The “location independent professional” is such a popular concept these days, it’s pretty much a buzzword. And it’s no wonder — who, after all, doesn’t dream of working anywhere from sandy beaches to the side of a volcano before sneaking out for cocktails just because you feel like it?
It’s a concept that the millennial generation has wholeheartedly embraced, with predictions that as much as 50% of the workforce will be freelance by 2020. Employers, too, seem eager to outsource work in this way, rather than paying benefits and overhead for employees for whom they don’t have a sustained need.
Having given the location independent business lifestyle a try myself, I can indeed attest that there’s much to love. As I traveled around Australia and New Zealand, I detailed my journeys in my own travel blog, which I used as a springboard for offering freelance social media and writing services. I can say that if I hadn’t decided to return home and go for a full-time job, I would have eagerly turned these freelance gigs into a full-fledged business.
However, it needs to be said that positive stereotypes of the independent professional lifestyle are a little Pollyannaish. You are, after all, starting your own business, and you’re doing it without a home base and likely in a competitive field.
Making it work takes a lot of foresight and even more hard work, especially as the frustrations mount. Based on my experiences, I’ve narrowed my advice down to 10 key things you should know before giving it a go.
1. Fit Your Career to the Lifestyle
First things first: you’ve got pick a career that actually can be done from anywhere. That may seem obvious for things like a contracting business or a hair salon, but even some careers that seem like they could be done anywhere may be more location dependent than you think if they rely on in-person meetings.
So, what careers are good candidates for a traveling lifestyle? Basically, anything that can be done using digital communication tools, like email, GDocs and Skype.
Writers, graphic designers, travel agents, salespeople (the ones that can do all of their work over the phone), bookkeepers, accountants, virtual assistants, consultants and web entrepreneurs are all great candidates, though you can certainly get creative in carving out a new style of working within your industry.
2. Grow a Freedom Fund
Just like any new business, a location independent career can take a while before it’s profitable, so having some financial cushioning can remove a lot of stress. It can also prevent financial woes from getting in the way of you fully embracing the experience; there’s no point, after all, in working from Fiji if all you can think about is whether or not you’ll be able to eat tonight. Getting yourself out of debt before you go can have a similar effect.
Along similar lines, it goes without saying that no matter how successful you become, a location independent professional should never open up an office in a set location or take on any big debts like a mortgage. All of these things will seriously limit what you can do and where you can go.
While a 12-month freedom fund is ideal, even a 6-month cushion can help tremendously, especially if you’re willing to work locally to tide things over. And if your projects take off sooner than this, great! Use those extra funds for more flights.
3. Brush Up on Your Business Skills
Sure, you may be a graphic designer, but being in business for yourself means being an accountant, a bookkeeper, a marketer, an administrative assistant and a salesperson as well.
Think of it this way: when you’ve got the skills to keep the backend of your business running smoothly and with as much automation as possible, you can feel free to gallivant in today’s random location without worry about boring nitty gritty details.
The same goes with sales and marketing skills, which, when mastered, will give you confidence that you know how to drum up business in a pinch and are well set up with clients for many months to come.
Whether getting prepped means taking a few courses or launching your business a year in advance so you can cut your teeth while still employed at home is up to you.
4. Line Up Your Outsourcers
That said, there may be some things you immediately want to outsource, especially if you’ve got even a small budget, as this will allow you to focus on your core competencies. A virtual assistant, for instance, can be essential in taking care of administrative details like scheduling or research, and they only charge for the time they work.
Alternatively, you can always find someone to do data entry for you on sites like TaskRabbit or Mechanical Turk. While you may not have a need or the budget for outsourcers immediately, it’s good to keep this in mind for when things do pick up, so you don’t find yourself snowed under when you’re trying to enjoy a travel experience.
5. Self-Motivation is Key
In a recent Forbes interview with location independent entrepreneurs, one character trait was mentioned again and again: self-motivation. You just can’t go for the independent lifestyle if you don’t have it. Be honest with yourself about this.
Some people really do need the social pressures of an office to stay on task, or they just generally go crazy when they don’t have consistent friends to hang out with. On the road, there’s never a guarantee you’ll have someone to pal around with, and there will never be a boss hanging over your shoulder to whip you into shape.
If you can set your own deadlines and keep them, effectively manage your time, and don’t often procrastinate, then keep reading.
6. You Can and Should Set Your Own Schedule
It sounds silly, but one of the weirdest things to adjust to after having worked in a traditional job for some time is that you don’t actually have to work 8 to 10 hours a day (and you don’t have to feel guilty for that fact).
In the Forbes article, one entrepreneur describes doing her hardest work right when she wakes up because that’s when she’s got the most energy and motivation. She then does a few lighter tasks while she eats lunch, and then takes the afternoon to do something fun and physical, like kayaking, before heading back in the evening to do a few conference calls when her US clients are back in the office.
In this way, she builds her entire day around her energy levels and fully embraces the idea that she’s more than her work. If this only takes her 5 hours, so what? She embodies every bit of what the location independent lifestyle is supposed to be.
7. Begin Branding Early
As mentioned earlier, making money from your new business can take a fair amount of time. That’s partially due to branding, as you need time to establish a clear voice and presence on your social media profiles and your website.
This is of course important for all businesses but it’s do or die for the location independent professional, as you want your entire online presence optimised for clients to first find you and then become convinced of your amazingness. Even if it’s just starting a blog, the earlier you get going on this, the easier a time you’ll have once you leave home.
8. Start Networking Before You Go
In one of the earlier sections of Elizabeth Gilbert’s iconic Eat, Pray, Love, she describes sitting on the sidewalk with her laptop, only to have a neighbor offer her a high paying gig she could do from just about anywhere. While I loved that book and I love Elizabeth Gilbert, when I read that section I boiled with jealousy, and I wondered how anyone could ever be so lucky.
Now I realise that sweet gigs like that are entirely possible with just a good dose of networking under your belt. Your current job, for example, might be amenable to letting you go remote, if only you let them know about your plans. Industry-specific Meetups, networking groups and professional groups are also a great place to begin.
With just a few good gigs to get you going before you leave, you’ll have the benefit of establishing yourself within your home community, with all of the associated referral possibilities, while you’re working from abroad.
That said, don’t pass up networking on the road, either. Online networking through social media profiles, online interest groups and even Google Hangouts can be particularly effective. And if you’re settling down in one place for even just a few days, why not attend the equivalent local MeetUp groups there? It’s a great way to meet locals, make friends and pass out business cards, all at once.
9. Understand the Ins and Outs of Foreign Payments
Working in an international setting means handling a lot of foreign currency. Maybe you need to pay one of your foreign outsourcers, or maybe you’d like to accept payment in your local country currency. Whatever your need, the best course of action is to use online payments and conversion system.
This way you can easily and quickly access funds in whatever currencies you currently need, without too many transaction fees charged as you convert back and forth.
10. Be Prepared for Hardship
The biggest thing I can say about being a location independent professional is that you’ve really, really got to work for it, especially if you’re operating in a flooded field. It’s not as simple as throwing up a blog, packing your bag and typing out a few posts about your adventures.
Be prepared to work it hard, as well as for some instability and some uniquely remote problems, like not being able to find an internet connection anywhere within a tiny island village when you’ve got a pitch meeting in 10 minutes.
Location independent businesses are the future. With a good mix of hard work, entrepreneurial enthusiasm, organisational skills and passion, you’ll be typing up emails from Tahiti in no time.
Beverley Reinemann is a former Australian expat and writer based in London where she balances her love of travel with her freelance social media business, her solo female travel blog; Pack Your Passport and her job in online marketing at Distilled London.