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.
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.
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 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.
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|
|Blog advertising and affiliates||£141||£1,029||£1,170|
|Recruitment work (June – August)||–||–||£2,430|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.