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You can be a non-techie digital nomad

by Adele on September 12, 2012

Mish and Rob are freelance writers and web development project managers. Since March, they’ve been completely location independent – giving them the freedom to travel wherever they want to go, whenever they want. They’re happy to admit to being “unadventurous adventurers”: they like to live in nice, clean apartments (with air conditioning, wifi and decent mattresses), in nice, civilised cities. Read their stories, guidance and advice on www.makingitanywhere.com.

We really wish we were teachers, or accountants, or shop owners: then it’d be far easier to convince you that you can do any of these jobs (and more) and still be location independent. Instead, we’re boring old copywriters and web development people – careers that it seems every single bloomin’ digital nomad has (unless they’re WordPress developers or graphic designers).

But let us try to convince you that it is possible to be a non-techie, make a decent income and travel the world. You’ll need a certain amount of digital know-how, but you definitely won’t need to make it part of your career.

You don’t need to be a nerd to be a digital nomad.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at different types of non-techie career that you can do from anywhere. We’ll interview people who already do it, and we’ll give you tips on what you need to get started and useful resources you can use.

Location independent business model 1: Face-to-face can mean webcam-to-webcam

Face-to-face jobs include teaching, tutoring, counselling and professional development training – jobs that normally involve being in the same country – and preferably the same room – as the people you’re working with.

But no more! Take it from a cognitive behavioural therapist who’s lived in Spain, India, Morocco and Mexico over the past few years while treating his patients online.

Robin Hunt had been a psychologist in the UK for ten years before he decided he was fed up with the ridiculous hours and inflexibility of working for a big employer. He left his job and started his online therapy service as an experiment – to see if he could combine work with travel. He could: clients find him through Google, then he “meets” them through Skype or instant messaging.

You can get flexible with your hours once you’re location independent.

If you wish you could do your job from anywhere like Robin does, here are some tips and advice to get you both excited and organised about starting a new life as a “webcam-to-webcam” digital nomad.

You need an “online presence”…

You’ll need a website so people can find you in the first place – and then read about your experience and credentials so they can trust you. But you don’t need to teach yourself HTML and do it yourself – just outsource it. It’s not too expensive if you look in the right places.

Stick to what you’re good at – and outsource the rest.

Elance, for example, is a great place to find designers/developers who can build you a website – a simple one with some info pages and a contact form won’t cost much at all. Or you could use WordPress, which is a free platform that lets you build a website with no coding or HTML knowledge.

…Most of the time, anyway

Jack is a part-time Psychology professor for a community college in Washington state… but he lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with his wife and daughter. He teaches his students online via email, instant messaging and phone calls (using Google Voice/Google Talk). Students find out about and sign up for the course at college, so there’s no need for Jack to find ways to “attract” them to his website.

Not all colleges/universities give this level of flexibility to professors, but more and more are opening up to the idea. You could always propose it to the people at the top – they might be willing to give it a trial run while you’re still in the UK.

Jack also offers personal/executive coaching, as well as help for graduates who want some advice on their thesis. Again, they find him – this time through a website called BuddySchool. All Jack had to do was create a profile on the site and wait for people to search for his types of service. He communicates with them via Skype.

Sometimes, you’re able to just wait for people to notice you.

There are plenty of online “portals” like BuddySchool to sign up to – like Verbalplanet if you can teach languages, and Mootu if you’re a counsellor or psychotherapist. You can sign up and see if you get any enquiries as a way of testing demand before you make the leap.

Convincing potential clients

Are people actually willing to interact online instead of face-to-face? Definitely. Not everyone feels comfortable with it, but more and more people are appreciating the benefits of learning or getting help without having to leave the house.

Robin has found this to be the case with his mental health patients, many of whom are embarrassed about actually visiting a clinic. It’s also useful for people who live in remote areas. If you’re planning to use Skype for your service, all your clients need is a good internet connection.

But even if people are willing to give the “webcam-to-webcam” approach a try, they might still need convincing that you’ve got the right skills for the job. That’s where testimonials come in handy, so make sure you display them prominently on your new site. You can also find plenty of ways to boost your reputation and show off your knowledge online, like blogging and contributing on relevant forums. These are also great for helping people to find you online – as we’ll see later.

Getting people to your website… and keeping them there long enough to get in touch

If you want people to find out about you via your website, the hard part is actually getting them to realise you exist. Free traffic is the best, and being near the top when someone does a Google search is about as good as it gets. A search engine optimisation expert (who, again, you can hire through Elance) will be able to help.

Robin gets most of his clients through Google searches. He publishes relevant articles on his site, and runs a forum with thousands of members – this generates content that shows Google he’s an authority in his field.

Another free way of getting traffic to your site is to post on relevant forums and link back to your site. Or if you’re willing to pay, Google Adwords can be a good way of getting in front of people – you just need to keep a close eye on the numbers to make sure the cost of acquiring a client is less than the profit you expect to make from them.

Google is still king when you have your own site.

Multiple income streams

As Rob mentioned in his blog post about getting to grips with the shaky earnings of a digital nomad, “Having multiple clients as a freelancer helps spread the risk, but you’re free to earn money in other ways too.” For example, Jack gets extra work out of his knowledge as a Psychology professor by doing contract work for textbook publishers.

If you’re a languages tutor, could you get the odd translation job on Elance if needs be? Or if you do online professional development training, you could write a Kindle book with your advice.

The end! But we’re not leaving you in the lurch…

If you head over to our site Making It Anywhere, we’ve provided a list of hints, tips and resources that we think will come in useful. Some of the information is from us, and some is from all the people we’ve been interviewing for our series.

Next week…

We’ll be looking at a whole other non-techie way that you can become location independent. If you have any questions in the meantime, hit us with them in the comments.

Robin Hunt’s website is www.brighteyecounselling.co.uk.

Jack blogs with his wife about their life and careers in Thailand at www.gotpassport.org. Find him on Twitter: @GotPassport and @JackBTeaching.
  • Adele

    Great post as always guys. Another (free) easy tool people can use if they want a simple online presence is: http://about.me

  • http://www.gotpassport.org Jack

    Thanks for including me in your post! I appreciate the chance to talk about my work, and while going from a full time faculty at a brick and mortar college, freelance was a big risk, I believe our family is much better off for it.
    I’m also checking out the resources mentioned in this post!!

    By the way, I recently changed my Twitter handle from @gotpsych to @JackBTeaching.

    Cheers!
    Jack

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