Imagine a job where you could work from a beach in Brasil. Or take a conference call from the foot of the Eiffel tower. That dream job is a reality for a group of people – digital nomads. The internet has created an awesome opportunity for people to use their skills and technology to work from anywhere in the world. Skilled writers, marketers, teachers, trainers and more, are making their dream job a reality by offering their services remotely and earning while they travel.
What is a digital nomad?
Digital nomads are location independent and use their skills and technology to work and travel. Digital nomads work remotely and generally require a limited amount of tools to perform their work. Essentially a laptop and internet access! It’s an economical option as their only real expense is internet, which is usually free.
Who can be a digital nomad?
Anyone with a skill, will and desire to travel can be a digital nomad! DMs are usually younger folk and tend to work in marketing, writing, consulting and tutoring industries. Although it may seem easy, not everyone is cut out for digital nomading. It takes discipline to smash out work when you feel like you’re on holiday. If internet connections are dicey, it can be frustrating. And it’s hard to keep motivation up when you just want to have a good time. The balance is something that is tricky to get right at first but if you do – being a digital nomad is an absolute dream!
What better way to learn about digital nomads than to meet one! Michael Catford is a talented writer and author of Look What We Done – a travel and accommodation review blog. He’s travelled/worked to over 35 countries and nailed the balance of work and play in his adventures through South America, Africa and Europe (to name a few.)
What do you do?
I’m a freelance writer. The bulk of my work consists of writing content for businesses – generally in the form of blogs – which help to direct potential customers to their sites. On top of that I write web copy, and have also produced a few white papers (more official documents which generally sell a particular product or service).
How did you become a digital nomad?
To be honest I sort of fluked it. I’ve always loved writing, but never saw it as a career path – I knew that a stupidly small percentage of authors ever get to a point where they can make a living out of writing books, and wasn’t interested in gritting my teeth through 4 years of university to become a journo or somesuch.
About 2 ½ years ago I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. I’d been a salesman for the entirety of my professional life (10 years), and I was over it. I decided to just toss it all in and run away, because I’m a mature adult. I went to South America with my then girlfriend (who was in the same situation) on a one way ticket. To keep people updated back home we started a little personal blog (rather than plastering Facebook with travel photos like everyone else). Before long, and somewhat surprisingly, we started getting hits on the website from people who weren’t our family and friends.
That gave me the confidence that I was a decent writer. Then my ex and I stumbled upon a website called Upwork, which connected workers with people who needed work done. We both created profiles as writers and used our website as a sort of resume, and before long started to get offers for work. It didn’t pay much to begin with, but once I’d built up a name for myself people were happy to pay a premium.
After a year in South America, and maybe 9 months of freelancing, I’d built up enough of a client base to head back home to Australia and make it my full time job. I was super excited.
What are the benefits?
For me it’s the freedom. The benefit of managing to earn a living wage in Australia doing what I do means that I can essentially afford to do it from anywhere in the world. So I’ve committed to doing just that.
I’ve just come back from 6 months away, mostly in Africa, during which I worked when I could/wanted to. I’m currently running with a ‘chase the sun’ system, where I spend 6 months in Australia during the southern hemisphere summer, then run away for 6 months when it starts to get cooler.
I can work when I want and from wherever I want (provided there’s an internet connection – Africa was tricky), which is unreal. I really want to check out as much of the world as I can while I’m young, so it really couldn’t have worked out better.
What do you find challenging?
The nature of what I do leads me to work with a lot of startups. Startups, in general, aren’t great payers. I bring a very firm attitude to my account management, but when a large client who you really enjoy working with starts to pay late, it can make for a tricky situation. I haven’t been too badly burnt yet, but staying on top of money owed can be challenging.
I also struggle with motivation from time to time. Without a boss to keep me on task, and with the entirety of the World Wide Web at my fingertips, distraction can be a killer.
Do you have any tips for digital nomads-to-be?
I realise that the way I got into the game involved a lot of luck, so I’m hesitant in telling potential freelancers to follow in my footsteps.
But if you’re truly unhappy with what you’re currently doing and feel as though you’d prefer freedom and flexibility over dollars on your paycheque (I earn enough to get by, no more), I say go for it.
First you need to identify a skill that you bring to the table that can be done over the internet. Check the job boards on sites like Upwork and Fiverr and see if anything fits. If you’ve found your passion, quit your job (after you’ve saved up enough of a cushion to live comfortably for a few months) and focus solely on building your digital freelancing career. You’re never going to go full time with it if you don’t give it your all and just keep it as an after hours thing.
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