A Digital Nomad is anyone who earns money through a digital medium meaning they can also take their work with them anywhere they go and they tend to be location independent or ‘nomadic’. Conversely, a digital nomad IS NOT someone who would ever expose their livelihood-making machine, also known as their laptop, to sand, salt water and the heat from the sun by taking crazy photos.
Actually I’m so guilty of this, I totally took these kinds of crazy shots when I first started working online so scratch that.
The point is that the online world makes the digital nomad life look overly glamorous which unfortunately also makes it seem unattainable to those of us who are not the 6ft tall bronze gods and goddesses of Instagram. This is a real shame because it’s actually now more realistic than ever before in history for anyone to start a profitable career from their laptop. So if you’re someone who has been dreaming about ditching their 9-5 job and pursuing the laptop lifestyle because let’s face it – life is just too damn short for artificially lit office cubicles – then this video is for you!
So in this post (and the attached video) I will cover the 7 Steps to Building Your Profitable Digital Nomad Career this year.
I started working online in 2016 and these steps are based on what I’ve learned and what I wish someone told me before I started.
You will find all of the resources mentioned in this post linked but I’ve also put together a resource for you which has all of these resources and also dives into the most desired and most profitable freelance careers of this year, where to learn them and how to begin earning money from them so make sure to check that out by downloading it here.
Digital Nomad Step 1 – Decide on which skills or passions you can bring into an online career.
You might be surprised to learn that you probably already have some skills that can make you money online… but the key isn’t just to make money. It’s to make a good, sustainable income.
There are lots of websites out there where people can get paid to take surveys or review books, games, and even hotels and restaurants and you will find people recommending this as a path to location independence. But trust me when I say that when it comes to building your online business – the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.
Check out my post (and video) here on how to figure out that sweet spot where your skills, passions and purpose overlap to decide where you could focus your efforts in building your digital nomad skillset. Also bear in mind that the most in-demand and highest paid skills will take the longest to learn so you can start with something easier and build up to that dream gig.
For example I started just posting graphics on Instagram and Facebook for my clients charging like $20/hr and then continued learning new skills and practicing these until I was able to build websites and complex marketing funnels charging a heck of a lot more than $20/hr but it took time and a lot of patience to work up to that type of work. The important thing is just to start because that seems to be the hardest bit!
Digital Nomad Step 2 – Build up your skills
You can do this using free resources out there. In fact, you could probably learn a brand new career just from YouTube videos these days to be honest. But the best way I’ve found to learn a new online skill is to enroll in an online course. It’s how I started in 2016 when I first began working online and since then I’ve also had over 18,000 students go through my own courses and begin building digital nomad careers of their own.
So when looking for an online course you can use a site like LinkedIn Learning (previously Lynda.com) which has qualified instructors or use an online course marketplace like Udemy or Skillshare. I’m partial to the latter because having taken courses on LinkedIn Learning I’ve actually found them to be a bit too dry and not as hands-on as a lot of Udemy and Skillshare courses but to be fair I was learning about pretty dry software topics so that could have played a part. But either way, there’s the added benefit of courses on Udemy and Skillshare being much cheaper to access where you’re looking at $10-$20 for discounted Udemy courses and a monthly subscription of about $20 per month for Skillshare for unlimited course access.
You can also enroll in more in-depth learning programs with courses ranging anywhere from $500-$5000 but I honestly recommend that when you’re first starting out – keep your costs down as much as possible and then reinvest into yourself once you start making money online.
As for anyone out there thinking ‘don’t I need a formal degree’ I’ll go ahead and say not at all.
I taught myself everything I know about digital marketing and it has allowed me to work with everyone from solopreneurs to digital marketing agencies, to multi million dollar enterprises and I promise that no one ever worried about my lack of formal qualification because the digital world moves way too quickly for a 3 or 4 year university degree to be able to keep up anyways.
Digital Nomad Step 3 – Build a Portfolio
This doesn’t have to be a complex, custom-coded WordPress site. You can start with pimping out your LinkedIn profile or if you’re still working full-time and don’t want your boss getting suspicious by your sudden profile change you can begin by just building a one-page website for free on a tool like strikingly, make sure to check out my video on how you can do this in about 30 minutes.
Again when I first started I had no way to showcase my skills without paying clients, so I put together sample graphics in a tool like Canva, some marketing videos and wrote some content on Medium.com which is free so I could show off my copywriting style and I linked all of these to my one-page website to send to potential clients. This is super easy and I promise you this is something that will make you stand out from the crowd of people who aren’t doing this.
Digital Nomad Step 4 – Decide on Your Business Model
The digital nomad work pool essentially divides into three main categories: working remotely, freelancing, and starting an online business.
Here are the pros and cons of these:
Example: full-time social media manager for an ecommerce brand. This can mean taking your existing job remote by negotiating
with your boss or applying for a full-time permanent remote role on sites like RemoteOK or WeWorkRemotely
Pros: You can work full time, get benefits, even holiday pay just from your laptop. Consistent pay.
Cons: You’re likely restricted to the timezone of your employer so you can’t just pickup and move halfway across the world because you might be stuck working from 9pm to 5am and driving yourself nuts.
Example: copywriter for health food brand, video editor for yoga youtube channel, graphic design work for accounting firm etc. These types of jobs you can get through networking either in person or online in Facebook groups, LinkedIn outreach, or dedicated platforms like Freelancer and Upwork.
Pros: Flexibility of clients, type of work and contract length. If, like me, you enjoy dynamic work this might be the way to go for you because it will allow you to work for multiple clients on multiple projects and also generally allow you to charge higher rates as you’re not on a salary but rather on an hourly, weekly or per project payment structure.
Cons: Can be an organisational nightmare if you’re not naturally organised, you have to be REALLY good at setting boundaries with clients because you might have 5 or more clients at a time, and your pay may vary from month to month.
Example: Dropshipping, Amazon FBA, Online Course Creation or creating other Digital Products
Pros: This can be much more passive once you get some momentum especially when it comes to digital products like online courses where you can create your course once and then sites like Udemy or Skillshare will sell it for you.
Cons: riskiest of the three and very hands-on and time consuming especially when setting up.
My suggestion is to get your skills up by working for clients of various business types and sizes first before thinking about starting your own online business. It seems that everyone online will tell you to niche down your focus to one type of client. I disagree with this because I learned an enormous amount working with everyone from a baby clothing brand to course instructors, to real estate investors and energy retailers and anyone in between. This allowed me to learn where I excelled and which areas didn’t quite suit me and then eventually I could narrow my focus on who I was going to work with and then I could also begin working on my own online business to get a passive income stream alongside my freelance work.
Digital Nomad Step 5 – Know Your Numbers
Now, before we get into how to actually choose where to set up your virtual office in step 6, I wanted to include an additional step which is one that everyone seems to forget about – KNOW YOUR NUMBERS!
What I mean by this is know exactly how much you need to be making every month to pay your expenses and add to your savings. If you know your expenses are $2k a month and you’re charging $50/hr for your services then you know you need to do at least 40hrs of work to break even assuming you’re charging your country’s tax rate on top of your rate.
It really scares me when people throw out their revenue numbers without taking into account how much they’re spending on themselves and their business. It’s easy to have a $100k revenue month when you put $99k into advertising but that $1k profit won’t get you very far.
So my biggest piece of advice is know your numbers when it comes to expenses and earnings and also know how much you’re able to spend on activities in the beautiful places you’re living. There’s no point to living in a gorgeous place like Indonesia or Cambodia if you’re not going to allow yourself to have a little fun.
Digital Nomad Step 6 – Picking Your Travel Destinations
Alright so now let’s talk about how to actually choose where to travel. Firstly, be super conscious of your timezone. At the moment I’m in Australia so if I had an Aussie client and I was going to go back home to Canada for a couple of months it might mean 3am Skype calls… which is fine from time to time but probably not sustainable long term. So always think about time zones first and foremost. Then think about cost of living, internet speed, food, climate etc. my favourite resource for this is Nomadlist – it has a rating for every digital nomad hot spot around the world including average cost of living per month, temperature, wifi speed and it even has a fun and safety rating. And this awesome website even connects other digital nomads in a helpful community forum and even has a dating section! Which brings me to my next and final point.
Digital Nomad Step 7 – Get to Know Other Digital Nomads
I cannot say this enough – Coworking spaces are the best investment you’ll ever make as a digital nomad. You’ll find other people who are doing the same thing you are but might be a few steps ahead and be able to pass on their knowledge, you can collaborate with others and even mentor other freelancers and remote workers. I have met some of my favourite people through Coworking spaces in places like Canggu, Bali. Many of these places have skill sharing sessions where you can learn from incredible entrepreneurs and likeminded digital nomads and there’s likely a Coworking space near you wherever you are in the world.
Alright so that was a lot of information and as I said at the start, if you’re interested in learning more about what kind of work is most profitable for remote workers, a complete list of places to find work online and even some discounts for online courses for you to learn new skills and start your digital nomad career in just a couple of months AND I have also included some ways you can save money while you travel through housesitting, I managed to live rent-free for sometimes up to 6 months of the year by housesitting so it’s definitely one of my favourite digital nomad money-saving hacks – then sign up to receive your free guide below:
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