The digital nomad lifestyle is no longer a fantasy that many dream of and few achieve. The employment landscape has shifted so drastically in the past few years that now, more people than ever are working remotely, with the ability to work from anywhere in the world now totally achievable.
Sure, being a remote worker isn’t for everyone - some people like their home comforts too much to endure a life of constant change! However, if you’ve had the travel bug ever since you can remember and the thought of sustaining a business while exploring the globe ignites a fire within you - keep reading.
Building a business is a risky endeavour wherever you are; we have discussed the perks and the downsides of building a business in our “Should I…” series here so we won’t go into detail, but the fact remains that building a business in a stable environment is risky and building it on the road only increases those risks. You will need to work harder than you ever have before. Below, we’ve compiled our best tips to sustainably building a business of your own on the road - and making your dream to live the remote working lifestyle a reality.
Setting up your business while you’re already enjoying the pleasures of travel sounds like a dream, but in truth this is going to make things far more difficult for yourself. Start your digital nomad lifestyle before you’re on the road to set yourself up for success - this is the number one piece of advice you will hear many remote business owners telling you.
Here’s a few things to consider before you leave:
Choose a Business Path
Digital nomad is a vague term, covering essentially any job that can be done remotely online. Many people like the sound of working while travelling long-term, but if you’re ever going to achieve this lifestyle, you need to get way more specific.
Pick a business model. Some of the most popular businesses to run remotely include:
Becoming a freelancer is perhaps the most accessible digital nomad job out there whether you’re a beginner in your field or already have several years of experience. However, ‘freelancing’ is still a massively broad term in itself. Base your freelance business on the skills you already have, be it as a copywriter, web designer, programmer, graphic designer - the list goes on.
Even if you haven’t got experience in any of the ‘major’ digital nomad jobs, there are still opportunities open to you at a more basic level. Look into being a freelance virtual assistant, data entry roles and more - these will provide you will a great foundation of experience (and income!) while you accumulate more skills.
Selling Digital Products
Some digital nomads make their living by selling online products such as course, eBooks, subscription websites and more. If you do it right, this can be an extremely lucrative business model as you only need to put the time into creating a truly great product, and can then sell that same product time and time again.
Are you already an expert in your field? If the thought of freelancing in your field doesn’t appeal to you, consider setting up a remote consulting business for individuals or businesses. There are always people looking for an expert for training, advice and their opinions, so if you’re at the top of your game this could be a business model worth considering.
The list of remote jobs perfect for the digital nomad lifestyle is long, with the three above barely skimming the surface. You may already have a business in place that simply needs to be evolved to run while you travel, or you may be starting from scratch - either way, picking a skill you can market is the first step to building your own business.
If you don’t have experience in any role that can be done remotely, you may want to consider retraining so that you can successfully launch a sustainable business from anywhere in the world.
Set Up Your Business Essentials
What exactly your business essentials are is, of course, entirely dependent on the business you are setting up. However, for most digital nomads this will mean at the very least creating a website to advertise your services, and setting up business social media accounts to market your business and network with others in your industry.
Having these things set up before you hit the road will be a huge help when it comes to taking on more clients and establishing your business further.
Build a Financial Foundation
Travelling the world costs money. From buying plane tickets to your dream destination, insurance to cover you should anything go wrong, booking accommodation and more, you’re going to need sufficient funds in order to travel. Now, you may be jetting off with a business big enough to sustain you immediately, but many people start small and won’t always make enough income to break even in the beginning.
If this is the case for you, never fear. You can quickly build up your income while you’re on the road, but having a solid financial foundation is sensible for every digital nomad. Before getting on the road, focus on building a solid cushion of savings to fall back on should work ever dry up, or you find yourself in urgent need of an expensive plane ticket - you’ll be thanking yourself for it later!
Get the Right Gadgets
Of course, your business isn’t going to last very long on the road if you don’t have the right tools for it. While the temptation to travel the world with nothing but your laptop and a backpack may be tempting, for many digital nomads this will not be enough to sustain your business on the road long-term.
At the very least, you need your laptop, charger, universal adaptor plugs and a portable net connection for countries with questionable WiFi. However, your profession may require you take more gear with you - for example, photographers need their cameras, lenses, memory cards and more.
We’d also highly recommend you pack some gadgets for your comfort - working in busy airports and crowded cafes is the norm for most digital nomads, so at the very least a solid pair of noise cancelling headphones will be an absolute lifesaver; we won't hammer the point as we've covered our top must have gadgets here, and we did an in depth review of noise cancelling headphones here so please have a read of those articles.
Take on Clients Before Leaving
The idea of building a business from scratch while looking out over crystal blue water and powder-white sand may sound like a dream, but for many people it will remain exactly that for a very long time. The logistics of starting a business, building it, and sustaining it all while enduring the difficulties and stresses that come with travel (dodgy internet connection, a lack of ergonomic seating, and constant distractions being just a few!), is extremely difficult.
Better is to begin building your business first from home. Develop your business model, create your website, start marketing yourself, and most importantly, take on clients before you leave. It is far easier to build stable, long-lasting relationships with important clients when you have the convenience of your home comforts around you.
Only when you are in a rhythm with your business should you consider getting on the road - you don’t need to fully self-sufficient, but have a solid base for your business will definitely work in your favour.
If Not...go find your business!
Reading this while you’re already on the road? Don’t fret - you may be in a more difficult position than those who haven’t set off yet, but you can still successfully build your business from the road. If you haven’t taken on any clients yet, this needs to be your main focus - no income means no travel, after all.
Use job boards, ask previous clients for referrals, and stay active on your social media channels. Even reaching out to friends and family can produce great leads for your business. The main thing is to get started, and stay professional and consistent to those early clients while you grow.
When You’re On the Road
Managing a business while you’re travelling takes some real self-discipline, but can also be one of the most rewarding ways to live. Here’s a few key things to make sure you do in order to continue successfully building your business:
Never Stop Networking
It’s important not to let the secluded beaches of a far-away island keep you from the business world, as hard as that may be. You need to be consistent with your marketing online - publishing blog posts, updating your social media regularly, and connecting with other industry professionals.
Getting into the habit of marketing yourself now and building your name as a professional in your field will really serve you well should you face a sudden downturn in business and need someone to reach out to for advice and assistance.
Adjust Your Location to Your Business
To successfully sustain your business on the road, you need to become accustomed to being flexible with your location. Some places are total nightmares for digital nomads, with poor internet connection, expensive accommodation and a lack of working spaces - and you’ll quickly learn that staying in these places for too long is a recipe for disaster for your business.
Instead, tailor your travel plans around your business. If you know you’ll need good wifi for the next few months, consider a top digital nomad location to ensure you can always stay connected and focus on the work you need to be done. Having to adapt your plans for your work may feel limiting, but there are hundreds of locations around the world still perfect for living the digital nomad lifestyle!
Use Your Lifestyle to Boost Your Business
Being a digital nomad gives you a unique advantage over people staying in one spot; you have infinite more chances to meet and network with new people. Be sure to use this to your advantage by working in coworking spaces, looking for digital nomad communities in each new location, and making an effort to meet people in your industry.
The connections you make on the road can be invaluable for growing your business, gaining more referrals, and increasing the awareness of your services globally!
To be a Successful Digital Nomad…
Still with us? Great! As you will have gathered, building a business on the road is no breeze through the park - but once you’ve achieved this lifestyle you’ll know how worth it all the time and effort you put in at the beginning is. Below are a few final gems of advice to help you guarantee success as a digital nomad.
Don’t take on too many clients at once, as this is a sure-fire way to overwhelm yourself and end up delivering inconsistent results. Instead, take on only one or two clients per month, and assess your time and performance on a regular basis.
You may reach a point where you need to let a client go, raise your rates, or even consider hiring VAs or other remote workers to help support your business. Finding this out slowly is far better than a sudden overwhelming load of responsibilities.
Love What You Do
The digital nomad lifestyle is so sought after because of the freedom it offers. However, it takes serious motivation, dedication, and discipline to successfully run a business on the road, especially when you are first building your business from scratch.
Travel has multiple distractions, and not always ideal working environments, so in order to continue to build your business on the road, you need to truly love what you do. If you’re not really feeling things now, a few months down the line you’ll undoubtedly be spending minimal hours on your business and suffering for it.
If you don’t love what you do, constantly assess and analyse your business to see how you could rediscover your passion for it - and perhaps even consider a total change in paths altogether?
Be Consistent, Professional, and Persistent
Once your business is established, you need to continue to work hard to stay consistent and professional with your clients. Don’t let timezones and poor internet connection affect your relationships with your clients, as these contracts are absolutely pivotal to the success of your business in the beginning.
If work dries up one month, stay persistent - it’s perfectly normal to have your income fluctuate more when you’re self-employed, but working hard and meeting deadlines is the best way to ensure your business sustains itself and grows with positive reviews for the start.
Building a business under any circumstances takes a tremendous amount of work in the early stages in order to fully establish yourself in your field. While working on the road does increase this difficulty, it is possible if this is the lifestyle you want to achieve.
Having said all of this our biggest piece of advice would be to put the work in before you hit the road. Set up your business website and accounts, market yourself, and take on clients that you can establish a routine with before travelling makes everything less stressful and chaotic. If you're already on the road and you decide to take this journey, consider taking a longer amount time to build the project and maintain some sort of freelance work whilst you do it.
The only thing left to say is love what you do, be consistent, persistent, and stay disciplined. If you are willing to forego a little beach time here and there, you’ll look back in a year's’ time and be amazed at how far your business can come, even when you’re already living your dream.
Tell us - have you started setting up your business yet? What are the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered? We’d love to know your experiences in the comments!
Yaz Purnell is a copywriter and social media manager, and has been loving the digital nomad lifestyle since the beginning of 2017. When she’s not sharing her best tips on making working on the road a sustainable, enjoyable adventure, Yaz loves getting outdoors and finding new and exciting experiences to have in every new destination.