In a previous post I shared with you reasons why I think freelancers should pack their bags and travel. You’ve worked hard to build your freelance business, so why not live the dream?
Of course, that is easier said than done. The actuality of running a business on the road is fraught with challenges that freelancers like us need to overcome. But it is possible, and actually not that difficult.
In this post I’m going to share my top tips for managing a freelance business (and in particular, managing clients) whilst traveling and working remotely.
As a preface to these tips it is worth noting that your income level and organizational skills will affect how easy it is for you to travel and work on the road. However, even with a low budget, I assure you it is still possible to work remotely if you follow this hard-earned advice.
I’ve been travelling the world for the last 5 years straight, all whilst running an online-based freelance business. As well as freelancing myself, I’ve hired and employed dozens of other freelancers to help out on various projects. I know what it’s like to be both the freelancer and the client, and I’ve done it all whilst hopping from one country to another.
In that time I’ve made every mistake in the book. For this article I’ve condensed everything I’ve learned to a handful of priceless tips.
If you’ve dreamed of traveling whilst you rock your freelance business, but are worried about the day-to-day operation, these are the tips you need.
1. Give Your Clients Advanced Notice
Taking twice as long, as usual, to reply to a client’s email or delay the completion of their project can be disastrous, although it should be expected when traveling.
Clients are impatient and demanding creatures, anxiously awaiting updates on their projects all the freakin’ time.
In today’s culture of “instant gratification”, clients like to shoot over details on their projects and have completed work back to them by the time they wake up. I’m sure you know the type – They expect you to work 24 hours a day, just for them.
This is an unrealistic expectation at the best of times, but even more so when you’re traveling to new places – where you’ll often be without 3G; where you’ll need time to find a good cafe to work from, and probably sleeping in a little later than usual.
So how do you combat this and keep your clients happy? The best defense is offense.
Before setting out on any trip, email all of your current clients and inform them of your plans.
Tell them you are traveling for xx number of days and that you’ll be in another time zone. Let them know it may take slightly longer for you to reply to emails and complete new projects. Tell them you’re still open for business and welcoming new projects, but you must be given a few extra days to manage the work around your travel plans.
By doing this you put the ball in your client’s court. It’s now their responsibility to give you advanced notice of work, and if they don’t, it’s their fault.
Your clients will appreciate being given a heads up, rather than you dropping a bombshell when they email you requesting last-minute work.
2. Be wary of timezones
Timezones can be beneficial, but also disastrous if you muck them up.
When I’m in Asia, I typically have an extra 6-12 hours to work on rush jobs for my clients because they’re all based in western countries.
Oftentimes clients will email me whilst I’m asleep. I’ll wake up, get the job details, and have completed work sent back before they wake up. This wins big brownie points for me.. until I mess it up.
On several occasions, I have scheduled Skype calls with clients and completely fudged up the time, either missing the call or needing to be awake at 4 am to make it (and I’m a really heavy sleeper).
Being punctual and organized in everyday life is easy when you only need to consider your local time zones, but it can get much more difficult when managing clients around the world.
Be very wary of this when you schedule calls, but especially so when it comes to project due dates. Missing a deadline and blaming it on the timezone will, in my experience, only be forgiven once by a client, if at all.
3. Don’t just travel; make time for work
As a traveling freelancer, it may feel like all play and no work, but I assure you it really isn’t.
Scheduling time for work is essential any time you’re taking an extended period of travel.
It’s so easy to fall into the vacation mindset that you really need to set some rock-solid work hours.
If you’re simply taking a short vacation; detoxing from your phone, emails and clients is a given. But if you plan to travel for 12 months straight, taking time to get work done is essential.
But many freelancers forget this.
When your hostel buddies are about to go out for dinner, it can be hard to decline the invite and buckle down to work. It’s easy to get caught in the excitement of travel, but you still need to pay the bills.
Likewise, the longer you’re away from your computer the more impatient your clients will grow. It won’t take long for them to find a new freelancer to take on their projects.
So then not only do you make less money in the short term, you start killing your long-term source of income too.
I keep on top of this by keeping some regular hours. Every morning I spend 4 hours working.
I’ll visit a cafe and spend a couple of hours working over coffee, then return to my hostel, hotel or Airbnb to work for another two.
I do this as a minimum. On days with no outstanding work, I’ll use the rest of the day to explore my new destination. On days with important projects to finish, I will work the whole day.
It can feel wasteful to be in a foreign land and spend the day indoors on your laptop, but you have to make money in some way.
The key is to remember you’re traveling for the long term. There will be plenty of hostel dinners, beach parties, and exciting events to attend.
Don’t let a client down just to get wasted with randomers.
4. Internet is a priority
If you’re anything like me, you have a love-hate relationship with the internet.
I hate that my life depends on being connected to the World Wide Web, but I love the freedom it gives me to live and work wherever I want.
Whenever you plan to travel and work, you must take into account internet connectivity.
Before booking into a hostel, Airbnb or hotel, be sure to find out whether they have a free internet connection or not. Don’t assume that they will as standard, I have made this mistake on several occasions (always when I have a big project to complete!).
Whilst most accommodations these days will have free wifi, it’s often not the strong connection you’re used to in your home office. Slow internet speeds will not only cause you a lot of frustration whilst working, they’ll also waste hours and hours of your time.
One way I’ve reduced this friction is by traveling with a USB wifi extender. In hotels and cafes alike this nifty little gadget increases my wifi speed and reliability in 90% of situations.
Get a SIM card
To give yourself some extra internet security, buy a SIM card when you arrive in a new country. It can be a hassle to fill out the forms and load up the card, but it’s 20 minutes well spent – just don’t waste it all on Instagram!
At least with an internet connection on your phone, you can reply to client emails on the spot. Mostly they just need confirmation that you’ve read their demands.
Carefully Consider destinations
Decent internet connections are easily accessible in most big cities around the world.
However, if you’re visiting small Himalayan villages or sailing to remote islands, be prepared to struggle when getting online.
Now, I’m not suggesting you don’t visit places that are off the beaten track, just that you should carefully consider a destination before booking.
If you know an important job is coming up or if you’re currently negotiating with a new client, it might be best to hold your travel plans until your schedule is clear
And as previously mentioned, when traveling to places where you suspect internet connectivity to be sparse, email your active clients and give them a heads up. They’ll appreciate it!
5. Book wisely
Remember I mentioned at the beginning of this article how your budget can affect the ease of working whilst you travel? Well, this is why.
It all comes down to accommodation.
As a long-term budget traveler, you’ll be relegated to cheap hotels, shared AirBnbs, and hostels.
For the short term, these are not bad options. In fact, budget hostels have provided some of my greatest travel experiences.
The problem though is they’re not conducive to knuckling down and getting work done.
When you’re needing to manage a freelance business whilst traveling, a simple way to make life much easier is booking accommodation that can double up as an office.
These can be hostels with plenty of communal areas, Airbnbs with desks and kitchen tables, or business hotels with office desks. Business hotels and larger AirBnb’s may be a little pricier than you want to pay, but the benefits of a comfortable work environment are more than worth it.
I vividly remember the day I chose to become a freelancer and work online. I was 14 years old and I’d stumbled upon an article online about a twenty-something who’d spent years traveling and working from her laptop.
It sounded like a dream, but it also sounded like something I could never achieve.
Fast forward almost a decade later and I reconsidered why I’d become a freelancer. I remembered my dream to travel the world and I decided to make it a reality. Within a few months of this realization I was on a one-way flight to Asia and I haven’t looked back since.
Many of the freelancers I speak to are scared to travel – even for a short weekend vacation – because they’re worried they’ll miss client work or be unable to deal with a client problem whilst they’re away.
The truth is though, if you can work from home, from your own computer, you can work from anywhere in the world.
With the right attitude and organizational skills in place and learning from articles like this, you too can pack your bags and travel the world with your freelance business.
Would you like to travel the world with your design business? Let me know in the comments!
Likewise, if you have a specific question or want some advice, ask in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you!