What 10 Years and 45 Countries Taught Me About Working Online
I’ve worked for and with dozens of companies around the world, and I never cease to be baffled by the diversity in professional standards I witness. For the few years that I was a foreign English language teacher, no two schools were ever alike in their expectations of how I should teach or my role in their hierarchy. Yet, each acted as though the way they did things was the way everyone did them, and that I should have automatically known all this.
As a freelancer, things weren’t much better. A company in India once hired me remotely to handle some of their brand strategy and messaging before being impressed enough with my work to invite me out to Delhi so we could upgrade our working relationship.
They booked my flight, helped me acquire a five-year Indian business visa, and had an upscale hotel room waiting for me on arrival. I then spent a week observing them struggle to get anything meaningful done before realizing they weren’t in a position yet to make full use of my services.
They bought me another flight out the next day, now having invested over $2,000 in my travel costs without actually using me for anything. Bafflingly, I stopped hearing from them after that. But hey, at least I got a free trip to India out of it.
Relatively late into my travels, I made the decision to stop working for other people entirely. I was tired of doing unfulfilling work on someone else’s schedule. I had to trust in my ability to convince strangers to give me money every single day of my life in order to support myself. Self-employment began with small copywriting jobs that were neither emotionally nor financially rewarding for me. By the end of the first week, I realized that there were observable patterns to what people were looking to buy and what kind of person they wanted to work with.
I learned how I needed to talk to them to convince them that I, a complete stranger on the other side of the world, was somebody they should trust with their money. I changed my approach over time to match what the world had just shown me it was looking for. I created different offerings at higher prices. I adapted to the environment I had placed myself in, as adaption was the one thing I was sure I could count on.
Since then, I’ve built a modestly successful online business for myself that I can maintain from anywhere in the world, so long as I can get online from time to time. I’ve helped many others do the same along the way.
People who work online often prefer staying in one place for longer periods of time rather than rapidly hopping from place to place. They want to be able to fall into a routine, optimizing productivity while still enjoying the tourism aspects of travel. If you are clever, it’s not difficult to keep your living expenses between $500 and $1,500 a month almost anywhere in the world.
I eat at home whenever possible. I rent by the week or the month instead of the day. I’ll bargain with hotel or guesthouse owners to stay and eat for free if I can improve their online presence or find other ways to acquire more customers.
Checking and sending emails can be done on even the spottiest of connections. Some people need to make frequent audio and video calls on tight schedules to maintain their workflow. Or maybe they need to be uploading and downloading large files regularly. Slow internet speeds and unpredictable downtime won’t cut it. They have to plan more carefully and have backups available if their primary connection should fail.
The nature of my field of work grants me the luxury of writing books and producing educational course content from a 12” ultrabook I carry almost everywhere I go, from cross-country bus rides to big city cafes. I can get to work first thing in the morning without getting out of bed if I want to. That might sound like hell to you, but it’s the kind of freedom I find ideal for maximum productivity.
Most of my first book was written on airplanes and in the back of taxis whenever I had a spare moment to get more words down. I need only a basic word processor to get the bulk of my work done, but everyone’s requirements vary widely depending on the type of work they do. I even travel with a studio-quality microphone for when I need to do voiceover work on the road, such as the audio narration for this book. Getting on a live video call is crucial to the coaching and consulting work I do, so I have to plan these things when I know my internet connection will be reliable. It has to line up with the other party’s schedule, which can be difficult when you are several time zones away.
Coordinating projects among teams across many locations makes things even more cumbersome. As a result, I have a policy of only hiring people who can manage their own time and workflow. Dependability is even more important than ability when I choose who to work with. I can set up mini homes for the time that I’m in one place.
I interact with people all over the world now and have projects happening in multiple continents. Through Skype, phone, and email, we manage to get it all done. It makes me wonder why people even bother to do things in person anymore if it’s not a fundamental component of what they are doing together.
I believe that with enough resourcefulness and adaptability, people with almost any kind of professional experience can learn to adapt their skillsets and expertise to the online world. With enough experimentation in the ways of the world, they can figure out a lifestyle arrangement that uniquely suits their needs. Once they’ve experienced this level of freedom, they’ll shudder at all the time they wasted in a conventional and inefficient work environment. Today’s digital nomads are just the forerunners in this growing trend.