Looking back on 2017, there’s one thing that sticks in my mind more than anything else. Among all the volcanic adventures and taco eating in Central America, 2017 was the year that I managed to stay afloat on my own terms, without the help of a traditional employer. I made enough money to sustain myself on my travels and set up a new life for myself in Thailand. I know that a lot of you would like to become location independent and that’s why I want to share the story of how I did it in 2017!
Step 1: Save, Save, Save
The internet is full of “inspirational” quotes begging you to throw in the towel, quit your job and go, but these should be taken with a pinch of salt. My first tip for anyone wanting to become location independent is a bit of a boring one but it’s probably the most important one of all.
You’re gonna need to save money.
Yes, travelling can be done on a budget but that doesn’t mean that it’s free!
You’re also going to want to have money that can be used as a “fuck-off fund.”
(If everything goes tits up when you’re away, you’ll be glad you have that stash!)
And if you’re new to freelancing and still building up a catalogue of clients, you’re definitely going to want to have primer money as a cushion. How many months of a cushion you’ll need all comes down to you but most people would recommend having 6 months worth of savings. Of course, how much you’ll need depends on where you’re planning to base yourself and how your planning to travel, which brings me to my next point.
Step 2: Make a Masterplan!
When we first decided to take our big trip, I’d never even heard of the term “digital nomad.” All we knew was that we wanted to travel around Latin America, learn Spanish and then teach English in Colombia. It wasn’t until later that we both decided we’d like to become location independent and focus on building freelancing careers online rather than continue teaching ESL.
To be honest, the biggest mistake we made in 2017 was not having a proper plan of where we’d live and how we’d travel. We thought we could have everything- travel all day everyday and churn out enough freelancing work on our off-days to make things work. Why? Because that’s the perception that a lot of bloggers give off about the digital nomad life. You’d think that you could hang about the beach all day, drink mojitos and get enough work done to pay the bills.
The reality couldn’t be more different.
While we were away, we tried to live like that (although we were never daft enough to bring our laptops to the beach!!!) and it completely drained us.
Going on an overnight bus journey then waking up at 6 am the next day to churn out content for a client before going out on a sponsored day trip which you then have to create content for is absolutely no. fun. at. all.
Work out how often you want to travel, where you might want to settle down and then you’ll have an idea of how much your monthly expenditure will be. Yes adventure is the essence of life (or some silly quote like that) but when you’re trying to become location independent and build a career online, you need to be a bit more organised and realistic.
To research the best places for digital nomads, I love Nomadlist! It gives the cost of living in each city as well as other information like WiFi speeds, places to work from, weather and quality of life to help you choose your next destination.
Step 3: Decide How you’re Going to Make Money as a Digital Nomad
So, you’ve got your pennies in the bank and have built a custom map in google. Now you’ll need to work out how you’re actually going to make money as a digital nomad!
There are a lot of location independent jobs out there, but the most common are:
- Content Writing/ Copywriting
- Social Media Management
- Web Design
- Digital Marketing
- Graphic Design
Pretty much, anything that you can do from a computer can be done remotely! You might find that you already have a skill that fits with one of these and that’s great. But, if not, don’t stress. If you give yourself enough time, you can definitely learn something new that’ll help you become location independent.
Step 4: Perfect your Skill
A lot of the skills that I needed to become location independent, I’d developed while building up this little blog baby. Most of the work that I do is in content writing and SEO but I also assist some small companies with their social media management and do some travel planning, too. But even though I had these skills in my repertoire, I still needed to hone them before I could start charging people for my services.
If you want to become an online entrepreneur, there’s no need to spend thousands of pounds and years of your life going back to uni to gain a new skill. Tbh, most of your clients care more about your results and experience than your qualifications.
Instead, I used Udemy to learn more indepth information about things like copywriting, SEO and digital marketing. They have courses in pretty much everything and often have great sales, too!
Actually, this week all courses are $10.99 which makes it a great time to invest in a new skill. Have a look at the courses on offer here!
I’ve enrolled in these courses to keep my brain ticking this year!
Step 5: Get Clients
This bit is probably the most challenging and frustrating step for new freelancers: finding clients. There are a lot of different ways to do this, though. You can post your listings on freelancing sites, cold-pitch potential clients or offer your services to people that you know.
The Easy but Complicated Way: Upwork
For me, I went down the more controversial route: Upwork! Upwork is a freelancing platform that connects freelancers with potential clients. It gets a lot of stick in the freelancing community because business owners often turn to it for cheap labour from developing countries. (And this is often reflected in the quality of jobs posted there.) But, actually, among all the crap, there are a lot of good jobs to be found and I’ve found a lot of really great clients on Upwork. I’d say that this is the easiest way to become location independent- if you tread carefully and follow my advice.
How to Build an Upwork Profile
The first thing you need to do to get on Upwork is build a great profile. From what I’ve heard, Upwork is becoming a lot stricter for new freelancers joining the system. You’ll need to prove that you actually have the experience to succeed which is a bit of a catch-22 for new freelancers but not impossible.
To do this, I’d recommend creating a few sample pieces of work to have in your portfolio- if you’re a writer, imagine you’re writing an article for your ideal client and post it in the portfolio section. If you know someone with a website, you could also ask to update the copy on their homepage or create some content for them. The same goes for other areas of work like graphic design and coding. Create your own portfolio and get experience as part of your skill building process.
It’s also worthwhile to complete some the Upwork tests to prove that you’re proficient in your area of work. Only after your profile looks amazing, should you submit it to Upwork.
How to Secure Great Clients on Upwork
I’m a member of lots of freelancing groups aimed at digital nomads and every day, I see the same things posted about Upwork:
I came across a job that pays $5 for a 1,000 word article so there is no hope in the world for freelance writers!
I agree that is frustrating when you come across jobs like this. My approach, though? Rather than wasting my energy moaning about it, I scroll on past and spend my time doing something pro-active like pitching good clients!
The truth is that not every job on Upwork is like that. I have ongoing Upwork clients who pay me $100 for short 500 word articles. Was I getting jobs like this when I first joined the platform? Absolutely not! I started getting these clients because I worked hard to build up an amazing profile and got loads of 5-star reviews along the way.
My first few jobs on Upwork were like my internships. I accepted crappy $10 jobs- not for the money, but for the reviews. After I got a fair amount of reviews, I started getting offers for more lucrative positions. As well as this, I pitched for at least 2 jobs every single day to keep the work flowing and get my reviews ticking.
The hard work has paid off. These days, I never pitch for jobs and, because I’m a top-rated freelancer, I usually get about 5 job offers a day. I’m not going to lie, though, a lot of the offers are completely terrible but I just decline those ones. The jobs that I’m really interested in are the “Invite Only” jobs that have competitive rates and are about things I want to write about. These jobs don’t come along every day but I usually get a handful of them every week. On top of this, I also have 4 really awesome ongoing clients so I don’t necessarily need to take work unless I really want to do it.
When to Start Finding Clients
One thing that I would say is that you don’t need to quit your job before you start finding clients. While you’re working your regular job, I’d recommend starting up freelancing as a “side-hustle.” Not only is this a low-pressure way to get experience and testimonials, it’ll also help you save money for your trip. Don’t wait until you’re on the plane before you start taking the steps you need to take to become location independent. At least do some groundwork before you go. Trying to do the hard work while you’re travelling would be frustrating to say the least.
Other Ways to Find Clients
Of course, I don’t want to be on Upwork all my life and most professional content writers don’t use the platform at all. This year, I plan on setting up my own copywriting business and building a legit website showcasing my portfolio so that I can start pitching the clients that I want to work with. This method of finding clients is extremely time intensive which is why I’m waiting until I have more experience (aka more chance of actually getting those clients!) before I start doing it!
My Last Words on How to Become Location Independent
If you’re sure that this is the right career path for you then I wish you the very best of luck with it. There are a lot of sensationalised stories about becoming location independent on the internet and I want to give you a more realistic idea of how much work it takes to succeed. You’ll need to be financially sound, organised and ready to do just as much work- if not more- than you do at your regular job! But, of course, you’ll also get to immerse yourself in new cultures and see more amazing places than you could while working a 9 to 5.
Ready to take the leap? These are some of my favourite resources for anyone wanting to become location independent.
- Take your Life Back: Finding Freedom through Location Independence
- Travel Insurance
- Cheap Flights
- Money off Air BnB
I hope that my story can help any of you who are feeling a bit lost about becoming location independent. If you’ve got any doubts, worries or success stories that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Pin it to your Digital Nomad Board!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to products that I personally use and love. All thoughts and opinions are my own.