Freelancing in Rapid City
I thought I would take a moment and write about my experiences as a freelancer, here in Rapid City.
I am actually planning to take some time away from Rapid this summer, in a different city and state and this got me to wondering: how does this experience differ, from place to place?
First, I did not grow up in South Dakota. I discovered the Black Hills during a vacation many seasons ago when I was thirty years old. I visited the region with a friend one spring weekend, and fell in love with the place. It was more than just an appreciation for the sights, sounds and experiences here - it was actually a profoundly spiritual experience that propelled me to make changes to my life, personally and professionally. I knew that somehow, someway, I was supposed to live in the Black Hills.
But I didn’t move here immediately. In fact, it was more than three years later, that I returned to the area, this time by myself. I returned and again, felt validated by something more profound than an appreciation for a pretty place. This place spoke to my spirit, and my longing to feel at home - somewhere in the world.
I returned to Rapid three more times and it was on that final visit - my fifth in six years - that I made the decision to move here. At the time, I was living in Southern California and working as a product trainer for General Motors. My position required a lot of travel and after several years, I was burned out and wanted more from my life than the hours of driving, flying and commuting my life then required of me. I wanted to put down roots, to create a home, to own a house most specifically.
And so, in October of 2005, I moved here and bought the house I am living in.
The next ten years were spent working for a couple of different businesses - spending as much as six years with one company, but longing for something more. Something more creative, more empowering, more profitable. Along the way, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing and publishing a novel (“Flower of Fire” published October of 2010) and began dabbling at freelance writing.
My business began to grow, to evolve and to prosper and I established my corporate entity in late 2015. Since that time, I have primarily worked for myself, although on occasion I have taken some seasonal, part-time work.
In the past four years, I have grown largely due to the work I have done in networking. I admit I didn’t know much about professional networking before I joined two different organizations both built around the idea of creating connections, and sharing referrals.
Since 2015, I have seen how investing in other people’s success can pay off for your own. I also see the downside - the amount of time and cost of membership - but ultimately, I believe that networking is the strongest way to market your business. Although I manage social media for several businesses, I always advise them that social media is about managing your brand, not really growing it. It’s great if you do experience growth, but it’s best not to expect it through those methods.
What works about networking are the relationships you build with other entrepreneurs and I would say that one of the strongest benchmarks of being in business in Rapid City, is the value that we place on those relationships. There are many business networks in our region, because of this. And I have seen business owners maximize their connections and their business growth, through building those relationships.
As of one month ago (March 2019) I am currently not a paying member of any business organization or network, for reasons that have nothing to do with how beneficial they are. It’s because I am planning to spend time in other places this year and won’t be able to make the commitment required, to continue my participation in one network. The other network that I joined has sadly closed, due to changes in the founder’s personal life. But I value my experiences in that network and the friendships I have made as a result. I remain committed to helping other businesses find success, through referrals and I know that my own success is largely a result of receiving referrals from those that I networked with.
The business climate of Rapid City is unique because we are somewhat insular. The larger world does permeate in, but often with a delay of up to two years (for social trends and some technologies). That means that we have to create opportunities that don’t naturally trickle into our market. It’s rare to live in a place where such a large percentage of our population is familiar with one another, or even has networked or done business together. The value of that is that there’s a level of care and concern we have for one another, that you don’t usually find in bigger cities. At 75,000 people (population as of summer 2018), Rapid City business owners understand that one person’s success will ripple through the community, as will one person’s failure.
The downside is that such a small, tight-knit community is also prone to sharing information that can hurt or hinder a business. In Detroit (where I grew up) or Los Angeles or any major metropolitan American city, word of mouth has an impact - but in Rapid City, it’s the defining marker for businesses. People talk.
The greatest lesson that I’ve learned in this place, in relation to building my business, is to value the reputations and advice of other business owners as much as I desire them to value mine. We each have something to contribute. Here, where we live, those contributions are what allow us to succeed, if we’re willing to listen and not just talk.