Freelance on the side before going full digital nomad

by Thalassa van Beek, founder of online magazine “The Travelling Freelancer

I’m a person who gets easily stressed about (a lack of) money. I’m also a person without savings. Not a great combination and you could wonder why, if I know the former about myself, I don’t do anything about the latter (the answer: because I’m always investing in the next step, the next project) but that’s not what I want to discuss today. Today I want to talk about how you can start to freelance on the side.

I also want to share my story about how I left my 9-5 steady job, despite having no savings and despite the fact that I don’t like financial insecurity. It was all thanks to freelancing on the side.

Now I know I’m not the only one with these issues.

I became location independent before I even heard about the term ‘digital nomad’. It was more a matter of various steps following each other quite quickly. I was working at a communications agency where I loved most of the work, but the company culture was absolutely horrible. I decided I wanted out. My motto has always been ‘the only thing that matters is being truly happy,’ and I wasn’t.

Of course it kicked in: I didn’t have savings not to work for some time, and as long as I was working there, I wouldn’t have time to apply for fun jobs. I knew one thing about myself though: there’s no job I feel ‘too good’ for if I know it will bring me further in the long run. So I took a job as a waitress at a small café around the corner and handed in my one-month notice. Doing this would free up my time while ensuring there was money coming in.

I worked about 30 hours per week at the café spread out over weekdays, evenings and weekends, which would leave me enough time to apply for jobs and schedule interviews. The problem was that I’ve had some pretty cool jobs in the past which all allowed me to travel quite a bit, either for the job itself or because there was a lot of freedom. However, when I started looking for job openings, I couldn’t find anything that would perfectly fit me. Don’t get me wrong; I applied to lots of jobs, but never very passionately.

Going through all those vacancies forced me to think about what I liked doing, what I didn’t, and which factors would be most important to me. The more I thought about it, the better I got to know myself: I wanted to focus on social media marketing, I didn’t want to work with huge companies where I would have no influence whatsoever, and the office vibe would be incredibly important. Taking everything into consideration, I realised that the one position that would fit me perfectly, should probably be created by me, and the best office vibe would probably be in my own house. I decided to start to freelance on the side.

The reality when you freelance on the side

It was hard work, those first couple of months. I worked 30-40 hours at the café and spent another 20-30 building up my client base as a freelancer. Over time, I worked less and less at the café and my own work became more and more, until after 6 months I earned enough money freelancing to get by and quit my job.

Something else happened. Around the time I started freelancing on the side, I also realised that I wanted to move to Barcelona. It was something I’d been saying for years now, but my friends and family all replied by saying ‘There’s no work in Spain. You don’t even speak Spanish.’ They were right… but my first two clients were actually from the US (I found them via Upwork) and they didn’t care that we’d never met in person. Why not make sure none of my clients would care? That way, I could just take my laptop with me to Spain and continue working.

So that’s what I aimed for, and 8 months later I picked up my bags and left for Tenerife, a Spanish island off the coast from Morocco. During those previous months, I looked more and more into possibilities, found out about the term ‘digital nomad’, and became part of various online communities. I also found out about coworking and coliving via Worldpackers.com, so that’s what I did at Tenerife. I went to Coworking in the Sun, had an amazing time and met the greatest people. I would recommend coworking spaces to every digital nomad, because it’s just so inspiring.

In fact, it was so inspiring that I decided to really work on a side project which I had in mind for a while by then; an online magazine for digital nomads, location independent entrepreneurs and other remote workers. Again, just like 8 months earlier, I worked many hours on my moneymaking job, and another big chunk of the week on building up something new, something I was very passionate about.

At the moment I’m in The Netherlands and the magazine is going strong. The first two issues have been released by now and the comments have been truly overwhelming. Because of the magazine I’ve met even more digital nomads, both virtually and by now also in real live at various events and get-togethers. I always felt like an outsider at high school and during college, but with the digital nomad community, I truly found my tribe.

So, my advice for every financially worried, aspiring nomad would be to get an easy side job where you don’t really have to use your brain, so you can spend all your thinking and creativity on working towards your real goal. Don’t feel too good for a simple job if it helps you moving forward and don’t shy away from working long days. For me, it was the perfect solution and in the end, it only took me 6 months to turn my side gig freelancing into a full-time position.

Totally worth it.

If you’re interested in the magazine, I’d be happy to give you a discount on a year subscription. Just head here and use the eCoupon code XNHBC5A8M6A3 for 50% discount (not valid for single issue sales).

If you have any questions, comments, or want to contribute to the magazine or its blog, contact me at [email protected] or via social media (Facebook, Instagram or Twitter).

I’d love to hear from you!

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