I just returned from a 10 day trip east to visit with ailing family members, and I am using that as my excuse for having not stuck to my committment to blog at least once a week. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.
But the real subject I want to write about is using business as a public policy work-around. As some of you just might have noticed, the US seems to be in a bit of a financial pickle. This pickle has resulted in an unfortunate number of lay-off in Portland’s open source community.
David and I have been playing with the idea of creating an open source incubator at CubeSpace since before we opened our doors. We have taken several baby-steps towards this goal, but have thus far not brought any to fruition. But like most businesses in this economy, we are looking to diversify our revenue streams so that we can keep our doors open.
One of our more successful efforts at bringing in additional revenue has been bidding on contracts. We not only have excess staff capacity, since our cubists need to hang out at the front desk whether we are swamped or not, but we also have access to all sorts of great expertise. We also a certified woman-owned business, a certified small business and are working on our certification as a business in a low income community. All of these give us a slight edge when bidding on certain contracts. More importantly (at least to some folks), we have general liability insurance. I understand how expensive general liability insurance is, and when I was a sole proprietor, I made the decision not to bid on contracts that required insurance because I would never make enough to offset the expense. But, it was something that was critical for CubeSpace, so it is now just part of the cost of doing business.
Finding projects is generally not a problem for us. I get asked for referrals several times a week, and for the most part I have just facilitated a virtual introduction and left it at that. But, there are also the times when I have mediated contract negotiations, put together teams and even checked references.
Sadly, it needed to be pointed out to me, but apparently the above efforts are all services that are normally done for a fee. It seemed unsportsman-like to charge community members for giving them a helping hand, but I could envision creating a team of folks who could identify opportunities, pull together a team, prepare a bid and administer the project. That would legitimately earn us a cut of project fee, while helping community members get work, and basically be a win/win.
What is that you ask? Where is the public policy aspect here? David has this bee in his bonnet about finding ways for freelancers to get health insurance. He seems to think that folks should not be penalized for their entrepreneurship by not being able to access affordable health insurance. So, our latest and greatest scheme is to roll out our incubator concept through contract work rather than by nurturing a baby company. This still means that we can hire more folks and give them access to health insurance. So once again, a win/win.
That is how a business can function as a public policy work-around. We are both in favor of actually providing universal access to health insurance, but this will work for now.