You’ve seen the photos, read the blogs, and now you want the life too. You are ready to become a digital nomad.
But wait, do you really know what it takes to live the digital nomad lifestyle as a freelancer? Like for realsies?
So you can be sure, we’ve rounded up 10 rookies mistakes that many newbie nomads make far too often. Whether you’re a new freelancer or an experienced one, taking your work on the road, can come with its own unique set of challenges.
We may not have all the answers but there are a few things that we can tell you (from experience) that you’re simply doing wrong.
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Whether it’s working productively as a freelancer, or choosing the right place to use as your base – there’s a lot to learn about the digital nomad life.
Save time, money, and well, stress by avoiding these mistakes in the first place.
- Become a Digital Nomad: How to Work and Travel the World Full Time
- Digital Nomad Jobs: 15 Jobs That Let You Travel the World
- Best Online Course Providers: Learn the Skills You Need to Become a Digital Nomad
- How Much Money Do You Need To Become A Digital Nomad?
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Mistake #1: Not getting started
Obvious enough I know, but really…. Where’s the fun in just wishing that you could be a digital nomad too and then do absolutely nothing about it?
Now you guys know that we’re huge fans of starting out your digital nomad life as a freelancer. But, here’s the thing, many wannabe digital nomads will research and look at every possible way they can make money online.
They realise that setting up a freelance business is definitely a good idea and the fastest route to their getaway. But they quickly get distracted by some other business idea that may or may not work out.
So many people get stuck on “sexy” labels. They want to call themselves an entrepreneur and you know freelancer just isn’t sexy enough for them…so they keep chasing that label and before you know it, it’s been a year and you’re still chasing….No label and certainly no business.
Don’t make that mistake. If you want to be a real nomad, you have to commit yourself and get started. YOU have the power to make this happen but you have to start. Somewhere… Anywhere. Even if you make mistakes along the way.
You can do all the research in the world, but if never start, you’ll never make it happen. The super enticing digital nomad life will always remain a wish.
Mistake #2: Not specialising
So carrying on to some more words of wisdom about freelancing – one piece of advice I give every freelancer and cannot emphasise enough…Don’t be a jack of all trades freelancer.
As a freelance business owner, you don’t want to try and offer every single skill that you have.
But you might be thinking well if I can offer more things, surely that means more clients, more work and more money right?
Nope not really.
It’s a matter of quality vs. quantity.
You want to pick a niche to specialise in, and establish yourself as an expert.
By narrowing your focus, you will always attract higher paying clients. When you take a general “I can do everything” approach to your work, your clients see you as just another freelancer. However, once you start to hone your niche and establish your expertise in a specialised area, you start to build a reputation as the best in a particular area.
And of course, when you establish yourself as an expert in an area, your clients will be more willing to pay you higher premium rates. Now who doesn’t want that?
So don’t make the mistake of focusing on doing lots of jobs at once. Instead hone one skill and offer high quality work and negotiate for higher rates instead.
Higher rates = mo’ money. Mo’ money = mo’ travel. Simple.
Mistake #3: Not having the business mindset
So yes, you’re a freelancer but you must ALWAYS remember that you’re running a business. Many digital nomad freelancers fall into the trap of thinking that the business owner is the client and they are their employee.
No. You must always remember that your are running a business too.
Why is the business mindset important?
First, so you take yourself seriously.
Long gone are the days when freelancing was all about making use of your free time as you look for a ‘real’ job.
Freelancing is serious business now. You must therefore take yourself seriously if you truly want to succeed.
Get out of the employee mindset and start seeing yourself as a business owner. You are not working for the client. You are working hand in hand with them by using your skills to help them achieve their business goals. The client has hired you to do a job and you have to approach this in a professional manner.
You might be working from home in your pajamas or from the beach side in Mexico… but you’re still running a business so bring your A-game to the table.
Always be professional with clients, do your work on time, get organised and set up systems for your work, create a work routine for yourself…. You know whatever it takes to make you approach this like a business and not a side hobby.
Even if you find it hard to convince yourself at first, – just you know, fake it till you make it because eventually you will.
Second, so your clients take you seriously.
You may be a globe-trotting digital nomad but that’s no reason not to be able to run a successful business like a professional.
When you take yourself seriously, clients start to respect you. Clients are so used to flaky, unprofessional and disorganised freelancers. So, when they work with one who actually takes their work seriously, they are impressed and they have more respect for you.
To them, this also means you have the right to charge more because you’re definitely more professional than the other freelancers out there.
So don’t take the wrong approach to this. Adopt the business mindset straight away and you and your clients will both benefit from it.
Mistake #4: Taking on the wrong clients
In our journey as business owners, we’ve learnt that not every client is going to be the right client for us.
So when you take on a new client, interview them and get to know them just the way they are getting to know you. They need to be a right fit for your business, and you for them. It works both ways.
For a digital nomad, freelancing business, ideally you want clients who can offer you long term and consistent work. This saves you from the feast-or-famine cycle so many freelancers are all too familiar with. Ideally, your client will also understand your lifestyle. You don’t want to get stuck working with a client who expects you to stay local.
And again, if you show clients how professional you are, right from the start – they aren’t really going to mind where you work from. You’re just going to have to be able to communicate it to them the right way.
When starting out you’ll more often than not get too excited to simply find a client that you won’t bother to find out whether they are right for you or not. It may seem like the logical thing to do.
But because your goal is to create a successful business that you can travel with and not a hobby, be brave enough to say no to a wrong client even if they are the only one you have.
Mistake #5: Becoming crippled by fear
You’ve decided to take the safe approach and started your freelance business as a side hustle. Smart move. It’s a great way to get your feet wet, start saving and get prepared for digital nomad life.
But then the day comes. Finally, all your stars are aligned. You have the money and the time to start traveling. But then you’re crippled… You. Just. Can’t. Do. It.
You can’t bring yourself to quit your job, you worry about running out of money and most of all, you worry that what happens if it doesn’t work out? What if you hate it?
It’s totally understandable that getting of your comfort zone for the unknown can be scary but if you prepare yourself well, don’t become crippled by fear. Don’t focus on what can go wrong, instead, think about what could go right. What if things work out, and this crazy dream you have becomes your new way of life?
If you’ve already set up a business and put the right systems in place to make it sustainable, you’re already halfway there. So why not give this a shot?
Mistake #6: Travelling too fast
Ask any successful and productive digital nomad and they will tell you the same thing: travel slow!
Travel is exhausting. And travel planning and organising can take up a lot of work and time. So if you plan to country hop every week, or even change cities every few days, you’re not really putting yourself in the best position to work productively.
Remember, you’re not on a backpacking holiday so traveling fast isn’t necessary. Make your work a priority and travel slow. We like to stay in one location for a few months… we enjoy the experience of actually living in a city rather than passing through and, it definitely makes us more productive with work when we have a bit of a routine.
You might not want to stay as long and that’s fine but if you travel too fast, you’re not going to have much time or energy left for work, that’s not really a professional way to run a business (see Mistake #3.)
Mistake #7: Choosing the wrong location
When we talk about working from anywhere as a digital nomad… there really should be a disclaimer. Anywhere with good WiFi that is. 😉
You see, not all holiday places are designed for running a business.
So, if you’re choosing to live by a remote beach in the Philippines where the Internet only works from 7-10 in the morning and cuts out when there’s heavy rain….And on top of that it’s typhoon season so it’s happening every day…. Well, then, sure it’s paradise but isn’t going to be too great for getting work.
Many new digital nomads choose where to go because they’d like to go there on holiday. And sure, that works for some places. But not always. So, be careful about the places your choose. Do your research about WiFi and your ability to get work done. And,go to the other not-so-well-connected places when you’re taking time off.
Being able to run your business productively is super important. If you can’t work, you make no money and no money means no further travel.
Mistake #8: Thinking it’s easy
The beautiful Instagram travel pics have got a lot of people fooled into thinking that it’s super easy, always fun and enjoyable to live a digital nomad life. Sure, life is good but digital nomads face their own unique set of challenges. In short, life isn’t always easy.
As you travel and work full time there are challenges that you are going to come face to face with and can slow you down if you go in with the ‘super easy’ mentality.
Life of the road is exciting but definitely not always easy. Sometimes you will get lonely on road. Traveling alone may mean that you don’t have the comfort of interacting with familiar people such as family and friends. Sometimes this starts to feel lonely. It’s important to be aware of this challenge so that when opportunities to make new friends on the road come you don’t pass them up.
You will have to deal with too much travel. Say what? You can never take too many trips. However, keeping up with all the travel plans on your own may become overwhelming.
Also, sometimes it’s a big mental ask to keep readjusting yourself. Just when you’ve gotten used to Medellin, it’s time to go to Barcelona. It’s fun, it’s the life and you love it more than you’re overwhelmed by it – but just don’t imagine it’s always a cake walk.
As you continue to travel full time you will miss out on life back home: Life back home will continue without you. Your mates will get married, your siblings will have kids of their own, your dad will retire, and there will be many other milestones you will miss out on. For some of you, this won’t matter. But if you’re like us and close with your family and friends, sometimes missing out their big moments will get to you.
All in all, these are just a few common challenges, you will face a lot. Not trying to paint a picture of all doom and gloom because there’s certainly more highs than lows but just giving you a heads up. As you get used to the life on the road you will learn how to deal with them better.
Mistake #9: Lacking discipline and not having a plan
It may feel like it, but time doesn’t stop when you’re abroad. You still have 24 hours in a day. Once you land in your chosen location remember your freelance business has to run as usual. You still have clients who expect work to be done and within the usual deadlines.
Don’t get carried away with the glamour of being a digital nomad. The digital nomad life allows you to decide when and where you work. You will have more going on in your new location than at home. Making new friends, exploring the country, and of course working.
It’s important that you set clear goals and deadlines, to keep your business going successfully. If you’re not careful you will get carried away by the excitement of travel and end up traveling for months and accomplish nothing business wise.
But also remember not to work all the time and forget the reason why you left home in the first place. Set specific time to take a break from work and enjoy a vacation. Yes even digital nomads need vacations 🙂
Mistake #10: Losing focus
It’s easy to get carried away by the travel lifestyle. If you live in a cheaper country, it’s easy to become lazy and get lost in the lifestyle and forget that you still need to run a business.
Remember, digital nomad life is not the same as backpacking. The point of this lifestyle is not just to go live in a few cheap countries, and scrape by. The point is to build a lifestyle of freedom so do what it takes and don’t get caught up in shiny objects – offline or online.
As you probably already know, getting into the digital nomad life as a freelancer is not impossible. In fact the number of nomads is growing by the day. What is most important is to focus on how to create a life of freedom that will be sustainable in the long run and not just for a few seasons of your life.
Are you a seasoned digital nomad? What other rookie mistakes have you encountered? Let us know in the comments.
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After turning her back on office life in Australia, Radhika set out to create a life lived on her own terms (a constant work in progress). As co-founder of Fulltime Nomad, she is super passionate about helping others live life with more freedom and flexibility, and a bit of travel thrown in for good measure.