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“I’m really lucky that I live in a time when location doesn’t really matter,” said Lindsay O’Brien, one of several Eastern Iowa residents who work for national and international brands from their homes.
“It’s amazing that I’m able to do global work from the comfort of my couch in Davenport."
Ms. O’Brien’s remote work includes designing cover art for the Los Angeles-based singer Julia Michaels and creating on-screen graphics for the Disney movie, “The Slumber Party.” To make up for not living there, she works hard to “craft really strong connections with the people in LA.” Ms. O'Brien, also known as "Artist called LO" on social media, enjoys traveling to the West Coast a few times a year to bond with friends and associates. “When you wrap up a big project, it’s nice to connect in person with people you’ve worked with,” she said.
Cedar Rapids marketer Alicia Terry, co-founder of Denver-based Saturday Social, handles social media and paid ad campaigns for regional, national and international brands, including Simply Framed, Pamela’s, and Garbanzo Mediterranean Fresh. After launching the company with a friend in Colorado, Ms. Terry returned to her home state of Iowa in 2020 due to a change in her husband’s work.
“There were no second thoughts, because I knew I could take it with me,” she said. “We didn’t have much requirement for in-person before COVID-19. Now that we’re established, we don’t really need Denver headquarters to continue our business.”
A bonus from the move: The Cedar Rapids house is bigger than the one she left in Colorado. Ms. Terry spends much of her time in her kitchen preparing dishes from products shipped in by clients, then photographing them in her home studio. Life is easier with more space to spread out her work, she said.
James Cheatham lost his job as a district sales manager after moving to Iowa from Georgia, but has since found his niche in voice work. He narrates audiobooks for publishers, including Simon & Schuster, from a custom-built home studio in Marion.
In a voice his website describes as “warm, rich, and calming with a honeyed timbre,” Mr. Cheatham said typical Iowa sounds — buzzing crop dusters, barking dogs and cries of children playing — sometimes interrupt recording sessions, but he’s not complaining. “It has 100% been the Lord’s provision and blessing throughout this entire thing and I am incredibly grateful.”
Lindsay O’Brien: Early start, key connection in LA
Born and raised in Moline, Illinois, Ms. O’Brien realized early she wanted to be a graphic designer. By the sixth and seventh grade, she had taught herself to code and was charging friends to create custom MySpace pages.
Her first “real” professional job came during her time as a student at St. Ambrose University. Julia Michaels, a friend born in Davenport and best known as a writer on the Justin Bieber hit, “Sorry,” hired Ms. O’Brien in 2016 to create cover art for one of her songs. She eventually became the designer for all of Ms. Michaels’ cover art.
“That propelled me into being a freelancer in the entertainment industry. Lots of word of mouth, being recommended, it’s gone from there,” she said.
Graphics work on the low-budget film, “Shoot,” for director Veronica Rodriguez five years ago paid off with a follow up call for “The Slumber Party,“ released this year. “Veronica remembered that I was really easy to work with. She made sure she was able to bring me into the project,” Ms. O’Brien said.
Ms. O’Brien also manages to juggle studio photography and videography projects for her business, Artist Called LO, while serving as manager of marketing and social media at the Quad Cities Chamber.
Alicia Terry: Long-distance partnership
Ms. Terry grew up in Cedar Rapids and earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri School of Journalism with an emphasis in strategic communication and art direction. She developed her marketing and social media skills at advertising agencies in New York City and Denver, before launching Saturday Social with a friend.
She met her future business partner, Liana Hornyak, when they both applied for the same job. “We found out our skill sets were similar and decided to team up.” Their startup filled a need in Denver for a marketing firm focused on social media, she said.
“At first we were really working hard, but as work picked up we met more and more people. We didn’t really have to do any business development,” Ms. Terry said.
In addition to art direction, graphic design and photography for social media, websites, recipes and catalogs, Ms. Terry creates a monthly content calendar for clients. Her partner handles the social media posting and account management.
Travel isn’t needed for her work but “it can be isolating not having friends around and not having a business partner in town,” said Ms. Terry. She’s considered using co-working spaces to connect with other remote professionals, but the demands of kitchen prep and product photography make working from home more practical.
James Cheatham: ‘Lord, you’re trying to get my attention’
An Army veteran of four combat missions to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, Mr. Cheatham came to Iowa from Atlanta via a promotion to a district sales manager position in Cedar Rapids. The long hours at the new job didn’t work for his family, but “when I tried to cut corners and get home earlier, the company said ‘we can’t allow that,’” Mr. Cheatham said.
A new pathway opened in February 2018, when his home school mentor heard him reading to his children. “She said, ‘oh my gosh, you’ve got the most incredible voice. Have you ever considered doing audio books?”
He called a friend who was executive producer for a commercial production studio in Chicago. Mr. Cheatham sent demos, began getting some work and learned about voice talent websites like Audiobook Creative Exchange (ACX.com)
His first ACX royalty check — for an audio book that sold 11 copies — netted him $22. In 2021 he took friends’ advice and began bidding audio jobs on a per finished hour basis. In the meantime, he continued to work conventional jobs that came his way.
“By June 2022, I was able to go full-time doing audiobook narration from home. It was more than enough to pay the bills, put food on the table, tithe and put money away in savings,” he said.
Working from Iowa
Mr. Cheatham said there are “no real disadvantages” to working from his Iowa home. His studio features four inches of sound-insulating foam and he uses a large condenser microphone to capture vocal nuances and filter out background noise.
Having good broadband service allows Ms. Terry to participate in a number of Zoom calls each month and helps with uploads and downloads of large files.
Ms. O’Brien said she wouldn’t trade her location for any other:
“We have so many opportunities we can explore from the home base of Iowa. Lots of teens can’t wait to get out of Iowa. That’s good for some, but for others it stunts them from trying things in the region where they want to be. For me, that’s the Quad Cities region.”