Your Digital Nomad business
This is your lifeline, probably your only source of income and the machine that feeds your wallet and enables further traveling and survival. Make sure to tailor your business for easy remote operation. The typical Digital Nomad business is to provide some non-physical remote service, so your accounting should not be too complicated. However, make absolutely sure you setup your company properly, with good administrative support, and according to all laws and regulations. There are many activities perfectly suited to run remotely – fighting with authorities is not one of them! Bear in mind that the Digital Nomad Lifestyle may be regarded as unorthodox or even slightly suspicious by certain people; one more reason to make sure everything is in perfect order administrative-wise.
A few words about revenue
Digital Nomads typically spend most of their time in low-cost countries, thus being able to survive on less income than in a highly developed country. Here are a few important things to consider when sketching out the budget for a Digital Nomad business:
- Be prepared to face resistance towards remote work! Many managers want you to sit at your desk, on-site, where they can keep an eye on you
- Clients in general pay much less for remote work than for corresponding on-site work
- Local everyday life in a low-cost country may be inexpensive – just don't forget that cost for international travel, SW licenses, Hardware, etc., remain the same no matter which country you're in
- Consider your vocational training, taking up new tools and methods, participation in conventions, trade fairs, off-line courses, etc.
- Don't forget to budget for medical and travel insurance for your staff (= YOURSELF!), Accounting and auditing, visas and possible work permits, and perhaps legal assistance depending on where and how you setup your business
- Consider provisions for retirement – no employer will do that for you as a Digital Nomad
- It is far easier to “gear-down” to a low-cost / low-income lifestyle than what it is to “gear-up” to a high-cost / high-income lifestyle
- Avoid the low-cost / low-income trap: It may be tempting to decrease work effort and income to a level where you have a comfortable day-to-day life in a low-cost country. However, returning to your home country (sometimes destiny calls …) may become a real challenge unless you have arranged sufficient funds
Company Secretary or corresponding service
You will need a skilled and reliable agent to handle your business practicalities and administration; such as a physical address and maybe phone number for your business, mail forwarding, keeping track of statements and returns to hand in and when to do it, renewal of business license, accounting and auditing … The right support will give you the freedom to focus 100% on productive work and to develop your business – wrong support may cause unnecessary and extremely annoying pain and headache. Take your time and be meticulous who you hire!
Keep good track of your expenses, earnings, and receipts
This is important for any business! However, a Digital Nomad office is usually “located” in a suitcase or a backpack, daily operation is carried out from new sites in different corners of the world, and the whole operation must be able to pack / unpack easily and frequently. It is important to have a good and simple system for your papers and records, to conveniently bring them along while traveling. Scan everything regularly as a backup, and / or mail it to your company secretary (using assured mail!) Now and then.
Responsive to clients
This too is valid for any business, but may turn out a challenge for the Digital Nomad. I found that email is the preferred means of communication, and I use out-of-office message when outside internet coverage. Give an estimate for when you will be reading email next time and don't forget to specify what timezone you refer to. I use Skype and other internet voice services, but I avoid using them for the first few contacts with a new or prospective client, as the quality of service can be unreliable.
Data and account management, backup etc.
This is extra important for Digital Nomads as we are, per definition, mobile in our work. A laptop thrown around by a frequent traveler has a higher probability of a failure than it's colleague in an office or home environment. Frequent traveling also makes for a higher risk of theft. Make sure you backup important data frequently and to multiple media, and to store different backup media in separate places – eg a small portable disk drive in your backpack AND a memory stick in your pocket. There is also the possibility of cloud storage. I do not use such personally, as it makes it impossible to work offline and I definitely prefer to keep data in my own hands.
You may consider to use some software service for your user ids and passwords.
Lean but orderly project administration
I recommend lean, simplistic yet efficient and orderly project administration for the Digital Nomad! I use my smartphone, GTasks and Google calendar to keep track of projects and client activities. I also follow a simple but bullet-proof process to handle RFQ: s and new projects.
Hardware and Software
This is not negotiable. If your smartphone gets stolen, your computer crashes or needs upgraded memory, or that new and lucrative project requires a certain software – there is not much of an option except buying whatever is needed. And you will be likely to find proper supply in the nearest big city, almost anywhere in the world. However, if you are in a country with a different character set (eg most Asian countries) it may be difficult to find your old familiar keyboard. English keyboards are usually available, but be prepared to solve a few challenges in the language area. It could be worth mentioning that copy software does occur in certain places, so beware.
Assuming that you have already arranged insurance for your personal protection, it may be worthwhile to look into a company insurance too. To cover liability in case you make a mistake in your work, get your laptop with important confidential client information lost or stolen or hacked … Not easy to get, and may be horribly expensive, but at least worth looking into.