Emily is a true digital nomad! She travels around the world while working as a freelancer and share with us why and how did she started.
Hello Emily, you are a freelance copywriter and content marketer travelling around the world as a digital nomad. You started in 2016 and your portfolio is already pretty wide from Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, start-ups and media outlets.
What is your background and how did you decided to get into the digital nomad lifestyle?
I went to a liberal arts college for undergrad and studied History. I knew I wanted to work internationally, so I started working for a State Department and USAID contractor in Washington DC right out of college. It was a foreign aid nonprofit that specializes in developing conflict zones. I worked on grants in the Middle East to support local government and community programs. After three years, I realized I wouldn’t have the travel opportunities I was hoping for, and went back to graduate school for a degree in Marketing.
Straight after grad school, I worked at Pizza Hut to launch and build their brand blog and internal communications efforts before realizing corporate life wasn’t for me. I hated being at a desk from nine-to-five, commuting through traffic two hours each day, and still felt the pull of travel from the first phase of my career. I started taking on freelance side gigs, and when I got accepted to Remote Year, I quit Pizza Hut to travel and work freelance full time. I lasted on Remote Year for four months before leaving the program to travel on my own. That was over a year ago.
Where are you currently and where have you been since you started?
At the moment, I’m in Sofia, Bulgaria. I visited a good amount of countries since last February 2016.
In the next months, I will be visiting Hungary, Denmark, Ireland, and back to London again.
Where do you usually get things done when you have no office or home?
You make it sound like I’m living in a box on the street! I look for cities that are nomad hubs – places where I know there are good coworking spaces or cafes where people have verified a strong internet connection. I tend not to go to coworking spaces, as that gets expensive! But I do try to find Airbnbs with enough space (and natural light) where I can work during the day.
That’s a pretty amazing list of destinations, what is your top 3 cities you stayed in?
It’s hard to narrow it down, but I’ve really enjoyed Lisbon, Hanoi, and Malta. Actually, I had a really rough trip in Malta – my wallet got stolen and it was 107 degrees – but it felt like one of those yet-undiscovered gems in Europe that hasn’t been totally overrun with tourists. Only a little overrun. In retrospect, I also enjoyed La Paz, Bolivia, but it was a very physically trying trip (altitude sickness, food sickness, etc.). It’s a city that’s grown on me with time and distance.
The most difficult thing with freelancing is often to get started, how did you get your first gigs?
It was a rocky start! I started freelancing on the side while I was working at Pizza Hut to see if I could manage clients on my own. My first client came from another freelance writer who had too much work on her plate and passed the client off to me – so I guess I got lucky. I’m still working with them two years later!
Once I went full-time freelance, my strategy was to start on sites like Upwork and Cloudpeeps to refine my pitch and build up my portfolio. I took on a lot of small projects that didn’t make me any money to start to build credibility in the areas where I knew I wanted to work. Once I had a stronger resume and portfolio, I reached out to my own network. Nearly all my clients at this point have come from referrals and contacts within my network.
What advice you wished you received when you started travelling/freelancing?
One thing I constantly struggle with is finding the right work/life balance. For me, the benefit of freelancing and remote work is having the freedom and time to immerse yourself in other cultures and communities. However, freelancing takes a fair amount of hustle. Your workflow often comes in peaks and valleys; it’s hard to predict when a client will need something next and where your next paycheck is coming from. I wish I had been a little more prepared for the amount of FOMO I give myself: I’m constantly reminding myself that life is not a vacation, but also to take breaks and time off when I need it. Finding a balance is hard.
As a freelancer, what are the tools you use everyday to stay organized and productive (website, software)?
I’m old-fashioned and I carry four to six notebooks with me all the time. I started bullet journaling last year; I use my journal with my Google calendar to stay on track. Otherwise, I use the TopTal Tracker tool to log my billable hours each week by client. Most of my work is shared and hosted on Google Docs, and depending on the client, I use a combination of Hootsuite and Buffer to schedule social media posts while on different time zones.
Do you read any books on the subject of remote working, digital nomad? Would you recommend some?
I know there are a ton of books out there on remote work, but honestly, the best way to learn how to remote work is to just do it. You can read all kinds of blogs and how-to’s, but each person’s experience is different and what works for one person doesn’t work for everyone. Katherine Conway and Peter Knudson wrote a book about digital nomadism based on their experience; I haven’t read it, but it’s meant for those just starting to learn about this lifestyle.
You love travelling, do you sometimes picture you settling somewhere in the future, where would it be?
I think about that question a lot. The current political climate in the US doesn’t entice me to go back anytime soon, but of course I miss seeing my friends and family. I think my ideal situation would be to spend six months in one place, six months in another. I’d put San Francisco, New York, Barcelona, Lisbon, Koh Lanta (in Thailand), Melbourne, Buenos Aires, and Malta all on my list for longer-term stints.
Freelancing is an awesome adventure with lot of challenges made of highs and lows, are you looking to work on your own projects, make an agency or join a remote company some days?
I love being my own boss and having lots of variety in my projects. I think my career will either lead to starting my own agency or moving toward journalism. I’d love to write for one or two sites exclusively – sites like Vulture, Jezebel, Slate, or Man Repeller really interest me. Right now, flexibility and autonomy are my two career priorities, and I’m willing to see where that mindset takes me.
If you’re searching for a dynamic freelance copywriter and content marketer, get in touch with Emily!