Thinking of starting a successful travel blogging business or another online business? Well our guest blogger, successful online entrepreneur and digital nomad Tom from Digital Nomad Empire (who has been funding his travels from online work since 2009) shares his best tips for how to live the dream yourself…
Becoming a digital nomad is easier than it has ever been before. New technology and support structures are sprouting up every week to make a location independent, remote work lifestyle not only achievable but potentially easier for people with certain skills and personalities than a regular 9 to 5. Long story short, going digital nomad is not only a cool way to see the world without breaking the bank – it may actually free you up to achieve higher personal goals and impact the world in positive ways that don’t relate directly to earning money. Unfortunately, for every quality voice online educating others on how to actually achieve sustainable location independence, there are ten get-rich-quick gurus muddying the waters and confusing would-be online nomads. So here, stripped down to the practical essentials, are my 15 tips…
1. Learn to sell
Not quite the glitzy advice you were expecting? Most of the gurus don’t mention this one when they’re selling you the dream of working from your laptop on a tropical beach (highly impractical, FYI), but it is one of the most important skills that separates comfortable, thriving digital nomads from those who just scrape by – or never make enough to leave home in the first place. Regardless of whether you’re a freelancer, service provider, digital product producer or a working artist, if you want to make money on the road you will need to persuade others that what you’re offering is something they simply must get their hands on. That’s all sales really is. Nothing scary, slimy or sleazy: simply creating an awesome product, and then persuading your target customers that it really is as awesome as you say it is.
2. Get your finances right
The thrill of working and travelling disappears pretty quickly if you are constantly stressing out over money. If you’re bad at managing money at home, this will not change when you hit the road – so get your finances sorted out first. This means financial discipline, and being able to earn more than you spend, even when you’re surrounded by exotic new experiences on a daily basis. (Location choice will help ensure you can get the best lifestyle bang for your buck while still saving money – see Tip 11 below). Also, don’t underestimate the value of a savings nest-egg, especially if you’re a freelancer. Unless you have repeat clients or reliable, recurring revenue streams, make sure you have a reasonable living-costs cushion in the bank. (See Tip 10 for more of repeat business).
3. Get really good at something you enjoy
When you’ve just landed in a new location and your senses are being overwhelmed by all the new sights, sounds, smells and tastes, dragging yourself off to a quiet corner to work is hard. It’s especially hard if you don’t actually like the work you’re doing. If you hate what you do for a day job, you’ll hate it ten times more when it’s getting in the way of you exploring a Thai beach. So whatever you sell to fund your nomad lifestyle, make sure you love it – and get good enough at it that people will pay you a premium and come back for more. It doesn’t have to be your number one passion in life – just something you’re not going to begrudge doing for a few hours a day on the road.
4. Set your goals…and stick to them!
One of the biggest mistakes I made with my agency business was growing it too big. I was making good money for a 26-year-old, but the business became immobile as the result of the growth. I lost focus on my original goal – a lightweight, location independent business – and became obsessed with seeing how big I could grow my monthly recurring revenue. It took hitting the wall and a period of serious burnout to realize how far off course I had gone – but once I realized I immediately bought a campervan, scaled down the business and set off on a six month road trip. Your priorities may change over time, but make sure they’re changing for the right reasons. It doesn’t matter how much effort you’ve put into going the wrong way – if you’re going the wrong way, change course. Now.
5. Learn to test the market
Many small businesses fail because their founders don’t know how to do basic checks to verify whether their idea and business model will actually work. Skills like competition analysis and keyword research and invaluable for checking how much interest there really is in your product idea – and whether or not people will pay for it. This is a massively important skill for de-risking any new venture, because you can get a fairly accurate idea of what’s possible for your idea because you put too much time and money into it – and it gives you a chance to kill your darling, if necessary, before it cripples you.
6. Commit to excellence
If you are only good at what you do, you will struggle. You might make a living, but you won’t make a good one. You need to be great at something. Only then will you be able to charge a premium. Only then will customers rave about you, and share your work. Only then will the snowball begin to roll. If you’re competing in a market with too much noise, specialize. Find the corner you can dominate and become the best in the world at it.
8. Watch out for scams
Would you like to buy an affiliate marketing product that will tell you how I convinced you to buy an affiliate marketing product from me? There are thousands of scams out there in the “learn online business” market at any given time. Thousands of would-be gurus more than willing to part you from some hard-earned money in exchange for “the dream.” The old rule is a good one: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Location independent income is real, but it takes work and time. Just like any other type of income. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling snake oil.
8. Stay one step ahead of self doubt
The biggest obstacle to successfully creating a location independent income lives inside your own head. It’s the voice of doubt that pops up every time something doesn’t quite go according to plan. The voice tells you to quit, to forget about your dreams of travel, to go back to the safe, secure job and collect your pay like everybody else. This is a mental game. You are playing against yourself. You must learn to expect doubt, recognize that the voice is lying, and deal with it by pushing forward.
9. Get customers to come to you (online)
Making a sufficient living by going out and finding clients – “hustling” – can be pretty difficult. Every online income stream requires hustle to start with, but in the long run, the most efficient place to direct your “hustle time” is on building an inbound lead generation system. In plain English: create things that will bring paying customers to you, rather than you having to go out and find them one by one. Blogs, Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, etc – how can you get your customers’ attention? How can you make them come to you, every day?
10. Find repeat business
Businesses with a low lifetime customer value tend to die quickly. Don’t simply think, “How many customers can I get?” Think: “How can I create more stuff my existing customers will love?” It is always easier to sell something else to people who have already bought from you – and loved the experience – than to sell to someone new. The secret here is to do great work, create great services and build excellent products. There are no shortcuts to excellence. You can’t be mediocre. You will never say to your best friend: “Oh you have to try this new cafe, they make really average coffee!” Stand out in what you do and people will come back for more – and they’ll tell their friends. And if you can, build a subscription model into your business. What can you offer that people will happily sign up to pay for every month? Even $20/month is really a $240 sale if the customer stays with you for two years. Remember: lifetime customer value. Think long run.
11. Choose your locations wisely
Does that remote tree hut accommodation complex you saw shared on Facebook have decent WiFi? Location independence does have its limits. Especially if you have clients who expect you to check in with them most days – you will need to be in a location where you have reliable access to a quality Internet connection. If you have a relatively automated business model you can get away with being out of range for a while, but you’ll still have to put the work in somewhere, somehow, at some point. Nomadlist.com is an excellent resource for seeing how each potential destination measures up for the mobile worker before you visit.
12. Get the right gear
Your dream of working on the road will quickly come apart at the seams if you don’t plan and prepare to actually work on the road. That means having the right equipment – mobile WiFi devices, lightweight laptops, chargers, extra batteries, the right luggage, and so on. Where will you be working? Cafes? Co-working spaces? Hostels? The back of a van? You need to know the answer so you know what to pack – and what to pack it in. By the way – you may find a small roller suitcase more practical than a backpack if you’re only visiting cities. I know, you may look more like a tourist and less like a rugged explorer in your Instagram photos, but your back will thank you.
13. Expect budget blowouts
Even if you’re the most prudent financial planner in the world, you will blow the budget now and then. You will be in exotic places, and you’ll want to try things you didn’t expect. Don’t deprive yourself of experiences. Leave some room for the occasional blowout – it’s going to happen anyway.
14. Expect your friends and family to think you’re crazy
Most people aren’t going to get it. They aren’t going to think the idea of travelling the world while making money on the road is as awesome as you do. Even once you start doing it, they will remain confused and skeptical. It’s weird, I know. You just have to get used to it.
15. It’s okay to go home
I’ve met nomads and long term travellers who wear their number of years on the road as a badge of pride. If you want to travel for ten years, do it. Just make sure you know why you’re doing it, and make sure you go home now and then. If only to remind yourself of why you left. You can always pack up and leave again. But just as some destinations are different in reality from how we envision them before we leave, home can become something different in your absence. One of the great joys of travel is returning to a familiar place and seeing it afresh, at the same time familiar – and something new.
Written by digital nomad Tom. Tom has been successfully funding his travels from online work since 2009 find our how on his website Digital Nomad Empire.