This month marks my eighth month as a self-employed digital person (there’s too many jobs I do to really class myself as one thing in particular), I’m not sure I can quite refer to myself as a nomad yet as I’m firmly (albeit reluctantly) rooted in Cambridgeshire, with the exception of as many holidays and trips I can cram in to mine and Charlie’s schedule. This stage of my life and journey is I suppose the preparation for my future ambitions. Setting myself up to live the life I’ve always dreamed of, well, for the past few years anyway.
See, I don’t like the idea of staying anywhere for too long, which is ironic seems as I’ve just bought a house in my quiet hometown just outside the city of Cambridge, it’s hardly a metropolitan hub of culture. Avocado on toast is still seen as exotic around here. The house is an investment, it’s a retirement fund, a back-up plan, it’s security. I’ve never been desperate to own a house, but I knew that if I wanted to financially secure my future then buying one seemed like a good place to start. The plan is to finish the renovation, live there for as long as we feel and then consider renting it out in favour of travelling.
For me, it’s easier to take my job on the road. I’ve always aspired to be like one of those people you see in online articles who quit their jobs and now work from a beach in Bali. I mean, we have to be realistic here and not get swept up in these ‘it’s so easy’ narratives because it’s not.
All of my income is made online, I live comfortably but it’s taken me a long time to get to this point and establish myself as a freelancer. It’s not for everyone, there are definitely many downsides, but as someone who years for freedom and control of their own schedule then this outweighs those negatives.
Want to become a digital nomad?
Understand Your Reasoning
Why do you want to be a digital nomad? If you think you’ll be trading a life of 9-5 misery for coffee shops and lay-ins then sorry to disappoint, it isn’t as dreamy as it looks from the outside. You’ll work more than you’ve ever worked in your life. You’ll face rejection, financial uncertainty, and at times feelings of isolation. It can be hard, but it can also provide a lifestyle that goes against the conventional way of living and can offer you so, so much more. For me, the main reasoning for adopting this lifestyle was the stress of essentially working two jobs. I had a full-time role in digital marketing and whilst I enjoyed this and had a great team, I felt pulled in too many directions. My blog was getting busier, my inbox overflowing, and I was struggling to keep on top of it all. I was turning down lots of exciting opportunities purely because I knew they would cause me extra stress. Eight months down the line and I feel confident I made the right decision, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have those pangs of doubt and worry every now and again.
Identify Your Skillset
If you’re already working in an online-heavy industry, taking the leap is slightly less daunting as you’ll essentially be taking those skills and offering them as an individual. My background is in marketing and PR, and having spent almost four years working for a digital marketing agency, I had the skills to then offer this service as a freelancer should I want to. Graphic design, web development, content creation, social media management and SEO are great routes to take if you want to become a digital nomad, so if you don’t already have skills in one of these areas then it might be worth researching courses and soaking up knowledge online. Virtual assistant roles are also popular for aspiring digital nomads, and are generally in high demand. Once you know your skillset, train in it, study it, gain qualifications. You can do this through note taking, practicing exams and get exam answers to see how you’ve done and so much more. This will give you confidence in your craft and will also help clients to trust in your abilities.
Have a Back-Up
Personally, I always need a back-up plan, whatever the circumstance is you can be almost certain I have a plan B. When I decided to leave full-time employment, I had to reason with myself a lot. I struggled with anxiety and panic for a good few months and kept reassuring myself that everything is ok and if this all goes to sh*t I can just go apply for marketing roles and hey at least I tried. I wasn’t setting myself up for failure, I was just being realistic, which as Pisces with my head in the clouds can be a challenge at times. Financially, I also made sure I had enough cash in the bank to bail myself out if I couldn’t cover bills for a couple of months. I think whatever job you have it’s always best to have savings for the unknown but I appreciate not everyone is in the position where you can tuck away some disposable income. Life as a digital nomad, freelancer, self-employed worker, whatever, can be uncertain and the loss of a guaranteed pay-check every month is one of the biggest challenges and changes you’ll have to face. If you’re wanting to build towards this lifestyle, start saving. 60-day invoice terms are not the one.
Invest in Your Equipment
If you want to become a digital nomad you need to be on top of your game. It was daunting to have to shell out £1000s on equipment when I first started this journey, and no, I probably shouldn’t have stuck it on a credit card but we live and learn. I wouldn’t be able to do what I do (well, anyway) without a reliable laptop, a decent camera, a couple of decent lenses and various subscriptions including Photoshop, my Skype app for Mac, VSCO and so on. Replacing my MacBook with a newer, faster model was a big financial burn but it soon paid off and I get my work done twice as fast than I did with old slowing MacBook Pro which has now died a death. Also, you can keep hold of any expenses such as this and claim back on your tax return.
Set Yourself Goals
I won’t lie and say I’m this fantastic goal maker who sets monthly targets and achievements because I’m far from it. I didn’t even know how much I earnt in the first 3 months of working freelance, I just buried my head in the sand a little. My partner is much better with finances and pretty much forced me into creating a spreadsheet so I could keep track of my earnings and outgoings. I wish I did this sooner, even before going freelance. In my head, I now have a financial goal that I like to hit each month, I then have a realistic figure which I ‘need’ to earn in order to cover my expenses and being alive etc. Knowing exactly how much money you need to bring in is key, you can then begin to devise your strategy as to how you’ll achieve this. Which leads us on to income.
Diversify Your Income
As a worrier, it was vital for me to diversify my income and create as many feasible revenue streams as possible. This way, if one falls through then I have others to back me up. It’s that ‘need for a plan B’ side of me. Currently I make money in a number of ways…
- Social Media Management
- Content Creation
- Writing (blog posts, article)
- Sponsored Blog Posts
- Sponsored Instagram Posts
- Affiliate sales
Everything I do is fairly connected, I try to keep it all under the overall hub of digital marketing and blogging. My income is split in two – money I earn as a freelancer providing a service, and money I earn as a blogger, again, also providing a service just a slightly different one! I think diversifying your income is so important as a digital nomad, as relying on just one source of income can be pretty risky. At times, I’ve considered looking for a part-time job or temping, but I’m pretty busy at the moment so I’ve not gone down this route but would have no shame in doing so. I know of many freelancers who pick up casual work for reasons that are not only financial based. If you’re travelling and living nomadically, part-time work isn’t necessarily an option if you don’t hang around in one place for too long but you could consider online jobs such as teaching English.
Seek Out Support
The term ‘digital nomad’ probably won’t be familiar to your grandparents, or even your parents. Although not a new lifestyle, it has grown in popularity, I feel, with people around my age who seek more from life. It can be pretty lonely at times, and might leave you feeling alien to your friends and family. Facebook groups are a huge support system for me and other freelancers/digital nomads. Everyone is so supportive of each other and not a day goes by where I don’t see an individual seeking out help and hundreds of users offering advice and support. Joining groups and networking with likeminded individuals can really boost your confidence. The Female Digital Nomadsgroup is a great resource!
And finally, try to enjoy the wild freelance ride. A friend said to me recently “you’re living the dream but you don’t seem to realise it”. This is so true and really made me think, that yes, while I may be living the lifestyle I so yearned for, I spend so much time stressing and worrying that I never stop to enjoy it or even realise it. I’m working on it!
Are you freelance? Do you aspire to become a digital nomad? I would love to hear all of your thoughts, opinions, and stories.