If you’re thinking about giving it all up for a life on the road as a digital nomad, chances are you’ll be freelancing to make your money. And in many ways, this has never been easier (a big round of applause for the internet) but you’ll be disappointed if you expect freelancing to be a breeze.
The perks are easy to imagine when you think about freelancing as a digital nomad. However, the downsides can take you by surprise when it actually comes to making a living on the road. At least that’s how I found it. So today I want to run through these pros and cons – not to put you off in any way, but help you anticipate and prepare for them.
The pros of freelancing as a nomad
Before we get to the negative aspects, let’s run through the positives. Some of these are kind of obvious, but I’ll do my best to include some points you may not have considered.
The most obvious perk of being a freelancer is the flexibility that comes along with it.
- You choose your own hours
- You choose your own projects
- Your work when you want
- You work where you want
It’s that last point that really counts for digital nomads, giving you the freedom to take your work with you wherever you go.
You become your own boss
I was never too good at working for other people – probably a flaw of mine more than my employers. But I was never keen on the lack of respect and office bullshit that comes with working for a company. No one is, I’m sure. And aside from the freedom to travel, I would say this has got to be the biggest perk of being a nomad freelancer.
Everything you do is for your own benefit
No matter what your role is in a company you’re always working for someone else. You get paid for your troubles, of course, but it’s the company that reaps the benefit of all your hard work. Your rewards, on the other hand, are limited to a certain number promotions or pay rises at best. At least when you’re self-employed you know everything you do is for the benefit of you and your business.
You choose your salary (sort of)
I just about put this in the pros section, because there is truth to the notion that you can choose your own salary as a freelancer – at least to some extent. You’ve got to make sure you don’t price yourself out of the work you need, of course, but you have a great deal of flexibility when it comes to your fees. Once you’ve got a steady stream of income you can start to raise your prices to find that balance between how much you can charge and the quality you can deliver at that price.
You become business smart
Freelancing as a digital nomad forces you to improve your business smarts, for sure. If you fancy setting up your own business at some point, you’ll get to grips with a number of those challenges by becoming a freelancer – a sort of stepping stone to becoming a business owner. Freelancing as a digital nomad is somewhat unique, though. You have the murky waters of international tax laws, visas and all kinds of another red tape to figure out. It’s a learning curve, to say the least.
It makes you stronger
As you can tell by the title of this article the life of a freelancing nomad isn’t all cushty. Before we start running through some of the downsides that come along with this lifestyle, though, I should mention the fact they all make you stronger. The uncertainty that comes with freelancing teaches you to let go of the reassurances you depend on so much back at home. There’s a real sense of freedom that comes with that.
The cons of freelancing as a nomad
Perhaps more important than the pros of freelancing are the cons that come along with it. As I said in the opening, you don’t need to let these put you off but be aware of them and ready to take them head on.
There are no guarantees
By far the worst thing about being a freelancing nomad is the uncertainty that comes with it. You can never be 100% sure of how much work you’ll have in the following month or how much money you’ll be making. Many freelancers complain about going from being too busy one month to having nothing the next and that makes it incredibly difficult to budget for things.
That’s not how it works for everyone, though. I’ve managed to build a regular monthly income so I have a good idea of how much is coming in the following month. Those monthly clients are invaluable because they come with some sort of longevity one-off projects can’t offer. So target the clients you can work for on a monthly basis and try to get as many of them on board as possible so your eggs aren’t all in one basket, so to speak.
You’re constantly looking for work
The best feeling you can have as a freelancer is confidence you’ll be getting paid the following month, six months and beyond. And until you get to a point where the work starts coming to you that means a constant job hunt to keep you in work. It’s a time-consuming process too – one of many you’ll have to get used to. But this is another benefit to working for the same clients on a monthly basis. Each regular client you have is another one you don’t have to find next month.
You don’t get paid for half your work
Sadly, you don’t get paid for the time it takes to find new projects and that’s just one of your unpaid tasks. Invoicing, website maintenance, marketing, tax returns and countless other unpaid jobs fill up your freelancer schedule. More time-consuming than any of those, however, is the constant stream of emails you have to juggle between different clients.
Sure, you can factor some of these tasks into the fees you charge clients, but you’ll price yourself out of work before you even make a dent. Getting an assistant on board when you can is probably the way to go.
Travel and work don’t mix
This is probably the worst revelation for digital nomads: you can’t work and travel at the same time. Travel is great but it’s also inconvenient, unreliable and tiring – none of which mixes well with work. Time really is money when you’re a freelancer and you can’t afford to let work suffer because of travel. And you can’t expect to see the best, remote parts of any new country and get any work done while you’re there. Sorry folks, the two don’t mix.
Being a digital nomad is expensive
We talk a lot about affordable countries and low living costs in the nomad community, but the fact is being a digital nomad is expensive. Sure, you can make it cheaper by staying in places for longer and traveling less, but the chances are you’re going to spend more than you would back at home, no matter how you work it. The trick is you have to earn more, enjoy more and find that work-life balance you’ve always been looking for.
So those are the big pros and cons to freelancing as a digital nomad. Again, I don’t want to put anyone off the idea, because the nomad life is pretty exceptional. But I’m not about to sell it as this perfect deal to people because I know what it’s like to learn the downsides without any warning. On a brighter note, I’ve also figured out how to deal with most/all of those downsides over the last few years so I’ll be back soon with a post on those hard-learnt lessons.
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