Work on your terms

How To Start A Location Independent Business

the location independent lifestyle is often hyped

 

Does this bug you too?

Your interest is piqued by an article promising to fill you in on how to work and travel at the same time. You’ve always wondered, how do those folks finance their freedom?

Maybe you don’t even want to travel. Perhaps you just want to break free from your corporate chains. Be the captain on your own ship. Have a life while working instead of waiting until retirement to be able to truly live.

Anyway, you are stuck in a dead-end job you never really cared about and the paycheck does not justify your ‘cog in the machine-like existence’ anymore so you eagerly start reading the article.

Alas, it appears a lemon.

It turns out to be yet another story of a travel blogger or affiliate marketer rambling about the perks of the lifestyle. How doable achieving it is without giving you any really useful insights.

Dammit! Don’t they get it!?

You need practical tips on ‘how to get from daydreaming your life away in a cubicle to setting your own work terms’.

It makes you wonder, is traveling the world as a travel writer or website owner the only way?

There must be other paths to escaping the rat race by working location independently right?

 

Making a location independent living if you are not a digital skilled worker

If you are reading this, chances are you don’t have digital job. You are not a web-savvy computer programmer or a graphic designer. If you were, you’d already be half there. For the tech, design or programming savvy it’s easy.

They don’t really have to research how to become a location independent professional. They know their way to online staffing platforms such as Elance Guru, PeoplePerHour, and oDesk to score freelance jobs. They may even have their own website functioning as a storefront for gigs on the side.

But you don’t have such a professional background. Am I right?

  • The good news, there are various other ways to live a nomadic professional lifestyle. The digital nomad trend is reality. Increasingly, work really is no longer a place.
  • The bad news, it takes damn hard work and truckloads of commitment to get there. Your success still depends on your skills, tenacity and how you go about it.

Let me help you out with how to start.

Here’s down to earth advice on how to create a location independent (side) income. And some of the common pitfalls to look out for.

  • This is not a write-up of the awesome perks of being a digital nomad and the tools they use.
  • No boasting about all the exotic places traded in for offices.

This is the raw and unpolished version. Practical, realistic, unbiased tips on how to start with breaking loose. No hype. No bullshit.

 

Step 1. Don’t believe the hype

don't believe the make money online hype

Let’s set this straight first.

Those images of digital nomads raking in big bucks while sipping cocktails on the beach, occasionally doing some work on their laptop, are fake.

Yes, the digital age makes it possible for an more and more people to work from the beach, co-working spaces, hotels, at home, or the coffee shop down the street (aptly named coffice).

However, those who ditched their desks to become self-employed – the skilled copywriters, web designers, photographers, software developers, or graphic designers – often have to work just as hard and smart to get by. Or harder.

A specific branch of digital nomads are ‘digital nomadism lifestyle gurus’. Affiliate marketers and bloggers focusing on the location independence niche.

  • These money-grubbing folks hype the idea of an easily achievable nomadic lifestyle without having digital skills. Basically, many of these experts con artists are just leeching on your desire to escape the rat race while not providing you with real substantial advice on how to become location independent.
  • Some are legit, but location independence experts telling you it’s easy to get there are full of shit. Don’t believe that by learning a few key skills and applying the skills you already have, white sandy beaches and unlimited freedom are at your feet.
  • Or that generating a passive income stream can be done quickly. Automated income is never effortless. It exists but it requires years and years to build up. For most of us, it’s just not a realistic starting point.
  • Also be aware of paid guides offering tips irrelevant to your needs. Reading about Visas, password management and invoicing software, the pros and cons of co-working spaces, and traditional traveling jobs such as teaching English is a waste of your time if you just want to learn how to make money from any geographic location.

The buzz word ‘location independence’ has attracted hordes of charlatans and swindlers.

Obviously it’s up to you if you buy these products. Just saying that many of these ‘experts’ earn their dough by selling you their books, ebooks, subscriptions, and by adding affiliate links to their websites. (disclaimer: there are affiliate links on this website too).

Don’t buy into the hype. Early retirement guides and how to become independent quickly schemes only benefit their makers. Not you.

Granted, there may be some truly great resources out there to help you achieve the location independent lifestyle. Much of the information however, can be found online for free or is not relevant to your personal situation (we’re not all travel bloggers right?).

The huge sales numbers of the bestseller “The Four Hour Workweek“ by Tim Ferriss shows how many people desperately want to escape their current corporate existence. The cold hard truth is that building your own mobile enterprise isn’t easy. The four hour workweek, of course, is a metaphor (do you honestly think Ferriss works 4 hours a week?). The book bursts with insider tips on how to start a profitable business.

There’s a whole business thriving on people feeling the urge to reclaim their time. Buying their (e-)books or  website memberships may seem like a shortcut to earning a location independent living.

Don’t fall for the trap of thinking their paid services are essential to your success. You could also save that money. Especially considering the next step.

 

Step 2. Cut your expenses

save money to make money

 

When I first started, I earned less per month than a 15 year old Mac Donald’s worker earns per hour. I worked my ass off for pennies. Literally. So in order to achieve your goal sooner, the logical thing to do is reducing your costs.

Own what you need, this makes it a easier to pick up and move when you want to. Making your first money and at the same time spending less is like wielding a dual edged sword.

 Earning enough to sustain your lifestyle is the hardest part so everything helps and if you lower your spending your goal will be achieved sooner.

Motivational bonus: by cutting your expenses you are starting right away. Every journey begins with the first small step. So make it two steps each time. The sooner you don’t have to show up to work every day anymore.

Evaluate your habits. Is that daily Starbucks caffeine shot really essential to your daily routine? Cut it. Make your own. The same for your food. Learn to cook tasty, healthy food. Sell stuff you don’t use anymore on eBay and get paid within a few days. In other words, be frugal. Take me as an example:

I use glass mustard jars for drinking glasses, dig trough my neighbors’ trash for repurpose finds, take my bike whenever I can, used envelopes are my notebook, and I wear t-shirts with holes in them (I did it before it was hip). In a sense I’m the consumer culture AntiChrist.

A nifty trick to cut expenses is by realizing how much time a purchase costs you. Want to buy that new gadget? Ask yourself: “How many hours do I have to work for it?” Is that new smartwatch really worth 15 hours of your time?

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. - Henry David Thoreau Click To Tweet

 

Step 3. Become an entrepreneur

be an entrepreneur

 

You may already be aware of your marketable skills. Or not. First something else is crucial. It’s adopting an entrepreneurial mindset.

Even if you work for a boss you should consider yourself an entrepreneur.

This is something I understood relatively early in my career. I, for instance, never worked overtime. If I really felt like it or got paid extra very well I would consider. Otherwise, I just thought of the additional work that needed to be done as a management issue. It’s their problem, not mine. Convince me to solve it for you or solve it yourself.

This may sound extreme, but it illustrates how you should be your own entrepreneur. Your employer wouldn’t pay you a little bit extra salary that month when you needed it so hard either right?

It’s the same thing.

You decide how to manage your time and skills. These are your most valuable assets when it comes to working. Corporate employed or when having your own business,

You are the president of your own personal services corporation. Click To Tweet

If you don’t have an entrepreneurial mindset, make it your own.

The only true boss of your work is you. Any external boss is just a customer of your personal services business.

Steve Pavlina’s post, You Are Self-Employed  explains it more clearly.

 

Step 4. Start right now

just starting is a good way to meet opportunities

 

Don’t procrastinate. Start building your home business right now. Even if you don’t know what to pick yet. There are lots of things you can do now.

Brainstorm. Do research. Put thoughts on paper (more in a bit). Go talk with people. Declutter your soon-to-be workplace. Discover what you want to do. You can’t contemplate such insights. Action will get you further.

Even if you first attempts fail, if they turn out to be not for you, or otherwise don’t prove successful, you gained experience and got new insights.

Added bonus, just doing will help you overcome your fear of failure. It’s exactly like the epic Michael Jordan quote (it’s a golden oldie but it’s still an amazing mantra),

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Motivational tip, your first business concept very likely won’t be your last. Your first website, web shop, brand name, consultancy service etc. will probably not be the one you stick with. It doesn’t catch on, you decide there’s a better opportunity, or your ideas may flow into another version for another reason.

Which is why starting immediately is crucial. It’s a process.

Keep the Darrell Royal quote in mind; “potential means you ain’t done it yet.” Or, this observation by

Thomas Edison: vision without execution is hallucination. Click To Tweet

Our world is changing in an ever increasing pace. Opportunities are everywhere. Omnipotent forces are driving the reinvention of our lives. Machines and robots are already taking over jobs and the definition of work is fading and broadening.

Even if you are currently fairly happy as an employee it may be fruitful to think ahead. Explore what you would like to do in the future when human labor becomes less valuable and conventional jobs more scarce.

 

Step 5. Find the time

if you really want it you can make time

 

For most people the path towards working on your own terms is to start up a business on the side. Developing an opportunity while staying employed. A Plan B.

“I have a full-time job, all kinds of commitments, and non-negotiables, how in Heaven’s name am I going to find the time to pursue this side project?”

This may seem an insurmountable obstacle, but it’s doable. It’s actually one of your least concerns when it comes to building location independent income in your spare time.

Here are just a few tips to start.

Don’t watch TV. Cook in batches so you’ll free up time. Try a different sleep schedule. Quit your gym membership. Do push-ups or a quick bicycle ride around the block in between your new activities (it helps you stay fit and taking a step back from your computer or tools you will bring you fresh insights and renewed energy).

Be creative, break free from existing patterns. Make habits out of these new allocations of time (once they are habits they won’t require willpower anymore. You don’t think about them, you just do).

Becoming successful in what you do is all about doing concessions and being dedicated.

 

 

Two mind-altering tricks to help you make time

Imagine you would start your life with a clean slate. What would you fit in and what would be left out? Keep your goal, escaping the rat race, in mind. Willingness to change, flexibility and sacrifices are your friends. It’s all for the greater good.

Beat the demon in your head that says “I will never have enough time.” So many people before you have done it. Realize that if you have a seemingly feeble two hours a day, that’s about 15 hours a week. And then we didn’t even count the weekend.

I know I may make it seem easier than it is. It isn’t easy, you will be side-hustling early mornings, weekends, and nights.

Make sure to optimize your productivity and realize that on average, workers are only productive 3 hours a day. Make sure these benefit your own business, boss.

In his book ‘In Over Our Heads: The Mental Demands of Modern Life’, Robert Kegan suggests tactics to help you manage the competing voices in your head. By reflecting upon these thoughts and getting them on paper you can induce “a profound shift in perspective”.

One of Kegan’s methods is creating a four-column document identifying, in turn:

  • A goal (“I want to find my calling”),
  • Behaviors that interfere with this goal (“I work jobs that aren’t meaningful nor fulfilling to me”),
  • Competing commitments (“I can’t let down my family”),
  • Assumptions that consolidate the third column responsibilities (“If my Plan B fails my family will be disappointed in me”)

 

A really valuable book to help you find time and use your energy optimally is How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World. Do yourself a favor and check it out. I bet it will save you wasting time, energy and money.

Working efficiently is crucial. What you can take away from The Four Hour Workweek but also from blogging guru Jon Morrow is this:

“…listen… blogging doesn’t have to be something that consumes your life. If you have a job or a family or business, you can totally build a popular blog in 20 hours per week or maybe even less.

You just have to use your time efficiently. With everything you do, measure the time you invest and the results you receive.”

You have to focus on what works. This counts for other enterprises too.

Still, it may take years of hard work to become totally location independent. But if you start now and put in the hours you may have built something a year from now that will allow you to work a few hours less. This way you have created a springboard. Invest those freed-up hours in your side income generating business and expand thus moving towards making the total transition.

 

Step 6. Don’t follow your passion, cultivate it

don't do what you love, do what you do best

 

Screw the popular adage, Do what you love, the money will follow. This is BS (for most of us it is).

Some people will tell you that following your passion is the whole purpose of becoming location independent.

It’s not.

Not having to go to one set place day in day out to earn your living is the goal of becoming location independent. The means to do so is money. The most efficient way to get that money is by doing what you are good at.

I may love to sing but have a voice like a foghorn. No way in hell anyone would pay even a cent to listen to me (at most to shut me up). Especially when your goal is to create income next to your day job you better choose something you excel at.

It will make things a whole lot easier.

 

Why you should do what you’re good at

When you do what you are good at, you’re more likely to make money. Money that will provide you with more freedom. That’s the whole purpose here after all.

It’s like Bill Hicks said, It’s all about money, not freedom. You think you’re free? Try going somewhere without money.

I once had a job I liked so much, I would have done it for free. At least that’s what I said but obviously that’s not how it works. The bills keep coming in.

Once freed from the corporate chains you can decide to work less, travel, lie around in your hammock all day spotting clouds, build a house from trash or whatever rocks your boat.

So the golden rule here, don’t do what you love, do what you are good at.

Doing things you hate probably won’t be a good idea. Except maybe if you can make heaps of money with it. You have need to enjoy your work up to some point. If you don’t, you will have a really hard time not giving up when things get tough (which they will).

One thing about this folk wisdom is true, often it is that people love to do what they are good at. If this is the case, go through with it. If not, just stick with your qualities.

Here’s why you don’t have to find your passion

The quote also implies that if you don’t know your passion you have to find it. Well, some people just don’t have pre-existing passions channeled into specific activities or interests. Personally I have things I like to do or that interest me. I am fascinated by cosmology, shamanism, and many other topics. I’m somewhat of a foodie. Can I make money with those interests/passions?

Probably not.

I could become an expert and start a blog about food (the other topics are too narrow). What I’m actually good at though is information literacy, separating the wheat from the chaff in information, presenting knowledge in a clear manner and determining what’s relevant and what not.

The fact that I devour information like a rabid dog a fleshy bone helps. By blogging about solutions to common problems people have, while exerting these personal strengths, I managed to earn a full-time online income. But it’s not by doing what I love. Developing my own set of skills and expertise thus creating autonomy does really satisfy though.

Cal Newport, author of ‘So Good They Can’t Ignore You’ advocates to “cultivate your passion” instead of following it.

“There is no special passion waiting for you to discover. Passion is something that is cultivated. It can be cultivated in many, many different fields. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to say, “I don’t know what my passion is.” What does make sense is to say, “I haven’t yet cultivated a passion, I should really focus down on a small number of things and start this process.”

 

Passion is like happiness:

Passion lies in doing. Passion can't be pursued, it ensues. Click To Tweet

It springs from determination, competency, building little successes, and subsequent self-satisfaction. In other words, skill development, little wins, motivation, gratification, autonomy, freedom.

Do you see the role of doing what you are good at here?

For a big part it’s also just working for yourself. It’s mainly the independent and creative types that are drawn to paving new paths. Besides being free to go where you want there’s often the call to express oneself in a career.

Which is why you should feel free to be yourself when choosing your path. Non-conformity can really help you become successful.

 

 

Step 7. Choose what kind of business to start

what location independent carreer to pick?

 

This is the key question, the main struggle for most wannabe geographically independent entrepreneurs. What marketable skills to develop?

There are a few different categories in earning a living while being location dependent.

  1. taking jobs on the road / working as you travel
  2. freelancing
  3. selling products and services on the road
  4. working for a company that hires remotely. Here’s a list of top 100 companies with remote jobs in 2015. )
  5. building a residual passive income stream

Working while traveling is a viable option. Be an opportunist. Work wherever work is available. Pick fruit, teach English, work seasonally on a ski resort, on the beach as a lifeguard, become a nanny or au pair (experienced nannies and baby sitters can offer their services via Care.com)

I can hear you think, “anyone can think of this.”  I know, discovering what kind of business to start is more challenging.

 

Location independent job ideas

Most opportunities lie in making money online. Other options are to earn a living as an entrepreneur on the spot. For instance by offering your services such as cutting hair, being a locksmith or selling jewelry you make. Or a combination of both.

You could opt for becoming skilled in one of the typical digital nomad professions. These include photographer, freelance writer, affiliate marketer, trader, graphic designer, web designer, web developer, and programmer. It would probably be clever to stick with what you already know or do though.

Nowadays there are a gazillion ways to take your show to the road.

  • Are you a cook or dietitian? You could monetize your knowledge by blogging, starting a Youtube channel, or do online diet and or nutritional consulting.
  • Love wind and water? Start producing kitesurfing lessons videos. Or produce demonstration videos businesses want to buy.
  • Do you absolutely love gaming? Earn money by broadcasting your gaming activites via YouTube or Twitch. Such activites probably won’t allow you to quit your day job overnight but they can be a start. Remember, becoming really good at what you do, or creating your own niche, your own personal style is key here.
  • Excel at carpentry? Find out which types of furniture or items such as bath caddies or key racks are trendy, make these and sell them on Zazzle, Cafepress, eBay, Etsy or one of the many other digital marketplaces. The same goes for jewelry making, crocheting coverlets, printing kids designs or any other form of crafting.
  • You a certified psychologist? Start an online coaching service. Or write an ebook on ’13 Surprisingly Effective Hacks For A Better Mood’. You may need some help to make it a desirable product but the internet is full of (free) advice.
  • Have a background in financing or healthcare? Earn a side income by answering questions on platforms such as LivePerson, Ether, WebAnswers, or JustAnswer. In case you are a true expert you could start a membership website.
  • As a musician, artist, or writer you can produce all types of audio, video, or text and perhaps sell some of your stuff in Apple’s iTunes store. If you can make a quality product you can make a healthy living off the iTunes store. Pundits can make money with podcasts too.
  • Think there’s a latent writer hiding in you? Go to Fiverr, write a good gig description and get your first order. It’s an easy way to find out quickly if copywriting is for you. If you can write you can make money right away. Prepare to get busy too. Fiverr is a good place to sell other services and digital products as well.

What’s so great about our digital times is that you can start an additional blog or video channel with tips and tricks on how you make your artisanry.

  • Dog trainers can do their tricks on the spot and market their skills on YouTube and their own website. Jugglers, balloon artists, magicians, solo musicians, and personal fitness trainers can do the same.

All in all, when finding your path away from the 9 to 5 grind, stay close to yourself. Do what you know, what you can do, and what you always liked. Listen to that inner voice. Most people spend searching for years while in the end coming back to the things they already liked when they were kids.

Also, be realistic. Starting such an endeavor may mean you will have to work harder than you do now. Surveys show that many bloggers and other digital entrepreneurs struggle to make ends meet.

These are just a few ideas out the top of my head. Here’s an infographic listing 200 ways to make money online.

 

Step 8. How to go about it

Start bootstrapping now. Work hard but especially work smart. Develop a routine. Automated habits help streamline the process. Don’t overwork. Be realistic and patient. Create a business plan to set concrete and measurable goals. Write down financial requirements. This will help you focus.

Network. Connect with people from the industry. Either local or global. Make use of social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook. Build a portfolio. Online or offline. Communicate clearly. If you can’t, learn it. It makes all the difference. Location independence requires a lot of contact via email and other text based media.

Don’t burn bridges yet. See your current employer as a chance of opportunity rather than someone holding you back. Find a mentor if you can. Ask for feedback. Test. Don’t compare yourself with others. Outsource. Make use of your network. Focus on your qualities. Say no to work outside your micro-niche, your domain of expertise. Do your homework, thorough research is key to making sound decisions.

Rest. Taking steps back from what you are doing is essential. It’s when creative ideas arise. Set specific goals. It helps you focus, clears your mind and saves you time. Don’t believe the magic tales. Be positive. Congratulate yourself on small wins or dedication. It motivates. Sleep well. Good sleep will boost your success, deprivation will sabotage your business.

 

Step 9. Keep at it

keep believing in yourself and your goal

 

Don’t give up. Success takes time. It won’t be an instant blow-up success but if you keep working hard and smart you eventually will reap what you have sown. What do all successful (online) entrepreneurs have in common?

They persevered. No matter how many times the failed they kept going.

Make sure to realize this and convince yourself to act accordingly, otherwise you’d better click your heels and return to Kansas right away. Or not start in the first place. A helpful insight regarding sticking with it is the concept of pivoting. You can always change direction. Nothing you did has been all for nothing.

A famous example of a company employing a “structured course correction” is Groupon. The company started as an online activism platform called The Point. It didn’t catch on. The founders created a WordPress blog promoting coupons for a local pizzeria. This wasn’t an overnight success either but the results were convincing enough to realize that their idea was significant, thus laying the foundation for the billions dollar business Groupon now, three years later, is.

 

Fight resistance like a salmon swimming upstream

You will meet resistance. Both from peers, friends, family as well as your own doubts. Criticism and thoughts like these will haunt you, “Most startups fail within the first 12 months.” “Why should I be able to run a business? There are so many people better at this.”.

To hell with those thoughts. Keep going. Never give up. At most change the plan, but not your goals. A book that really inspired me, learned me to adopt a more active work ethic and to conquer Resistance, is The War of Art.

Once you start making money and are able to work less or quit you can delve into the requirements of actual digital nomadism. Getting an unlocked smartphone so you can use foreign sim cards, how to withdraw money without fees, which online apps to use and so on are not relevant as long as you don’t actually work in different places.

 

Wrapping it up

Job security is waning. Risk taking is increasingly less risky in the new globalized economy. More and more people are creating brands around their  passions.

The call for interesting, fulfilling work is stronger than ever. People are building multiple income streams to diversify risks and increase options. Whatever your reason is for wanting to work on your own terms. Whether you are fed up with letting your job dictate your lifestyle.

Hate the soul-sapping, zombie-like commute-cubicle-commute routine?  Find that compulsory sitting in an office all day is a punishment? Fear robots will take over and want to be financially prepared?

Or maybe you like your day job but just want to avoid traffic jams, live the RV life, travel the world, help other people, go stand up paddling when you feel like it, or be lazy.

Whatever your reason, this is the time to do it. Don’t take the safe bet. Take your chances. Career coach Tama Kieves explains in ‘Inspired and Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work!’:

“You probably have a voice of fear telling you to play it safe, heed convention. I want to represent your other voice, the one that tells you to really play it safe, by following your desire.”

 

The inner voice that tells you to play it safe is not the voice that represents your desires. Click To Tweet

 

Stay tuned for part 2: How To Quit Your Job and Work From Paradise as a (Non-)Digital Nomad.

 

What are your thoughts on becoming location independent? Share them below.

 

Image credits step 2 , 3 , 4, 5, and 8, 7.

Hat tip to Jon Morrow / Sonia Thompson for headline inspiration. ( Demystifying Location Independence: How to Actually Do It (Not Just Jabber About How Cool It Is)

 

 

12 Comments

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  • I enjoyed this! And I am a fan of your headline too 🙂

    I’m currently living a location independent lifestyle and loving it. But you’re so right. It ain’t easy. It’s really hard work, and its not always as glamorous as it sounds.

    But as you point out, being location independent doesn’t mean you have to be a nomad. It could just mean you’re perfectly content to work from your couch.

    Nonetheless. Hard work indeed. But worth every bit of it!

    • Thanks for the kind words Sonia. I love it too, I’m made for this type of self-determined life. It’s much more satisfying.

      Yeah, great headline huh.. the person I stole it from must be a genius 😉

  • This is a really great article. I have saved bookmark, and will read it again a week later.

    The emphasis on NOW, is really good.

    I would rather add, even if you burn your bridge, several new bridges will open up for you, and it is just a matter of time.

    Thanks for this wonderful article.

  • Fantastic! I would like to hear more about what you have to say on this and similar topics. If you would be so kind as to link me to any podcasts or content I would be very grateful.

  • This is without doubt the best and most honest article I have read about location independence/lifestyle design. And I have read them all. really inspired by your writing.