This is me in Vietnam. At the time of writing this, we are still in the middle of a pandemic.
Yet, I feel more confident than ever. I belong to the lucky portion of the world’s population that is able to make money online and travel the world. Well, hopefully, I’ll be able to travel more, COVID-19 allowing. I’ve been in Vietnam, Da Nang for about a year due to the coronavirus.
Maybe staying in one place even helped me scale my content marketing business, who knows? From working alone, I now have an awesome team working alongside me, including my wonderful girlfriend, Dory.
There are a few more folks working for me remotely. Shoutout to Adrienn and Beatrice!
Good tea and good internet!
It wasn’t always like this. Just 2 years ago, I was still a kid, sitting in my room and shaking as I pressed enter on a reddit post that was a last attempt to find clients.
Little did I know that this post would end up changing my life and leading me to where I am today.
This is where it all began with a broken laptop and a room converted into a “home office.”
First, let me preface something. When I set out to become a digital nomad and make money while traveling, I had NO experience in the field, whatsoever.
But I KNEW that there were many people out there who have cracked the boring cycle that everyone else followed. They were making their own money. So why not me?
This brings me to my next question: why not YOU? I am a firm believer that anyone can do what I achieved and you will only need these two things.
- A broken laptop.
- Dedication (A lot of it!)
If you have a laptop in working condition, then you’re already a step further than I was two years ago!
In this article, I will walk you through exactly how I ended up at making four figures a month online.
Stick around, this will be a hell of a ride.
Why did I chuck the corporate lifestyle?
To start off, I’ll share this nifty infographic:
I created this infographic to depict the rollercoaster ride my life has been…
As you can tell — I was pretty damn confused!
In fact, I tried a whole multitude of things only to end up even more confused. However, this allowed me to understand what I didn't want to do which is VITAL to understand what you really want to do.
But I still didn’t have a clear vision.
I was fast approaching the point in life where you get a “secure” job somewhere and join the rat race. And to be frank, I was ready to give up and accept this lifestyle. It was a safe option. It was the “normal route.”
However, there was always this inner voice:
Mark, don't do it! There has to be another way! You just need to find what it is!
My first Google search to become a digital nomad.
So, I decided I would not give up on this dream!
I decided to spend every last bit of my college life to find another lifestyle. Every day I spent countless hours researching, reading books, watching YouTube videos — anything that would make sense!
So, what did I choose instead — Working online.
I finally found my dream lifestyle. Becoming a digital nomad was exactly my cup of tea!
There were these people who leveraged technology to live anywhere they wanted and make money while traveling. Awesome! However, while digital nomads were traveling the world and making a shit ton of money, the part that I loved the most was still — freedom.
- Live where they wanted
- Be free from BS corporate politics
- Choose how they worked
This finally made sense!
And more importantly, I was no longer an outsider as there were others like me. People who either quit their job or couldn't bring themselves to get a 9-5 and decided to pursue another lifestyle.
I spent the next few months in college learning how to make this dream my reality. I wanted to earn money while traveling to marvelous places. Just like them.
But one thing still bugged me.
Why aren’t more people traveling the world like this?!
The digital nomad lifestyle or simply freelancing was no secret. In fact, all the stories about making money while traveling were all over the internet. Literally, anyone with access could learn about it!
So why were so many people still chasing jobs and trying to go about life and work the conventional way?
This is because this way of living life was against another even more popular lifestyle aka ‘The system'. A life where you first pursue a lucrative degree. Then you find a job. Then it's an endless race to the top (corporate rat race). As if this was the only way to make money.
The end game? Retire at 65 with maximized 401ks to live the average middle-class lifestyle (if you're lucky).
An Indian Meme for reference. (Beta = Son in Hindi)
The traditional approach to work is extremely common in India (and I think in most parts of the world). Point is, everyone seems to be an expert at life. Especially when it comes to advising you!
“Beta(son) do this MBA next.”
“There's a lot of jobs in science/finance”
“Do this certification to find a better job.”
But, the problem is most people don’t have any experience doing anything else apart from traditional jobs. To them, ‘traveling the world’ sounds vague and too insecure. They live a life focused on building vanity metrics — things that make you look good rather than actually being good.
And this is exactly why I chucked the corporate lifestyle!
Fact is, you can make money remotely,and travel the world at the same time. And it can be just as secure as a job! Mind you, I’ve worked my a$$ off to get to a point where I make thousands of dollars a month.
But this lifestyle is doable. And guess what! You are in an even better position to earn money like this than I was two years ago. Why?
Because remote work is rapidly being normalized due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Why now's the best time to work online
If you’re just starting out and looking at ways to make money like a digital nomad, I have good news for you. There is a growing need for people like you who are eager and ready to do a good job. But this sweet spot in the online job market will not last long.
We see traditional jobs fading out of the economy every year. In the meanwhile, the gig economy is only getting stronger.
Through gigs, you can make more money, be your own boss and even work in your PJs.
Soon, remote work will no longer be a temporary solution. Having adapted to the new expectations, companies will set themselves up to be remote-only. The benefits of working from home has become clear with the unfortunate arrival of COVID-19. Since the start of the pandemic, 47% higher productivity was reported compared to the same time last year.
You also spend no time on your commute, and no money on gas, monthly passes or car repairs.
My trajectory in the gig economy
The gig economy itself also has its own career ladder to climb. The difference is that here, YOU make the ladder step by step instead of getting it “as is” at a traditional workplace.
- GFX for night clubs + selling pirated video games online
My entry to freelancing. It wasn’t much but it was honest work. My philosophy is that you learn something at every position you hold. Or at least make some connections for later!
- Website building
This one, from the beginning of my career, had a little r/actlikeyoubelong feel to it. At this point, I already knew how to set up a WordPress website (without coding). But I needed to look legit to start getting regular work. So, I set up a beautiful but fake agency website for myself.
The result? $3,000 in freelance assignment income. All from clients who I impressed with my very first website.
Mediaberry.co, my first website
1. Ecommerce site builder
I was still just getting my feet wet in the world of digital marketing. I had a meeting with a potential client who wanted to get an ecommerce site built. I upfront told him that I have not done ecommerce before. Yet, I ended up getting this project just by being confident about my skills at this meeting.
2. Generic content writer
Finally, I was on track for becoming a well-respected writer! Except that I was mostly writing copy about CBD and penis enlargement pills.
3. SaaS writer
At last, I was able to get into the SaaS niche. I was writing about online software, B2B platforms and giving advice in productivity and career building. This was the time I expanded my portfolio with new pieces the most.
4. Top SaaS writer
As I made more connections in the SaaS world, I was able to get more quality work done for high-end SaaS players. Think: monday.com, Foundr Magazine, and later CoSchedule, HubSpot and other big name SaaS brands.
5. SaaS content marketing agency
Today, I run a rapidly expanding SaaS content marketing agency, Mediaberry. I’m still just setting up shop but I already recognized the importance of hiring right.
Currently, a handful of reliable, quality writers and editors are helping me grow this company into an internationally recognized provider of SaaS content.
How to learn the skills to make money online
Once you decide to embark on an online marketing career, it’s important to keep an open mind. This line of work has probably dozens of niches and sub niches from social media to SEO to database software to SaaS.
Step 1: Find out your dislikes
My advice is simple: try out as many things as possible to see what you DON’T want to do.
For example, I did a lot of website building early in my career. While it was fun, it wasn’t my calling.
Step 2: Test what you like
Next, thoroughly test the projects that you DO like working on. Naval says that you don’t need 10,000 hours to become the best at something. Instead, you just need 10,000 iterations or approaches to the same thing.
I loved content writing but I knew that I wasn’t going to do copies for penis enlargement and CBD for long. I wanted to specialize in SaaS.
Step 3: See what everyone else is doing
I learned by following my competitors’ footsteps.
I simply Googled “freelance writer for SaaS” and reverse engineered their tactics. Here are some things I adapted (and you can, too):
- Put a big focus on personal branding
- Display my photo, a tagline and the brands I worked with
- Start writing guest posts
- Write more conversationally
In the online world, there's no secrets so just audit your competitors to find what they're doing best.
Once you find your one thing, diversify your income by picking complementary things. For example, you can start a blog and scale that to no longer depend on clients.
This is me doing a workshop on how I became an entrepreneur. (Photo is from pre-COVID)
Step 4: Don’t get stuck
Don’t get stuck in one position for too long. Online marketing is a fast changing industry. Always keep learning, adapting and reiterating yourself.
Finally, some “street smart” advice:
- Work your butt off. When everyone else is doing a Netflix marathon, and waste their time on Tik Tok, you’ll be the one focused on your latest course.
- Save money. When your friends are spending their cash on Starbucks, smartphones, or games, you’ll be the one diligently saving up for a course.
- Learn who the influencers are. By knowing the big names in the industry, you’ll be able to refer to reliable advice at all times.
Ways to make money online
Now to the best part! I have two great pieces of news for you:
- There are a lot of legit ways you can get paid online.
- You can specialize in just a single niche or become a generalist.
Back in college, I associated being a digital nomad with a few hours of work here and there and then letting the millions roll in as you sip on cocktails on a beach somewhere.
Of course, this is the sexy version. This CAN happen but not right away. I can say that I’m almost at this stage right now. Maybe the millions are not rolling in yet but I make three to four figures per month. Also, some things are conveniently automated. And it took me years of very unsexy grinding to get here.
Everyone starts somewhere. The question is – where will you find your YOUR niche? Will you start a travel blog? Will you show people how to save money?
Take a look to see which of these methods best appeal to you as a starter hustle to make money.
Freelancing can come in many different shapes and forms. The question is: what are you really good at? And what are some skills you can learn the fastest? You’ll find your answer somewhere there.
Whichever niche you choose, I still believe that the best part about becoming a freelancer is the flexibility.
2. Content writing and editing
If you love to write, this could be an easy way in for you. The (online) world runs on content. As high as 91% of B2B marketers use content marketing today. And someone needs to write those campaigns (or will need help with them).
SEO content writing and editing were my first gigs as a digital nomad. Beyond fluency in English, a laptop and your own creativity, you really don’t need much else.
Content writing rates vary greatly. Of course, you’ll see thousands of offers that pay ridiculously little. Even if you’re a beginner, opt for gigs that start from $30 per 500 words.
3. Website development
Website development was my other go-to income generation at the beginning. It’s still my favorite way to make money. And no, I don’t have the slightest clue about coding. Nowadays, you can get a WordPress website up and running with NO coding skills thanks to a ton of themes available.
Page builders like Elementor can help you create a website that looks like a million dollars. Their design interface is easy and the results are always stunning.
How much you get paid for a website depends on a few factors: the type of website you’re building, the complexity of the website, and the size of the website. Whether you’re designing from scratch or using a WordPress template also factor in.
I usually recommend charging a flat rate. Even if you’re slow at the beginning, as time goes by, you’ll be faster at building websites and your flat rate will be worth it. Don’t charge less than $1,000 for a basic website.
4. Graphic design
Being a graphic designer is one of those jobs where you have to have an eye for design. There is ALWAYS a design need somewhere. From logos, to illustrations to landing page designs: there are a lot of work opportunities within this niche.
If you’ve never touched a design concept before, I’d recommend starting with a beginner-friendly and free resource, such as Canva. This platform has excellent templates you can work with and learn from.
Next, upgrade to a more sophisticated tool like Gimp. It’s a lot like Photoshop but free. Finally, once your skills are in place, invest in a full-fledged graphic design software to meet your needs.
As a beginner, you can charge from $15-20/hr and up. Professional graphic designers with a few years and projects under their belts can make as much as $50/hr or more.
5. Social media
Social media management is one of the most fun ways to make money in digital marketing and this niche is not slowing down anytime soon. I wrote about becoming a marketing manager on CoSchedule which you might find useful for your research.
Everyone and their uncle needs professional social media management nowadays. Just by being a social media user for so many years, you will quickly understand the basics. But as with everything, this gig can also be brought to the next level.
From social media you can easily branch out to PR work or Account management later.All of these specializations can be done while traveling around the world.
My recommendation is the same as above. Don’t charge less than $15/hr and raise your prices regularly as you gain more experience.
Blogging is one of the more fun ways to earn money on the side. Blogging itself will not bring in the bucks but placing ads in your posts will. According to Glassdoor, an average blogger income in the US is more than $32,000 per year.
Bloggers also get paid through partnerships, product placements in articles or webinars (affiliate marketing) and by selling their own products. Let’s take a look at these tactics!
In beautiful Bali
Despite the Coronavirus pandemic still being in our lives, the job of a travel blogger will not disappear just transform. For example, travel bloggers have started writing about services that their audience can make use of while at home or when traveling rebounds.
I also think that over time, more emphasis will be placed on domestic travel and traveling to previously COVID-affected areas. Anything from best safety measures to travel tips in the “new normal” will become a useful topic to cover. Hotels and airlines could make a more definite shift to collaborating with travel bloggers.
These are just my speculations based on my experience in writing for this blog and other travel blogs (I should start my own travel blog).
As a starter, I recommend placing Google Adsense on your travel blog. This is one of the most popular ways to earn money from your blog. While you build your audience, make sure to network as much as you can. You can later use these connections to establish affiliate partnerships.
Making money from your travel blog does not happen overnight. You might be just writing for yourself for the first year. Once you have built a great following, you might start seeing more money come in – anywhere from $65 to $2,000 per month or more.
Becoming an affiliate blogger means that you promote a certain product and then make a commission on every conversion.
How much money are we talking about? It depends. Some places give you a percentage of the sale (anywhere from 5% to 30%) and some places pay you a flat fee (anywhere between $5 to $100 or more).
The title “affiliate blogger” can mean a lot of things. You can refer your audience to almost any product that has an affiliate platform.
Here are a few of the most popular products and platforms:
Or, see my breakdown on the best affiliate programs here.
The funny thing about becoming an affiliate blogger is that it’s addicting. Once you’ve created one blog, you’ll want to set up another. And another.
The part I most enjoy is selecting the theme. Every blog has their own style and it’s fun to tinker with a new layout each time. My favorite is the Divi sitebuilder. It’s super easy to use, and with one subscription, you can get access to both Divi and Elegant Themes products. (I have a Divi discount code right now, if you’re interested!)
Tip: don’t think about affiliate marketing as a “sellout.” Great affiliates often get notified of awesome promos – so you will definitely be helping people save money.
A few more words on blogging
Earning money from your blog is a viable hustle nowadays. BUT. Remember that without a loyal audience, your affiliate partnerships will not see any conversions. Establishing your personal brand as a blogger can take a long time. As in, as long as 2 years or more. Keep your expectations low and treat your blog more like a passion project until it starts generating some passive income.
7. Teaching English
If you’re a native English speaker, then teaching English is one of the easiest ways to make money and start supporting your lifestyle as a digital nomad. While most positions require a teaching degree, you will find platforms that do not.
It’s still a good idea to take a quick TEFL-course to deepen your knowledge in both the English language and how to teach.
You can teach English anywhere around the world. Depending on your location, you can do the work in person or via Skype or Zoom. There are also platforms that are dedicated to connecting students and teachers.
Many of these platforms even accept non-native speakers.
Depending on your experience, you can expect to make from around $10 per hour to $40 per hour. In most cases, you can choose to teach English part-time. It’s really a great way to make some extra money while traveling (or staying home for that matter). I also know of people who decided to do it for the long term and spent 5-8 years abroad this way.
Jobs that pay you to travel the world
Me, in Lombok, Indonesia
With the arrival of COVID-19, a lot of the jobs that pay you to travel the world have disappeared. As travel was halted, the industry got hit hard. So far, revenue loss is estimated to be around $195 billion worldwide.
But don’t let this discourage you. Some travel is still required to keep the world functioning. They have already put a lot of safety measures in place for these workers and I’m sure they’ll come up with more innovative solutions. And COVID-19 won’t last forever, either.
Jobs in this realm differ greatly in terms of payout.
Here are a few options if you want to get paid to travel:
- Flight attendant
Becoming a flight attendant is a great way to fly to places and get paid for it. You can get an average of $20-$40 an hour in the US, depending on the airline.
- Tour Guide
Tourist sites with high foot-traffic always pose good job opportunities. Pay is usually from $10-$25 per hour.
If you have a degree in communications or a related area, then you could make some good money as an online journalist. Experienced journalists can earn $30,000 or more.
- Cruise ship worker
Once cruise ships are back in business, you can expect to make a good sum of money: about $3,000 monthly. And you’ll get to sail around the world!
- Scuba diving instructor
If you’re healthy and know how to scuba, all you need to do is find a beautiful resort somewhere! (And get certified.) You are expected to make around $20,000 a year. Not one to get rich on but definitely beats an office job! (For me, anyways)
- Truck driver
Long-distance truck driving is one of the harder ways to make money but at least you get paid well. Expect at least $43,000 per year as a truck driver.
- Farm worker with WWOOF
Well, this one is an outlier. You essentially volunteer at a farm and you get accommodation and three meals in exchange. If you can go without the extra money for a while, then becoming a farm worker is an extraordinary experience.
Popular platforms that will help you make money while traveling:
How to land jobs online
Start building your portfolio
This is my portfolio… so far!
As a digital nomad, your portfolio should be your bread and butter. Potential clients or employers will look at your past work to see if you are a good fit. The prettier your portfolio the more money you can potentially get paid.
But what if you’re fresh out of your courses and have no portfolio yet?
Simple. Create your portfolio yourself. You don’t need to wait for your first clients to show up to start populating your work samples. This is what you do, and I recommend this to newbies all the time.
Imagine your ideal client. Is it a startup specializing in tech? An educational institution? A nonprofit?
Now, create an actual marketing campaign around this fictional client. You can write a blog post, create a landing page, design social media banners, record a podcast, and more. This is an excellent way to practice and showcase your skills at the same time.
Ask your network
There is always someone who knows someone with a job opportunity. The best place to start looking for an online job is asking the people around you.
Check with your family, friends, previous work buddies, even your neighbours. Don’t be embarrassed or too pushy. Simply let them know that you’re available for work and ask them to keep you in mind for the future.
Check local places
A lot of local businesses are desperate for some help in the digital department now that COVID-19 has decreased their foot traffic.
Pop into some of these places and drop off your business card or contact info. If they are not ready to allocate a budget to their digital marketing needs, you can also offer to do a few campaigns for free.
Gasp! Yes, free. Obviously this will not be a long-term commitment. Think: a few weeks of work part-time in exchange for a testimonial. This solution is a win-win and it can still lead to a paid gig.
Network in online groups and forums
You can find your next gig from the comfort of your home. There are thousands of groups and forums online that you can choose from. Joining an online community is becoming more and more like the real thing nowadays. You get to know people, form friendships and spot potential leads.
If you can do some offline networking, that’s even better. (Photo is from pre-COVID)
The secret is to be a useful and respectful member of your group. Give more than you take. Once an opportunity comes along they will recognize you as a trustworthy individual.
How to spot a job opportunity in an online group:
- A job posting is shared (duh!)
- Someone posts about how overwhelmed they are with a client
- You find a comment about an opportunity
With that said, be wary of scammy postings. If the offered work is too easy to get (i.e., no interview, little info), it’s a scam. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Also, stay away from “PM me for more details.”
Otherwise, the majority of the users in these communities are entrepreneurs or hustlers like you and me with good intentions. Due to the closed nature of the groups, I personally think that it’s one of the best ways to find a job.
A few Facebook groups you can join:
1. Apply to jobs
Remember when we used to circle job ads in the paper? With millions of jobs having gone remote, you can now do a simple search to filter for the type of work you want.
Tip: every platform and company have their application processes in place. Wherever you can, provide a visual resume instead of a traditional one. This builds trust between you and potential employers faster.
For best results, optimize each application to the job. For example, if the description highlights content writing the most, make sure to add this skill high up to your resume.
Promote your availability
R2. emember the photo of my room from earlier? That was the place where I made the leap and put myself out there. And here’s the post I made on Reddit:
This post went viral reaching over 11k people. More importantly, it gave me my first few clients.
Why was this post successful?
- The point of the post is to give advice and inspire people
- I did not make it sound desperate
- My determined approach and clear game plan appealed to my leads
This is just one snippet of the times I've reached out to people for work. I highly recommend you try this approach at some point, too. It doesn’t have to be Reddit: you can choose Facebook, YouTube, or any other platform you prefer.
If you have tried all of the above tips to get a paying job and you still haven’t had any luck, try working for testimonials. Maybe you need to build up your portfolio/confidence/network.
The results of your free work is threefold: you will get valuable on-the-job experience, you will receive great reviews and you will grow your contact list.
Of course, you won’t be traveling the world while working for nothing. You can do this for as long as you are able to afford and then go through my tips again from the beginning.
The bottom line is this. If you don't have results, you will have no credibility. And if you don't put your name out there, you won't get clients.
Where am I now?
I run my own marketing agency. Oh, and I live out of my backpack traveling around Vietnam.
I’m only restricted to one country now because of COVID-19. But that’s okay with me, as long as I have my laptop and my VPN, I can work from anywhere in the world.
I built a team of 10 from scratch who are reliable and do excellent work for me.
Being that undecided college student feels so far away and yet so close in time. If you’re serious about becoming a digital nomad (and eventually running your own show), then remember these few practical tips:
- Absorb as much industry knowledge as you possibly can. Never stop.
- Next, create your own methods. Verify that they work and set up your knowledge centre (this could be as simple as a document or as robust as a whole blog).
- Give adequate training to your team on your methods.
- Hire professionals with a great portfolio and pay them accordingly. I learned this the hard way. Paying your people with peanuts will only get you bad quality work, waste your time and get your startup to tank early.
- Communication in a remote team is key. Use a free tool like Slack to keep all conversations in one spot.
Resources for digital nomads
Here are some additional resources for you.
Making money online and traveling the world is possible (the latter pending on COVID, but still). I have done it and I started on this road with NO experience and NO connections. There are many ways to achieve this level of comfort and I showed you mine.
Now, it all boils down to whether you’re able to put in the hard work.
I skipped out on a lot of parties and spent countless weekends locked up in my room getting better at my skill. This was just one of the many sacrifices I had to make.
The upside is that I no longer worry about my knowledge, I am facing new challenges, such as establishing my marketing agency. And I’m loving every minute of it.
Remember, the more work you put in at the beginning of your journey, the easier the road will get. If you want to live the life you envisioned, it’s time to step out of the boundaries of the traditional road and embrace a little bit of challenge.