[Editors Note: This is a guest post by Sean Ogle of Location180]
I remember the moment in January of 2010 that I stepped off the plane in Bangkok, Thailand to begin my new life: I was clueless.
A few months prior, I’d quit my job as a financial analyst with only two goals in mind: to travel and run my own business. I had grandiose dreams of living on a tropical island and making money in my sleep–you know, the same illusion every other cubicle dweller as at some point or another. Now, nearly three years later, I look back and can see just how young and naïve I was.
From not knowing how to order Pad Thai on the street, to getting my first Thai massage and not knowing what to do, it’s safe to say I was the worst digital nomad in the world. Luckily for me, things have changed: I’ve been able to create a business that allows me to travel wherever I want, whenever I want, and as Maneesh would say, I’ve become pretty good at “hacking the system.”
If you’re reading this, my guess is you’re on a path to do something similar. But how do you go about doing that?
Obviously, there are a limitless number of ways to approach it, and what worked for me may not be work for you. However, in my three years of working from anywhere and building online businesses, I’ve discovered three skills the most successful lifestyle entrepreneurs I know have in common.
Skill #1: Discipline (yes, this is a skill)
The reason I chose Thailand is because I scored an “internship” of sorts that would pay for my basic living expenses in exchange for helping them market their business. It was called an internship, but it was essentially the most flexible working situation ever.
The two partners of the company both showed up, and we hopped a flight to Krabi, Thailand (at right) where we proceeded to spend the next three weeks hanging out with friends, drinking buckets, and engaging in now-banned fire antics. Apparently, they wanted to “get to know me”, and what better way to get to know a new employee than to hang out with him in the most debaucherous place on Earth?
I couldn’t believe this is what my life had become. Then at the end of all of it, I had to make a choice. Dan and Ian (the bosses) were going to Phuket for a couple days before flying out of the country. My friends were all going to the Full Moon Party, something I had always wanted to do. My bosses said they “totally didn’t care” what I did, and looking back, I really don’t think they did. However, instead of heading off to another massive party, where I would get no work accomplished, I went with them and really got down to business.
It was the disciplined decision. Had I gone to the party, I think the next six months would have taken a drastically different turn. I wouldn’t have learned the skills I needed to be successful. I believe that after those first six months were up, I’d no longer be working with the Tropical MBA crew.
Do you have any idea what it’s like to spend 10-12 hours a day working, while living in an exotic foreign country, all while a civil war is raging right outside your doorstep (more on that in a minute)? I do. If you want to be a successful digital nomad, you have to learn to block out all distractions and get the work done.
When you first hit the road, I can promise you this: you’ll have more opportunities than you know what to do with. If you don’t have the discipline to choose to work when it really matters, you’ll have an awesome vacation but be crying about your wasted opportunity when you’re back in your cubicle six months later.
How to Apply This
Most new entrepreneurs struggle with discipline the most, so here’s a few ideas to help:
- Set solid working hours, even if it’s only 3-4 hours a day. Creating a solid schedule was absolutely essential both then and now.
- Plan something fun. If I know at 2 in the afternoon I’m going out to explore a city or do something fun, I’m much more motivated to get my work done before I leave. I never want that hanging over my head.
- To make that last point more effective, create solid deadlines. If there’s someone else counting on me getting that work done by 2pm, I’m much more inclined to actually do it.
Skill 2: Flexibility (yup, also a skill)
This skill applies to both traveling and business. Recently, my site about HDR Software got hit with a Google penalty (bonus tip: make sure you trust the people you hire for SEO work). Many people would give up, call it quits with the whole Internet marketing thing, and do something safe, like flip burgers at Wendy’s. But by being flexible, you understand that things out of your control will always happen…it’s how you respond and shift course that will define your success.
Remember that civil war I was talking about? On May 19 , 2010 it all came to a head. Bangkok was in flames, and everyone was forced inside their homes during a government-mandated lockdown. That didn’t seem very conducive to a good working environment, so I hopped a cab to the airport. Where to? Hm, Manila looks cool, I thought.
Eight hours later, I was kicking it in the Pines’ while my Bangkok brethren were locked inside their apartments. The ability to change course at any given moment, roll with the punches, and still maintain discipline and focus are key attributes as a digital nomad. Having trouble with either of those? Maybe you should just hire someone to slap you in the face every time you screw up. (Image credit of Manila skyline.)
How do you gain flexibility?
Everyone can think of ways to become more disciplined, because it’s mostly just common sense. But how do you specifically become more flexible? This might not be as obvious, so here are some pointers:
- Put yourself in uncomfortable social situations. The best way to become flexible is to set yourself up to have to change course. Go to a meetup about a topic you know nothing about — by yourself. You’ll probably have to change your approach a couple times before you’re comfortable talking to new people.
- Go somewhere that people don’t speak English. I first noticed my ability to be flexible when I was in Thailand and my attempt to order a specific Thai dish was just not happening…time to adapt.
- Be aware. Do you find yourself getting frazzled when someone interrupts your focus? Do you stress out when you don’t have full control over a situation? Be conscious of these things. By simply recognizing when you’re having issues, you can more consciously adapt to them.
Skill #3: Copywriting (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)
It doesn’t matter what you do in life –you’ll always be selling something. Whether it’s an idea, a product, or yourself, we’re always selling. Copywriting is the art of crafting persuasive text. It might be through a blog post such as this one, on a sales page, or a script for a video. If you can effectively communicate and persuade others into seeing things the same way you do, you’ll never struggle to make money.
You can create products of your own, build a freelancing career, and market affiliate products–the options are limitless. All of these things are particularly great if you’re a digital nomad, because you can do them from anywhere. However, if you can’t persuade people to buy your products or hire you for work, you don’t have a business, you simply have a vacation. That’s why copywriting is more important than any other basic or technical skill online. (Image credit.)
How to Apply It
Copywriting is one of those things where practice absolutely makes perfect. That said, there’s a few things you can do to get started:
- Read Breakthrough Advertising and Influence. These two books have helped me improve my own copywriting prowess and got me thinking about the psychology involved.
- Check out Copyhour. It costs a little bit of money, but I haven’t found anything that matches its super simple approach to learning the craft.
- Practice. Find a product you like and write your own sales page for it. Then do it again, and again. Best way to become a good copywriter is lots of practice.
Now you know the secrets to success. Develop these three skills and you’ll be a master digital nomad in no time. Just remember those copywriting skills mean nothing if you don’t have the discipline to do the work, and the flexibility to adjust your strategy if it’s not working.
Taking the Next Steps
Once you have these skills, one of the hardest things to do is actually follow through with the “nomad” part of being a digital nomad and quitting your job. I’ve put together a special package just for Hack the System readers to help. Use this link to get two free guides: “How to Quit Your Job” and “Location Rebel Arsenal: Everything You Need to Work from Anywhere”.