The Positives and Negatives of Living and Freelancing in Devon
I recently overheard a conversation between two couples; one of the couples had come to south Devon on holiday, while the other were residents here.
As the conversation progressed, it became clear that the holidaying couple had been to this part of Devon several times over the years and had somewhat fallen in love with the place. They were in fact looking to relocate to this part of the world permanently, and began asking the resident couple how practical it would be to do so.
This encounter inspired me to think about all the benefits and drawbacks I experience on a daily basis from living in Devon, particularly from a work point of view.
There is no doubt that Devon, with it's genteel pace of life, offers a very different work life experience to much of the UK, particularly the major cities. Inevitably, this brings both positives and negatives.
This is something which the resident couple made sure to convey to the holidaying couple during their conversation; they were keen to establish that living and working in Devon is not always the bed of honey and roses that so many people from the cities think it may be.
Firstly, the economy in Devon is still developing, and is heavily reliant on two particular sectors; health and social care, and tourism.
Devon has an ageing population, with parts of it having some of the highest proportion of people aged 50+ in the whole country. Also, the number of pensioners in parts of Devon is expected to increase significantly over coming decades.
This is great news if you work in, or want to work in, the health and social care industries, as older people require greater healthcare and quality of life assistance than the younger population.
Secondly, Devon's economy depends largely on tourism, which has flourished in recent years due to more people looking to 'staycation' in one of the most attractive parts of the UK.
This also presents opportunities to anyone who works, or wishes to work, in the tourism industry.
Outside of these two sectors though, the economy in Devon is still developing, and incomplete. The two major cities in this region are good examples of this. While Exeter has become a popular destination for medium and large companies, with a number of them opening branches in the city, Plymouth is not a wealthy place, with parts of it being among the most deprived parts of the country.
Wages also tend to be low in this part of the world, with even Exeter being a victim of this. It is for this reason that many young people leave Devon, as the rest of the country tends to offer higher wages and more opportunities to develop their careers.
So far, this has been a very negative post, and there's one more negative to mention before I move on.
Across much of the country, Devon has a reputation as being a particularly racist county, and while, based on my experience of living here for 16 years, this reputation is GREATLY exaggerated, there is definitely some evidence that backs this claim up. To clarify, there is not (in my view) a significant racism problem here in Devon, but it is nonetheless something you may wish to consider before relocating to this part of the world.
And now, the good stuff...
Firstly, Devon is beautiful. Genuinely beautiful. Views like this are routine and commonplace:
Devon is quite possibly the most attractive part of the country to live in (sorry Cornwall), and it is immediately obvious why so many people come here on holiday every year.
If you're looking for somewhere in the UK that is calm, peaceful and has stunning views, then without doubt, Devon is the place to be.
But we have more than just looks, as the general culture of Devon tends to be rather business friendly. Over recent years, many wealthy cityfolk have relocated to Devon to seek a higher quality of life, bringing with them business sense and financial resources that this region has really benefited from, and as a result, a more enterprising, entrepreneurial 'knowledge economy' has begun to develop.
It is a change that I have witnessed first hand in my hometown of Torquay, and while, as previously stated, this economic transformation is still in it's early stages, it is definitely tangible.
There has also been acknowledgement from the government of the need for more business investment in Devon, with a major enterprise zone planned in Plymouth, and a number of business support initiatives existing in the county. You can therefore, expect the economy of Devon to improve and diversify over the coming years.
There are also a number of regular networking events you can attend if you're new to the region and are looking to make new contacts, with the people who attend them being warm and welcoming to new faces.
Furthermore, if, like me, you work in a relatively high-tech industry where you need consistent access to the internet, the internet connection in Devon will usually be good enough for your needs. While the county has a reputation for poor connectivity, broadband internet access is usually decent, and during my time of working all over the region, sometimes from some very remote locations, I have never experienced any problems.
But as a freelance online marketing consultant, there are however a few obstacles that must regularly be overcome.
For instance, due to the smaller pool of medium and large enterprises in this area, and the fact that they tend to be more spaced out than in urban regions, it can be harder to forge connections with valuable contacts and turn them into lucrative clients. This is where networking is vital.
The regular business networking events that take place are a crucial opportunity to meet decision makers from profitable companies who have the resources to invest in growing their businesses.
Indeed, taking a 'half-hearted' approach where you attend a single networking event once a month is unlikely to get the job done, as in this case it can take many months to form a connection with a useful prospect, which gives the prospect plenty of time to forget you, and to meet your competitors who are also seeking to forge relationships with these potential clients.
It is also necessary to obtain work from smaller, local businesses (of which there are many) in between the larger, lucrative clients, as these will likely be the lifeblood of your business, especially at first, and as getting new clients through referrals is by far the best method of customer acquisition that exists, especially in Devon where, as described, the stock of large, lucrative companies who you can potentially secure as a client is smaller than in much of the rest of the country.
A benefit of living and freelancing in Devon though, is that if you do make the effort to regularly network effectively, then there is less competition for the pool of potential large clients that reside in the area.
Overall then, I hope this article has alerted you to the challenges that exist when moving to Devon from a different part of the country; challenges that people often neglect to consider when dreaming of relocating to the rural idyll which Devon provides.
My intention has been to alert you to the fact that moving here is perhaps not as easy as many people think it will be, and this was not meant to be a negative post about a part of the world that I am very, very fond of, but merely to be realistic about the difficulties people can face when they move here to start a new life; and in particular, a new work life.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, or if you'd like some online marketing help from a talented, knowledgeable and affordable Devon-based freelancer, then please get in touch with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by going here and completing the form.
As for the holidaying couple I mentioned earlier who were speaking to the local couple, they certainly seemed to have their eyes opened as to the realities of living and working in Devon as opposed to merely holidaying here. Will they move here permanently? We shall see, but personally, I doubt it :)