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The Niche I am Looking to Fill (eclogiselle.com)
82 points by DoreenMichele 46 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments



> The small town I live in made an offer to a candidate for their city manager position and the candidate turned them down and took a higher paying job elsewhere. That seems to be par for the course.

It absolutely is. I was on a town council for several years and our city manager worked like a dog, 60+ hours a week including strange hours (nights and weekends often), salaried for less than the median US HHI. If he hadn't had a string of well-paying jobs beforehand he definitely wouldn't have been able to take the pay cut.

Why would anyone capable of making $80, $100, or $150k a year say no to that to take a thankless job for $40k where they get worked to the bone? What's more is that it's not an easy job. Most of us here would be grossly unqualified in the best of circumstances, but toss in the political intrigue aspect and most of us would be out within 6 months, by choice or otherwise.

The only people taking these jobs are 1) passionate about public service, 2) sacrificing as a stepping stone to future public office, 3) independently wealthy or at least mostly set up for retirement/locking in the municipal pension, and/or 4) by some fluke, qualified for this job but unqualified for any of the plethora of jobs that pay better and aren't as grueling.


Can you give me a quick and dirty nutshell profile of being on the town council?

Politics is not my forte and I'm running into the fact that it is pertinent to doing this kind of work. My general impression is that being a council member is a part-time elected unpaid position. Is that correct? Is there anything else you would add to that nutshell profile?

Thank you for your comment. Much appreciated.


In my CA town, you serve the council for max two terms and then start standing for elections at regional level for higher political rungs.

If politics isn’t your flavour, then because of the contacts you made during your two term tenure, you can either offer consulting services or will be invited to be on the board of something. Usually non profits like affordable housing or environmental non profits etc. almost all of them have real estate mafia ties. This is how they get zoning and rezoning measures pushed.

Example: an elected official after term became a board director in the neighboring county. $220k etc remuneration for part time no work. Over three to five years.

Sometimes this job is the promised payment for favors done during their time in council. These are multi million dollar real estate projects and everything has to be approved and passed by the city council by majority. There is no citizen input.

This is is just one example. You have to play politics to be in politics.


I will have to chew on that. Hopefully that's not how it works here. (crosses fingers)


i have been following you for a little while now. i havent seen any of your work, but i think mock ups might help people understand what you do and how you do it.

my advice is to not get involved with govt. it is a goat rodeo starring drunk monkeys. start communities of 25-50 people..and start nesting them to form bigger communities. create income stream for community members and obtain a percentage of it for managing them.

also: work with the dunbar number. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar%27s_number

good luck.


We had 4 precincts with two councilmembers each, and got $50/mo for one council meeting (~2.5 hours), two caucus/committee meetings (~2 hours each), and usually at least one event a month we tried to attend. Meetings were in the evenings about 7-10 and events were almost always an all-day Saturday affair. The terms are 4 years and staggered, so each precinct has one member up every 2 years in the off (odd) year elections. I've heard all kinds of different setups from single-year terms, to term limits, to staggered 5 year terms and everything in between.


is it ok to ask where this is..?

in my town, mayor gets 3750/month an other council members get 2200/month. four year term. two term max. three meetings a month. review of materials and meetings with other leaders etc.

some of them wildly had a ball. organised trips to china and bangalore to see 'how they govern high density' while distributing permits for real estate development/expansion etc. currently, some of them have stalled because of visa fraud and SEC fraud of chinese investors who handed out investor visas to those who invested 500k or more.

most of the elected officials went on to serve in sacramento for bigger and better benefits/responsibilities because now they are super connected and networked. some went on to serve on non profit boards with really hefty compensation. i find the whole thing amusing at this point.


Tiny borough in central PA. My LinkedIn is in my profile so if you were really curious you could find out :)

Yeah our mayor got $100/mo to our $50/mo, haha. It ends up being below minimum wage if you include prep time but it's definitely not a full-time gig and honestly for the members of council the pay was basically to cover gas driving to/from meetings and events. And the mayor definitely did more than 2x the work we did so effectively made even less.


Thanks!


Feedback

* as an essay ostensibly designed to persuade others that there is a problem and you want to help, it's not particularly well organized in thought or structure. You should look at Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey structure, I think it aligns with your personal journey really well.

My outline would be:

* alas! (ordinary world) - many small towns are trapped in a vicious cycle where they don't have economic development help because they're too small, which makes them smaller still ..

* but! (Call to adventure) - imagine a world where ... (every small town had access to econ dev pros)

* here I am! (Mentor) - what makds me qualified to help, how I would help them

* how I envision it would work (special world) - who are my allies, whats the reward, what obstacles we'd need to overcome ..

* only if (call to action) - how you, the reader, can help me.


What sort of services is this author offering? From experience I can say that at the pricepoints being mentioned (a few thousand USD, which is a few days of work, if that), you can barely break even on just the amount of effort small towns will expect you spend on writing the proposal (so not even mentioning the actual work!). You'll have to write a project offer, business case, ROI calculations, breakdown of spend, and that's just to be considered, i.e. they'll expect several firms to do this and then they'll pick (the cheapest|the mayor's nephew|the guy the CEO plays golf with). I'm very hesitant too to work with this sort of client, there needs to a real possibility of a substantive follow on (and not a hand-wavy 'yeah this might grow into something bigger') to make it worth while.

But maybe I'm thinking of the wrong sort of services, so it would probably be illustrative to have some examples of what were're talking about here.


Thank you for commenting.

I homeschooled my now adult sons. I know from first-hand experience that a small organization doesn't need the bureaucratic bloat that larger organizations rely upon to manage their sheer size and such bloat is actively harmful and counterproductive below a certain size.

I've already got a limited selection of free resources on the site that could be used today by small communities who think what I am doing is of interest to them. I hope to attract Patreon supporters who think this is simply a good idea. I plan to decide for myself what kinds of limited services to offer.

I have no plans to play by the current set of "rules." I think they are broken on the face of it, which is why this market is so badly underserved.

It's an experiment. It's okay if it fails. I also do resume work for $50/page (usually for tech professionals who found me via HN), freelance writing and already have some Patreon money for the assortment of homeless websites and the like that I already run which will be used to support this effort.

If this takes off, yay! If not, I won't be jumping out of a window over it like someone on Black Tuesday in 1929.


But... this answer just makes it more opaque? The blog posts starts out with "I am looking to serve small communities that would have trouble hiring someone at all to do planning and economic development work for them.". So I'm thinking you offer work in that field, right? But your website mentions copywriting and generic web development? What are these "small communities" you're talking about, if not small towns or neighbourhoods? Are you targeting small government agencies? If not, who are you targeting? What does Patreon have to do with it? I mean, no small organisation that can't afford a few thousand for consultancy work is going to pay a tiny recurring amount to some random person on the internet - just the accouting for those expenses will cost a multiple of the actual payment!

You say "It's an experiment" - but what is? What are you offering? What are you asking, and who are you asking? So far the argument seems to be "some things are too expensive for some organisations, but I'm going to offer it cheaper!" without even knowing what those "some things" are? The post says "services under $5000 and some under $1000" - what are those services? If I have $2500, what can you do for me for that money?


> already have some Patreon money for the assortment of homeless websites and the like that I already run which will be used to support this effort.

Forgive the question, but is it a good idea to spend money donated to homeless websites on this other venture?


That money is not being "donated." It is patronage because some people value my writing. Some of them have explicitly stated they were willing to join my Patreon because of my track record of hitting the front page of HN with unique content about homelessness and related issues. For example:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22417487

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22051911

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21301374

My point was not that I am "diverting funds" away from sites that typically cost little or nothing to run other than my time and effort. My point is that I am already surviving on freelance work and some Patreon support and the like and I already have a body of work pertinent to this problem space. See also:

http://www.eclogiselle.com/2020/10/free-and-custom-flyers-as...


It runs contrary to what people expect, but I hear this a lot, and it's been my experience.

Patreon likes to brand itself as a membership platform, but most of the ~40 patrons who've come and gone for me just came to support. Few of them even look(ed) at posts while sticking around for months or years.


I think you're spot on. I don't work in this area, mine is even easier to write proposals for. I still turn down projects that don't just pay by the hour, and don't involve at least a few hours...

I hate writing proposals without getting paid. I hate donating my time in order to do endless negotiating. I hate spending unpaid hours nit picking over contracts. I hate dealing with startup founders who think they deserve to own everything in my head for a project that costs a few thousand dollars. It's too much work for a low likelihood small reward.

I wish I could afford to help pro bono, and do when I can, but millennials I guess don't deserve financial security since how else would landlords pay their bills...


I wish the author plenty of luck. The research as presented here says to me that small communities are underserved because such service[1] will likely become a labour of love.

The US Office of Management and Budget conveniently publishes aggregations of the US, not by geography or by history, but by their interconnection in the economy.

Kinnelon is in the Newark MSA (containing the state's largest city) which itself is in the New York CSA (containing the country's largest city).

CoastalWA as described is not in the Seattle MSA, and only its easternmost counties[2] lie in the Seattle CSA.

Now, it is possible the virus and zoom will conspire to change the balance of economic power between centres and peripheries, but the pattern over the last 6'000 years has been that one shouldn't[3] attempt to offer upscale suburban luxuries in rural areas.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_metropolitan_statistic...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combined_statistical_area

[1] unless they can standardise a consulting product enough to low-touch sell in high enough volume to make up for the evident lack of margin

[2] CoastalWA does have more nukes than my entire country, but I bet the US Navy does its planning internally.

[3] unless one has a partner with a job in town


Thank you for commenting.

Ability to take some control over your local community's future shouldn't be a luxury reserved for wealthy enclaves. That strikes me as akin to saying "Only rich people have rights."

We have the technology. I think this is very doable, though my pay may end up coming largely through crowd sourcing (Patreon) and other work for the time being.

But that's nothing new.


>Ability to take some control over your local community's future shouldn't be a luxury reserved for wealthy enclaves

Sounds like a good argument for pushing government down from the federal/state/county level down to the state/county/local level.

Why should the moneyed interests in NYC have any say (via control of the state government) in what happens in Buffalo? (just one example) They're practically different countries.


Perhaps because NYC significantly supports (through money outflows) the rest of the state? If they are getting taxed for it, maybe, they should get a say in how it is being used. This happens across the country and scales, economic powerhouses support (through money outflows) the areas not doing particularly well.


Freedom to control your own destiny is worth something.


"That government is best which governs least." -- Thomas Jefferson

But I tend to concern myself more with de facto than de jure stuff. People tend to do what they can, in fact, do regardless of the rules

Eclogiselle.com already has Creative Commons maps and free flyers that can be used by anyone right now without paying me a dime. That puts completely free resources into the hands of small communities if they see value in them.

I hope to make money providing custom maps and similar services for people who can come up with a few hundred dollars but cannot come up with a few thousand. But I am also happy to see this supported via Patreon and tips by people who believe something like this should exist so small communities have some tools available to them, no matter their budget.


As someone who is unfamiliar with economic development/planning, I'd be much more likely to engage with you if I understood what the scope of services such activity entails.

I imagine that many in your target market may be in a similar situation.

The phrase "planning and economic development" brought a number of ideas to mind, like designing public incentives to attract local businesses, providing support for such businesses, identifying "holes" in the local economy that businesses can be encouraged to fill, marketing the local area to businesses elsewhere, etc.

But I'm guessing that I'm probably missing some important pieces to the puzzle, and your site doesn't give me many specifics to go on.

I wonder if (especially in small communities) folks might not understand what you're offering. If so, they might not engage with you because they (like me) aren't knowledgeable about such services/activities.

It might be helpful to provide a sense of the services/resources you're offering and some verbiage that fleshes this out a bit. A quick web search turned this[0], among other stuff up, but I'm not clear if that's even applicable to the communities you wish to serve.

While the goals you discuss seem to be both meritorious and have significant potential to help small communities, it might be helpful to provide more concrete examples as to what your services seek to accomplish, and provide some resources to give interested people a better understanding of what "planning and economic development" actually entails.

What you're proposing seems to have a lot of potential and could help smaller communities to prosper. I hope you have much success!

[0] https://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=12061

Edit: Fixed typo.


There are no soft launches. I really wasn't planning on sharing this anywhere "big" yet, but did, cuz reasons.

I'm getting a lot out of the comments. I really appreciate you commenting.


I wonder if writing in a more active, present-tense would be more compelling to prospective clients.

“Eclogiselle primarily serves coastal WA”, “The niche we fill”, etc. Present tense makes it feel more established and less aspirational.

The zip code math and slight shade at 1%ers probably won’t help you sell either; I mention that only because you might be thinking you have to justify your offering or your value prop by reference to something else. I think you’d made your value prop point clear absent the (not totally sound) zip code math.


Two comments

- I don't know how to pronounce Eclogiselle. Might be worth adding this to the website.

- On the landing page - it's not instantly clear what it's about. In this day and age of short attention spans it might be worth putting a one liner over the landing page image with a call to action to the about page, where it's explained in more detailed with some examples of problems you wish to help to resolve.


Thank you.


As a former aspiring planner myself I dig this! I might aspire to do something like this myself once my kids are older. I'll be following along and wish you the best.

Do you see your work as relating to or orthogonal to the existing concept of CDCs[0]? Your niche sort of vaguely reminds me of that of a CDC, except spread across a larger and less dense geography.

[0] Community Development Corporations, e.g. https://community-wealth.org/strategies/panel/cdcs/index.htm...


I'm not familiar enough with CDCs to compare my ideas to that concept. I'm still working on trying to articulate what's rattling around in my head as a result of the past three years of trying to get involved locally after getting myself off the street.

I'm in the largest town in my county and it's the largest city along the Pacific Coast of Washington and a shopping hub for the region. Any towns in the region I outlined as my core target market that are larger than Aberdeen are along what I think of as "the backside" of the region -- the coasts of the Salish Sea and the I-5 corridor.

So most development in the region is smaller than this town and a lot are unincorporated communities. That means in many cases the target audience is likely to be some local business person or resident activist/concerned citizen.

I hope to help people think about what they would like to see going forward and empower them to take concrete steps, regardless of their budget because some info and technical resources will be available for free.

I left a comment elsewhere on HN today where I said in part that a lot of small businesses see getting a big business as a client gets viewed by a lot of small businesses as if it is the small business equivalent of "winning the lottery" when, in reality, big businesses routinely take advantage of small businesses and can outright kill them. Small and poor communities routinely seem to similarly think that attracting monied individuals from elsewhere is highly desirable, a means to salvation and has no down side. The reality is monied people from elsewhere moving into a poor town has a big downside and should be handled with care.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24764566

So I think small communities need to be trying to enhance income capacity for existing locals first and foremost rather than hoping to attract an influx of monied individuals. "Remember the Golden Rule: He who has the good makes the rules."

The need to actually view the coming deluge of incoming wealthy "climate change refugees" as a potential disaster for current existing locals and seek to protect their own interests.


> The only question in my mind is if I can figure out how to package up offerings that make sense for both me and them and find a way to connect with the people who need it.

Right on — now go talk to the market.

What might an ideal client actually look like? Can you identify 10-20 municipalities (And their decision makers) within an hour of your home base?

This is basic Sales Discovery (product/market fit)conversation stuff. Do they see Planning & Economic Dev as top priority? Where are they struggling? Can you help them? Do they have budget?

My hunch, you‘ll have immediatepush back on the budget piece. So can you help them connect with funding?

Is there a private foundation that is open to sponsoring these sorts of initiatives? What about the state/federal grants?


It would be nice to see a fake project to understand what to expect. (Like the unrequested redesign that people web designers post for famous websites.) Something like a fake towns, with a fake population number and a fake map and a fake history. And what are your proposal to improve it.

Also, include how much it would cost in your commission [Patio11 advice to not post the exact number], and for how long you expect to be there as a consultant (or whatever that position is call). And how much they must pay in construction costs.

Patio11 usually includes some freebie in his post, some actionable advice that is easy to implement and provides some immediate return. The idea is that if it work, it is easier to convince people that you have more good advice.

Can you add some recommendation for a small typical town? Something like:

fake advice> If your historical church and the main square are more than 5 blocks away, you should build a big fountain in between because that will increase the chance that your town is included in the Michelin guide and you will increase the turism.

My fake advice can be totally wrong, or not applicable to a typical town there, or have other million of problems, but I hope the idea is clear.


There are a couple of things there already that are not fake mockups but real world examples of things I do:

http://www.eclogiselle.com/2020/10/free-and-custom-flyers-as...

http://www.eclogiselle.com/2020/10/design-work-case-study.ht...

I'm not a fan of fake mockups. I strongly prefer real world examples and I'm unlikely to ever do any outright fake mockups.

I'm basically inventing a new approach, so my methods aren't going to readily fit within existing mental models and frameworks for how community development gets done. Over time, as more content goes up, hopefully it will get easier for people to get a sense of what I'm trying to do here.


I think I misunderstood, and you were trying to get something like an architecture planning position for small towns, but after reading it again it is more like a community helping position. (Am I still wrong?)

The first article is more relevant. It is not clear at all that I can click in the yellow part to see the flyer. I thought it was a subtitle. What about adding a small image of the flyer? Something like https://imgur.com/a/yseogIj


I have a long history of doing "community development" type work both online and off. And that includes being lead mod for an organization trying to make the transition to registered non-profit and volunteer work of various sorts over the years and so forth.

It's actually hard to communicate what I do. I'm sort of like the "mortar" person described in this article about trying to convey your job title: https://bradfrost.com/blog/post/job-title-its-complicated/

I do a variety of things and I know something about design and I know something about economic development and I know something about community building (the social fabric part of that) of various sorts and so forth. It's not you, it's partly that community development work tends to suffer from this problem that outsiders have no idea what "planning" (or "development") is and so forth and it's partly that I'm kind of a Jill of All Trades and I never quite know how to tell people what I do.

Thank you for that suggestion in your second paragraph. I have no idea how to do that, but that's terrific feedback and a great idea.

I'm currently short of sleep, but will try to make those changes at some point (hopefully soon-ish). That looks like a huge improvement to what I did and I will think some more on what I did there and how that got misinterpreted by you and how I can make it better.


This has been updated. Thank you so much for your fantastic feedback:

http://www.eclogiselle.com/2020/10/free-and-custom-flyers-as...




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