Digital nomad has recently become a bit of a buzzword. It refers to a location-independent person who combines work with travel using digital technology. Digital nomads are usually freelancers, contractors and business owners whose work doesn’t bound them to one location. They can basically work from anywhere in the world. Keep reading to find out how to become one!
Working in digital offers some of the best opportunities for remote work. Since all your projects are based online, you can work from anywhere, as long as you have wifi access! A dream come true for travel lovers? Absolutely.
I’ve been working freelance as an SEO specialist and living the life of a digital nomad for 3 years. I’m not always on the move as I like having a base in between my trips but more often than not, I’m on the road and my work is travelling with me. As I’m typing this, I’m sat on the top floor of a medieval convent-turned library in the historical centre of Florence, Italy. It’s a crisp, winter morning; the sky is so blue it looks like it’s been put through an Instagram filter and one of the most beautiful architectural marvels ever created, The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, is gazing at me through the window. A few days from now, I’ll be trading this spot for a café in Rome, followed by numerous locations in Europe.
You’ll be amazed where working as a digital nomad can take you, so if you too want to go freelance, wave goodbye to the boring 9-5 and embrace the life of travel, then read on!
Before you go freelance…
Just like with any other job, in order to be successful at freelancing and, even more importantly – to enjoy it, it’s best to work in an field that you’re interested in. But don’t worry – even if you’re not 100% passionate about your freelancing career, I’m sure that the freedom that comes with it will make your job much more enjoyable!
If you’ve already worked or have a background in digital – great, you’re half way there! If your degree or work experience have little or nothing to do with it, don’t worry – mine didn’t either. In fact, I googled what SEO was prior to my job interview which, surprisingly, landed me a job in that exact field. As you can see, nothing is impossible! There’s a lot of roles which can kick start your digital nomad career; web designer, SEO specialist, digital marketing strategist, business consultant or a translator being the most obvious. If none of these are your cup of tea, here’s a more extensive list. You can master your digital profession through a course, an internship or by getting a job involving elements of digital which you can learn over time. Choose an option that works best for you and fits your current skill-set.
Prior to going freelance, my suggestion is that you work for a company for minimum a year. It’s important that you master your trade (or at least cover the basics) and gain a good understanding of how businesses work before you start working for yourself. This will help you avoid a lot of mistakes and unnecessary stress in the future, while giving you the chance to build business connections which you can then use in your freelancing career. Another crucial thing, and I can’t stress this enough, is that you go freelance prior to going nomadic. Finding freelance work while you’re at your current base is much easier, especially for first-time freelancers, as you can rely on your business connections and recommendations when looking for work.
So how exactly do I go freelance? There’s no definite guide as a lot depends on your personal circumstances and the field of work, however, my general advice is that you:
- Put some money aside
Going freelance is one of the most rewarding things you can do, however, moving from a steady income to working for yourself can affect your finances. Saving up prior to going freelance will make you feel more financially secure and confident.
- Become a part of your local business community
Connect with people from the industry by attending networking events or joining business groups to continuously grow your business network. Make sure that your contacts know about your plans of going freelance – this will give you a head start at getting work!
- Build a portfolio of work
Put together a portfolio showcasing your skills and experience to attract clients. The best way of doing so is by creating a website (use WordPress – it’s cost-effective and easy to use). Add recommendations and reviews to your site to make yourself look more reliable as a business.
- Master your LinkedIn
Search engines won’t be your best friends when you first start your site, so LinkedIn is the way to go. Make sure your profile is on point and looks appealing to potential clients. I get quite a lot of business enquiries through LinkedIn, so it’s really worth it!
- Be active on Social Media
Use social media to build your personal brand – the most obvious choices are Twitter, Google + and Facebook (especially if your job has a creative edge). You may want to look into Instagram if you’re a photographer or a designer. Social media is a great way to connect with your audience, build new connections and raise brand awareness. Plus, it’s fun!
- Create a business plan
One of the things that freelancing has taught me over time, and which I wish I had known in my early days, is that staying organised is top priority. As I have sadly learnt, the happy-go-lucky attitude isn’t exactly the way to go when you’re juggling multiple projects, planing to move to NYC for half a year, all while trying to maintain a thriving social life somewhere in between. Staying organised will keep on top of your work and help you stay motivated. Start by putting together a business plan – write down your goals, financial requirements and figure out how to translate these into work. You know how the saying goes… good planning is the key to success!
- Learn from the best
Learning on other people’s mistakes will help you avoid making your own, so don’t be afraid to reach out to industry experts and ask for their advice.
- Don’t burn any bridges
When you’re getting started as a freelancer, your resources and business connections are limited. Your current employer is one of the strongest links to your future freelance gigs so make sure you’re not keeping him/her in the dark about your plans. Be open and honest and who knows, you might’ve just landed yourself your first freelance client!
- Register as self-employed
Let’s not forget about the practicalities of going freelance. Before you start working for yourself, you need to register as self-employed with your national Revenue Services. If you’re based in the UK, set up as a sole trader or a limited company with HMRC – it’s surprising easy and only takes a few minutes!
- Last but not least – be good at what you do.
Being reliable and good at your job is the easiest way of securing new projects. Recommendations work better than any online profile!
Getting Started as a Digital Nomad
Ok, so you got your work experience out of the way, you built a networks of useful contacts and with their help, you finally went freelance and won your first project. Great! Looks like it’s time to pack your bags and enjoy that digital nomad lifestyle… Well, not quite. There is nothing more stressful than travelling through a foreign country with your funds running low and having no future work prospects.
Therefore, make sure to secure a few long-term projects before you head off. A great way of doing so is working on contractor basis for a company. Once you prove that you’re reliable and good at what you do, they will be likely to continue working with you which means a regular cash flow. To do that, keep an eye out for contractor work and ask around in your business network. Finally, save enough money to cover your expenses for the first couple of months of your travels. It’s better to be safe than sorry! Read my advice on saving for long-term travel for more hands-on tips.
Working While you Travel
Congratulations, you’ve made it! You booked your flight and you’re on the way to your first destination. The life of adventure awaits!
I’m not the one to spoil the fun, but while being a digital nomad is about having more freedom, you’ll still need a level of structure, otherwise you won’t get any work done. Those exotic trips won’t pay for themselves!
Working for yourself is very different from working at an office where each day follows a similar routine and you have a line manager to report to. It takes a lot of self-discipline to get the work done on time, especially when there are sandy beaches to be discovered and cocktails to be drank… Therefore, don’t forget to:
- Organise your day. Figure out what time of the day you are the most productive and work around that time, bearing in mind the time difference between you and your clients.
- Prioritise your tasks to get the most important/ most dreaded ones out of the way first. Set yourself daily goals to keep on top of your work. A great app for that is Ever Note.
- A diary is a digital nomad’s best friend – make sure you keep track of all your deadlines and tasks to stay organised.
Your routine may change up a bit while you’re travelling, but the concept remains the same- prioritise and stay organised!
Finding New Clients While Travelling
The best thing about being a digital nomad, aside from having the chance to work from every corner of the globe, is that you don’t have to limit your clients to a specific geographical area (global domination, anyone?). Use this for your advantage when looking for work while travelling.
- Aside from using your existing business connections, build new ones by attending networking events at the places you travel to, especially if you’re staying there for a longer while. You can find these through Meetup or Internations – this way you can build a global network of business contacts, wherever you go!
- Don’t be afraid to approach local businesses to see if they are in need of your services. You may have to adjust your rate based on the country you’re in.
- Finally, use online freelance communities like Elance, oDesk, Guru, Freelancer.com or PeoplePerHour . These type of sites tend to offer relatively low rates and are unlikely to land you a huge project, so while it’s best not to rely on them too much, they can still come in handy.
Final Word of Advice
Working for yourself and combining it with travel is one of the most rewarding things you can do. While I could spend a whole day listing the endless benefits that come with this type of lifestyle, it’s important to remember that it can also be challenging. You’ll be working irregular hours, possibly making less in your first months freelancing than you did at your regular job. In fact, even as an experienced freelancer some months will be better than others, money-wise. Your family is most likely to think that you’re making a huge mistake and your friends will tell you that you’re taking an unnecessary risk. As a first-time freelancer, you’ll get stressed out more than you ever did at any of your previous jobs, and you’ll take on lots of unsustainable projects.
But you know what? None of this will matter in the long run because hard work and determination always pay off. Work hard, plan ahead and remember why you’re doing this. There aren’t not many things that can quite compare to the feeling of satisfaction and freedom that comes with working for yourself, while travelling the world.
Are you a digital nomad or are planning on becoming one? What has been your greatest challenge so far? Share your experiences in the comments below!