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.
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 #2: Sell physical products without being physically there
Shops, eh? What were they all about? You had to actually leave the house to go to one (it could have been raining or anything!) and queue behind the world’s most indecisive people to wait for some sullen teenager to tell you they were out of stock of whatever you wanted anyway.
As the owners of Blockbuster, HMV and Borders will tell you, physical shops are, like, totally over. But online retail is booming – and it can be a great business model for digital nomads.
It’s actually a model we use ourselves: one of our side-businesses is running a site where people can design and sell their own t-shirts. We built and promote the site, but the orders are printed and shipped straight to the buyer by other companies we work with.
This fits a location independent lifestyle perfectly, because promoting the shop and answering customer queries can be done from anywhere – and easily fitted around freelancing or other work.
Awww… it’s like looking at a rotary-dial telephone.
Selling stuff without storing stuff
A company that stores and ships products on your behalf is known as a dropshipper. In our case the dropshipper makes the items individually as they’re ordered, but it’s more common for them to have a warehouse full of items ready for you to sell. There are dropshippers for pretty much any product you can imagine, and they’re the magic ingredient for a perfect nomadic business model.
No room for stock? Dropshipping to the rescue!
If you decide you want to sell iPhone accessories, for example, just find a dropshipper who has a good range on offer. Then all you need to do is build an online shop and attract customers – all the boring logistics get taken care of for you.
Best of all, you take the customer’s money before you have to pay the dropshipper – so you’re never forking out for stock that you might not be able to sell.
What to sell?
If you can think of it, there’s a dropshipper for it. The variety is terrifying: just search for the name of the product with “dropshipper” in Google, and you’ll be bombarded with results.
Picking a product to sell is the biggest decision you’ll have to make. You can generate ideas by thinking about what you’ve bought online, looking at eBay Pulse to see what items are popular, and checking out the top-selling items in each Amazon category.
You might come up with some crazy ideas, but there’s probably someone who’s made a mint from something far crazier. Dan Andrews, who co-hosts the Lifestyle Business Podcast (required listening for all aspiring business owners), spends most of his time in Southeast Asia and makes his money from selling cat furniture and portable bars.
Unfortunately for you, Bacon Air already exists. Keep thinking…
“You should choose a product that you feel has a real edge,” says Dan. “Having a great product is the most sustainable strategy for building a long-term profitable business. I’d also recommend choosing relatively expensive products with high margins, so you can afford to spend money on acquiring customers.”
If it seems like you’ve chosen badly and after a few months it’s really not working out, you’re not tied to your choice: you don’t own any stock so you can switch to something else. You can even start multiple different shops, see what works best, then put all your efforts into that one.
Choosing a dropshipper to work with
When you’ve selected your niche, it’s time to do some hardcore Googling to identify all the dropshippers for that type of product.
As well as looking at the range they offer, you’ll also need to look at their prices to see if there’s enough room for you to add a decent mark-up. You’ll also need to assess whether they seem to be reliable.
Look out for signs of unreliability.
Neville Medhora has created a whole video series about how he set up his niche online store for rave products (no, us neither), which he now runs in a few hours a week from wherever he fancies.
“Google the product you’re selling, and call the top five suppliers telling them you’re looking for a partner,” says Neville. “But it’s best to have a sample website up first. My first site was just one or two pages with some sample text and pictures stolen from the manufacturers’ website, but I got taken much more seriously than someone ‘just enquiring’.”
If you want your business to be really unique, you could approach small independent retailers who don’t currently sell online and see if they’d be willing to have a dropship arrangement with you. It’d be harder work to start with, but you’d have an edge because customers wouldn’t be able to find your products anywhere else.
Building the shop
When it comes to setting up the shop itself, most of the hard work has been done for you: platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce and Storenvy already have all the features you need – you just need to pay a small monthly fee. To get the shop looking great, you can find designers on Elance who specialise in designing themes for these services.
Other people have also done the job of working out which layouts and written information do the best job of converting browsers to buyers. We’ve included links to some of the research on our site, as well as easy ways to test different changes to see what works best.
Getting customers through the virtual door
The real success of an online business comes down to marketing. Newcomers to online business often have a “build it and they’ll come” mentality, but they’re wrong: getting visitors to your site will be the biggest challenge you face.
The number of different approaches can be overwhelming, although to some extent it’ll depend on your product range. If you’re selling fashion, for example, a presence on Facebook and coverage from fashion bloggers could be a great way to get in front of your target audience. But for more of a commodity like computer cables, the key might be to appear high up in Google for relevant searches.
As you dive into internet marketing you’ll find people talking about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), pay-per-click advertising (like the ads you see on the right-hand side of a Google search), content marketing, social networking, affiliate marketing, and plenty more.
There’s plenty of free information about all these techniques online (we’ve collected some of our favourites on our site), and you can outsource anything you really can’t get to grips with. The key is to use some analytics software (like the free Google Analytics), so you can see where your visitors are coming from and work out which marketing approaches are working.
Unsure which strategy to go with? We’ve got some great tips.
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 others is from all the people we’ve been interviewing for our series.
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.