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 past few weeks, we’ve looked at different types of non-techie career that you can do from anywhere. We’ve interviewed people who already do it, and we’ve given you tips on what you need to get started and useful resources you can use. This is the last post in the series; there are links to all the other posts at the bottom of this page.
Location independent business model #4: Sell your knowledge, experience and ideas without selling your time
To round off our series on location independent models, we’re going to look at the most powerful of them all – which also happens to be the furthest removed from having a normal job
Maybe you had a job in a supermarket or pub as a teenager. You were paid as a straight swap of your time for their money – if you wanted more money you had to be there for more hours. When you switched to a “professional” job, it became more about your skills than your time, but you were still expected to be there between 9 and 5 (and let’s face it, constantly on your Blackberry the rest of the time too).
Consulting or freelancing is the next step towards real freedom, because it allows you to work anywhere and place your own value on your time. But there’s still a ceiling on what you can earn: you can raise your hourly rate, but you can only fit in so many hours of billable work each day. And if you stop working to go on holiday or because you’re ill, you earn nothing.
But what if you could sell your expertise or ideas without it being related to your time at all? That’s what authors have always done: they spend time writing a book, other people sell it for them, and they get a royalty for each sale forever. But the internet has now made this business model accessible to the rest of us, even if we’ve got no talent for writing about teenage wizards or horny billionaires.
Make like a lizard and scale
Separating your knowledge from your time gives you the benefit of scale: you can create something once, and sell it multiple times. And with digital products, each extra sale doesn’t cost you anything or take you any time.
Rather than your income being constrained by time, it’s the quality of the content (and, admittedly, the quality of your marketing) that determines how much money you make. I mean, The Beatles weren’t in the studio recording She Loves You for any longer than One True Voice (remember them?) were to record Shakespeare’s Way With Words.
Remember: quality matters too
People call this type of earning “passive”, but “deferred” might be a better word. For example, if you’re an accountant, you could spend a week recording a video course helping people to do their own accounts, when you could normally earn £5,000 working for clients in that week. But over a year, you could sell £50,000 worth of your video product: you deferred your income, took a chance on not making any sales at all, and made ten times more money as a result.
It’s an ideal business model to support a location independent lifestyle, because once you’ve created your product it can sell automatically, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. We’ve had emails notifying us about sales of our book Airbnb Pro while we’ve been on the beach and out for dinner…and believe me, the meal’s much more enjoyable when you know your new readers have just paid for it.
Making money from book sales while at a bunga bunga party… no wonder he’s so smug
The main ways to package your expertise
Publishing a book is almost ridiculously easy. In fact, we published a Kindle book in a day, which is still making money for us now. You now have the same access as a major publisher to the world’s biggest book-buying audience on Amazon…which is pretty amazing when you think about it.
The rewards can be higher away from Amazon, though, because you can price according to the value the book gives rather than the “typical” price of a book (we talk about this more on our resources page). For example, Pat Flynn sells a guide to passing a popular architectural exam for $45, because its value to a struggling student will be huge. After an intense burst of work in creating the product, Pat has now been selling his book steadily for years with no extra effort.
A course is a more interactive way of sharing your expertise than an ebook, but stops short of being actual one-to-one coaching (which is another model in itself). It’s often a combination of written material, videos or screencasts, and often some ongoing support over email or in a forum.
The format is so flexible that it lends itself to almost anything. A guitar teacher can record video lessons. A Photoshop expert can create screencasts showing how to achieve particular results. A social media specialist can combine videos and PDFs to teach small businesses how to use Twitter. And by including membership to a private forum, students can support each other – and being part of the network can become another benefit of buying the course.
You really can teach an online course in anything
Why settle for a customer who pays you once then disappears, when you can have a customer who pays you every month? That’s the theory behind membership sites: by creating a valuable and comprehensive resource, people will pay you for continuous access. (It’s also the theory behind porn sites. Apparently.)
That’s what mortgage broker Lisa Williams did. Rather than advising clients about the same topics over and over again, she put all her knowledge on a membership site and charged clients for continuous access. But it doesn’t even have to be your own knowledge: Andrew Warner founded Mixergy, where he interviews entrepreneurs about their experiences so his audience can learn from them. Andrew still adds new interviews, but there are also hundreds of interviews in his archive which users will pay $25/month to view whenever they want.
A membership site isn’t truly passive, because without adding new content you’ll have high attrition rates – customers signing up for a few months, reading everything you’ve got, then quitting. There’s more about dealing with attrition on our resources list. But if you’re smart, you can get other people to create the content for you. Take the Warrior Forum, which is one of the biggest internet marketing discussion forums. Members pay for the privilege of talking to each other: the forum’s founders just created the forum and cultivated the community.
How to make the sale
Once you’ve identified a way to package your knowledge into a saleable form, making the sale isn’t too different from any other business model we’ve talked about: you have to make people know you exist, impress them with your expertise, and make them a compelling offer to buy your product. Which is, admittedly, easier said than done – we share some useful links on our resources list.
Unlike any of the other models we’ve talked about though, building up an email list of prospective customers is the most important thing you can do. That’s because unlike buying a physical product to solve a problem, or buying your professional services to help them achieve a specific goal, this time the customer is buying education – and they might not be convinced they need educating, or that you’re the person to do it.
So rather than asking for the sale immediately, a common strategy is to offer free information in return for their email address. For example, give Maneesh Sethi your email address, and he’ll send you an email series with plenty of valuable information about building a location independent business. Once you’re convinced he knows his stuff, he’ll send you the opportunity to buy his $250 course.
Get your readers to fall in love with you first… then they’ll give you anything
Email list subscribers are free to acquire, and can be extremely valuable. If you have 100 people on your list and two of them buy your £500 course, each subscriber is worth £10. If you can find a way to improve your conversion rate, each member gets even more valuable. Our resources page has plenty more about email conversion rates, and how to manage and grow your list.
So, which model is for you?
This post concludes our list of business models that can work for digital nomads. We hope we’ve convinced you that whatever you do, there’s a way to make money from it without having to work for anyone else or be tied to an office.
If you want any advice about what might work best for you, just contact us through our blog, or ask in the comments below – we’re always happy to help!