Want to be a digital nomad? Here are 7 steps you need to consider first!
Finding a way to make it stick…
Here’s the rollercoaster of emotion nearly everyone goes through before pulling the trigger on their path to becoming a digital nomad:
Initially, you get excited by the possibility of having the type of freedom lifestyle that fills your Instagram feed every day.
You then get even more excited about the type of work you could be doing from your laptop – I mean, getting paid to sit on a client’s Facebook all day, sign me up!
Then the reality of it all sets in – the amount of work you’ll have to do to get there, the lack of human interaction you might experience in being your own boss. Then come the thoughts of doubt that inevitably fill your head.
Whether it’s from the non-believers in your life, or just a bit of self-doubt, either way it’s something we all go through at one point, or if you’re like me – multiple points along the journey of becoming a digital nomad.
This is the low point of your emotional rollercoaster, before you get to experience the exciting high of nailing your proposals, getting amazing clients and getting to travel the world.
It’s that low point that I’m going to show you how to avoid in this post. You will do this by filling yourself with such enormous drive, passion and confidence in this decision that there’s no room for fear or doubt.
It’s not quite the David Copperfield type of magical, mind-blowing sort of experience, but it’s what helped me really gain confidence in my decision to become a digital nomad.
It’s these steps that made things so much easier for me from the beginning and have helped me succeed ever since I began working online.
So, if you consider these 7 steps in your journey to becoming a digital nomad, I can guarantee you’ll be successful with it.
Step 1: The Doors
Think less Jim Morrison and more ‘The Price is Right’. As in, let’s make major life decisions – 90s game show style.
Picture three doors, behind each of these is one glorious, glittery job offer.
Door number one:
The first job involves very simple and repetitive work. Once you master it you’re good to go. You will be working indoors in an office because manual labour really isn’t your thing. You will have a steady paycheck, your boss and your colleagues make for good company, you’re not BFFs but you like each other enough to stare at one another all day long.
You will likely get promoted within a year or two and have a team of your own to manage. It will only be a mild pay rise but a brand new title and you will get a new set of business cards and more responsibility. Your days will blend together but you will have consistency and stability in your life and that excites the crap out of you.
Door number two:
The second job involves a lot of manual work because you would much prefer to work with your hands than to sit in an artificially lit office all day. Your work will always vary depending on the project and you have great banter with your colleagues. You’re very proud of the work you do and the pay is great. You don’t ever feel like going out on your own and being the boss of the business, and you’re happy being an employee.
Once again, you’ll have a steady paycheck and even though your hours aren’t consistent and sometimes you have to work weekends, you don’t mind. It may not be sustainable forever because your muscles always ache and your diet has taken a serious hit, you’ve grown a beer belly, lost sight of your feet, and your meals mainly consist of iced coffee and McDonald’s. But it’s a great gig for the time being, you’re good at it and you take pride in what you do.
Door number three:
The third job involves a lot of work initially to get going. You’ll have to learn brand new skills and no one will be there to talk you through the training phase, you’ll have to take the initiative and teach yourself. It won’t be a steady paycheck at the beginning and you’ll have a lot of highs and lows during the first few months. But once you get past the beginning stages, you’ll be able to give yourself a raise and even a fancy new job title whenever you learn a new skill.
You will be able to work when you want, where you want and work your schedule around holidays or spending time with family. You’ll be able to work only a few hours a day and make a full-time salary, or you can work only a few hours a month and make just enough money to cover your travels and expenses.
You will have to hold yourself accountable and set your own boundaries. Your reward for being good at being your own boss will be that you will no longer have to work to live or live to work, you’ll just be able to live… and work… and be passionate about both and be able to balance both in a way that suits your needs.
If it seems like a no-brainer to take the job behind door number 3, then you’re already way ahead of most people. Unfortunately, we live in a society that prioritises two things: certainty and immediacy. After all, you wouldn’t start a diet plan that suggested that 5 out of 10 people will see success with it, so it might work for you, but it might not. Or perhaps it promised it would definitely work but it could take 5 months for you to see results.
Chances are this sort of diet would get buried by all the diet plans out there that guarantee that you’ll lose 10 kilos in 10 days, with a 99% success rate. Unfortunately, there are plenty of barriers out there preventing you from a nomadic life. It’s just a matter of rewiring your brain a little.
Because our brains are trained to process odds and comparisons in any scenario – odds of success, odds of failure and comparisons of ourselves to other people who have taken that certain path.
So although many people can agree that financial freedom sounds great and that living and working from anywhere is the dream. Most people aren’t willing to put in the hard work it takes to get to that point of success because of the uncertainties within this path.
Making the decision to become a digital nomad or freelancer is the first major step on your own little staircase to success.
You have to be prepared for the months you might spend eating off-brand cereal and plain rice crackers while you’re still building your client base at lower hourly rates. You’ll have to prepare to meet every challenge with a positive attitude and keep pushing through.
The reward for your hard work will be living a life of no boundaries, #nofilter needed.
Step 2: Brace for impact
Yes, I may have just watched one too many movies about spaceship and airplane crashes – but the category just seemed to fit.
The reason for it is because though you may not fully realise it yet – your decision to become a digital nomad and become location independent will have a big impact. Not just on your own life, but also on the lives of those you surround yourself with.
I don’t know a single digital nomad that would claim otherwise.
As a digital nomad you will be going outside of the norm and there’s a good chance that you will have at least a few people in your life that will struggle to wrap their heads around it. I like to think of myself as Neo in The Matrix, surrounded by people who just don’t always see what I see.
I will never forget the day I sat down with Nick’s grandparents to try and explain what I did for a living. Explaining what a digital nomad is to two people who haven’t fully grasped the idea of the Internet as a whole. Let’s just say it was definitely challenging.
Interestingly enough, however, they were incredibly patient and supportive whilst a lot of my friends who were quite familiar with the online world were very negative and suspicious.
As if the blank canvas approach was actually easier to tackle because there were no preconceived notions about the Internet being a dangerous place.
So whether it be a positive or negative effect, you have to brace for the impact you will inevitably make on your loved ones in making this decision.
Managing your own expectations is a very important part of your success story. Remember that just because you’re insanely excited about this idea, not everyone will be. That’s just life, and the more you prepare for the possibility of a bit of negative backlash the better off you will be in bouncing back from it.
Brace for impact and prepare for the worst while still expecting the best! Always give your loved ones the benefit of the doubt they just might surprise you.
Step 3: Making it stick
This is a step that most people forget about but it’s perhaps the most crucial of them all – making a visual mind map of your skills and passions. This is not necessarily a pro-con list. This is more of a self-evaluation list. It’s crucial because anyone can learn the skills they need to become a digital nomad, but it’s one’s passions that will make them great at it.
I encourage you to get sticky notes in four colours, because I don’t care how much you might say you’re not a visual person, everyone loves sticky notes. I used yellow, green, blue and pink.
These four colours will represent the following four categories:
Yellow: The things you love;
Green: The things you’re good at;
Blue: The things you can earn money from;
Pink: The things the world needs.
Write down anything you can think of within those four categories on the corresponding sticky note colour. Then arrange these in a big plus sign pattern on the wall with the yellow notes up top, the green on the left, blue on the bottom and pink on the right. Leave an empty space in the middle of these. If there’s a particular skill, passion or item that fits into more than one category then write it on both colours. This will work best if you have at least 4 items in each category but the more the better!
Hopefully you should see some patterns where a few of these categories overlap with their category neighbours on either side. There’s a very specific reason for this.
To give you an idea of how this should look, mine looks a bit like this:
Though when I first did it, I felt like I was buried in sticky notes and it took me a while to see the patterns between these. Once I did though, this was a crucial moment for me. It was then I realised that the centre between these four sticky notes is where I
needed to focus my efforts.
Those where the yellow and green notes overlap is your passion as it’s what you love, and you’re also great at it.
Where the green and blue overlap is your profession as it’s the things you’re great at but you can also be paid for them.
Where the blue and the pink overlap is your vocation, because these are things that the world needs and you can also be paid for them.
Finally, the overlap of the pink and yellow sticky notes is your mission, as these are things you love which will benefit the world.
What you want to find is the overlap of all four categories, the center is where your purpose lies.
This is my, slightly more visual, version of what the Japanese call “Ikigai” which is essentially one’s ‘reason for being’. Finding your Ikigai is what will determine not only your success but also your satisfaction from the job; it is what will not only make you a digital nomad but also make you excellent at it.
Upon finding my purpose through this little experiment I decided right then and there that I would do my best to fulfil it. I would try to learn as much as I could and work incredibly hard so that I could then pass that knowledge onto others and allow them to achieve their dreams of a freedom lifestyle. It’s also the reason I promised that I would find ways to give back to those who need it most through donations and community efforts.
So I highly encourage you to cover yourself and your wall in sticky notes for the purpose of finding your purpose – you’ll be glad you did, I promise!
Then decide if any job out there in the ‘offline world’ would help you fulfil this purpose, or if creating it for yourself online might be the best way to go.
Hopefully it’ll be the latter, the same way it was for me.
This will also allow you to nail the next step…
Step 4: It’s Niche to meet you
Puns aside, this is super important. Now if you’ve read my post about being a multipotentialite then right now you’re probably thinking this chick is contradicting ALL OVER herself.
It’s true – as a freelancer I may appear to be a bit of a jack of all trades but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a ‘niche’, mine just happens to be wider than most.
Here are a few things I’ve narrowed my niche around:
- I’m a vegan with a passion for all things nature, therefore, I won’t work for clients whose business model goes against this (i.e. leather products or big oil companies)
- I will not work for any client whose values or mission outwardly goes against that of LGBTQIA initiatives, feminist initiatives or anything to do with inclusivity and equality
- I need to feel good about the work I do and only get involved in projects that make me happy and which I can have a real impact on
- I work on projects that involve many skills such as email marketing, intermediate design and editing, website design, social media management etc. But I don’t step outside of the realm of my skill set (as in – you won’t see me trying to charge for accounting services anytime soon)
- I work with clients who recognise and appreciate hard work because it keeps me motivated to go above and beyond for them
Some people will argue that you need to niche down to the point of only performing one type of work within a specific industry (i.e. social media management for fitness brands). There are benefits to this of course, but I find it far too limiting. So instead I wrote the list of requirements above, which I think about before accepting any job offer. It keeps me in check when it comes to deciding which projects will benefit me in the long run and not just financially.
So whether it’s narrowing your focus down to a very specific skill you would like to perform within a particular industry or simply writing a list like mine – I encourage you to consider your direction.
Start by evaluating the skills you already possess before even working online. These might be as obvious as being a graphic designer which you can almost directly bring into your online work, or as subtle as you enjoy managing a team.
Again, hopefully you’ve identified these in the previous step, but this is the time where you combine these with a few guidelines for making sure you and your client are getting the most out of your exchange.
Step 5: Hide in their virtual bush
Not as dirty or as creepy as it sounds. Basically – I want you to observe those who have already been successful with what you’re trying to do. Hide in the virtual bush outside of their virtual house and copy their every movement. Okay, maybe not quite to that extreme, as your journey will always be slightly different to those who came before you, and those who came after. However, you will succeed much quicker in learning from those who have already achieved success and making their process your own.
I overloaded my brain with podcasts and many, many blogs when I first started freelancing. Most of what they were talking about I didn’t even understand until a few months in but it helped me familiarise myself with a lot of terminology and strategies that have proven to be successful for others.
It’s also incredibly key to have a few go-to motivational videos to listen to when shit starts to go south (as it always inevitably does) and you’re feeling very demotivated by life.
So here are some of my favourite ways to hide inside the virtual bushes of successful people, for free!
Disclaimer: some of these pertain to online marketing tips as this is my jam as a digital nomad, but of course this area may not interest everyone. For this reason, I’ve underlined those which are specific to marketing so you may skip past these if marketing isn’t your thing!
For great banter, awesome hacks for productivity and freelancing life in general, amazing girl power and interviews with some serious girl bosses:
Being Boss: Mindset, Habits, Tactics and, and Lifestyle for Creative Entrepreneurs with Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon
For inspirational talks, crazy success stories and everything in between:
TEDTalks (audio) podcast with various speakers
For incredible interviews and just insanely useful tips for email marketing and social media:
Online Marketing Made Easy with Amy Porterfield
For Digital Marketing tips and tricks:
Marketing School with Neil Patel & Eric Siu
* These guys are absolutely amazing but I found them to be a bit too advanced and overwhelming to dive into straight from the get-go. But definitely keep them in mind for when you’re a bit more familiar with online marketing and want to expand your business or help your clients expand theirs.
Just for good measure, here are a few for when you need a bit of a motivational facelift.
For the times when the world just seems to suck and you need to find a way to pick yourself back up:
Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free [To Wear Sunscreen] (this speech will never stop being relevant)
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2 – it’s impossible to listen to these soundtracks and not feel immediately better about life. Sorry I don’t have a link for these but check them out on Spotify!
Tony Robbins and Lewis Howes – seriously these guys will make you feel incredibly empowered, like you can defeat the world! If podcasts aren’t really your thing you can also check them out on YouTube!
Listen to what the successful people in your chosen field say have been their biggest mistakes and regrets and avoid them.
Also listen when they talk about what has worked for them and do more of that!
Surround yourself with successful people as much as you possibly can, even if means just hiding in the virtual bush outside of their virtual house.
Step 6: Do you mind?
Do you? Will you be the type of freelancer who lives and breathes their client’s business and really cares about its success? Will you go above and beyond and fix something for a client on a Sunday night even if it’s not within your assigned tasks just because you care? If so, you automatically guarantee your success.
Someone recently asked me why I would ever think about starting a course, which would teach other people the skills they needed to become digital nomads; in turn creating more competition for the jobs I wanted.
Well, there are several million digital nomads out there in the world already and it doesn’t seem to stop me from getting job offers sent my way several times a week. So the reason why I’m happy to teach others how to become digital nomads and succeed at it, the reason why I don’t care about the millions of others competing for the jobs I want – is because I have something a lot of people out there lack. It’s the same reason I often stayed behind at work when I was a travel agent till 9 pm when the store shut at 5 just to get a passenger safely to their destination, without ever being paid for that time.
It’s the same reason I would spend my nights in hospitals with sick passengers when I was a tour guide even though it wasn’t in my job description to do so.
It’s this unshakable need to always do more, do better, or simply do the best that I possibly can.
It’s this (sometimes irrational) care factor that puts me ahead of my competition. Even if they’ve got more experience or offer more services. It’s the only thing I had when I first started working online and over time I’ve realised just how rare it can be in the online world. Without that personal, face-to-face accountability a lot of people lose track of their care factor and simply become a contractor to their clients.
Start thinking like a spectractor (spectacular contractor) before you even begin working online and you’ll do great.
Take care of your care factor, the rest you can learn as you go.
Step 7: I moustache you a question
Asking questions is so crucial when it comes to your online journey. Join as many Facebook groups or forums as you can, full of people just like you who are just starting out as digital nomads.
When you work for yourself there’s no one to ask except for Google and sometimes, even G doesn’t know what’s up. This is also how you will make friends… I have a lot of great virtual besties now, simply because I popped into a Facebook group, introduced myself and asked for help.
Though I may never meet some of them in the offline, 3D world, it’s just good to know that I have people to bug with my digital nomad dilemmas and client challenges. It also saves you from asking your clients too many questions and making them question your ability to complete the work. The beauty of this is that you can join a lot of these groups before you even start freelancing.
Upon joining a Facebook group you can also use the search function in each group to look for keywords and see if anyone has ever already asked the same question you’re about to ask to save yourself a bit of time!
Most importantly – remember to pay it forward. Remember to engage with other questions in the group, people will be much more likely to help you out if you’ve helped them in the past!!
So, I’m hoping by this point you’re filled with just the right amount of confidence and motivation to start getting excited about the endless amount of possibilities that accompany the digital nomad lifestyle.
I promise that if you consider these steps before you even start working online, you’ll save yourself so much worry, doubt and fear that a lot of people feel when they first start out.
These are excellent steps to consider even if you’ve already been working online for a while. The beauty of being a digital nomad is that you’re never really done learning of growing.
It’s one of the best things about it! If you’re feeling inspired to learn more about getting the skills to become a digital nomad, check out our Learning to Roam course!
If you’ve already taken the jump and started to experience the joys of working while you travel, check out our other helpful posts on housesitting, finding cheap flights, booking the best accommodation and money-saving tricks. Anything that can save you time or money is ultimately a good thing!
Did you find these steps useful? Did the sticky note method help you find your purpose?
Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Maggie is a Slanadian (Slovak born, Canadian grown) travel-junkie, sloth-enthusiast, and lover of all things vegan. Rumour has it her body is 90% plant, but no one can know for sure. She can drink a beer whilst doing a handstand, and will often be seen arguing with strangers in trying to defend her potentially unhealthy love of several teenage drama series'. Gilmore Girls will always hold a special place in her heart. Her biggest passion, however, is helping others to achieve their dream of travelling while working from anywhere in the world. Laptop required, pants optional.
Hey, we're Nick and Maggie!
Pun-lovers, caffeine enthusiasts, and major travel addicts. We created Living to Roam to teach aspiring digital nomads the skills to achieve their own freedom lifestyle. If you dream of travelling longer, working smarter and living happier, this is YOUR place.