These days, Austin seems to make it onto nearly every list one can imagine. In 2016, Austin was named the #2 “Best Place to Live” in the nation by US News and World Report. WalletHub called it the third best place to start a new career. Forbes called Austin the number one “boom town” in the nation—which they described as the American city with the best chances of prospering in the coming decade. ValuePenguin, a personal finance website, reported that Austin ranked #1 for young families among 156 cities studied.
I could go on, but instead, let me share the top five reasons I love Austin as a place to develop my freelance career:
- It’s beautiful.
Not being stuck in an office from 9-5 is one of the reasons freelancing appeals to many people, myself included. Since freelancers are their own bosses, they are generally able to take breaks when they want and work adjustable schedules. But, at least for me, such freedom would not mean as much in a drearier, dirtier or more concrete jungle-like setting.
Fortunately, Austin is beautiful, with tons of sunshine (usually) and an abundance of attractive, accessible, public green space. Moreover, I consider these features of the city essential to my professional success. When I hit a wall with a writing project, off to the walking trail I go. A sunset over Town Lake can put minor work irritations into perspective or bring about clarity on big decisions. Just being able to get blood flowing is part of it, but the plant life, birds, water, and blue sky all play a role. Even if Austin weren’t so full of natural beauty, I would still be freelancing. But I don’t think I would be as productive. And I would certainly be having less fun.
- It’s friendly.
You have heard it before, but it’s true. Austin has some of the friendliest people around. And, when you meet one, it’s not just a fluke. In fact, most of the people here are really nice. Transplants become nicer after they have been here a while, too, because it rubs off. Take it from someone who has lived all over, and in Austin long enough to know: this boom town really does have—and has so far managed to maintain—a culture of “nice.”
But why does this matter for freelancers? Well, first of all, people will talk to you. They’ll often give you the benefit of the doubt and take you at your word. These translate into more opportunities for a freelancer just starting out or making cold contacts.
Austinites are also happy to refer you if do a good job and tell their friends and neighbors about your work. They actually want to help each other succeed. And finally, Austinites have a real passion for supporting local businesses. If you are a freelancer in Austin—that includes you.
- It’s got resources.
As attendees at Freelance Austin’s October meeting last year heard, the City of Austin offers free and low-cost classes and assistance for those growing a small business—which, again, if you’re a freelancer—is you. But the city is just one of many places to turn for support as you work your magic in the freelancing world.
Austin Community College has excellent and affordable resources for the budding freelancer in its continuing education division. They offer classes specifically developed for small businesses, along with dozens of more technical courses that can help you hone in on your own specialization or fill gaps in your repertoire.
UT is another gold mine, offering informal classes that are inexpensive and open to everyone. Take classes to sharpen your computer or grant writing skills. Or sign up for one of their more whimsical offerings to help you tap into your creative power or spark new solutions to stubborn challenges.
Support groups for writers and communicators abound in the city: Freelance Austin, Women Communicators of Austin, Austin Editor’s Guild, Writer’s League of Texas, and Deadliners are just a few. But you are equally as likely to run into someone interested in sharing ideas at a coffee shop, on the Town Lake Trail, or at a party, and end up forming your own little support system. So fellow freelancers, whether you prefer to get help and support through formal programs, informal networks or both, Austin has you covered.
- It has UT.
Full disclosure – I have received not one but two advanced degrees from the University of Texas at Austin, so I may be a little biased. But over and over again, the expertise to be found among UT’s faculty, students and associates has provided me with the sources, information and inspiration I needed to do my work.
Burnt orange contributions to the cultural and intellectual resources available to all Austinites (including freelancers) go well beyond just talking heads. Think about institutions like KUT public radio, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the Harry Ransom Center, the Blanton Museum of Art, the Texas Memorial Museum, and the LBJ Presidential Library, just to name a few.
Then there are the alumni. Tons of really talented people, in Austin and across the country, attended UT. It’s a huge school with a student body of about 50,000 in any given year. Even better, you don’t actually have to be an alum to benefit. If you live in Austin, are working in Austin, or care about Austin in some way, UT alums have an instant connection with you and reason to like you. And that means that—whether you need a detailed explanation of how a high tech piece of equipment is designed or a recommendation for good BBQ—they will often be both glad and able to help.
- Coffee shops and Wi-Fi are available all over town.
You can hardly go a city block in Austin without passing a coffee shop or two, even if you don’t count the ubiquitous Starbuck’s, of which there are plenty. Back in 2010, CNBC reported that Austin ranked number 10 among the nation’s most caffeinated cities. And these delightful establishments have no doubt gotten more prolific as the city has grown. For instance, local food news and dining guide publisher Eater Austin recently profiled 32 essential Austin coffee shops and regularly reports on new openings on its Caffeine Nation page.
But why are coffee shops so important? Let me explain! The coffee shop is the aspiring (and successful) freelancer’s default office space. It’s a place to meet clients, work on projects with your laptop, mobile phone or even pen and paper. It’s a place to network and get out of your homebound funk. And, it’s a place where the price of a nice cup of java will rent you pleasant change of scenery.
But, in today’s world, the joys and benefits of hanging out in such a place are severely diminished if Wi-Fi is not available. Fortunately, most coffee shops appear to want the kind of business that offering free Internet access encourages. And I must thank Eater Austin once again for setting me up beautifully for the wrap up of my fifth reason to love freelancing in Austin—read their extensive list of recommended coffee shops that also have free Wi-Fi here.
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