Best of Both Worlds: Escape to the Country and a Digital Career?

Quality Cottages - Pembrokeshire Beach

As the Summer holidays draw to a close and mind turn to work, many people entertain the idea of working in some of the fabulous places they’ve visited on their travels.

Can you have it all? A beautiful landscape, a rural idyll and a cutting edge role in digital marketing?

Tim Rees, MD, Quality CottagesTim Rees, MD of Quality Cottages runs his international cottage rental business from rural Pembrokeshire, we quizzed him on the realities of a digital job in the middle of the countryside.

Hi Tim, how’d you end up running a cottage rental business in deepest, darkest Wales?

Good question! We are a family business, started by Leonard in 1961, followed by Leonard and Margaret Rees opening Quality Villas in the early 1980’s subsequently I started Quality Unearthed in 2012.

There are distinct advantages to knowing the local culture when it comes to doing business. Previously we were strictly direct marketers, however with the internet came ecommerce opportunities in which we now specialise.

Whilst internet connectivity used to propose a significant challenge, we are now able to compete successfully with the talent found in the large cities. The only traffic jam after work tends to be caused by the sheep, cows or tractors down the country lanes!

Travel has been revolutionised by digital media, reviews websites and social networks - how’s it changed Quality Cottages?

Our focus is now primarily and significantly on e-commerce. By this, I mean the optimisation of our online presence, such as websites, to drive as many interested parties to the website, then provide a pleasant and easy to use experience to find our excellent cottages. In amongst this there are lots of opportunities to develop pioneering approaches.

The internet is still young and growing fast, this is exciting. I am pleased that at Quality Cottages we are able to provide work for professional forward thinking people in an area where historically there have been few digital media jobs.

Most of Chinwag’s audience work in major cities, often in offices, sometimes in co-working or startup spaces, what’s it’s like working in a digital-focused job in the countryside?

Whilst living in the countryside poses its own challenges, these are offset by making the most of the immediate and stunning natural environment. This is coupled with a significant sense of community.

This may not be for everyone but once you have integrated into the community you will find it hard to drive to the nearest town without someone coming the opposite way waving at you!

The cities are very high stress environments, and whilst they come with opportunity there is a high burnout rate. Thanks to digital opportunities we can now have our countryside cake and digitally eat it.

Geographically, you’re quite isolated (how far is the nearest City?) with a core team in Pembrokeshire and other staff across the world, how do you handle project management and internal communications?

Technically St Davids is the nearest city, though with a population averaging around 5,000 its not your average city.

We have offices in England, France, Russia and two in Wales. At Quality Cottages most of our foreign customers come from English speaking countries.

Project management and internal communications can be challenging admittedly. For instance keeping your team who aren’t based in the office up to speed when they aren’t here day to day. Principally we solve this with software such as Skype, remote working software and with weekly team meetings where news is shared.

Attending events and networking (the real-life variety) have always proven very useful for digital marketers, do you miss out?

I find it is very important to attend the best tourism and digital marketing conferences available in the UK. These keep us up-to-date with the latest and future developments in this field. This does require a little more travel, but it isn’t a major issue.

Wales is also a small country and people to tend to get to know each other and particularly the major players in a given industry or area.

We supplement this by getting involved with industry associations and by attending the government level tourism meetings.

What’s the working environment like? Do you have speedy broadband? Is it a cliche to imagine getting distracted of looking out the window seeing hillsides dotted with sheep?

Ahh the sheep dilemma! Yes, we are constantly distracted! Jokes apart we do rescue lost lambs regularly in spring, and last week a Ewe wondered down to our office!

Speedy broadband has not been provided by BT, although they were kind enough to offer us an upgrade for £20k. We are not alone in struggling with connectivity however we solved the problem by installing direct line of sight high speed internet access.

This came at a significant cost, though less than BT. We would struggle without it. We get around 15GB up and down. (Ed - more than some startups in Shoreditch!)

You work an American fortnight? Can you explain what that is and why you do it? And with our marketing hats on...what’s the ROI?

We take the view that working 5 days per week every week is too much.

I’m sure some of the readers might agree. If we are to develop a healthy sustainable community we must also take care of our families, friends and ourselves.

By working an American fortnight (5 days one week, 4 days the next) our team are able to have time to help themselves and their families and pursue their hobbies.

Whilst not all our team follow exactly this pattern (I work more like 7 days, 6 days!), the idea is that our minds will be in a better position to handle the challenges of work and think clearly and creatively about the problems. The payback is a happier team able to solve challenges more successfully.

Is it more difficult hiring staff to work in a rural location?

It can be. Work in rural communities is often seasonal, as we offer year-round work, we are lucky that we have a great number of excellent candidates for certain positions. However, highly specialised jobs such as computer programming can be more tricky to fill.

That said, with a Marketing Manager role that we’re currently advertising, I am finding many great applicants are from Pembrokeshire, as well as those looking to move the countryside, who have all the skills necessary and have been looking for this sort of job opportunity for some time. For a person in that situation, this position is excellent.

There’s an assumption that working in a picturesque countryside location automatically brings with it a higher quality of life, what benefits do you and your staff gain from your location?

One of my favourite advantages is finishing work and going surfing. I have coast within 6 miles on three sides of my office.

It would be hard to comment on the certainty of a higher quality of life, although it does feel that way. I would say that we experience the seasons more so than in the cities. Winter is the toughest in the sense its dark and people are hibernating, however come spring the countryside comes to life.

It is essentially a trade off between enjoying the natural environment, in whichever way you choose, and having abundant opportunity on your doorstep.

And the clincher. Cold, hard, cash. For anyone considering a career-related escape to the country, should they prepare for penury? What’re the wages like?

Generally speaking, Yes. Wages aren’t commensurate with the cities. Although it is not clear cut. Seasonal work for many leaves long periods of low paid work, although the cities too have lots of minimum wage work.

At Quality Cottages, we pay well for the area, something the team are grateful for, and which attracts decent candidates.

At the higher end of the pay spectrum equivalent jobs are likely to earn more in the major cities. Having said that, the living costs are usually lower in the countryside.

It comes down to desired way of life. At the end of the day, its not the money you will remember on your deathbed.

Ed - What do you think? Would you make the leap and escape to the country? Quality Cottages are hiring an experienced Marketing Manager based in rural Pembrokeshire £40-50k. Check out Chinwag Jobs for more info and other great digital roles.

Photo (c) Quality Cottages.