The Way We Work
August 22, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

Billings, Montana. Population: 105,000. Tom Rupsis of Granite Peak Systems relocated to Billings so his kids could be close to family. But the beautiful scenery and small-town charm did nothing to alleviate hiring challenges for his growing IT consulting business.

Rupsis needed to fill several technical positions, but found most applicants minimally qualified for the job. After a long and expensive ordeal, he finally found some local contractors.

However, he wondered, did he really want to go through this every time he needed to hire out?

Trouble holding on to talent

Rupsis’ situation highlights an issue common in rural communities and small towns. While studies have shown that rural residents generally live happier and less stressful lives than their urban counterparts, they also have their challenges. One problem that significantly affects businesses in smaller communities is “brain drain”—the flight of technical talent from rural areas to urban centers.

For many businesses in rural areas, the ‘brain drain’ translates into a scarcity of available talent in the local job market, especially when it comes to specific skills such as certain programming languages. For Rupsis, and for a growing number of small businesses, the solution to his hiring woes meant looking to a new source. He stepped into the world of online hiring and discovered a much more effective method of locating skilled talent.

Growing a business in a quiet community

Charles Dayton lives in an even more remote locale—Cokesville, Wyoming. “I’m 30 miles from the closest hospital and 70 miles from the closest Wal-Mart,” he explained. But even in this small community, Dayton has been able to grow his consulting business, Action Strategy.

One key to this growth has been the expertise of his remote contractors. An integral part of his consulting work is an online strategy and planning tool that enables clients to track their key projects and goals. While Dayton came up with the original app idea, his online team took that vision and enabled him to turn it into a reality.

“Many times the contractors have taken ownership of the project…and made recommendations [to me],” he said. “It’s better than me dictating the features I want. They provide value by giving their best thinking on how to improve the application.”

Finding talent to expand services

Since his initial experience, Rupsis has been sold on the strategic use of remote contractors.

“I had a client that needed a system built that was beyond my abilities as a programmer,” he explained. He decided to focus on doing the work that was within the realm of his core skills, and give the programming work to his remote contractors. “Since then, I’ve been able to offer assistance to multiple other clients who needed custom technical solutions,” he said.

This ability to hire the best talent possible, regardless of location, has allowed Rupsis to create a stronger, better company. He commented, “Without being able to tap into the global talent pool to complement my own skills, I would have a much harder time developing professional solutions for my clients.”

Good hiring decisions still matter

For other business owners wanting to hire online, Dayton offers some advice. “I’ve made expensive mistakes by hiring the wrong person,” he said. “I’ve had developers flame out. But it’s my fault for not hiring the people with the appropriate background.”

In spite of those initial hiring snafus, Dayton’s expenditures for the project—and for online hiring in general—were still less than he expected. “I’ve been able to hire out jobs that I needed done and I’m not paying…benefits and overhead. A small business like mine couldn’t afford that type of scenario,” he said.

As the future of work continues to become reality, companies based in rural locales are no longer bound by geography. By leveraging online talent marketplaces, top talent can be secured by the click of a mouse—no Wal-Mart within driving distance needed.

Is your company located in a small town or community? How have you made use of online contractors to grow your business? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.