and mountains of debt. I don't. And frankly, I can't. I'm self-employed, which means my income can fluctuate. Therefore, the lower my overhead, the greater my ability to weather any storm.

Fortunately, excepting a handful of cities, anywhere I move is going to be cheaper than LA, and I can have the things I want (oh sweet, sweet spare bedroom) without paying (much) more. Now that's an equation I can get behind. Hurray for telecommuting!

Got a related story? Think my theory has holes? Please chime in. But most importantly, take the poll!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Do You Feel My Stress?

Forbes does.

They’ve ranked LA as the fourth most stressful city in the US, based on criteria like affordability, population density, unemployment, gas prices, air quality and a few other things. (Rounding out the top five are: 1) Chicago, 2) New York, 3) San Francisco and 5) Detroit. In other words, a short list of where I won’t be moving.)

Here’s the description of LA’s “stressors”:

Individuals living in the City of Angels deal with a 7.5% unemployment rate, the second least affordable homes relative to income in the country and the worst air quality in the country. Angelenos also have to fret about health concerns and often need to stay indoors when the smog gets really bad. Throw in expensive gas and this car-dependent city has a lot to stress about.

Now, I knew LA was going to be high on Forbes’ list, which also includes some surprises like Salt Lake City and Providence, once I saw that affordability was one of the factors. I mean, we’re the worst value for real estate in the country, and we are just behind New York and San Francisco in exorbitant rental rates. More than gas prices (because I don’t commute), unemployment (because I am self-employed) or smog (because, I swear, it has never affected my health or activities), this is what causes me stress in LA.

When I look at renting a larger place here (at least $25/square foot in my neighborhood nowadays), or buying something the same size or bigger (still at least $400/square foot in my neighborhood), I simply can’t justify giving up my rent-stabilized apartment of seven years. The jump in price per square foot is just, well, stupid.

Which means, if I really want things like a spare bedroom and a better home office (which I crave the way reality stars crave fame), I can’t afford a long-term relationship with LA. Because if you can’t upgrade during a severe housing recession, when can you?

Try nev-er. Ooof.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Familiar Places, New Validation

First off, I apologize for the long gap between posts. Work got busy, and then I came down with a severe case of election fever. I know many of you hear me on that.

But I’m back – and I pledge to post more regularly in the coming months. Fortunately, there will be much to report and analyze. Let’s just say that geographic longings have stirred, old flames have resurfaced, and new “city dates” have been scheduled.

Starting in January, be on the lookout for a rekindled romance with Charleston, South Carolina; an extended first date with Jacksonville, Florida (where I will be telecommuting from); and a weekend fling with the polysyllabic spelling bee stumper, Apalachicola, Florida. Yes, I will be a snowbird again this winter, thanks to the peripatetic career of my lovely boyfriend, who works in the film industry.

Until then, there’s still much to discuss – such as my recent dip back into the well with New York City (full post on that coming soon) and the fascinating, on-point recommendations on where I should live from FindYourSpot.com. As I teased in my last post, I was astonished to find that half of their suggestions hailed from two states that were already looming on my blog. It gives credence to their questionnaire, which I think anyone who daydreams of moving must take.

Which two states, you ask? None other than New Mexico, home to my leading crush, Santa Fe, and Arkansas, where I randomly and serendipitously found myself this summer. Turns out my love affair with Eureka Springs, Arkansas, was not just chemistry, folks. Believe it or not, it turned up in my 24 recommendations, which means that according to FYS’s formula, there’s long-term compatibility too.

Without further ado, here are the 24 places FYS thinks I should consider living based on my input:

1. Silver City, New Mexico
2. Salisbury, Maryland
3. Truth or Consequences, New Mexico
4. Holiday Island, Arkansas
5. Eureka Springs, Arkansas
6. Charleston, West Virginia
7. Fayetteville, Arkansas
8. Mountain Home/Bull Shoals, Arkansas
9. Milwaukie, Oregon
10. Shreveport, Louisiana
11. Natchitoches, Lousiana
12. Salem, Oregon
13. Hot Springs, Arkansas
14. Cherokee Village, Arkansas
15. Las Cruces, New Mexico
16. Hagerstown, Maryland
17. Morgantown, West Virginia
18. Las Vegas, New Mexico
19. Heber Springs/Greer Ferry Lake, Arkansas
20. Little Rock, Arkansas
21. Carlsbad, New Mexico
22. St. Helens, Oregon
23. Corvallis, Oregon
24. Frederick, Maryland

Now, I should remind you that among other criteria, I requested a temperate to warm place (meaning, no extreme cold weather), very low cost of living (below national averages) and a small population, as I’ve been feeling drawn to small towns. And as you can see, those three choices reflected heavily in my results. Knowing me, I will probably re-take the quiz several times using different criteria, but this was my initial stab.

A few reactions (with more possibly to come in subsequent posts)…

• Equal to the eerie satisfaction of seeing my affection for New Mexico and Arkansas validated for me was the initial bafflement I felt at seeing Maryland appear three times. But then I remembered Arkansas and checked myself. Because what I learned during my time there was that it’s unfair to prejudge any place you haven’t really given a fair shake. As an intern, I lived in the Maryland suburbs of DC for two summers, but I've not revisited since I shed my DC biases, nor have I been to the three towns in question. I'm guessing it's quite different (especially in cost of living) once you leave the burbs.

• I admit, I felt sheer delight to see five small towns in New Mexico pop up. I also had a bell ring with Truth or Consequences (population 7,163). Who could forget a name like that? Turns out I had read a profile of it in Budget Travel’s Ten Coolest Small Towns 2008 issue. Upon further poking around, I discovered that Silver City (population 10,545) had been featured in Budget Travel's list the year before. As for the other three towns, which I know little to nothing about, you better believe I'll be scouring for scoop. Anyone been?

• Given my growing intrigue about New Mexico’s quirky small towns – and especially the description of Silver City as “the new Santa Fe” – I feel compelled to incorporate them into my still TBD trip there. It really warrants more than a weekend at this point, so my boyfriend and I are hoping to find a week in the spring (after we return from Florida) to do a proper road trip. Stay tuned!