Becoming a digital nomad
Becoming a digital nomad and calling no office home can be difficult, but immensely rewarding. I know this because I am one.
Sick of paying Sydney’s ridiculous rents, about a year ago I decided to pull up stumps and move to the other side of the world.
Specifically, the lovely French countryside.
But as the owner of three businesses and sometimes writer, the decision to uproot my life wasn’t taken lightly.
Even if I wanted to start a whole new life in France, my long stay tourist visa means I can’t work in France – but there’s nothing stopping me from carrying on business in Australia while I’m here.
So, I’m one of those ‘digital nomads’ you hear about – using technology to earn a living wherever there’s a wifi signal.
After a year of living the life, here’s what I’ve learned:
Once I had decided that going digital would not damage the quality of my work or my business’ reputation (because a lot of my work is done online anyhow), I decided to go fully digital before making the move.
I trialled many different online programs to ensure that they worked best for me and my clients.
I also asked clients for honest feedback on the new programs, letting them know that we were moving to digital management and would appreciate their thoughts on the processes I was using.
Once I had the systems sorted, I took a three-week holiday to Europe where I tested the systems ‘in real time’.
I mentioned to my clients that I would be working ‘remotely’ for three weeks but did not stipulate that I would be overseas.
Thankfully, my systems worked well and apart from a few clients who tried to call me, most clients didn’t even realise I wasn’t in Australia.
Tools of the trade
For email, I simply use a Gmail account and make sure I’m diligent in creating folders for each client.
Because I work with multiple clients, I need to make sure my project management is on point.
For that, I use a program called Monday, which allows me to create project boards for every client – and share it with the client as well.
They can comment and edit the boards as well, which basically means there’s less email clutter every morning.
No longer is there the quick ‘just wondering where we’re at with X…’ email, because they can literally see where we’re at.
Meanwhile, Slack is a great tool for communicating with the team back in Sydney.
We have channels set up for each client, so things don’t get confused.
But, tech tools can only get me so far – sometimes people like to call me on the phone, just like the old days.
Because of the time difference, I can very rarely answer my Australian mobile while I’m in France, so I’ve employed a ‘virtual receptionist’.
I’ve gone with Virtual HQ, which uses a receptionist to essentially answer my phone within set hours and pass on messages to me, so I can call them back after 4pm Sydney time (which is 8am here).
To return the calls I use Skype, but I can sometimes use Zoom – which has a bit more functionality around conference calling, and it allows me to record calls if I need to.
But having the tools of the trade is the easy part, especially these days.
It’s getting used to working in a whole new way which is the hard part.
Once all the systems are working for you, the number one thing that you must commit to is a routine.
Sometimes, when you’re on a Greek island or a rooftop in Morocco, the last thing you want to do is stick to your routine – but it’s vital.
Responding to my clients during reasonable hours is my number one priority.
I adapt my ‘online’ work hours for specific time zones when I travel, ensuring I can reply to my client’s messages before 7pm each day.
If I need to send emails and it’s 2am in Australia I use Boomerang to schedule my messages to go later so I’m not disturbing anyone.
Making sure that I approach each day as a ‘regular work day’ means that I don’t let things fall behind and in the nine months since I left Australia, I’ve not had a single client complain.
While I am a nomad, I still do pop back to Australia for a few weeks at a time – during which time I’m focused on meeting with clients face-to-face to make sure my relationships with them are strong.
With the tools of the trade on my belt and my mindset fixed around providing clients the best service, the hardest part of being a digital nomad is the first step.
It may take you a year or so to convert your business to something that is possible to run from ‘anywhere’ but the better you plan, the more successful you will be when you take the leap.
I’ve visited over 20 different countries and had the time of my life, all whilst working every day.
I’ve set my laptop up at the Pantheon in Rome, under the Ancient Fort in Jodphur, in an apartment in Oaxaca and in a farmhouse in Burgundy – wherever there’s a wifi connection, that’s my office.