I’ve been asked so many times how I can afford to work and travel, so I’ve decided to put together a guide to Working Abroad, with all the different opportunities out there for you to make money while you see the world. This current post is one I have personal experience with: working remotely as a digital marketer!
When I was first starting out, I reached out to other marketers with questions and for advice, but I was always rebuffed. They told me to pay for a consult, to buy their ebook or training course, or just ignored me completely. So, I did it on my own.
I’ve noticed whenever I post about working remotely or digital marketing, I ALWAYS get flooded with requests about how I got started, and how I do what I do. I promised myself I would never turn away someone asking for help, and this blog series was born. Here is EXACTLY how to start a digital marketing business while traveling, with a step by step guide so you can do it as well!
Average Income: $2,000 month to $5,000 month
Free Housing/Utilities: No
Tax Free: No 🙁 You’ll pay taxes to your home country, or if you establish an LLC, the country the LLC is declared in.
Free flights: No
Vacation Days: Kind of? You can take time off work whenever you want, but won’t be paid for it
Certifications needed? Nope. I’m completely self-taught, but I have a steady stream of clients and income
Where to find a job: I use many different websites to apply for freelance marketing work, but the one that I use the most is Upwork. Freelancer is also a common choice. Both of these sites are for contract/hourly work. Other sites I have profiles on include Cloud Peeps and Angel List, although the latter is more focused toward finding full-time remote work with a company, rather than contract freelance work. I also recommend building a simple website and promoting yourself through social media and LinkedIn and spreading the word to your friends and family to send more business your way.
My passion for travel has made my goal in life to be able to work from home, wherever that home may be. After teaching and living around the world, I began to brainstorm what skills and passions I have that would allow me to maintain my dream of remaining mobile indefinitely.
This dream came to fruition as a boutique digital marketing agency that specializes in social media management, content creation, web development, and branding for small business. I partner with clients that have amazing products, ideas, and energy to help them realize their dream of growing their businesses.
Does that sound too salesy?
If so, it’s because I copied it from my LinkedIn profile because I’m lazy! But, it’s the truth. I decided to start a digital marketing business while traveling for the sole purpose of being able to work remotely, and the fact that I enjoy it and am maybe even a little bit good at it is just a bonus!
Let me be clear, I have NO marketing background. Not a single college class, nothing for a side job or internship, nada. So, I went into this totally blind.
Here are the steps I took to get from unemployed to successful business owner in 2 months.
1. Read. A lot.
I didn’t sign up for many of the scammy webinars or “social media courses” that are sold at the end of every marketing post and in every email, but I did read a lot of blogs. Some great bloggers in the social media world are Neil Patel, Kissmetrics, Amy Porterfield, Rick Mulready, and others.
Read about the best practices for each social media platform and learn how to run Facebook ads. Facebook advertising in particular is the most profitable thing that you can offer because it’s technical, confusing, and people just DON’T want to deal with it.
Once you get the hang of it and can start taking people’s campaigns down from 50 cents a click to 4 or 5 cents a click, I promise you’ll be in high demand. Learn about targeting, writing copy, and even practice building campaigns, ad sets, and ads in your own Facebook ad account without running them to begin to understand the layout.
2. Find a Test Subject
I know that I’m lucky in this regard, but my mom and aunts run a small business and let me take over their social media accounts for a few weeks. They even let me run a week long ad campaign. This taught me so much about how to find and create content, and it gave me practice with tools like Buffer, Canva, and Buzzsumo. Now, I repay them by giving my mom all the new tips and tricks that I learn to use on their accounts 🙂
3. Begin Applying For Jobs.
Once you feel ready to start a digital marketing business while traveling, it’s time to find your first clients.
Like I mentioned above, I use Upwork to find about 90% of my clients. You build out your profile and then can search for any kind of work you want, I always narrowed it down to social media management. You are restricted to applying for only 30 or so jobs per month, so you have to be smart about choosing ones that look like they have a good budget, are newly posted, and are work that you can do (or think you can learn to do fast!)
Some tips on proposals – keep them short and sweet. I was applying with huge long paragraphs about what I could do for the companies, and my response rate wasn’t great. Now I have a go-to proposal that almost never fails.. And no, I’m not going to share it with you 😉
But I will say this.
Keep the focus on them. Mention their name and their specific requests to show that you read it, and then ask a couple questions about how you can help them and their business. People feel obligated to respond to questions but will probably skim if you spend three paragraphs talking about why you’re qualified for the job. Save that for a later conversation once you already have them engaged.
4. Accept a Job (& Freak Out Internally).
Ok, I still can’t believe that I landed two large jobs in my first two weeks of applying. I had zero experience, and even worse, zero reviews on my profile! It was a miracle. Once you have your first clients on board, KEEP THEM HAPPY. That means putting in extra hours and effort to make sure that your work is creative and represents their brand well.
Go the extra mile for them, and most importantly, just be available. Someone who is attentive and responds promptly and politely to emails automatically jumps into the top 10% of freelancers just for that alone. Your quality of work is far outweighed by your customer service. I promise.
5. Learn A Lot
Man, when I think about what I know now and what I knew then, it’s crazy that people were even paying me. You will learn SO MUCH as you go. I recommend, once you’re a few months in, to start leaning towards a niche category if possible.
I had a large client in politics and by running their ads and working with their in-house advertising team, I learned a lot about targeting and writing copy for political news sources. When I picked up a second political client, I had experience in the field already and could jump right in to giving them great results.
6. Get Reviews
Any time a client ends a contract, chase them down for a review. Even if it takes two or three emails, these reviews will change your life.
Now that I’ve been on Upwork for months and have plenty of positive reviews, I don’t apply for jobs anymore. I have a “top-rated” badge which means that I could up my pricing, and now I get invited to jobs who want to work with me rather than the other way around. It’s an ego boost AND a time saver. Reviews are everything. Get them.
7. Build Your Online Presence
So now that you’re a master marketer, you should be able to jump from freelancer to business owner and market your own business, right? We filed our business as an LLC with the state of Ohio. It costs about $100, but it protects you from being sued to a certain extent, so it’s worth the money. It can also make your taxes easier depending on your situation.
Then, I bought a domain name and built a basic wordpress site. Daniel has since updated it, but mine was entirely passable without knowing an ounce of coding.
Get a Gmail address with the domain name and you will look like a true professional. Trust me, it goes a long way (and helps you stay organized).
Next, jump to Twitter and Instagram, and start growing your accounts and your followers. Write interesting and informative blog posts to draw traffic in, and bam, you are now a business owner. Congrats!
I don’t want to make it look like starting a digital marketing business while traveling was a walk in the park because it definitely wasn’t.
However, I DO want to show you that it’s possible and not as daunting as you may think. If you dream about leaving your desk job, use these tips to get started learning about social media and land your first marketing clients in your spare time without any risk!
Ok, the most important part. How much money do I make?!?
Here’s the breakdown. I started researching social media management and building my website in August. By the beginning of September, I had my first two clients and was making $2400 a month. Since then, my client base and jobs have fluctuated, but most months end up between $2500 and $3500. This work is done in about 20 to 25 hours a week.
I could (and probably should) bump it up more, but I like to spend my free time on Slight North. If you worked a full 40 hour week every week and had clients paying you for it, you could easily pull in $5,000 or $6,000 a month.
The main problem you’ll face when you start a digital marketing business while traveling is client turnover. I work with a lot of small businesses who just opened a website and think that once their social media is up, they will immediately begin selling hundreds of products a week. When a month passes and their growth is steady, instead of explosive, they usually take social media into their own hands or abandon their business all together. This means that taking on new clients is a never ending process for me and leads to the fluctuation in income mentioned above.
The cons of owning a digital marketing company include:
- My taxes went up and got more complicated, plus I have to pay them four times a year.
- I am responsible for providing my own health insurance.
- I have no paid vacations.
- There’s pressure not to take time off so as not to lose a client.
However, the pros list seems to even them out:
- I live in South America where the cost of living is low. $3000 here goes A LOT farther than it would in the US.
- Travel health insurance is also a lot cheaper than US health insurance.
- I can travel and take half days whenever I want to, or work from a remote island, new city, or hut in the mountains. Lifting the location restriction from work has been the greatest move of my life.
If you start a digital marketing business while traveling, or do anything in the freelance business, you need to have thick skin. If you don’t, I promise that you will soon. One month you may be celebrating record high profits, and the next you’ll be threatening legal action against a client trying to ghost you while owing money.
Be ready to be looked down upon and outright disregarded. That 40 minute phone conversation you had? Yeah, they probably won’t even bother to answer a quick follow up email asking if they still want to work together. It’s easy to be blown off in a digital relationship.
Another difficult aspect of running my own business that I didn’t expect was the burden of bearing the sole responsibility of a project and not having any one else to look up to or get advice from. Everything that I manage and produce is attached to my name alone, and it’s a lot of responsibility to make sure that my work ALWAYS reflects well on me. No tasks will be handed up or down the chain of command here.
Owning a digital marketing business is definitely not the walk in the park some bloggers make it out to be, but it may be a good choice for you. My advice would be to always be paid upfront, never turn down an interview or invitation, and not to take yourself, or your work, too seriously.
For me, digital marketing is a means to an end: travel. While working, I’ve been able to live in Colombia, Peru, Mexico and Eastern Europe.
The money is good, and the hours are flexible. Don’t undercut your worth, but don’t overcharge. Work hard when you do, and keep your clients happy. Just like anything, there’s a work life balance and the stresses that come with it. In the end, I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. At least, not until something better comes along 🙂
Are you interested in working remotely or breaking into the digital marketing scene? Leave a comment below or shoot me a message, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have! Good luck!
PS still exploring your options? Visit the Working Abroad Series to learn more ways to make money while you travel and find in-depth guide to teaching online ESL classes, working as an au pair, getting a job as a flight attendant, finding work as a translator, landing a full-time position teaching in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, breaking into freelance writing, or even working on a yacht!