Skip to content

Job In A Box: The Mobile Professional

I have been a full-time mobile professional for 4 years now. That’s 4 years of no office, high-tech gadgets, and constant change. A few years ago I made a friend in an office maintenance company manager. He didn’t use computers, but certainly understood them. One day over coffee he pointed to my Thinkpad and said “that’s a 3 story building in there”. I knew what he meant.

Today’s Seattle Times reports The Seattle Times is warning of serious cuts next year. They “face the most difficult and painful downsizing in it’s history next year”, citing decreasing ad revenues as advertising increasingly moves to the web. They expect a $33 million dollar cut in print revenue over the next two years. They already cut $21 million from the budgets and are looking to cut $6 million more. They claim the newspaper is running as “bare bones” already, and they have no choice but transformit into a smaller, more focused entity.

I have a Job-in-a-Box myself. My little laptop is the box, and it is stuffed full of job opportunities. Many of those are being pulled away from newspapers like the Seattle Times. My 3-floors-of-office-building in a box is no joke. I don’t have a cleaning lady coming in to vaccuum, or a maintenance guy to fix the sink. Those absent workers don’t have supervisors, either. And there’s no warehouse guy to unload the paper and cleaning products they use. One time long ago I had a summer job cleaning overhead light fixtures in Manhattan office buildings. No need for that with my little box.

I pay t-moble $40 per month for Internet access via Starbucks, and I spend about $150 per month on Starbucks coffee and food. Yes, I have bought “Hear Music” CDs and coffee mugs. No I haven’t bought a $900 espresso machine (yet), but I did find the Starbucks-branded Bodum French Press I bought was a dollar lower in price and a ton more convenient to purchase than the same Bodum French Press at or anywhere local. The question I have is… when will Starbucks really embrace me as a customer? Woods Coffee has a conference room available for $35 per hour, right adjacent to the coffee shop. Oh, and it has a view of the San Juans. If it didn’t rely on the town park for its bathrooms, that room would probably be booked solid. Half way to good. Sigh.

As newspapers trim their reporting staff the writers and “investigators” increasingly go online to write material that Google plasters with advertising. And increasingly, as the close-to-the-news bloggers write daily, the aggregators make money aggregating (and plastering with ads). There is plenty of room for the old-school news reporters to step in and start recapping the blogged news with editorial, creating yet another layer of Google-advertising-coated “content”. Once people come to really rely on those “anchors” for their perspectives on what’s happening, there is a need for channels, to provide quality control, branding, stability, and of course (paid) issue framing. It’s all at work now, although it will all get more advanced and bigger very quickly going forward. Blog Networks are the geek answer to channels, but merely an early incarnation of what is really needed.

What I find most interesting is that the people who used to buy newspapers still have plenty of money, and are still interested in the same core goals and objectives that had when they were shopping for newspapers. So they will still buy, but not yet. They want to see more control, which means more “channels”. I twill take some time (2 years?) but it will happen fast. If you’re not building some piece of that new new media, you really need to re-think your online strategy. There is a TON of opportunity.

Starbucks can’t be the solution forever. We already hit a limit with noise and power outlets. Shared offices need to be expensive enough to keep out the in-between-job pseudo mobile professionals, while still cost effective for the pros. That temporary office space market is all about value, and no one has mastered it yet. We’re not temporary.. we’re transient – lol. If you are a professional, add a layer to this web thing and step right into the flow. If youre an accountant, offer a Freshbooks solution for the mobile pro (step in and do the quality work needed to make Freshbooks work like a dream for my particular circumstances). I hate to pay an accountant for a “Quickbooks solution”, because I know it’s not Quick and it’s not a solution, but I’ll glady pay you to bring your small business accounting expertise to my world via configuration of something like Freshbooks.

Ditto for web designers. When was the last time you saw a web designer sitting at a Starbucks with a laptop and Wacom tablet, with a sign that said “on-demand design services $35/hour”. I’d probably use one of those 3 times per week for an hour or so at a time, and even then I’d probably add one at least one ongoing project per week. “Can you touch up this image for me? Thaaanks” and ten bucks later I’ve excuted on a project I would have otherwise put off. At any given time there are two or three of us mobile office pros at Starbucks. When will there be critical mass? How about a PHP developer on-site once a week on a reliable basis? I know it could work.

Job-in-a-Box. For you wannabee domainers, the domain can be had for $250 here.


  1. Peter wrote:

    Great article.

    Could you expand on this a little. “They want to see more control, which means more “channels”. It will take some time (2 years?) but it will happen fast. If you’re not building some piece of that new new media, you really need to re-think your online strategy. There is a TON of opportunity”.

    New new media?

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 2:30 am | Permalink
  2. john andrews wrote:

    @Peter: Sure. I use “channel” to describe the distribution channel, as exists in traditional product sales. When a product first exists, it is available only from the manufacturer directly. As demand increases, that producer seeks efficiencies in distribution, to cost effectively satisfy market demand via retailers. This might includes logistics (e.g. transportation), all aspects covered by supply chain management, incuding some customer service, and a portion of sales and marketing.

    An easy example is the local Chinese fast food restaurant, which is an independently-owned and operated business, but which signs on with a distributor who provides basically “Chinese fast food in a box” — e.g. sliced and dyed pork-like substance anywhere within the region served. The local owner-operator relies on the distributor for everything he needs to run his restaurant, and doesn’t have to negotiate terms with every bok choy and fortune cookie supplier individually.

    That distributor is part of the distribution “channel” for Chinese food products. It is an outlet for manufacturers who get their product onto that distributor’s available products list, where it is chosen by owner-operators, often as the only choice available. The distributor serves the retailer who can now get everything in one place easily. As the channel matures, distributors use their buying power as leverage with manufacturers for better pricing. Manufacturers use the distributor as leverage against competitors who might also want to be distributed in that region.

    Consumers lose as every Chinese fast food place serves the exact same stuff (because they only buy from distributors), but gain as prices decrease due to competitive pressures. So-called “gourmet” Chinese restaurants gain as they break free of the channel and offer fresher, unique foods (those which are difficult to commoditize via distribution channels). The cycle repeats, as specialty distributors appear to serve the gourmet market (think Farmer’s Markets as examples of specialty distrbution channels).

    If my internship at Becton-Dickinson Consumer Products taught me anything, it was the value of the distribution channel. Own that, and with a good legal department you can own a market even with an inferior product (Note: Becton Dickinson’s products are not at all inferior… in fact they are often far superior. It takes more than brute force channel dominance to be in the Fortune 400 overall, Fortune 10 in the health sector, and #3 on Fortune’s List of Most Admired Companies list).

    As for “new new media”, it is a name for the modern approach to current online media, since New Media was used simply to indicate Online/Electronic media some years ago.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink
  3. Peter wrote:

    Thanks John. With you.

    I can see the defensibility aspect to a channel. The problem with online is there are limited barriers to entry, although I guess part of the advantage is an established audience? Google springs to mind….

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:13 pm | Permalink