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Work online. Live anywhere.

A manual to making the world your office.

January 16, 2017

Who wouldn’t feel inspired by the idea of escaping the daily grind, living in exotic surroundings, and enjoying a lightweight lifestyle, supported by working fewer and more flexible hours? Toss-in warm weather, great food, and frequent travels, it’s how most of us would describe living the dream. I’m no exception.

Having lived and worked on three continents and in nine different countries before hanging my hat in the City, I’m certainly no stranger to a semi-nomadic lifestyle. But when I followed my six-year-old son to Europe in 2011, I wasn’t looking for another life-altering experience. I simply took a sabbatical to resolve a few family issues. Now, five years into it, I traded my conventional career and work routine for that of a traveling writer and strategy consultant, who works mostly online.

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I know that the notion of going on as a digital nomad may sound like a pipe dream. In reality, however, many freelancing IT professionals, designers, marketers, writers, consultants, even tutors, and musicians are already embracing the World Wide Web as their platform of choice to do business. So, if a laptop, Skype account and high-speed Internet connection are all you need, going completely location-independent may just take a big leap of faith.

There’s no point denying that a nomadic lifestyle won’t be for everybody. If you’re married with kids, working a traditional office job, it will be a tough concept to implement. So, it may not come as a surprise that the asset-light, tech-savvy and globetrotting Millennials (those, born between 1980 and 2000) make up the vast majority of today’s digital nomads. Agewise, I’m closer to the Baby Boomer generation (those, born between 1946 and 1964); nevertheless, I embrace the idea of digital nomadism as a perfect opportunity to ease into semi-retirement indulging myself in travel and adventure.

Now you’re probably wondering how all these sun-kissed, barefooted and Macbook Air-wielding pros support themselves after jetting-off to paradise. Well, it depends on their line of work, their professional pedigree and if they’re able to source work through established channels or from an existing client base. But even if you’re just a rookie freelancer, the following resources may help you get started:

  • Remote Job Offers. It’s obvious that the meandering economic crisis, increasing digitalization and corporate cost-cutting have given rise to new and much more flexible work concepts. Flex-time, zero-hour contracts, remote collaboration, and outsourcing are just a few examples of how the traditional workplace is changing. Of course, not every desk job will be open to remotely working professionals and deciphering job listings can be tricky. Look for buzzwords like “virtual”, “remote work”, “telecommute” and “flexible hours”; they’re dead giveaways that the listing is for a remote position. Terms such as “lean”, “agile” and “efficient” require more interpretation and reading between the lines, but they’re typically good indicators that the employer will consider remotely working candidates as well. Simply put, you’ll have to find “the flex” in a job listing. Check out FlexJobs.com’s list of The Best 100 Companies for Flexible Jobs.
  • Freelancer Websites. There’re plenty of sites that will enable you to strike out on your own, but finding well-paid jobs online isn’t as simple as creating a profile and firing-off proposals. You will have to showcase an inspiring portfolio and solid track record before employers will consider you for more sophisticated and, thus, more lucrative work. One way of doing this is leveraging your real-world work experience and submitting very competitive bids. Positioning yourself as top-tier talent that employers may typically not be able to afford, might entice them to take a chance on you and hire you for their project. After you garnered a few top-level reviews, you can try aiming higher. Sites that are worth checking are:

Founded in 2009 in Sidney, Australia, and now a public company, Freelancer.com boasts more than 15 million users worldwide.

It’s one of the biggest and more established global outsourcing sites, but it has recently garnered many complaints and bad reviews from its users. Given the vast number of users and scope of their operations (they operate 25 regional sites), this may not necessarily be a reason to be alarmed. Creating a professional profile and bidding on jobs is free and thus, a good opportunity to see if Freelancer.com is a good match for you.

Focus:

IT, design, sales & marketing, translations, writing, business administration, legal, and even local job offerings

After the merger with Elance.com in 2013, Upwork.com (formerly oDesk.com) is now the second-largest online collaboration platform. The site is home to more than 10 million users and 2 million businesses, thereby generating more than 3 million job offers and $1 billion in project volume every year. Upwork.com is one of the most versatile matchmaking sites; so, chances are that freelancers working in other fields than design and web development have plenty of quality job offers to choose from. On the flip side, now that UpWork is a public company (UPWK), the company seems focused on maximizing revenues, rather than innovating and creating a more flexible work environment. They charge a whopping 20% commission off the first $500 paid to freelancers on their first project with a client (10% up to project values of $10,000, and 5% on everything that goes beyond that). In addition, they started charging $0.15 for each bid (Connects) on July 19, 2019. They also charge for transfers of available balances to PayPal and bank accounts.

Focus:

Web, mobile and software development, IT, design & creative, writing & translation, sales & marketing, administrative support, legal, accounting, consulting

Founded in 1999 by Inder Guglani, Guru.com was another early adopter of the rapidly-evolving freelancing culture. Although the site was initially designed as a clearing house for tech workers seeking short-term contracts, Guru.com now casts a much wider net and connects employers with freelancers in more than 160 different categories.

Although Guru.com doesn’t disclose the number of users or businesses that use the site, I can tell from first-hand experience that there’s a steady flow of job offers, which often results in quality assignments and ongoing professional relationships. The site offers both free and paid memberships, the latter of which are subject to a lower transaction fee and fewer restrictions during the bidding process. Lately though, the site seems to have fallen-off a cliff with fewer quality job offers being listed. Instead Guru.com seems to focus on peculiar sign-in and site security initiatives that don’t any value to using the site.

Focus:

Web, Software & IT, Design, Art & Multimedia, Writing & Translation, Admin Support, Management & Finance, Sales & Marketing, Engineering & Architecture, Legal, Other …

Toptal.com prides itself on working solely with elite developers and financial professionals, who have a perfect pedigree. The site employs a rigid screening process to filter-out the top 3% of the talent pool, which is then put to work with Fortune 500 clients like JPMorgan, Airbnb, Pfizer, Zendesk, etc.

Toptal.com was founded in 2010 by Taso Du Val and Breanden Beneschott, who was recently selected as one of Forbes Magazine’s top 30 Under 30 Enterprise Technology Entrepreneurs of 2015. The site is believed to cater to more than 2,000 clients and have reached $100 million in revenues in 2015.

Focus:

Software and App development, finance, project management

New York City-based MediaBistro.com aggregates medial job offers from A-list employers such as Bloomberg, Condé Nast, The Wired Magazin, HBO, and many others. So, if you’re an eloquent writer or seasoned creative with years of experience, this may be the site that can help you land your next gig.

Working terms span full time, part time, temporary, freelance, or contract-based assignments.

Focus:

Online/New Media, PR/Marketing, Magazine Publishing, Social Media, Sales/Advertising Sales, Other Publishing, Non Profit, Television, Book Publishing, Ad Agency, B2B Publishing, Newspapers, Design/Art/Photo, Entertainment, Conferences/Events, Web Development, Corp/Tech Writing, Finance/Real Estate/Legal, Teaching/Academia, Mobile, Other, Radio

PeoplePerHour.com PeoplePerHour is the leading online platform in the UK that connects small and medium-sized businesses with freelance talent. Founded in 2007 by Xenios Thrasyvoulou and Simos Kitiris, the platform is rather popular among both quality employers and thousands of freelancers.

PeoplePerHour is free to join, but they charge 20% on the first £500 a freelancer receives and another 7.5% on all revenues after that.

Focus:

Administrative, Design, Development & IT, Marketing, Social Media, Writing, Translation, Tutorials, Video, Photo & Audio.

Scripted.com is home to more than 80,000 freelance writers, who stand ready to produce custom content such as blog posts, articles, web content, press releases, white papers, and other publications for a wide cross section of clients.

Unlike other online marketplaces or matchmaking sites, writers are paid a flat fee starting at $99, rather than having to haggle over their compensation with the client. The site also enables freelancers to pitch their own ideas and market ready-made content.

Scripted.com was founded by Sunil Rajaraman and Ryan Buckle in May of 2011 and has since grown into one of the largest online communities for writers.

Focus:

Blog Posts, Facebook Posts, Tweets, White Papers, Web Content, Product Descriptions, Local Content, Articles

BloggingPro.com is an online job board that features job opportunities for those, who have a way with words.

Categories that can be searched include jobs in blogging, content and copywriting, journalism, proofreading and editing, and technical writing.

Job offers can take the shape of full time, part time, temporary, freelance, or contract-based assignments.

SpareHire.com is the new kid on the block and a platform that connects solely top-tier financial talent with start-ups, private equity firms, investment banks, and other corporates.

Since Vikram Ashok and Ashwin Krishnan launched Sparehire.com in October of 2013, the site is said to have attracted more than 1,300 high-caliber professionals and an elite group of corporate clients. Both are carefully vetted before being admitted to the site. Assignments are often awarded based on very specific core competencies and industry experience. Compensation can range from $70-$100+/hour; so, it’s not shabby for freelance consulting, but SpareHire.com takes a hefty 25% commission off the top.

SpareHire.com was recently rebranded and relaunched as Graphite.com.

Jobatical.com is an absolute newcomer and different in that they want to send globetrotting talent in the IT sector on 6-12-month long career adventures working with clients from around the world.

The site was conceived by Estonian serial entrepreneur Karoli Hindricks, who is quick to point out that the site has already attracted 1,200 employers who are looking to hire talent in 40 countries (primarily in Southeast Asia and in Eastern and Western Europe).

  • Other Resources. If you are ready to pack your bags and explore if living as a digital nomad is all it’s promised to be, the following sites might offer some interesting and hopefully useful information:

NomadList.com is an interesting and fun to visit site, offering ratings of hundreds of destinations based on the cost of living, weather, air quality, fun factor, and travelers’ safety.

Once you narrowed down a few inspiring places, simply click on the corresponding thumb to navigate to a fairly detailed profile page, which offers lots of information (e.g. scores, cost-of-living analysis, FAQs, etc.) along with useful links (e.g. places to work, places to sleep). You can even sign-up to chat with fellow digital nomads in the area.

WorkAway.info is yet another fun-to-visit site focusing on hospitality, volunteer work, and cultural exchange around the world. Members can arrange for free “homestays”, including housesitting, in return for which they agree to dedicate a pre-agreed amount of time per day for chores or work assignments for their hosts.

Founded in 2002, WorkAway.info is everything but new, but with more than 500 active hosts, it’s a popular concept based on which travelers and digital nomads on a budget can engage with locals and their culture on short to medium term stays.

Focus:

Hospitality, volunteer work, travel and travel buddies, cultural exchange.

The small Baltic nation has made a bold move to embrace digitalization and globalization. In just a few years, it has transitioned to a modern e-services culture and built a state-of-the-art virtual business environment; and now, it invites the world to reap the benefits by becoming e-residents in Estonia.

The e-Residency program is tailored to provide a very attractive business environment to a wide cross section of entrepreneurs, including those, who are running a location-independent business online. Applications are accepted online.

InterNations.com is a leading social networking site for expats in 390 cities worldwide. As the first international online and offline community for people living and working abroad, InterNations.com is a place where expats can interact with other global minds who share similar interests and needs. The site’s members meet at regular local events and activities and exchange tips and information in forums and discussion groups.

InterNations.com offers both free and premium memberships, the latter of which offers various perks and reduced entrance fees to some of the site’s premium events. InterNations.com was founded by Malte Zeeck and Philipp von Plato and launched in September of 2007. It’s said to be home to more than 1.5 million expat members.

If you got something to add, please feel free to drop me a line. I will be happy to take a look and add it to my list.

© 2020 Karl Mohr. All rights reserved.