What’s it like to be a “digital nomad?” What is a “digital nomad,” even? I get a lot of questions about what it is that I actually do. Many of you see my Instagram, jam-packed with travel adventures. This blog post is intended to answer those questions about my lifestyle and also provide any aspiring freelancers with some personal insights into how I made it work for myself, plus the pros and cons of the freelancer lifestyle.
It all started with a one-way ticket.
2.5 years ago, I bought a one way ticket to Madrid, with idea what I would do or where I would work. I just took a massive risk to follow my dream of living in Europe. Things have seemingly, magically fallen into place and somehow everything has worked out magnificently. Reflecting on this, I realize that it’s not magic and it’s not chance. It’s ambition, paired with b@lls and a little bit of luck peppered in! I’ve been freelancing for 3 years, have a limited, but solid, portfolio of retainer clients, and have hired a team of two. I’m not saying this to show off; rather so you can see that you also can start living your best life. It’s possible, and I’m living proof. Fear is the root of all evil. Once you overcome it, you open the door to endless possibilities.
Once you remove fear, you’re capable of greatness.
I didn’t expect the events that lead to me becoming a digital nomad. No solid plan. Just a rash decision – booking a one-way ticket to Madrid, saying – to hell with it, I always figure things out – this is no different. And if I fail, I have a safety net and can always come crawling back home (not many people are fortunate in this way; I’m grateful to my family for always supporting me.) Needless to say, this was by FAR the best decision I have ever made in my life. Not becoming a freelancer, but deciding to over come fear. If you’re someone who has a dream but lets fear stop you… you’ll never reach your goal until you realize that you’re in control. #preach
How I got started as a “digital nomad”
My first freelancing experience was completely unintentional. I had been working at an advertising agency and decided to move on. One of my clients wanted me to manage the agency relationship on their behalf. I loved working with them and had built a very strong relationship (and friendship), therefore volunteered to do this for them. After some time, I took over the services that were provided by the agency in an effort to reduce the client’s expenses (they were a non-profit operating on a lean budget.) Therefore this was a completely natural and logical evolution, thus, unintentionally landing my first client.
So here I am, bags packed, ready to start my new life in Europe, with only one client in my portfolio. Luckily, they were paying me enough to get by for a little bit. I planned to look for a job once I landed. However, I soon realized that Spanish salaries are nearly the equivalent of what my US client pays. Therefore, I realized I can make this work. Stick it out until I find a few more clients!
Finding new clients – the grind
The key to starting out as a freelancer is not to be picky. Be willing to either volunteer your services until you build up a portfolio and can get some solid references, or work at a lower hourly rate than the rest of your competition, tapping your network for referrals and taking anything that comes your way.
Also, being creative about how you pitch yourself. I found my second client on UpWork – they had posted one job for website development, another for digital marketing. My pitch to them stood out from the rest – “why not kill two birds with one stone?” I offered to create their website and do their digital marketing, hitting a sweet spot in terms of timing and pitch – they were tired of looking at proposals and I provided a solution to both of their problems. Ask yourself – what problem does the client have, and how can you solve it? It’s such a basic concept, but many of us get caught up in talking about us, us, us, me, me, me. Nobody cares! They want their problems to go away. They don’t want to hear your life story.
Pros & cons of being a “digital nomad”
A “digital nomad” is a fancy, overused term for freelancer. All of these millennial terms – “lifestyle design”, “digital nomad”, “travel blogger”, “lifestyle entrepreneur”, “entrepreneur life”, “boss babe”, 🙄– bla bla BLA – appear to be pretty narcissistic in my point of view. People that throw this on the tail-end of an Instagram post just want to be loved. Yes, we do love the attention. We love the likes. We love that shot of dopamine; that instant gratification, but I digress. That’s another post for another time.
The point is that we love pretending that our lives are perfect, but in reality, they aren’t. At a glance, you may think that my life is badass because my Instagram shows me sunbathing on glittering beaches, indulging in mouth-watering delicacies, and posting smiley selfies. But we all know our Instagram is far from reality. Because hardly any of us post the real sh*t 💩. Life isn’t as extravagant as we “digital nomads” make it look on social media. Here are a few pros and cons to consider (from personal experience, although everyone is different.)
Pros of being a digital nomad
Let’s start with the fun stuff. I can’t deny that the pros outweigh the cons (at least for the time being.) The pros are fewer than the cons, but with more weight. These ALL come with caveats, which you’ll find in the cons section.
- #1) Be your own boss
- Work from wherever in the world you want (as long as you have wifi)
- Make your own schedule
- Take as much vacation as you want
- Choose the types of projects or clients you want to pursue
- Determine your worth and how much you deserve to be paid/set your own price
- Pick what kind of work you want to do
- You are making money for yourself, not helping build someone else’s empire
- Bottom line: FREEDOM and FLEXIBILITY.
Cons of being a digital nomad
Believe it or not, just like with anything else, there are always downsides. The heaviest hitters are:
- Although you’re your own boss, you’re still working for your clients. It’s a service-based business, so to get paid, you have to put in work!
- Make your own schedule = holding yourself accountable. If you are a procrastinator it can be hard to stay on track.
- Although you have the ability to travel & take vacation, you’re never really on vacation because your best friend always wants to come along (e.g., your laptop). If your clients pay you monthly, they expect that you’ll make yourself available to them.
- Figure out how much to charge. What are you worth? You will have to do some math and figure out what your standard is (it also has to be reasonable enough that clients will agree to pay.)
- In addition to doing the client work, you are also responsible for managing your business, finances, taxes, business development, etc.!
- To specialize or not to specialize? The beauty of being a jack of all trades is the diversity you can offer to clients. On the other hand, you’re not a pure expert on any given matter. It just depends on what you can & want to do.
- The client pays you to be the expert. You have to stay up to date with changes in your industry. If you’re not proactive, you’ll look like an idiot. #justbeinghonest
- You work ALONE. This one is probably the most difficult for someone like me, who loves to be around people. I have found ways to combat the freelancer blues, like coworking spaces, coffee shops, networking events, etc. I even started a “Digital Nomads” Meetup to get together and complain about all of these things we deal with. (Join if you’re ever in Madrid!)
Yes, the list goes on. But don’t get overwhelmed or discouraged. I’m laying it all out there so you can see reality vs expectation. These are the challenges us “digital nomads” face. It’s the price we pay in order to not “work for the man!”
- What about the future? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not necessarily setting myself up for career growth or securing my financial future. You’re 100% in charge of your future – it’s not in your bosses hands. You carve your own path. And you’ll have to get creative about how to grow your business and determine where you want to take it. Again, doing more than just the work itself, but also creating your business strategy and long-term plan.
- You have to figure out what sets you apart from the rest of your competition. For me, it turns out that targeting small to medium sized businesses looking for someone who will take the time to integrate into their business, problem solve, and be honest and transparent about pricing were all things that played in my favor. However I’ve met people who focus on things as specific as copywriting about financial solutions, or manage events in the fashion industry. Again, it all depends.
- This is a big one – you have no team. You have no mentor. All you have is yourself. This is hard for me as I have always had great bosses and mentors in the workplace. I like to be pushed, challenged, motivated by others. If this is you as well, you have to find other ways to keep progressing and growing mentally.
What do you think? Is it everything you thought? If you’re a freelancer, what are your thoughts? No, it isn’t for everyone. But if you want to have complete freedom to make your own decisions, you too are capable. Ask yourself if you’ll regret not making a change. What happens when you remove fear? Never forget that you are in control of your life. It goes by in the blink of an eye.