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Becoming a digital nomad is going to involve finding some way to make money online in some way. That will usually involve one of two things. Finding a job you can do remotely – or making one.
Although more and more digital nomads are finding companies that let them work a permanent position from afar, it’s much more likely that you’ll be working for yourself in some way. And why wouldn’t you? Working for yourself is the ultimate freedom. And for many of us, it’s what drew us toward the digital nomad lifestyle in the first place.
Whether you choose to freelance or set up an online business of some other kind, you’re going to need at least a couple of things to get started. Here are the things that you definitely DO need to run a successful remote business – and the things you don’t.
Remote business basics
No matter what industry you’re in, you’re going to need something to do your job. For many digital nomads, that’s just a laptop and a WiFi connection. But that’s not always the case.
If you’re a yoga instructor, you might need nothing more than a mat and yoga clothes. If you’re a medical transcriber, you might need headphones as well as a laptop and WiFi connection. And if you’re a blogger, you’ll need all your blogging gear such as a camera/phone and a blog.
What is the bare minimum you need to run your business?
We’re talking backs to basics, absolute essentials here. And once you’ve worked that out, you have everything you need to get your busy on the (virtual) road.
Investing in your business
Of course, few people want to work with the absolute basics. At the very least, it’s nice to have a good quality laptop or whatever else you need. And for that reason, you’re going to want to invest at some point.
This is something I can advise on from personal experience. Investing back into my business was something I really struggled with for a long time. After all, why would you want to spend more than you have to? Every little business purchase could be the price of a cool travel experience.
But let me tell you now: it’s so worth it. Obviously you have to invest in the right things to make it worth it, but when you do it’s a no-brainer. Here’s what to invest in and when to do it.
When you only need a laptop to do your job, you might not think you need to spend any money here. But let’s look at it another way. When you only have to buy a laptop, don’t you want to get the best one possible?
My old ASUS laptop was great for travelling. It was lightweight, fast and easy to carry around. But once I started making YouTube videos, it wasn’t so convenient anymore. And so I upgraded to the HP Spectre X360 as soon as it was released. Yep, a $2,000 laptop. Eek.
I’d never spent that much on laptops cumulatively in my entire life (and I’d been through at least 3). That was a massive amount of money. But given that I use it for 6-12 hours every single day, it didn’t make sense to spend less.
My laptop is the most expensive thing I’ve ever bought (with my Canon 5D iii body coming in a close second), but it was totally worth it. It’s fast, which means I’m efficient. It’s powerful, which means I’m productive. And it’s great for travel and nice to use, which means I enjoy my work more.
Should you upgrade?
Knowing when to upgrade is hard, especially when you have an unstable income. But as a rule of thumb, you should upgrade if you can afford to and it’s going to make your work easier and more efficient. If your current gear is holding you back in any way, that’s a good sign that it’s time for a little investment.
Website and online presence
If you’re running a remote business, you’re going to need a website. Blogs aren’t just for bloggers – they’re a great way for any company to find new customers.
Setting up a website can be as cheap as you like. It can even be free (although I wouldn’t recommend it!). But if you want a good website that doesn’t waste your time by breaking, you’re going to want to invest a little.
Hosting and setup
I use WordPress for all of my clients and it’s completely free. The only thing you need to pay for is your hosting and domain name. I’ve tried a LOT of them and these are the ones I recommend:
If you’re based in North or South America, I recommend using a US-based hosting service. Everyone will recommend Bluehost because the affiliates are good, but I’ve only had bad experiences with them. The one I still use and recommend is Hostgator.
If you’re based further east or travelling a lot, I recommend going with one of the UK-based hosts above. It’s the central time zone, so you’ll never be too far ahead or behind to get help if you need it.
Unless you’re running a large e-commerce site, there’s no need to invest in web development. If you use WordPress, there are plenty of themes that you can use and customise yourself.
All themes are different and all are created with different users and site-owners in mind. That means some work straight out of the box while others require a little bit (or a lot) of technical know-how.
You’ll also want to choose theme that’s designed for your business style. If you’re running an e-commerce store, go for an e-commerce template. If you’re running an agency of some kind, choose a theme built for agencies. And if you’re a photographer, model or designer, a portfolio theme will showcase your work in the best light.
Marketing and growth
Marketing and advertising are scary. If you’ve never done it before, investing in any kind of advertising can feel a bit like throwing money at nothing. And it can be exactly that if not done correctly.
The trick with marketing is to find what works and do more of it. Some businesses find most of their customers through SEO (search engine optimisation), while others make a killing from their Pinterest shares. Every business is different and there’s no set rule. In fact, my SEO clients range from specialist car dealerships to national fashion brands.
Although it feels counter-intuitive, the worst thing you can possibly do is to try and be everywhere at once. Spreading yourself too thinly is a surefire way to throw away money and get very little return on your investment. Finding the best marketing channel for your business is a whole other post, but not many businesses operate without advertising. Don’t be afraid to invest money into it.
You and your product
Every business sells a product. And behind every sell-able product is some kind of skill – or, more likely, a skillset. Whatever you’re selling, it can always be bigger or better. And better products = bigger profits.
If you’re a social media manager, an online course could double your products. By adding a new social media channel or skill to your offering, you can up-sell the clients you currently have to make easy extra money.
If you’re a fitness instructor, a nutrition certificate could help you sell custom meal plans online.
If you’re a blogger, investing in a video camera could be the start of a new video channel – something many brands are looking for now.
Once you’re comfortable with your business and making good money, investing some of that cash to improve your product will take your business to the next level.
How to increase your skillset (and your income)
Courses: Probably the easiest and most obvious way to learn a new skill. Udemy has courses on everything from filmmaking to meditation, so there’s something for every digital nomad skill. Udemy always has flash sales where selected courses are reduced to $10 or £10 for a limited time. Click here to see the latest courses and find one that can help your business.
Books: A quick browse of Amazon’s non-fiction section can quickly turn into a morning of learning. There are books on everything from tax basics to sales psychology.
YouTube: You can find pretty much anything on YouTube. If you’re happy to search a little, you can find video tutorials on everything from filmmaking basics to advanced accounting.
There will a come a point when you just can’t keep on top of everything anymore. When you reach that point, you probably need a helping hand (or more).
I find it really hard to outsource, but doing so has been one of the best decisions I’ve made business-wise. Knowing that the straightforward – but time-sucking – tasks are being taken care of means I can focus my full attention on what matters most. Some weeks, that means immersing myself in a brand new project, and other it just means enjoy the travel more.
Whatever it is you need more time for, outsourcing is the only way to go. Many digital nomads employ virtual assistants to handle admin or social media management, but you could outsource anything from design to data entry. It will depend on what you’re not comfortable with and what you don’t enjoy.
At first it feels kind of silly to outsource tasks that you could be doing yourself, but you’ll always be limited to your own time and abilities if you don’t take on the extra help. And how many big one-man businesses have you come across?