Living Life on Your Own Terms: Career Advice from a Digital Nomad

Do you dream of the freedom of the open road? As someone who has cut the cord on the 9-to-5 grind, Jacob Laukitis recently wrote an article on Medium about the new lifestyle opportunities available for digital nomads. He kindly agreed to answer questions from the SmartCAT, one of the biggest freelancer communities in the world.

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Digital entrepreneur, co-founder of ChameleonJohn, SEO specialist and Internet journalist. Jacob Laukaitis has pursued exciting work while simultaneously traveling to 25 countries. As a digital nomad, he works from anywhere with a computer and Wi-Fi. Below is some of his advice for digital natives and others interested in the new world of work.

What is the main motivation for people to quit the 9-to-5 paradigm?
I think most people become freelancers because of freedom. If you don’t like having regimented work hours – go freelance. If you like working from home – go freelance. If you like traveling virtually all the time – go freelance.

There are two things that are most important in any work relationship: delivering results and communication.

How hard is it to get started with the freelancer lifestyle?
Find a way to make a living remotely as soon as possible – start literally anything that pops into your head, you can change it later if you don’t like it – and go to Southeast Asia. I think it’s a wonderful place to start your digital nomad career, because it’s very cheap (good when you are starting out and not making much money) and extremely interesting. Even when things are hard, you will be happy with your life simply because there are so many interesting things to do.

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What’s the best way to find and keep good clients when you’re remote?
There are two things that are most important in any work relationship: delivering results and communication. As long as a freelancer delivers results, the client does not care about their location, age, education, race, gender, experience or virtually anything else.

How do you deal with obstacles?
Some countries where freelancers work, such as Myanmar, have very slow Internet. The bandwidth situation is not your fault, but as a freelancer it is your problem. If you take on a job and agree to a certain deadline and deliverable, it’s on you to make that happen and deal with any obstacles that get in the way.

Speaking of communication, I think a lot of freelancers are really bad at it. This is especially true of the traveling ones, who might answer e-mails once every few days or even just once a week. And they are never reachable on Skype or phone. Even if you work well, clients need assurance that you will deliver on time and that you are on the right track. They need status updates, explanations and peace of mind – and if you’re going to be a wise freelancer, you should provide these on time.

What are your time management tips?
It’s absolutely essential to put time aside every day to finish the tasks you have to do. Don’t procrastinate. When people start traveling they often get carried away and think they will do everything tomorrow, the day after tomorrow or the next week. But the more you postpone, the sooner your career as a digital nomad will crash and burn. Treat your work or business as the main thing that enables you to live like this. If you don’t want to lose it, take care of your commitments first.

Treat your work or business as the main thing that enables you to live like this. If you don’t want to lose it, take care of your commitments first.

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Which hours of the day are most productive for you?
My most productive working hours are evenings. When I’m in Asia it’s really easy to collaborate with my colleagues in Europe – when they start working, it’s about 4 to 6 PM my time and that’s exactly when I start working as well. I try to be online as much as possible, because communication is extremely important in any working relationship. I answer almost all of my e-mails on the same day.

How do you handle bad clients?
Non-payers and other bad clients should be fired! Life is too short to work with people who don’t respect you and do not keep their promises.

Life is too short to work with people who don’t respect you and do not keep their promises.

Which professions are best for being a freelancer or remote worker?
Business-wise, anything that is profitable from day 1 and does not require a lot of investment (money or time) to start. If you’re selling your own services, the most profitable industry at the moment is probably programming. This is especially true if you use geo-arbitrage: get hired as a programmer in a big startup hub, such as London, San Francisco or New York, and then move to the developing world while keeping your first-world salary.

There are plenty of other freelance-friendly jobs though: translators, copywriters, designers, consultants, and other specialists can work for years for clients without ever meeting them face-to-face.

Can’t-live-without-’em apps for work and travel?
To be honest I do not use my phone too often when I travel. But technology plays a major part in my lifestyle. There is no way I could do anything like this without the Internet, my computer and tons of wonderful applications I use every day, such as Gmail, Facebook, Skype, and analytics software.

Is “digital nomad” shorthand for “shirking grownup responsibilities”?
I think the point of life, no matter how you live it, is to be happy. If you are most alive having a family and a fixed address, do that. If you are excited by travel, get out there and travel. I personally would never trade this lifestyle for anything else.

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