At a coffee shop, free from the workaday grind

| Sunday, Sept. 2, 2007

It's a hot trend in the workplace: working from home or the coffee shop or anywhere, thanks to the Internet.

"Imagine a work world with no commute, no corporate headquarters and perhaps not even an office in the physical world at all," suggested ABC News last week.

I'm familiar with the concept.

I've been self-employed since 1993. In addition to writing this weekly column, I provide communications services to corporate clients. My biggest client is in Virginia. I work from Pittsburgh.

I have a broadband card on my portable computer that gives me Internet access from anywhere. I dial into meetings and conduct interviews with my cell phone. There's no need for me to go to an office.

I sit in coffee shops most days and pubs most nights. I sit in the corner and peck away on my keyboard. I make a fine living wearing blue jeans and sipping a latte. And I've got plenty of company.

I've befriended others who work as I do: a marketing consultant who works 30 hours a month so she can spend most of her time with her children; a computer engineer who from Pittsburgh works for the Virginia company that also pays me; a pro who ghostwrites books for big publishers.

It's a grand time to be alive. It's a grand time to be FREE.

I'm free to work or not work on any given day. I don't punch a clock. Nobody cares where or when or how I work. My clients only care about results -- about how well I get the job done.

I'm free to fail or succeed, too. If I want to make more money, all I have to do is work harder -- work harder to find and service new clients. The more hours I bill, the more dough I earn.

And while I can earn more as a self-employed fellow than I ever could as an employee, I save money for my clients. I'm a bargain. When they contract with me, they are buying my experience and skill. I get things done faster than someone less experienced.

Better yet, they don't have to worry about taxes, health insurance, workers' compensation and a million other government-imposed obligations and burdens associated with full-time employees.

When companies contract my services, they don't need to worry about the high cost of office space, either -- heat, electric, wiring, security and all the other headaches and worries of operating large buildings.

Most employees don't know it, but their salary is only a fraction of their overall cost to their employer. If your pay is $50,000 a year, your full cost to your employer is closer to $75,000.

While I charge a nice fee for my services, my clients save money. We both win. In fact, there are lots and lots of winners.

The environment wins. Four years ago, I commuted daily to an office building in Virginia. I put 24,000 miles on my car that year. I burned a lot of gasoline and sent a lot of money to oil-producing countries that wish us harm.

But now I walk to the coffee shop in the morning and hardly ever use my car. I put only 6,000 miles on the odometer last year. I put gas in the tank about once a month. I use the savings to buy good coffee, and the coffee shop wins, too.

I'm a lucky fellow, I know, but here is the best part. I was able to establish a wonderful quality of life on my own. I didn't need a government program to do it. Sure, the government gave birth to the Internet, but you get the point.

There are lots of jobs that can be done from anywhere nowadays. Why live in a high-cost metro area when you can move back to a wonderful place such as Pittsburgh• The housing is cheap here and you can walk to the coffee shop in the morning.

What a great time to be alive -- a time to exercise our freedoms to the fullest. Now if you'll excuse me, my latte is ready.

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