My life isn’t as glamorous as you think: location independence is hard work
That’s what I wanted to say to a friend the other day when she called me ‘the busiest non-working person’ she knew.
Non-working? Come again? I was flabbergasted. Incensed even. How dare she?!
To be fair, my friend is super competent when it comes to handling scary power tools – she’s built an entire house on her own – but she knows nothing about the internet. It took her three years to upload a profile picture to Facebook. It’s simply not her world. And I am sure that location independence is a foreign concept to her.
How do I even begin to explain to my friend that establishing an online business means I work harder than I ever have?
On the surface it seems as if my life revolves around constant travel and excitement.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For now, my life revolves around being frugal, getting up early and getting enough sleep so that I can squeeze maximum working hours out of the day.
I’ve traded a six figure income and a tenured university position for a nomad lifestyle with no certainties and a lot of hours in front of the computer. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Because for me, the freedom to make a living from what I am most passionate about – teaching what I know about the healing power of writing and creativity – while living where and how I want is priceless.
But it’s not always glamorous. I write this surrounded by building mess, a list of chores to get through before we pack up again and leave. I set up office wherever I can. At airports, in my very messy living room, in a friend’s spare room.
That’s the side I never show you in my Instagram photos. I only show the part that makes it look like I am living the dream.
Thinking about joining the location independent lifestyle?
Here are a few simple truths.
1. Most of my work isn’t done poolside
Yes, I do post the occasional photo of me sitting on the beach with my lap top. Because, really, who wants to see a photo of me with unwashed hair, wearing my day-time pajamas, staring at a screen?
But the truth is, I don’t actually like working outdoors – stunning location or not – because there’s usually too much glare and too many distractions to get any serious work done.
Instead, I usually work sitting on uncomfortable couches or kitchen chairs made for Vietnamese bodies – think too low, too hard and too small for my proportions – or on my bed, yep on my bed.
None of it is ideal, but I get the work done.
Lately my yoga mat has become my preferred working area. This has the added advantage of sitting in one long hip-opener all day.
2. My life isn’t a whirl of constant excitement and travel
Far from it. To get anything done, I need to spend time in one spot so that I can really get into the flow.
I don’t know how younger digital nomads do it, but I simply can’t be on the road AND work as well. Which is why I probably qualify as a ‘slowmad’ (someone who travels very slowly from place to place), rather than a ‘digital nomad’ (someone who travels constantly, whilst also working online).
As a mature aged nomad I have the advantage of owning my own home, like most Australians in my age group do.
For most of the year I rent it out on Airbnb, while I live in a rented house in Hoi An. Living cheaply in Vietnam gives me time to focus exclusively on setting up my online business.
And by exclusively I mean I work at it ALL the time. Including weekends. Sometimes I pull an all-nighter. But at my age I can’t afford to miss my beauty sleep, so I try to avoid those.
And yes, it’s detrimental to my health and my relationship. Finding the perfect work-life balance is even harder when you work for yourself. So this year, we’ve made a pact to allow for more off-line time and travel. So far, we aren’t on target, but it’s only the end of March!
3. Be prepared to work harder than you ever have
I am used to working hard, it’s what I’ve always done. When I decided to hit the road as an online entrepreneur, chasing location independence, I knew that it was going to be a steep learning curve that involved long hours of hard slog.
To begin with, I had no clear idea how I could package my skills and passions into a product that people would be interested in. I was working it out as I went. This meant I didn’t have a clear brief to give to a web designer. What to do?
Become your own web designer of course. It was simply easier to teach myself how to design and build my own website. It’s actually not that hard and I was surprised to find out that it’s something I really enjoy doing. But it’s very fiddly and takes a lot of time. Think endless glitches, bad internet etc…
Along the way I’ve learned a ton about branding, graphic design, SEO, internet marketing and email automation. I’ve also become my own photographer and videographer.
How do I fit it all in? I work an average of 60+ hours per week.
4. Don’t expect instant rewards
The internet is a busy place. Which is why it’s so attractive to start an online business. But don’t expect people to come flocking to your website.
After I’d built my pretty website, nothing happened. Not even my best friends read my carefully crafted blog posts.
Driving traffic to your website is hard work. The internet is a hungry beast. Writing guest posts for high traffic websites like Tiny Buddha can drive new readers and subscribers to your website. But writing well-crafted guest posts in addition to the posts you write for your own blog is quite time consuming.
Being active on social media and engaging with your audience helps to establish yourself in your given niche. But I’ve had serious eye-fatigue issues last year from too many hours of screen time.
For now I concentrate on Facebook and Instagram. I know that Pinterest is a search engine with incredible potential, especially given my passion for visual creativity, but I just don’t have the energy for it right now.
5. Be prepared to give things away for free before you can expect to make a sale
It takes time to build an audience. As every internet guru will tell you, social media is helpful for driving traffic to your website, but if Facebook were to shut down tomorrow, you could be left with nothing overnight. Therefore, the smart thing to do is to create an email list.
I worked very hard last year, but my email list barely changed. Because the truth is, it takes more than a clever blog post for people to hand over their email address.
The phrase that kept resonating in my head was this: Serve, Serve, Serve, Sell. The best way to serve your readers is to give something away for free. In marketing speak that’s a free Opt-in, a hook to get your readers to become loyal fans. This can be an e-book, a mini-course, a mini-retreat even.
I spent a lot of time creating a free mini-retreat, but then I failed to push it, because marketing has never been my strong suit.
But something needed to happen. So as the year drew to a close, I sat down and asked myself how can I really serve the people I attract to my website?
Suddenly it was a no-brainer. I’d give my readers an incentive to make 2018 their best writing year by committing to make writing a daily habit.
I spent the festive season holed up in my make-shift office, while my friends had margaritas poolside, and created the 21-Day Write Your Journey Challenge.
I poured my heart and soul into it. The rewards were way better than cocktails poolside. To date, the short course has helped over 500 people around the world to reconnect with their creativity through writing. Interacting with the steady group that continues to post their writings in the private Facebook Group – we are on day 81 today – makes my heart sing every day.
I haven’t made a cent from the course, but I’ve had inaluable feedback. I now know how I can best serve my readers. My email list has grown five-fold and keeps on growing. But it didn’t happen overnight!
6. Location independence and setting up an online business from scratch is hard work but it’s totally worth it
The moral of the story is, if you are prepared to work harder than you ever have – at least while you become established – trying to create an income stream whilst working remotely, can be very rewarding.
I don’t know anybody who works a 4-hour week – it’s a myth perpetuated in Tim Ferriss‘ bestseller by the same name – but I do hope that some day I’ll work less than 60 hours per week.
As to the other advantages, they might not appeal to you. But I love the fact that I get to work in my yoga pants in a tropical location. I set my own hours, I do what I love and I don’t have a boss or supervisor breathing down my neck.
If you don’t mind living out of a suitcase, sleeping in someone else’s bed, location independence can be a great lifestyle!
I haven’t bothered to explain any of this to my friend who thinks of me as a very busy non-working person. But it was time to set the record straight.
Are you living a location-independent lifestyle? Or maybe you’d like to, but don’t know if you can do it?
Join me in the comments!
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