The World is Your Office: How to Become a Freelance Digital Nomad
Updated: May 22, 2019
In the past year I’ve traveled to Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, America, and Greece...all while making money.
After quitting my job as a Marketing Director in Los Angeles in August 2017, the world turned into my office as I become a freelance digital nomad.
I’ve received many questions on Instagram about my location independent lifestyle, so I decided to answer most of them here as a step-by-step guide on how to be a successful digital nomad.
Question: When should I quit my job and become a digital nomad?
Are you working a traditional job and constantly thinking:
I want to be my own boss.
I want to make my own schedule.
I want to do something I’m passionate about.
If so, you’re not alone. I’ve had those thoughts since getting my first job at the age of 16. I worked in corporate America for 8 years before I packed up and started my life as a location independent freelancer in Vietnam.
When I moved to Vietnam, freelance wasn’t my only source of income. In fact, I barely made any money my first 3-6 months.
So, how did I support myself while building my digital nomad portfolio? I worked 20 hours a week as an English teacher in Vietnam for 8 months while I worked 10-20 hours a week on freelance projects.
For those of you wondering if you should quit your job and jump in head first to the digital nomad life, I say DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB. The simple truth is...if you don’t have money saved, and you have adult bills to pay, you will not make enough your first few months of freelancing to support yourself.
That leads me to another question I’ve been asked: How much money should I save before quitting my current job? This all depends on your lifestyle, where you plan to relocate, what bills you have, and how serious you are about becoming a money-making nomad. Full disclosure, I had over $10,000 in my checking account when I moved. Starting this journey with a solid cushion helped tremendously.
Question: How do I start freelancing? Step one to starting a remote career is selecting your niche. There are very few things you CAN’T do remotely, so it’s crucial that’ you’re narrowed-in on what your specialty is.
For example, when I started out, I advertised myself as a “Marketing Director” since that was my most recent job title. But what the hell does a marketing director do? And, more importantly, how many people will search “marketing director” in the candidate pool? Not many.
After a month or so, I changed my profile to reflect a “Content Marketing Specialist.” I gave myself a niche, which allowed me to position myself as an expert in ONE thing rather than a beginner at many things.
I still work on a variety of projects including: email marketing, blog/article writing, web content creation, social media marketing, and more! It’s just that now I’m attracting the right clients and am becoming an expert in my niche so I can continue raising my rate over time.
Question: How can I find freelance work?
You must find a website that caters to digital nomads. Luckily, there’s a sea of websites to get freelance jobs fast. However, my favorite website to find remote work is Upwork.
In fact, it’s the only website I use to find new clients.
Why? Upwork is credible, offers tax information, payment verification, client history, and many ways to track hours and communication.
If you use a different site, I suggest that you do your homework and dig into reviews before accepting a client. The last thing you want is to put in hours of work and not get paid for it, which has been known to happen.
Once you sign up for an Upwork account (click here to see mine), it’s time to make a professional profile.
If you’ve created a LinkedIn profile, then crafting the perfect Upwork biography shouldn’t be a problem. Here are tips on creating a 5-star worthy profile:
Add a professional profile picture with personality - a smile or something quirky doesn’t hurt.
Write a summary that quickly highlights your top skills. Bullet points are suggested along with a short synopsis.
Choose 10 Skills that focus on your niche.
Your profile should ooze professionalism and personality.
Question: How do I apply for freelance jobs?
Time to push up your sleeves and get digital dirty.
When I started out on Upwork, a fellow freelance friend sent me a document of tips proven to get the attention of freelance clients. I use them and see great success when I stick to it.
Here’s what you need to follow when submitting an Upwork application.
Before you submit a proposal, research the client’s reviews to find their name. Use it to address them in the first line of the proposal.
Within your application, use smiley faces :) and exclamation points ! -- this seems unprofessional, but it builds trust and persona.
Show you’ve done research on the client beforehand. Ex: “I see you’ve got 10 competitors in your area.”
Incorporate the phrase “get to work” into your proposal. Ex: "I’m looking forward to hearing from you so we can get to work!"
Apply for 1-2 jobs every day.
Only apply for projects with that were posted in the last 24 hours and have less than 10 applicants.
Keep in mind that the initial proposal isn’t meant to have every detail about you. Rather, the proposal is an overview of why you’re interested in this particular job and why you’re a good fit. It is brief but detailed.
Question: How much should I charge for freelance projects?
The million dollar question. Or ten dollar question. Depends on who’s asking.
Whether you use Upwork or another freelance job website, your personal profile should be packed with good reviews and samples that prove your worth.
With that being said, when you first start out it’s likely that you don’t have any samples or reviews, so you have to do whatever it takes to get both.
This means that when you start out, lower your standards and your rate. Apply for any job that’s related to your niche, whether it pays $10 or $100, the goal is to get reviews and build a strong profile presence, so now isn't the time to be picky. Not yet.
I recommend you set the rate seen on your profile as your “goal rate.” Mine is set as $35/hour. But there’s no way I could get that if I didn’t have any proof that I’m worth it.
To get my first few jobs, I always included a line in my proposal that let clients know they were getting a bargain on my skill set. Here’s an example of what I’d say:
“Although I have much experience, I’m new to Upwork and want to build my profile, so I’m offering my services at a much lower rate than usual.”
This puts in the client’s mind that they need to act fast and hire you, not only because of your amazing skills but because they likely couldn’t afford someone as good normally.
The day you finally quit your day job and become a freelance digital nomad is one you’ll never forget. I can vividly remember the day I quit my job in Los Angeles, packed up my desk, and set off to make the world my office.
It’s not an easy journey, and it’s definitely not always glamorous, but now I’m my own boss, I make my own schedule, and I’m passionate about what I do and where I do it!
Have more questions about how to become a freelance digital nomad? Message me on instagram :)