Our First Digital Nomad Report

It’s been two months since we arrived in Thailand with a dwindling bank balance and a dream of working remotely. The path so far has been full of tangles but we haven’t let ourselves get too tied up in angst over the challenges we’ve faced. Instead, we’ve ploughed on and made humble progress towards our goal of achieving a sustainable online income. This is our first digital nomad report and we hope other aspiring remote workers find it helpful.

Us at the Sticky Waterfalls, in Thailand.

How we’ve been making money

To summarise our digital nomad journey to date; in August we arrived in Thailand, rented an apartment in Chiang Mai and immediately began toiling away online. We had a plan of creating a few different income streams based on our individual skills and work experience, here’s how we’ve been making money so far.

Amy

I’ve been making money from freelance writing and this blog. While I used to write for a living back in London, trying to make money as a freelance writer is much more challenging. I spent most of September searching for clients and completing small, lower-paid jobs to boost my existing portfolio and get some client testimonials. In October I’ve been producing between one and five paid freelance articles per week.

On the blog side of things, I spend two or three days a week writing new posts about our recent travels in Europe and life here in Thailand, as well as working on an e-book about teaching in Vietnam. To make money I’ve accepted some advertising on the blog for travel-related companies and we have a small amount of cash trickling in from affiliate links.

Andrew

Andrew has been doing recruitment work since June for the language centre we used to work for in Hanoi. This involves placing ads on job sites, interviewing prospective teachers and setting up interviews between them and the centre. This work was due to finish in August but has unexpectedly continued on sporadically through September and October.

Buddha and lantern in a Thai temple

Andrew has also started teaching English online for a French company; he teaches adults business and conversational English. This perfectly suits his skills since Andrew’s a qualified French teacher in the UK and has experience teaching English as a foreign language in Vietnam. Although it took longer than expected for his client list to build up, Andrew’s currently teaching 15 hours a week.

Our first digital nomad report

Here’s a summary of how much we earned in September and October this year through these different income streams. September was a very low month as we spent most of it getting our life in order, working on a backlog of tasks, searching for clients and getting everything set up in our apartment. I’ve included earnings for all the work we’ve completed during September and October,  but £853 of that won’t actually be paid into our accounts until November.

Income Source Total Earnings September Total Earnings October Total for September & October
Freelance writing £124 £334 £458
Blog advertising and affiliates £141 £1,029 £1,170
Recruitment work (June – August) £2,430
Online teaching £74 £534 £608
Total £339 £1,897 £4,666

For our first digital nomad report this looks like a pretty amazing, right? Unfortunately, we won’t be pulling in this much cash every couple of months in the future. Firstly, Andrew’s recruitment payment is for work he carried out over June, July and August, which is why it’s so huge. He is expecting one smaller recruitment payment later this year, but it’s not a year-round income stream. Secondly, the blog income for October was unusually high. It just so happens that we had a side-bar ad renewal which gave us a real boost. I also notice every year that autumn seems to be a busier time for advertising, whereas it drops off during winter.

Working remotely: challenges and triumphs

We think our first digital nomad report shows we’ve made good progress with our earnings. We’ve been waiting for the recruitment payout for some time now and that bulk of cash allows us to boost our depleted savings, book some flights for next year and update our camera equipment. Looking at our writing, blogging and online teaching payments, I think we’ve made a good start towards establishing a consistent monthly income of around £1,000. This would allow us to cover our living costs and put a small amount away each month.

Pumpkin Khao Soi from K's Kitchen, Chiang Mai

I think it’s also a good sign that even though we’ve been working hard, long hours and have come up against some problems, we haven’t given up. We’re determined to make this digital nomad lifestyle happen and we have faith that the hard work we’re putting in now will pay off in future. It helps that we’re attempting all this in Chiang Mai where the living is cheap and we’re among hundreds of other remote workers. I’ve already written a post about some of the specific digital nomad challenges we’ve faced, but here are a couple more issues that have arisen over the last few weeks.

Finding quality clients

In our haste to make money we’ve both accepted the first clients who’ve come our way, which haven’t necessarily been the best to work with or the most profitable. Personally, I find it really hard to set my rates and quote fixed prices for projects as I never know exactly how long something’s going to take me to do. This has meant I’ve ended up working for different people at different rates and I’ve even accepted low-paid work, against my gut instinct, for a couple of clients.

Chiang Mai street art & our first digital nomad report

This has been a steep learning curve and I’m now either increasing my rates accordingly or clearing out lower paid clients. I used Upwork as a quick, easy way to gain some work initially and I’ve quickly realised that isn’t the best strategy. Many employers on platforms like these are just searching for the cheapest labour they can find and the fees Upwork deducts from your payments are extortionate. I’m now focusing on working with clients independently instead and am planning to set up my own freelance website.

Similarly, Andrew has found that there are some higher-paying online teaching companies in China. One in particular pays £23 an hour but Andrew needs to learn some basic Chinese before he can work for them. Since languages are Andrew’s strong point, he’s going to invest some time in learning Chinese over the coming months.

Receiving payments and a failing pound

The saga of the recruitment payment was beyond stressful. We had a week of extreme worry after the payment was mistakenly paid into the wrong account and we tried to track it down. It took a week and many frustrating phone calls before we finally got the money in our account. I was starting to have heart palpitations every time I thought about that £2,400 just floating around beyond our reach. Thankfully, it all worked out eventually.

Shopping at Somphet Market in Chiang Mai

For me, the most tedious part of working online is the payment side of things. My maths skills are notoriously bad and I hate filling in invoices, tracking payments and working out rates. Luckily, I have Andrew to help but this hasn’t saved us when it comes to slow-paying clients. Frustratingly, I’m finding some clients can take weeks or even months to process payments.

Another problem affecting our payments is the falling pound, which we have Brexit to thank for. Although we’re mostly paid in Euros and Dollars, we still have to transfer our earnings into our UK account and we’re losing money on this as the GBP deteriorates. A couple of UK clients have already requested lower advertising rates because of this, so it’s having a real effect on us. Unfortunately, all we can do is suck it up and quote slightly higher rates to make up for the shortfall.

our first digital nomad report Pinterest PosterPin Me!

Moving forward

So far, working remotely has been a serious learning curve and I’m sure there will be plenty more stumbling blocks along the way. The good news is that we’re managing to live modestly but well here in Thailand and we’ve started laying a decent foundation for our digital nomad goals. This weekend, we’re off for a well-deserved break in Mae Salong, no laptops, deadlines or stress. We’ll be sending another digital nomad report out in the new year.

Do you have any questions or advice about working remotely or as a freelancer? Let us know in the comments below.

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22 thoughts on “Our First Digital Nomad Report

    • Thanks Kristen, we hope things will get less stressful as time goes on 🙂

      • Hey guys! I’ve decided to make it a goal to be making 400 a month online by May. I’ve just signed up at Upwork and Freelancer, and am wondering if you have any pointers on how you’re finding independent projects? It feels really tough!
        Kristen recently posted..How I brought my cat to SpainMy Profile

        • Hi Kristen, sounds like a great goal! I am still mainly working for original clients I found on Upwork, although some are now paying me through Paypal rather than Upwork. I have bought a domain and am in the process of setting up a site for my freelance work, then I plan to cold email companies and see how it goes! I plan to write a blog post about freelancing in the coming months, hopefully by then I’ll have a few more tips to share 🙂 Good Luck!

  1. Hi! Me again. That increase in affiliates. advertising from Sept- Oct looks phenomenal. Could you break it down in future? Which affiliates? Which advertising? You guys are so lucky, there’s 2 of you, both earning online. There’s one of me trying to support a family of 4…….uggggg! But we’re doing well. Catch up with you in a few days, in Amphawa tonight ( highly recommended) sleeper train to Ching Mai day after tomorrow. Diginomads conference!
    Alyson recently posted..Old Capital Bike Inn Bangkok ReviewMy Profile

    • Hi Alyson, yes, we are definitely lucky to have both of us earning online and the recruitment payment has really helped. Which digital nomad conference are you going to? We are off to Mae Salong for the weekend, but we’ll be back on Monday. Let’s meet up next week and I’ll tell you all about the blog stuff 🙂

  2. Good for you and boy, do we feel your pain! I know that Andrew’s income won’t remain that high but what a blessing to add some to your coffers! We have had a down week, mentally, but are re-energized and back at it today. Good job and keep it up!
    Rhonda recently posted..Stepping Back in TimeMy Profile

    • Hi Rhonda, yes it was such a blessing to get Andrew’s money, especially since at one point I seriously thought it was lost forever at the bank. Sorry to hear you’ve had a tough week but glad you’re feeling re-energized today!

  3. Wow that is quick progress! I understand what you’re saying about it being slightly deceptive but take it for what it is and focus on the huge positives that have come over the past couple of months -you’re both off the ground and hurtling in the right direction. Amazing!

    • Thanks James, we are incredibly grateful for this awesome start. Although things will drop off a lot next month I’m hoping we’ve made some solid steps towards a sustainable income. Hope you guys are doing well and enjoying Cambodia!

  4. “…we still have to transfer our earnings into our UK account and we’re losing money on this as the GBP deteriorates..”

    I’m curious, if you don’t mind me asking, why this is? Why not just leave your earnings in a PayPal account? If this is too personal, totally understand. 🙂

    Keep taking one day at a time.
    Patti recently posted..The Vermont Country Store ~My Profile

    • Hi Patti, no, not too personal 🙂 Unfortunately we can’t afford to leave all our earnings in PayPal as we need to withdraw the cash to use day-to-day here. Our UK account is actually pretty great in that we don’t get charged any fees for withdrawing or making transactions abroad, so that’s the main account we use here for travel, rent, food, bills, etc. I suppose we could leave some money in PayPal though and hope that at some point the pound stops deteriorating.

  5. I’m impressed guys, the increase from last month is crazy! We’re also feeling the effect of the falling pound living in Vietnam. It’s so tough to think that a meal that cost me a pound a few months ago now costs nearly £1.50! Keep it up, I’m sure theres lost more profit to be made and it will only get easier the more practice you get! Good luck!

    • I know Frances, it’s so annoying isn’t it! I hope the pound eventually recovers a bit. Thanks for the support, I’m sure things will get easier in time too 🙂

    • Thanks Stefan. Yep, the pound sucks at the moment! I’m just glad we’re not actually in the UK right now feeling the force of Brexit first hand!

  6. You have done very well and made great progress, congratulations! It is a steep learning curve, but sounds like you are both working hard to achieve your dream and are currently on schedule. Andrew, I am in awe of you trying to learn Chinese…seriously? maybe a trip to China very soon should help to get you fluent in no time at all? Enjoy your break to Mae Salong.
    Gilda Baxter recently posted..A Weekend in East Devon and Our First Airbnb ExperienceMy Profile

    • Thanks Gilda. Yes, Andrew is pretty good at languages so I’m sure he’ll have some success. Interestingly, Mae Salong was actually a Thai village with a Chinese heritage, so we did get a little taste of Chinese culture on our weekend away! I’ll get Andrew to write a post detailing his adventures with learning Chinese and teaching online in the coming months 🙂

  7. Hey guys! I’ve finally got some good hours worked out with Topica and hit 1k in pay this month. I’ve joined something called Cambly too…you just log in and teach conversational English to students around the world whenever you’re free. It’s great so far but I’ll let you know how it works out! I was hoping to start with Upwork soon so thanks for the useful info! Glad you’re both managing to lay the foundations for a digital nomad lifestyle and wishing you all the best. We’re hoping to start our digital nomad lifestyle in the coming months as we head back to the UK via Europe. Kind of nervous about it so loving your articles! All the best 😊 Chazzicat x

    • Hi Charlene, I’m glad you’re finding our updates useful! It sounds like you are well on your way to creating a digital nomad lifestyle, that’s awesome news! I’ll get Andrew to check out Cambly; I think he did send an email to Topica but didn’t get a reply. Sounds like you have an exciting adventure ahead. Enjoy 🙂

  8. Great report. Interesting about Upwork, I was thinking of trying it out to do some editing work. It might still be worth it just to get the experience but it sounds like that’s all it will be for.
    The only thing about the falling pound is at least you’re not using the Aussie dollar (or the Pacific peso as we like to call it). No matter what any other currency is doing, it always seems to be crap against it!
    Good luck.

    • Ha, I guess we have something to be thankful for then Melanie 🙂 I’m glad you found the report interesting. It’s definitely worth giving Upwork a go to start off with, I’ve found a couple of good clients from there but you just have to wade through a lot of crap first!

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