No! You shouldn’t quit your job and become a digital nomad. Well, at least, not until you’ve got to the end of this article. Then you’ll have a better idea as to whether or not dumping your boss and flying to Abu Dhabi is a good idea or not.
There is an argument in digital nomad circles that goes something like this; “Just do it!” Sadly, not only is this not a very good argument, it was also stolen from Nike. Nike use sweatshop slave labor to make their products. Don’t emulate them.
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What Do You Need To Become A Digital Nomad?
If you want to be a digital nomad you need:
- Paid work that you can do online or sufficient funds to support working on an enterprise that will eventually pay you money
- To be able to travel
We’re going to assume that most people can travel for the sake of this question. Even if you can’t afford or qualify for a passport – you can travel in your own country. Unless you live in North Korea but then you can’t go online without being shot, either, so it’s not really relevant.
So, then we get to the crux of the matter. It’s all about the money, right?
Why You Might Want To Wait A While Before You Quit
Yes, it’s about money and here’s what you need to know before you hand in your notice.
Digital Nomad Freelancers
If you want to be a freelancer, when you’re a digital nomad – then we strongly recommend that you use your spare time to find and service clients before you quit. Once that side gig is paying enough per month to live in Thailand or Cambodia (we’d go for $1,500 – $2,000 a month but it can be done for less) then it’s time to leave.
Why not find clients after you’ve quit and moved, instead? Well, firstly you can’t guarantee when you will land clients. You might be lucky and get some the day you land, it might be 2 years (particularly if you suck at selling) if you’re not lucky.
Secondly, it’s often much easier to find clients while you are at home. You can meet with your network. You can canvass local businesses and networking groups. If you can’t find clients on your doorstep – you may find it’s much, much harder when you’re on the opposite side of the world in a different time zone.
If you’re already earning before you leave, you can focus on enjoying yourself and getting to grips with a new place. If you’re not – you’ve started digital nomad life in a state of stress. Now, if you think your savings are sufficient to outlast this, you may choose to go anyway but, we’d ask you to remember one more thing.
Studies show that people who begin their businesses whilst working are nearly 3 times as likely to succeed as those who build their businesses while they’re not working. Much of this is down to the fact that people run out of funds much faster than they think will when they’re not working.
Sure, at home you might stay in and watch Netflix all the time but when you move to Thailand? You’re going to want to meet elephants, swim off beautiful beaches, climb mountains, see temples, shop in Bangkok, etc. and that stuff? It all costs money. Forget living like a king on $300 a month, visiting new places and enjoying it means spending money.
In short, if you envisage your digital nomad life as being one of freelancing – you ought to get some clients before you quit and pack your bags.
Digital Nomad Remote Workers
Seriously, find another job before you quit. Digital nomads on Reddit may claim that there’s an abundance of remote working opportunity and that employers are just waiting to bag another dreamer with Hawaiian shorts and a desire to bring their laptop to the pool.
The reality is this. Remote work opportunities are relatively scarce. Spend 20 minutes on job boards and you’ll see this for truth.
Then there’s the annoying fact that many employers don’t understand how contracting works. So, they expect you to be resident of wherever the heck before they employ you. (This is stupid, but it is the reality of things).
Finally, there’s also the slight problem that comes from the fact that many “remote employers” are robbing bastards who think they can pay 1/3rd of the market rate to some desperate bozo in Thailand whose savings are running out.
You have a much better position to negotiate from when taking a job, if you already have a job. If you want decent pay, conditions, etc. much of this boils down to your ability to negotiate. So, why surrender your advantage?
Don’t forget if you quit, move to Thailand and then start looking for work, you’re going to be running on your savings until you find work or go broke. Again, this is a ton of stress that you probably don’t need.
First Time Entrepreneurs – The Digital Nomad Startup Syndrome
If you have never run a business for profit – we strongly recommend that you start your business as a side gig and focus on making it profitable before you quit your job.
Businesses cost money to run. When you’re working, you have money to invest in your business. This gives you a much longer runway to get to profitability than quitting and moving to Thailand will.
You will find some fairly deranged digital nomads who will claim that the money you save on cost of living will give you a longer runway. They are wrong. If you’re earning enough to cover your expenses every month, your runway is infinite. The moment you quit – your runway becomes finite.
It’s worth noting that many would-be entrepreneurs are simply incapable of turning a business into profitability. I’ve had as many failures as successes and I’ve been an “entrepreneur” for nearly 2 decades now.
Working for yourself is hard.
Take blogging. Seems easy, right? Start writing stuff online. Get paid from advertisers, product sales, etc.
A superb path to riches!
Yet, to start a blog – you’re going to need to be able to manage a blog. WordPress may be easy but after nearly 15 years of using WordPress, I can tell you that it’s not as easy as you might think, and you may struggle with the design and getting it to do what you want.
Then you’re going to need content. How much content? Our current estimate is that you’ll need… 140,000 words of content to get started! You also need to know how that number breaks down. Otherwise, you’ll be writing posts nobody ever reads.
You also need to know SEO (search engine optimization) because unless you’re going to buy adverts (more costs), you’re going to need to help people find you with Google.
And SEO doesn’t come quick. Expect to spend up to a year before Google finds you.
If you made a mistake at any point. Google may never find you.
That’s a year of hard work before you can reasonably expect to make a few bucks and that year begins after your first 140,000 words are published!
Exhausted, yet? Most people are. Their expectations of running an internet business are based on the “4-hour workweek”. Which was a good (but is now quite outdated) marketing textbook which freely admits, the title was only there to catch the attention – Tim Ferris, the author, works non-stop. That’s the reality of entrepreneurship.
So, our advice remains. Build a business. Make it work. Then quit and go around the world.
The Evidence Before Our Eyes
I know a lot of digital nomads. (Though it’s worth noting many of them would prefer not to be referred to as digital nomads because of the negative perception that title infers).
The digital nomads who’ve been on the road for years all have one thing in common. They are financially stable enough to afford to be on the road for years.
I am yet to meet a truly successful business person who started on the road. Though, I have met a number of abject liars claiming success that they haven’t achieved to try and sell their “get nomad quick” guides to other people.
I know it’s possible to succeed when you start overseas because I did. I started my freelance practice out of necessity when a bricks and mortar venture tanked (along with all my savings) in China. But it was miserably hard, and it took more than a year before it offered any kind of stability.
If I’d had money, I could have been profitable much, much faster and I think I could have cut a 2-3 year insanely hard work effort down to 3-6 months with a little extra cash flow.
Yet, the digital nomad successes, who quit and moved to South East Asia to start from there, are few and very, very far between.
I feel like the rich dad in Rich Dad, Poor Dad giving out dad-style advice here. Isn’t digital nomad life a life of freedom? Yes, it is.
But freedom, just like everything in life isn’t free.
You will have a much higher chance of enjoying digital nomad life if you have a source of income before you quit your job to travel the world.