Are you ready to throw caution to the wind and go for it? Or, are you absolutely terrified and thinking what if the proverbial bungee cord snaps?!
Feelings of fear and excitement are justified. Becoming a digital nomad does require certain skills, both hard and soft. While some may be lucky enough to have landed a career in graphic design or programming, it’s not the case for all of us.
Here are the foundational skills I’ve found most germane to my own work as a freelance writer, a blogger, and a business owner.
SOFT SKILLS TO BECOME A FREELANCER
As a digital nomad, you need to have hard and soft skills in your toolkit, just like in any other career.
Soft skills are those things that make you a good worker but aren’t quantitative. These are the glue that holds it all together.
Self-Reflection & Mental Awareness
Living in an authentic, personal way is what inspired me to pursue this lifestyle. That sounds kind of flowery or cheesy, doesn’t it? But it’s true!
Despite how it may appear on Instagram, the digital nomad lifestyle isn’t glamorous. It takes grit and sacrifice, and the hope and belief that it’s all worth it.
However, burnout is real for those who move from place to place, and for those who work for themselves and/or set their own hours. Your work and your life will more easily begin to intertwine. Create boundaries for yourself.
And continue to prioritize self-care. I’ve found it especially important for me as I have a mental illness that I don’t want to prevent me from living the life I imagine for myself. I quite like this Etsy self-care checklist, especially for travel – it reminds me to take care of the small things I often neglect:
- Ensuring I get 8 hours of sleep
- Drinking enough water
- Doing “at-home” spa treatments
Being a digital nomad tends to require the ultimate level of adaptability. In addition to the usual considerations such as comfort, cleanliness, location, environment, etc., you’re also going to have to consider – likely prioritize – access to a strong internet connection and appropriate workspaces.
Thankfully, as the entire world is adapting to this lifestyle, coworking spaces are much easier to find as is a good internet connection. Here’s a list of the best coworking spaces around the world as of 2022.
And here’s a guide to finding free Wifi wherever you go!
As a freelance, change is the only constant! I found it very overwhelming when I thought about all of the things I had to learn. Plus I struggle with an attention disorder that makes learning a bit more difficult, so I have to find my own groove.
My little secret is that I use Trello. Similar to how I use it to work on a specific project, I break it up into sections of what I’d like to do, what I’m currently doing, and what I’ve done. Whenever I have a new idea or find a new resource I add that to the first section. Trello is so great because it’s a fluid to-do list. Break down miles into steps, and you’ll get there eventually!
It’s really important to protect yourself, your business, and your clients and visitors. Building your own website is one of those areas where legal awareness is critical. You’ll need to consider:
- Privacy and data collection (GDPR)
- ADA compliance
- HTTPS for e-commerce
- Copyright and Fair Use law
Just to name a few!
Frank Olivo’s Website Legal Requirements is a great resource that’ll walk you through the requirements if your company is in the States.
HARD SKILLS TO BECOME A DIGITAL NOMAD
Working in the digital space is different than working your average 9-5. And that’s good news. Just because you didn’t perform well in your online university classes doesn’t naturally mean you’re going to fail as a digital nomad. You just need to find your niche.
Marketing & Branding
When figuring out the branding for our new blog, my partner and I wanted to nail down something excellent right from the beginning. This isn’t necessarily the path that will work for all, but when we weighed out our vision, our current resources, and our timeline it’s what made the most sense for us.
My partner signed up for Tabitha Emma’s Define Your Brand’s Style and worked through it while also including me in specific aspects of the course. Through this, we were able to figure out what we wanted to achieve, who our target audience would be, what colors and themes we wanted to use (remember there is a whole psychology of color), among other aspects that make up a brand. If the course fee isn’t in the budget, Tabitha Emma also has a blog that offers great insights and ideas.
Adobe also has a ton of great resources, and one that I’ve found particularly helpful in terms of branding is Designing a Complete Brand Identity with Sydney Michuda. While it’s not going to take you through the in-depth work as the course does, it provides a great overview of what the process should look like.
Photography & Editing
Photography is something I’m super picky about. My formal education began in the fine arts so, while I can’t claim to be a stellar photographer, I do have a rather critical eye.
But, there are no two ways about it: Your brand identity is defined in your photography. It creates a perception of the quality of the service or product you provide. Whether you’re using Instagram, Facebook Ads, a website, or other streams to come face to face with consumers, the way that the photography feels, what it portrays is going to create an impression.
Thankfully, there are some excellent photo editing tools out there.
- If you’re looking for a simple app that’ll do most of the work for you, I really like Tezza. They’ve got a lot of great filters (I like Natural, Cocoa and Milky) and some really fun, interesting templates as well.
- If you want a bit more freedom, Adobe Lightroom Photoshop is a great option that lies in between standard photo editor and Adobe Photoshop, which can be installed right onto your mobile device.
Software & Coding
A few years back I came across SheCodes and decided, “What the heck, I’ll sign up for the free 60-minute session!” Of course, it’s a sales pitch to get you into the coding course, but I did end up doing the basics course, and I’m glad I did.
I haven’t done much of anything with it in terms of taking education to the next level, but this course did two things for me: 1) it made me confident enough to explore a field that has been largely dominated by men, and 2) it gave me a basic understanding for coding languages that I’ve been able to take forward and apply to sites like WordPress.
An acquaintance of mine left her cushy bank job after teaching herself how to code, and now it’s her full-time career. So the sky’s the limit!
There are a lot of graphic design tools available – and some really great free ones – if you want to work on developing this skill.
Gimp is one that I started using at my brother’s recommendation, who works in marketing and often creates his own graphics. Gimp operates very much like photoshop and is a great tool for photo editing, illustration and graphic design, and also learning. While you’ll have to find videos on Youtube for instruction, being that it’s a free program that essentially works just like Photoshop, it’s a great option for beginners that you can continue to use as your skillset develops.
My personal favorite easy graphic design and marketing tool is Canva. I first used it years ago to create invitations for something, and have since used it to create logos, Instagram posts and highlight covers, email templates, etc, etc, etc. I have so much fun with it because it offers a lot of flexibility in terms of what you can do as a novice or as a Pro. There are dozens and dozens of templates, images, and graphics and they just keep expanding their offering. A lot of it is free, but even the Pro stuff is really affordable.
Search Engine Optimization
Online content (blogs, copy, social media posts, etc.) is very different from the literary stuff of high school English class and the academic sort in university.
The tallest hurdle for me was learning about SEO (search engine optimization.) I’ve worked with various companies and clients who all take varied approaches to SEO. Some expect the writer to do all of the work, some expect them to do none but to provide solid content (to have good storytelling skills).
SEO is not about spamming your readers – good SEO actually does the opposite.
If you’re thinking of getting into writing, I say go for it – but make sure you dedicate time to educating yourself about SEO. Tools like Surfer and Frase definitely take a lot of the work out of it, but having a solid foundational understanding will make your work more accurate and successful.
I started learning about SEO via Yoast Academy. You can sign up for a free account which gives you access to courses on SEO basics. Or, you can pay for the premium version which gives you access to Pro learning materials.
Between Surfer and Frase, I prefer the latter only because they’ve done a good job of providing all the same tools, and then some. It’s a newer tool so it feels a bit beta sometimes, but it’s much cheaper than Surfer.
I also use the Moz Bar extension to find A-links (authority links that have good metrics). Definitely recommend since it’s a simple tool with excellent results.
Budgeting & Finances
I hate budgeting. But budgeting is the oxygen of business, so let’s take a deep breath!
You need to think about your business and personal expenses, how much you are worth, and how much your competitors can charge (don’t forget to weigh in your experience and value.)
Download a budgeting app to learn more about how you spend and keep track of your finances. Options include:
As a freelancer means your income is fluid and you might pull in thousands one month, and the next hundreds. I’ve been in a place where I felt I could be financially stable by relying solely on my writing, only to have clients fall off the map the next day.
It is encouraging to look at what other digital nomads are making – some sources say established freelancers make anywhere between USD 50,000 $99,000 per year. Just remember that it takes time, consistency, and a well-developed toolkit to get there.
Lauren Schmalz lives in Toronto, Canada. Her love of travel began as a child when her parents would bring the family south of the border to explore the Eastern States. She’s traveled across North America, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. She is an advocate of slow travel and the road less traveled. She can be found enjoying the city with her Thai rescue dog or enjoying a good meal and glass of wine with friends and family.