I don’t have the specific numbers, but my guess is that most digital nomads are freelancers or entrepreneurs. And these entrepreneurs most often started as a freelancer. If you want to become a digital nomad, starting your freelance career is probably one of the first steps.
Lots of young newbie digital nomads quit their job (if they had any), buy a ticket and just take off. You and your family can take this approach as well, but with kids in the equation you probably are a bit more risk averse. Nothing wrong with that! With the right preparation, the chances of a successful freelancing career increase enormously.
So, where to start? I will guide you to a successful kickoff of your freelancing digital nomad career!
Side hustle or full-time from the start?
There is no right answer to this question. It all depends on your situation, the amount of savings you have and how risk averse you are. With enough money, you and your family can quit and leave. Setting up your freelance career while travelling has it advantages: you can experience first-hand which job suits your new travel lifestyle best. The disadvantage is the possible stress you will encounter. After such a life-changing event, you might want some peace and quietness while figuring out your next freelancing career move. In between the traveling and getting used to your new lifestyle, it can be difficult to find the time and energy for setting up your business. But, although it can be hard, it is possible if you have your mind set on it!
Not enough savings or more risk averse? Start working as a freelancer beside your 9 to 5 job. This means working hard. Very hard. During the evenings and weekends. Managing this with your family life can be heavy, so you and your partner really need to be motivated. Once it starts paying off, you can gradually downsize your 9 to 5 job (if your boss agrees) until your business can support your family. Keep in mind that this can take years.
Step 1 Investigate your skills and experience
Without even realizing it, you are the keeper of a tremendous amount of competencies. Before anything else, start with analyzing these skills. Ask yourself the following:
- What are you good at? Think about your work, hobbies, or your days as a student. And think small. For example, not managing, but motivating employees, distributing tasks, keeping an overview, etc. Write down all your skills, even if you think they are not relevant to your future digital nomad life.
- If people need help or advice from you, what was it about? If you cannot come up with anything, you can also ask your family, friends, and coworkers.
- What do you love? Where are you passionate about? This isn’t necessarily the same as what you’re good at (point 1). Don’t judge what is relevant or not. Just write everything down, even seemingly far-fetched interests. Think about books, movies, websites, everything you love to read or talk about.
Your list of competencies will never be complete. You are always learning and therefore can keep adding skills to your list. You should do this! It is a great way of keeping track of your learning curve. For example, when I started blogging I didn’t know crap about WordPress, SEO, and graphic design. Just by learning as I went I developed tremendous expertise in these areas.
Analyze your skills
So you’ve got your (always growing) list of skills. It is time to select a few to analyze. The goal is to excel in one thing. Don’t try to be excellent in several areas, just start with one skill (or two related skills) in which you are excellent or have the potential to become excellent.
The changes that your first pick is a goldmine is small, so don’t mind switching a few times. For example, as mentioned, I know a lot about WordPress and I enjoy reading about WordPress and fixing problems. I first thought, maybe I can do something with this, like helping others with building their WordPress website. Before jumping into it, I first analysed this idea by helping my sister creating her WordPress website. In the beginning, I was extremely enthusiastic! After a while, this diminished. As it turned out, I like working on my WordPress sites, the way I envision them to look like. Occasionally helping someone with a particular WordPress related question is not a problem, but setting up a coaching business for this subject is not my cup of tea. After realizing this, I started analyzing another skill.
As you can probably guess, analyzing your skills can be time-consuming. And it should be. It is not something you should decide about in one night. On the other hand, don’t linger over too many doubts. Just try and if you fail, you have learned a lot about it as well.
For example, my husband and I have set up a website that in the end wasn’t working. It took us months to set it up. A waste of time? Probably. But we also learned a lot, and we are still using this knowledge and experience in running our business.
Develop your skills
Not yet excellent in one or two related skills? No worries. There are ways to develop your skills.
By trial and error / DIY learning
Learning as you go is a very time-consuming learning style. And it can be frustrated as well. I think most digital nomads are self-taught entrepreneurs and freelancers. You can learn so much on the internet; there is always someone out there who has written a ‘how to’ blog about it or even made an instruction video. Just google it and see where it takes you.
This is how we have learned all our skills. When I encounter a problem, I ask Google. In this way, I learned how to use WordPress, how SEO works, how to interpret Google Analytics and other tools. There is still so much to learn, so Google will be my best friend for a while I think.
I also follow a lot of bloggers who I think are an expert in a given area. Their newsletters inspire me to learn more about a certain topic. Sometimes I didn’t even realise I wanted to know more about it before I received their email. It’s a great way to keep learning new stuff. But be aware, what you learn can be subjective. So choose wisely who you follow, and unfollow people when their newsletter is just a waste of time.
When Google doesn’t provide the answer, I ask people around me (for example other bloggers or freelance writers). Just as others ask me sometimes for help. It amazes me how a complicated question can be an easy one for someone else! So don’t hesitate to ask people, they can probably help you in a few minutes, just like you can help others very quickly.
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and online courses in general are an excellent way to enhance your knowledge. There are a lot of interesting classes out there for free or a small price. Here you can learn how to become an amazing writer, how to use HTML and JAVA or how to run the marketing of your new business.
A few well-known providers of MOOC are:
There are a lot more MOOC providers out there. So just google what you would like to learn and you will find an online course that fits your needs.
In my case, my first employer was a mentor for me. I just started working as a freelance writer and I began working for her via a mutual friend. Since I was a newbie, we agreed that see would pay me a lower fee in exchange for extra feedback. I asked here tons of questions about writing style, SEO and how to juggle for assignments. After a year, my fee increased proportionally with my competence, and I had fewer issues to ask about.
It was only after a while that I realised she acted as a mentor. It was not an official agreement or something I was explicitly looking for. It just happened.
How to find a mentor? You probably won’t. Just start working, head out and pitch. Offer your service for free or a low fee and see where it takes you. You might be surprised at who turns out to help you.
Step 2 Select a job
This step is not separated from the previous step. You probably go back and forth between these two and that’s perfectly fine. I put analyzing your skills in a different step because I think it is important to think about your competencies without translating these directly into a job. When you think too straight-lined in ‘jobs’ instead of ‘skills’, you might overlook critical competencies. So that’s why I separated skills and jobs in two steps. By now you have analysed some skills, so it’s time to translate these into potential freelance jobs.
Find out where the money is
Something you should take into account when selecting a job is profitability. When you are magnificent at juggling eight balls, your have reason to be proud. But is this something you and your family (!) can live from? Probably not.
There are a few ways that help you find out if you can monetize your skill(s):
- Ask around in your network if people are in need of your competencies and ideas. Although this will only give the opinion of a few people, you can learn a lot about it. It also gives you the chance to speak your ideas out loud. As you will notice, pitching your ideas is something you probably need to learn as well. The earlier you start practicing, the better!
- Go to freelance websites to analyze what jobs are offered. Take a look at these websites:
- Narrow down your skill/job idea. For example, becoming a freelance writer is very broad, and it might be difficult to put yourself out there as such. When you select a niche or topic in which you are an expert, your chances of success increase tremendously. Do you have lots of experience in the financial sector? Good for you! Market yourself as a freelance financial writer, and pitch your work to financial companies. Been a nurse for years? Start writing for medical organisations!
These are examples as a freelance writer, but there is so much more possible! Want to know more? See my blog post about how to become a freelance writer.
- Be flexible. You might have set your mind on a particular idea, but after trying to monetize this, you might found yourself second-guessing. Just let it go. Switch to another niche or other type of organisation. You can also go back one or two steps and select another skill to analyze. In this way, you will increase your chances of monetizing your competencies.
- Almost ready for the next step, but first, go back to the question: ‘what are you passionate about?’. Is your answer to this question in line with your selected skill and job? Good! Because setting up your digital nomad career will be hard and challenging, so it is absolutely necessary that you love what you do.
Passive or active income
It’s probably everyone’s dream to have a 100% passive income. Well, I hate to break it to you, but this is a reality for only a few people. After some time, you might achieve a small percentage of passive income. This would be great and gives you the time to travel a bit more. But don’t get your hopes up: the vast majority of digital nomads works hard for their money.
In need for more inspiration?
As a freelancing digital nomad, I think you can fulfil practically any job that only requires a laptop. The most common are jobs that involve:
- Affiliate marketing
- Audio Engineering
- Audio Production
- Digital Marketing
- Graphic Design
- Photo Editing
- Search Engine Advertising (SEA)
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
- Social media marketing
- Teaching (online courses)
- UX Developing
- Video Tutorials
- Video Editing
- Virtual Assistance
- Web Design
Step 3 Get yourself out there!
I know it will be scary to put yourself out in the open as a newbie freelancer, but every start is hard. Just keep your mind on the goal: becoming location independent so you and your family can live a digital nomad lifestyle.
Spread the word
The first step is mental. When my husband and I started our business, we were very shy about it. When someone asks us what we did, we gave some evasive answer about building websites. After which I hastily added: but is only small and nonrelevant. Let me give you one very simple advice: be proud of what you do. If you don’t start believing in yourself and your freelance career, no one is going to take you seriously. So practice a firm answer on the question ‘what do you do?’ and provide it with flair and confidence.
I still found it sometimes hard to tell people I’m a full-time work at home mom. As if I’m not fully participating in society and my freelancing work isn’t important. But the more I say it out loud to people, the more confident I am about being on the right track. This is what I love to do: take care of my kids full-time, being a freelancer and entrepreneur and travel the world with my family.
The sites you employed in the previous step (like Fiverr, Upwork and Freelancer) are an excellent way to start finding your first freelance gigs. Create an account on at least one of these, make your profile complete and just jump in.
Use your network
I found my biggest client through my network. I told a friend about my new freelancing career, and she told me about a girl she knew. I contacted her through LinkedIn and started working for her almost immediately.
Pitch, pitch, pitch
I must be honest: I hate pitching. No really, I loathe it. But lots of freelancers find their assignments through pitching. I learned a lot about pitching from Gina Horkey, so I would recommend you to visit her blog about pitching.
Become a successful location independent freelancer!
I know this was a lot of information to digest… Just remember you cannot set up your freelance career in one night so take your time putting all these tips into practice. Don’t make the mistakes I’ve made as a newbie freelance writer because that would be such a waste of time and energy. I continue to update this website with tips about how to become a location independent freelancer (especially about freelance writing and niche blogging), so stay tuned.
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