Necktie money!


This is the time of year when the young ‘uns are looking around for summertime work. With that in mind, I’m going to take a look at the world of freelancing and remote working. And not any look, mind you, but one that’s entirely random.

The world of remote working is ever evolving. Earlier this year IBM, which last I heard had nearly 400,000 employees, clipped the wings of some of its telecommuters and told them to return to the corporate offices.

I know several employees of large corporations who telecommute. In these circles there’s some concern that IBM’s action might send ripples into the broader scene. Might this portend a trend that puts the footloose back into the world of traffic jams, cubicles, neckties, and office politics?

I don’t know. I doubt it. I suspect the overall trend is still favorable to remote workers. But the story does serve as a reminder that we can never take anything for granted.

Shifting to a closer focus, I know folks on Saipan and in Guam who have been remote workers, as freelancers, for 15 or 20 years. The islands are particularly well-suited to remote arrangements, especially for those with international language skills. The mix of nationalities creates a nexus for international engagement. Many of the workers I’ve known in these locales do basic administrative tasks such as data entry and record keeping.

There’s also some action in credentialed professional circles, but I’m going to ignore that end of things today so we can tend the entry-level segment.

I’ll offer an illustrative tale from my corporate days as a number-cruncher. The bane of my existence was data entry. Sometimes I could foist those tasks onto someone else. Sometimes I couldn’t. At the start of one summer, a guy in the marketing department dropped by my office and said that his kid was looking for a summertime job, but rather than flipping burgers he wanted to do something with computers.

I cooked up a trial project and sent the marketing guy off with a 3.5-inch floppy disk (that’s how we carried around data back then.) A couple of days later he brought back the disk. The kid had done a superb job. He soon became entrusted with the other bane of my existence, which was formatting output such as financial statements and graphs. He made serious money, not burger-flipping money, so it was a successful gig.

Of course, it helps to have a dad who is a senior marketing executive in a solvent company. If the kid didn’t have that luck, he might have wound up flipping burgers that summer in spite of his aptitude for better-paying work.

I’ve heard quite a few business owners lament the difficulty, if not the utter impossibility, of finding people to handle tasks requiring low- to medium-level administrative skills. They have told me that they can’t just present a simple project to their staff and say “take care of this.” They’ll get the deer-in-the-headlights look.

But it’s perfectly reasonable to throw such projects at freelancers and to say, “Can you do this—yes or no?” Freelancers live for this stuff. Quite often, the only knowledge required is a functional familiarity with the usual software used in offices (word processors, spreadsheets, operating systems, etc.) along with the ability to learn the more involved features of the software when necessary.

As low as that bar is, it’s certainly not for everybody, though. After all, the notion of “work” conventionally means being in a certain place at a certain time and collecting a guaranteed paycheck.

That’s an entirely different world than having a project dropped into your lap, with a deadline to meet, and it’s up to you to figure out how to do it and then to actually get it done. There’s no guarantee that you’ll get paid, or that your computer won’t break the day before the deadline (oh, it will break; trust me on that). Some people thrive on these challenges. Those who do will find that even entry-level work builds abilities and contacts that are useful years, or even decades, down the road when the stakes are far higher.

One attribute these people have is that they’re often studying something, such as computer books, in order to improve their skills. Nobody tells them to do this; it’s just something that they do as a way to invest in themselves.

Well, such are my thoughts on the entry-level realm of freelance working. Summertime work can be a lot more than just a summertime job. With a little luck and a lot of gumption, it can lead to earning necktie-level money without having to wear a necktie.

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at His column runs every Friday.

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