Life in Chiang Mai this week has been full of work and not much else. As our daily routine solidifies, the hours just melt away as we toil silently in front of our laptops while the city swirls on below us. So in this week’s life update I’m going to share some of the challenges we’ve been facing as we navigate our way towards becoming digital nomads. Do you work remotely? Are you a freelancer? Perhaps you can identify with some of these challenges.
A brief progress update
As we’re at the very beginning of our journey towards becoming digital nomads, we’ll be sharing our first proper update and income report at the end of October (here it is!), once things have settled down. For now though I can tell you that we’re gradually covering our living costs and gaining clients and experience. I set myself a goal to earn at least $500 in September and I’ve already hit my target. Andrew has a big payout from his summer recruitment work coming in a couple of weeks which should cover the cost of our rent for the next six months; he’s also just been matched with his first online teaching client.
*2017 update: read our update on making a digital nomad living here.
We’ve also made progress on our huge list of blog tasks and I’m writing my way through a backlog of posts from Europe. We’re working on our video updates and gaining subscribers on our YouTube channel and we’re trying to learn more about affiliate marketing and how to make passive income. One huge advantage we have is being in contact with friends and fellow travellers who are on the same path as us; this means we have a support network where we can help each other and share information and contacts. We don’t feel alone on this journey.
Digital nomad challenges to date
We’re also learning that the path towards becoming digital nomads isn’t always a smooth one.
Tech troubles – I’m writing this post on my painfully-slow, four-year-old Acer laptop, which is currently raised off the desk by a chopstick-and-string contraption that Andrew invented to let air circulate underneath and prevent overheating. While this laptop has been a faithful Beast, tolerating years of being bundled around the world and plugged into dodgy power points, I fear that it’s finally on its last legs. I hope she can hold out until we have the funds to buy a new one.
Getting stuck in a bubble – since we left the UK in 2013 we haven’t spent many prolonged periods of time inside working. Even our bouts of teaching in Vietnam and Spain were in new environments; either outside in the Spanish countryside or in multiple schools throughout Hanoi. Now work means sitting inside in front of our laptops. Yes, we can set our own hours and work when we like, but it’s proving easy to get stuck in our bubble and not leave the apartment for an entire day. We need to find a balance between working and getting out and about in Chiang Mai.
Things not moving fast enough – we thought once we’d moved into our apartment we’d be off and sprinting towards a sustainable income. Turns out, these things take time. Searching for clients, writing proposals and waiting for payments – it can all be a frustratingly slow process. Andrew had to go through multiple tests, which has taken weeks, before he can finally get started with his online teaching. Sometimes it takes days for my freelance clients to get back to me or assign new work. It’s something we have to get used to and allow for in our schedules.
Learning our limits – finding out how much work you can take on is a learning process. How many articles can I really write a week without the quality dropping? How many hours can we spend scheduling on Pinterest or uploading photos to stock websites before we start to lose our minds? What are the most beneficial and productive uses of our time? I have a feeling we’ll be figuring this out for some time yet. Here’s a look at 8 things I’ve learned from being a freelancer so far.
Negotiating – I am a terrible business person. This became apparent back in my London life when I’d sit in weekly management meetings scribbling travel plans in my notebook rather than paying attention to the profit reports, jargon and gobbledegook my boss was spewing out. I’m rubbish at deciding how much my time is worth, setting my freelance rates and negotiating deals. Just this week I had a pitiful negotiation where, in the space of 10 minutes, I let a client persuade me to cut my rate in half. If I’m going to make my freelance dreams work I need to get better at this. So in the second negotiation of the week, this time about blog advertising, we came prepared, rehearsed and with our pricings figured out. We felt like Apprentice contestants, but it worked!
Coping with fear – there are always going to be moments in life, especially in the small, dark hours of the morning when fear invades. Working for yourself and trying to claw away an income online is tough. Our full-time jobs back in the UK and our teaching gigs since we left have been much more straightforward and risk-free – you put the hours in, you’re guaranteed to get paid. Not so with freelancing and working remotely. When things aren’t working out, when jobs fall through and you have to start again from scratch it can be really scary. I know the key to success is conquering these fears when they arise and ploughing on, but sometimes that’s simpler than it sounds.
Balancing passion with money – so, our bank balance is currently in worse shape than it’s been for years. Payments are coming in and we will be back on track and hopefully making money in a couple of months’ time but for now, we’re doing anything we can to make money. This means that paid work comes before blogging and my goal of getting volunteer work in Chiang Mai has been put on the backburner, at least for another month until things stabilise. We cannot spend every spare scrap of money we have travelling around Thailand or booking trips to new countries. After years of doing pretty much as we pleased, we have to learn to balance our passions with work.
This whole digital nomad project is a learning process for us and we’re happy to be sharing our journey with you; we hope you find it interesting and perhaps a little bit inspiring. Do you work for yourself or do you come up against similar challenges in your work? Do you have any advice to share? Please add your thoughts in the comments below.