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Digital Nomad Life: From In-House SEO to Remote Business Owner

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Digital Nomad Life: From In-House SEO to Remote Business Owner
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Up until the day I graduated from college, I was certain that I wanted to be a social worker. I thought, “If I could only get paid to ‘volunteer’, that would be the life.”

But at some point during my senior year, I took a cornerstone class that really made me question what I really wanted to do in life.

Did I truly want to sit behind a desk all day?

What about the infamous social worker burnout?

And don’t get me started about the money.

When I was honest with myself, I realized that what I really wanted to do was travel. But I had all these voices telling me that I couldn’t travel full-time and make money at the same time. Impractical. I would be broke in no time.

So I did what any panicking college grad did – I bought a one-way flight to Cambodia.

My Introduction to SEO

My introduction to the world of SEO started when I decided to launch my own travel blog to document my adventures.

At first, it was just meant to keep my friends and family up-to-date on my whereabouts, but then it quickly became an adventure of itself.

I went down a rabbit hole of learning about SEO, coding, website management, content writing, and more.

I bumped virtual shoulders with bloggers who were pulling in tens of thousands of visits per month. And, soon, my site started generating organic traffic too.

But eventually, I hit a wall because I felt like there was only so much I could learn on my own. And while my month in Cambodia and Thailand confirmed my love of travel, the time spent pouring into my website lit up my passion for SEO and content writing.

No-Holds-Barred SEO Bootcamp

About as soon as I set foot back in the U.S., I started applying for full-time SEO gigs.

I probably put in about 50 applications for companies (two of them ended up being pyramid) schemes, until I got a call back from a highly respected SEO agency.

They were small, but they were ruthless, so my first few months there was more like SEO bootcamp than your typical entry-level SEO job.

They filled my head to the brim with all the SEO knowledge I could absorb, and I was thrown into hands-on client work quickly.

Unfortunately, I also realized rather quickly that sitting at a desk was not, in fact, the life for me.

While I tried to make the most of my one week of paid vacation, it just wasn’t enough.

I could see the writing on the wall and did not want to spend my foreseeable future in an office.

I started networking my butt off, taking on side gigs to grow my portfolio, and saving up to launch my (second) website.

And the rest is history.

Step 1: Focus on What You Know, and Then Sell It

From my experience at the agency, I knew what I was good at and not-so-good at. I could write a killer blog post, but I didn’t know how to code a website from scratch.

I knew that if I wanted to start my own agency, I’d need to either focus on what I do best or form strategic partnerships with people who could fill in the gaps.

After floundering a bit trying to manage a team of me, a website developer, a technical SEO person, a writer, and an editor, I decided to go back to basics and focus on one thing: SEO content writing.

Then, it just became a matter of figuring out who to sell my services to.

If you have a marketable skill, you will find someone willing to pay for it. I say, as long as people are making money doing tarot card readings online, you can make money doing just about anything.

You just need to determine who your target audience is.

Ask yourself:

  • Who would benefit most from my services?
  • Who has the budget to be able to afford my services?
  • Where are these people spending their time online?
  • What is my unique selling point that will make me stand out from other providers?

Answer these questions and you’ll have a good idea of who you want to target and how to reach them.

Step 2: Grow Your Portfolio

I’m not a fan of anyone growing their portfolio for the sake of having a portfolio.

It’s much better to have a completely tailored portfolio that consists of clients in your ideal target audience.

For example, as a writer, I could have taken on an ad copy project, a video script for a health company, and a landing pages for a travel agency.

Instead, I built my portfolio by doing reduced-cost content work for tech, SaaS, and SEO industry professionals – my target audience.

The result was that I had a portfolio full of examples that would appeal to my target audience. I also then had a few case studies and testimonials to showcase the results I got for my select clients. Think, quality over quantity.

Step 3: Brand Yourself

One of the first things I did (and that I recommend aspiring digital nomads to do) is to launch a website.

It’s a good idea to have at least one platform where you can effectively brand yourself and showcase your work.

The content on my website spoke for itself and I had an entire page of testimonials by the time I was ready to take my “side gig” full-time.

The transition from in-house to digital nomad was made much easier by the fact that I had social proof and results behind my name.

Too many business owners try to be a Jack-of-all-trades and end up blending together with the competition.

By effectively branding yourself and clearly communicate your unique selling point, you define your niche, reach a particular audience, and charge premium prices.

Step 4: Set Baseline Income Goals

Without a doubt, one of the biggest fears people face when becoming a digital nomad is worrying that they will not make enough money.

While there are people who take the “just jump” approach, I decided to create a safety net of savings while defining my baseline income goals.

For me, that was making $3.000 per month from my business. That would afford me to stay in Seattle and then move to Thailand at the end of the year.

Once I hit that goal (within 3 months), I was less afraid of going flat broke while abroad. Little did I expect that I would be making five figures within 6 months of starting my business.

Determine how much money you have to make per month in order to sustain yourself. Factor in taxes, business expenses, and personal expenses. Then, determine how many clients at X amount per month you will need to hit your income goals.

Step 5: Go 100% Remote

Going remote is the easy part once you have a functional business. Eventually, I started cutting down my hours at my new job and quit after a year.

Like I said, by month six, I was making enough with my agency to sustain myself, but I had to honor my commitment at my other job until the end of the year.

I decided to jet off to Thailand again – a trip that cost $800 for the ticket and about $1,500 per month to live comfortably. The remaining money I saved as my income grew, and I went on to Vietnam, Cambodia, Spain, Miami, and beyond.

Traveling and working remotely is more affordable than people may think, even in “expensive” countries. While I may not live like a queen in New York, the money I save while in more affordable countries makes it easy for me to afford more luxurious locations.

Find where you want to go, determine the average cost of travel there, budget accordingly, and set new income goals to make funding your trip a reality.

Step 6: Expand Your Network

They say “It’s not what you know, but who you know”, and I believe this really holds true when it comes to running a remote business.

Some of the best opportunities you will land as a digital nomad will come to you through online and in-person networking.

Don’t be a recluse and hide away all day. Participate in webinars, submit guest posts, pop into Facebook Groups, attend networking events, or even join a new sport to meet people who might be (or get you connected with) your next clients.

It’s easy to become invisible online. By being vocal, providing value, and showing genuine interest in other people, you’ll come across a wide array of opportunities that could be life-changing for your business.

Step 7: Scale (Sustainably)

There’s this plateau that often occurs when agencies start making $10,000-$20,000 per month.

It happens when you realize there’s only one of you and so many tasks to tackle during the day.

Then, it becomes time to trim the fat, outsource, and manage yourself out of your business.

A savvy business owner will be able to identify the “80/20” of their business – what 20% actions are yielding the 80% results.

This may mean phasing out your low-paying clients and going after a higher-paying clientele. This may mean outsourcing lead generation so you can focus on sales or fulfillment.

I recommend taking strategic, calculated moves to scale your business sustainably. That way, you won’t bottom out by pouring all your money into outsourcing or taking untested risks in your business.

In Summary

Becoming a digital nomad is very feasible and can be highly profitable.

The hardest part?

Making the decision to actually start.

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Jessica Foster

Jessica Foster is the founder and lead SEO Content Writer at Keys&Copy – a premier content agency that serves SEO ... [Read full bio]

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