A Digital Nomad - Juggling work, play, and travel; it’s possible to do it all!
Following on from last year's article on the journey to becoming a digital nomad, it’s time to provide an update on how the past 12 months of traveling the world have been for me and my business, Seriously Good Design.
In my first post, I shared my story of how I went from working full time at a web design agency to evolving into a digital nomad, starting my own web design business and transitioning that business to one that allowed me to travel the world on recurring revenue.
I’ve just returned from 9 months of constant travel - 7 months in Europe and two months in South America.
Why Do It?
Travelling is a dream that most people only get to achieve every few years, and even then, only for a limited amount of time. By taking your business online, you find the freedom that office jobs don't allow, and can travel and work for as long as you want, wherever you want.
There are lots of pros to living the nomad life, but ultimately you can embrace the best of both worlds - continuing to work while funding your travels. There are no limits. You’re literally living the dream! While your friends are back at home complaining about the monotony of their daily grind, you’re daydreaming of or planning your next adventure.
One of the main things I love about being a digital nomad is that the world we live in is such an incredibly beautiful place, with a seemingly infinite number of cultures and wonders to be explored and appreciated. If you’re a summer baby, you can chase summer around the world and experience a year of warmth and sunshine. If you want to experience new cultures, there are so many places that now have wifi access, so you are no longer geographically limited to first world countries. Go wherever, whenever. It’s pretty simple really.
In one word, it’s all about: Freedom.
How I Did It
I started off as a freelance website designer. In 2010 I started selling websites online for $100 a project. Seven years later, I’m selling websites for $10k.
Over the past seven years, I’ve taken steps to steadily build my business. I’ve surrounded myself with the right people to guide me and enrolled in the right courses to learn about growing a business. Looking back on this journey, there have been many high and low moments, and I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but being able to see the best in all of these experiences and learn from them is key.
I never set out to become a digital nomad seven years ago, but having the idea and the opportunity to take, it I’ve embraced my decision to work and travel.
Having a business that you can sell products and work exclusively online from has allowed me to travel and still generate income. All you really need is a laptop, a WiFi connection, and an adventurous spirit!
The key to being a digital nomad is creating a consistent base-income. Knowing you will have enough cash flow on a weekly basis to pay yourself, your staff and your bills is a great help. Through my website design agency, Seriously Good Design, I have been able to generate enough recurring income to cover all of the above. It also means that any project work outside the recurring revenue is pure profit.
The recurring revenue in my business is centered around website hosting and maintenance (otherwise known as a website care plan) on a monthly basis. We also offer a number of clients Skype consulting sessions each month - a useful way to keep in touch with your customers no matter where you are in the world.
The monthly plans I’ve created for my business can be viewed here.
If you have no idea where to start, there is only one answer: Just do it! And as hard as it sounds it’s the only way.
And as hard as it sounds it’s the only way.
Try it out first. Start with only three months in one place. You’ll be surprised how quickly the three months pass, as well as the memorable experiences you can have in that time.
The best way to plan your first digital nomad trip is to simply book a flight. Once that flight’s booked, your plan becomes real. You instantly switch from procrastinating about going, to booking accommodation, Googling day trips, and downloading apps to learn the local languages. The excitement and anticipation start building and are all part of the experience!
Once a flight is booked, you’ll need a place to stay. This is where AirBnb comes in handy. You can book your own apartment with a kitchen, laundry, real bed and actually LIVE in the country of your choice!
You love them and you hate them. I never know the best strategy for telling clients that I’m packing up and heading overseas. Sometimes it’s best to tell them the truth, or maybe you could bend the truth and explain that you're going overseas to work on a “project.” That can make them feel a little more at ease. Just make sure that you plan everything well so that you don't let them down in any way.
Most clients will not terminate your contract if they know you’re now based overseas. I was pleasantly surprised when many of my clients actually supported the fact that I was able to turn my business into an exclusively online outfit.
You'll always find that some customers do want you in their city so they can knock down your door and book spontaneous meetings. This in effect is a warning sign for me, and at the end of the day, these are the clients I don’t want to work with.
Having a good team behind you is imperative. Even if you have a skinny budget to hire someone, simply having a virtual assistant to support you is a huge help; especially if they are based in the same time zone as your clients. While you’re asleep, your clients will be within business hours, so it can be beneficial to have a team member available to respond - even if it’s to tell the client that their message has been received and another member of the team will respond within the next 24 hours.
If you have established trust with your VA, a great tip is to get them to manage your inbox and respond using your name; even while you’re sleeping!
Additional staff can be used to help with tasks such as bookkeeping and copywriting. If you can create a small but dynamic team to handle your daily reparative tasks, it will free up your time to travel the world; and when you are working, you can focus on the bigger tasks such as completing projects on time or finding new clients.
Processes and Automation
Set up processes in the business so you can sit back and relax. Taking the time to record your business processes and train staff how to action them is another way to create more time for yourself.
An efficient way to introduce automation is to integrate Stripe as an automatic payment gateway. All of our recurring revenue clients are signed up to our Stripe merchant. Therefore, each month Stripe will charge their accounts and kindly deposit it into our account each week.
While in Brazil I was receiving Stripe notifications on the beach, informing me that clients’ recurring fees had been successfully paid. It was a great feeling to know money was going into my account while enjoying the nomad life.
That day I made sure to buy an extra Caipirinha (Brazilian cocktail) to congratulate myself!
If you’re like me, you like to have a home base, not matter where you are in the world. I decided to set up a base in Krakow, Poland. The plan was to base myself there and travel on a regular basis.
I get asked “why Poland” around five times per day. The main reason I’ve chosen Poland is due to the cost of living. To put it into perspective, Poland is 3 to 4 times cheaper than Melbourne.
With 90% of my clients based in Melbourne, my business gets paid Australian dollars. Combine that with living in Poland, and it’s equivalent to living in Melbourne on a salary triple to what I’m currently getting. Quite a good strategic move don't you think?
Another reason Poland is a great base is its location in Europe. From Poland, you can travel to most places in the continent for less than $100. Sometimes even to Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Egypt. Every two months I’ll do a 1 to 2 week trip around parts of Europe. I just pack my backpack, grab my laptop and go. I’ll check where Ryan Air has cheap flights, book a one-way flight and be off. I don’t even worry about the return flight and getting back to base. I’m a digital nomad and can travel and work as I please, so traveling without a locked-in return date gives you a great sense of freedom.
Living in Eastern Europe has allowed me to save. To give you an understanding of living expenses, a standard beer comes in at around $3AU a pint. With everyday prices like this, I’m able to “live like a king” and still put money in the bank.
If I did choose to live in cities like London or NY it might be a different story, so selecting a location to base yourself with a low cost of living does help.
But it’s not all about money and dollars. It’s about living and experiencing a different culture, picking up a new language, new foods, and new friends. There’s a feeling I get in each city when I’m walking through the street and I realise “my life is pretty sweet, ” and I’m doing what not many people can do. It genuinely gives me goosebumps.
Co-working is a great option for the digital nomad. If you have a big workload for a few days and need to get tasks done without interruption, co-working is the way to go. Working in your AirBnb or a café can be distracting. By heading into a co-working space, you’re immediately thrown into a professional work environment. Your production levels increase, and you leave feeling as though you have achieved your goals.
I love jumping into co-working when I have tight deadlines, or I’m falling behind on daily tasks. I can knuckle down and focus without distraction in a proper working environment.
I’ve been to some amazing co-working spaces all over the world. They are an efficient way to get focus and get work done, meet people, and also to get a feel for how other people in different cultures run their business. There’s definitely a thing or two to learn from co-working in different countries.
Growth – It can be hard to scale a business while on the road. I have struggled to attract new clients while overseas, but as long as you look after your existing clients, word of mouth marketing will work.
Time zones – When I wake up in Poland, the business day is over in Australia. Although this may seem like a negative point on paper, you can use it to your advantage. By opening my inbox after Australian business hours, it means I’m not a slave to my inbox during my day as I’m not receiving and responding to emails as they come in.
In Poland, I can wake up, view my emails, create a to-do to list and get my tasks done, without interruption.
Early mornings and late nights – sometimes you might have a meeting with a client on the other side of the world at 6 am or midnight. It’s a small price to pay to live the dream. You can usually adjust to working either early mornings or later at night without too much difficulty.
Client response times - The sky will not fall in if your client doesn’t get a response within the hour. You have to remove this fear from your mind. Sure, they can cause a big drama if you don’t reply ASAP, but at the end of the day, they are not going to fire you if your work is consistent and you maintain your professionalism.
Where to go next? This is a cheeky one, but it does stress me out. I stay up late thinking where will I catch a train to next? There are too many options when you have the whole word at your feet (or fingers), and you’re getting paid!
Missing out - You might get FOMO of missing a friend’s wedding, but when you can take a Wednesday off in the middle of an Australian winter (European summer) and go for a swim in the Mediterranean in Italy, you quickly forget about missing home events.
- Local Phone Number – Get a local Skype number in the country your clients are based. Divert this to your local number in that country.
- Support Tickets – Set up a ticketing system for all clients to contact you on. I recommend HelpScout.
- Co-working spaces – As mentioned above, if you need to get work done, this is where you go. You’ll find them in most large cities.
- Booking meetings – Use tools such as Calendly for your clients to book meetings.
- Wi-Fi on the go - Grab a sim card in each city you visit. Europe is cheap for data unlike Australia, and it will allow you to jump online when you don’t have Wi-Fi.
You do miss home at times, as well as having a routine, but at those times you just have to take a step back and think where you have come and where you are. You’re making money while you travel the world!
Yes, I know I could have stayed in Melbourne and grown a successful business and had more money in the bank, but I’d rather be rich in time and life experiences than money.
The digital nomad thing is possible. Don’t put it off! Just book a flight and try it out.