Digital Nomads

During my travels I've met a lot of people from around the world. A growing number of travelers are involved in tech projects, products or online-shops with a steady income that allow them to work from anywhere they want as long as there is a decent internet connection.

There is a movement and label for people like that - they are called digital nomads.

The benefits of working remotely and location independent are pretty obvious:

  • no daily commute
  • work from anywhere you want and escape unpleasant seasons
  • a lot of inspiration and diverse experiences along the way
  • lower costs of living (depending on were you lived before and where you decide to work from)
  • financial independence and freedom from the limits of a 9-to-5
  • higher productivity - you can set your own working hours and be focused during the most productive periods of your day

This way of life seems very promising to many but the typical question is how to get there. It is relatively easy to travel and work remotely if you have your business up and running. The hard part is to get there. There are many books about it, the best known among them probably being (The 4 hour work week) by Timothy Ferris. However, I think its important to note that in order to get there you will most definitely have to work for more than your average 40 hours a week in order to set up a sustainable business that provides real value to your customers. And creating it is not enough, you have to promote it and adjust it along the way.

Most businesses fail and those that don't usually need more than 2 years to be profitable - at least the ones that I know. In those situations the founders are also committed to them more than the average full-time job.

I don't want to demotivate people and depending on your background, goals and needs you might find easier ways than building a new business. Online translation, online teaching or business consulting are other ways to go. Basically any job that does not require you to be physically present at an office.

My advice to people who want to pursue the nomad lifestyle is to get in touch with people who are already doing it, find out how they got there and learn from their examples. There are many nomad meetups especially in bigger cities, forums and chats with nomads helping each other out that are worth checking out. Try Nomad List for example.

Personally I like the idea of a lean startup. That means building a MVP (minimal viable product) as early as you can and try to get customers and feedback to improve your product incrementally along the way.

I've found that one of the most common mistakes of failing startups is to write a detailed business plan and develop a product over a long period (some startups I know have spent more than two years developing) before showing it to any potential customers. When and if they finally finish the first version of their product and show it to the customer they will probably discover that some of their key assumptions were wrong or no longer valid and the product and business plan needs to be adjusted. This is a lot more difficult if the product you built is already fairly complex and you already spent a lot of resources building it.

Let me give you an example. Lets say you want to create an online shop for high quality cigars imported from Cuba. What I would do in that case is to use Shopify with a free theme to create a working online shop for free within a couple of days and offer different brands of cigars. At this point I don't even have to own the cigars. I just want to check if people are generally interested and if I can get them to buy cigars from my website. I also want to check which brands sell best so I can focus on them. Then I would go out and spend some money on getting people to the online shop, spreading the word in forums, meetups and targeted online ads.

If I get a level of traction and sell cigars afterwards I would calculate the costs I had per customer and if the numbers look good I would go ahead and improve the online shop, import cigars of a certain brand and spend more time and money on marketing and sales. I would be able to test the business model within a couple of weeks max, with little more than my time invested. If it works, I'll focus on it, if not, I'll move on. At this stage I would also invest more time in SEO - checkout google analytics and google webmaster tools if you're not already familiar with them. They are free and very useful for any kind of website.

In summary, I would say that it is not an easy path to become a digital nomad and for most people it involves a lot of trial and error but if you set your goals right, stay focused and plan for the long term, it is a very attractive alternative to the common 9-to-5 office life. Who wouldn't like the idea to work half day from a beach in Thailand slurping your favorite cocktail and doing whatever you want with the rest of the day, while at home it may be cold and stormy. I doubt anyone.

I hope I could give you an idea about what digital nomads do and answer some questions and if you are interested in discussing this topic any further I'd be happy for you to just shoot me an email (see contacts section) or leave a comment.

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