Hola amigos! This will be the first in a series of posts about building a location-independent career. The kind that will let you travel the world whenever you want and for however long as you want, and on your terms.
A Little About Me
I started my first business selling jewelry to consignment shops at age 17, built my second business (a volunteer travel program directory) in college and sold it to my partner in 2012, and now I’m splitting my time between Frayed Passport and Vandenberg Digital Communications—both of which let me do work that I really love from wherever there’s a wifi connection. I’ve been to Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and just renewed my (frayed) passport, so we’ll see what the first stamp on it will be!
So for this first post, I’ll talk about the most important thing I learned about building a location-independent career—or about entrepreneurship in general: following your passion may not be the best route to take.
What Does That Mean?
I don’t mean you should give up on your passions! But there are a couple of things to consider before building a business around them.
1: Your passions may not translate well to a paying job—or a location-independent one.
You may absolutely love to paint, but turning that into a sustainable gig is absurdly difficult. And if you’re really into woodworking, you may have trouble keeping up with projects while on the road. (My apologies if I sound like a huge buzzkill. If it makes you feel any better, I graduated with $60k in student loans and a vast knowledge of South Asian art history.)
If your passionate pursuits aren’t quite the moneymakers you’d hoped they would be, you may want to think about a pivot. For example, graphic design or website design could allow you to be creative and earn an income that will let you travel the world. Websites like Coursera are excellent (and free!) learning resources if you’re new to the subject, and once you’ve got a handle on your new pursuit, other services like Fiverr and 99designs can serve as excellent platforms to find new business and show off your work.
2: Burnout can make you resent something you loved.
If you’re trying to find a way to make money doing something you absolutely love—enough money to let you quit your day job and travel the world—you have to be prepared to invest a lot of hard work, dedication, and time. And that can lead to burnout.
As a personal example, I built a small jewelry-making business with my best friend in high school. It started off amazing! We loved crafting beautiful necklaces and earrings, selling them at shows and in consignment shops, and making custom pieces for buyers. But after a while, people started ordering the exact same pairs of earrings or the exact same choker style—and before I knew it, I was on autopilot and hated the work. It wasn’t fun anymore, and I ended up giving away all of my supplies and shutting down the website because I couldn’t stand the thought of making one more pair of earrings.
So! Now we get to the next piece of advice, which will sound kind of weird, but here we go: Build a business doing work that you’re good at and that you don’t mind focusing in on.
Isn’t That Settling?
Nope! Everybody’s got some kind of marketable skill—if you don’t know yours yet, you’ve at least got the capacity to learn. And you don’t have to let go of your passions—but you may find you want to keep those on the side to de-stress from the day-to-day of building and managing a new career.
How do you figure out what to focus on? Here’s what I’ve found helpful:
1: Make a list of tasks and projects that you’ve gotten satisfaction from, and see what ties them together.
The list might surprise you! Here’s a list of projects I felt great about a couple years ago while trying to figure out my next career move:
- Completing the Fellows Program census, which tracked data about students at more than 50 Peace Corps partner universities nationwide.
- Cleaning up the complete mess of garbage plugins, unnecessary code, and throwaway pages the original developers left behind on a website I started managing.
- Tracking social media, email, and website analytics for a large nonprofit, and providing marketing strategy suggestions focusing on the audience most likely to respond to fundraising and event campaigns.
There were a lot more items on the list, but after writing out just those three, I realized the parts of my work that I loved the most were analytics, data, and streamlining processes. Definitely not something I would have immediately mentioned if someone asked about my career goals. If you can figure out what ties your “likes” list together, you can learn a lot about what you’re capable of doing over the long-term.
2: Make a list of tasks and projects you’ve absolutely hated.
This also might surprise you—it definitely opened my eyes when I made this list:
- Designing a series of flyers and one-pagers for a university.
- Wrangling celebrities and coordinating cross-posts on social media for a nonprofit fundraiser.
- Writing copy for a startup website.
I hate graphic design, so that wasn’t much of a surprise. But looking deeper at the list, what tied all these projects together was “people-pleasing.” I’m a super, super logical person, and any work that involves some element of drama (so, anything where someone—or a group of someones—has creative input) immediately turns me off. So when I started building what’s now Vandenberg DC, I focused almost entirely on analytics and data-guided strategy because it’s something I don’t mind working on every day, and I don’t get all annoyed if someone comes to me with questions or scope changes.
3: Brainstorm ways you can monetize your “likes” list while keeping items from your “dislikes” list to a minimum.
You may have to compromise a bit—especially if you hate sales.
So What Next?
Get to work! Start plotting out your lists and add to them over the next few days as ideas pop into your head. Also think about what specifically you liked or disliked about certain projects and tasks; you might find you enjoyed the actual work you did, but your manager was terrible and ruined the project for you.
As you build out your “likes” list, think about all the ways you can monetize it for remote work. If you like design, what kind of design do you REALLY get a kick out of? Logos, brand identities, brochures, email templates, websites? If you like organizing things, what does that entail—can you manage file trees and databases, or even market yourself as a virtual assistant? There are tons of directions you can go!
>> Bonus! Check this out: Insider Living included Frayed Passport on their guide to building a location-independent career! Go take a look and check out our article featured about halfway down the page in the Volunteer Abroad section – The Case for Voluntourism.