We live in amazing times. There are opportunities to do anything you want, where ever you want provided you have a little talent and the desire. I have been following location independent lifestyle design blogger, designer and entrepreneur Colin Wright for about a year now. Colin epitomizes the future of work and the excitement of the economic and lifestyle revolution we have the privilege to be experiencing. Colin provides some background information about how he created his amazing lifestyle in this interview.
Please tell us a little about your background.
I went to college at Missouri State University, right on the buckle of the Bible Belt, and originally intended to stay there for a year to save money before going to the Art Institute in Chicago (as a painting major!). While I was at MSU, however, I discovered design (along with an amazing and unique design program) and ended up staying the full 4 years, dual-majoring in Graphic Design and Illustration.
While in school I worked and worked and worked, at one point working 5 jobs (3 graphic design positions, a columnist gig and a job at a print shop). I’m pretty sure I learned just as much or more from the work world as I did from my academic career, though experiencing them in parallel allowed me to benefit from the best of both worlds.
I started up my first company at 19 (a culture magazine) and my second came a few days later (a design studio). I made a LOT of mistakes and experimented constantly.
I took a job at a boutique design and production studio in Los Angeles after college, quit after a year, then started up a new studio of my own (ColinIsMyName), focusing on sustainability, branding and new media practices.
About a year and a half later, my client base grew large and prolific enough that I was able to sell everything except what would fit in a single carry-on bag and run my business from the road, moving to a new country every 4 months. This is part of my most recent business endeavor and blog, Exile Lifestyle.
Please tell us where you are now?
At the moment I’m living in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires, Argentina. I moved here on the 15th of September and will be leaving at the beginning of December so that I can spend about a month and a half traveling around the rest of Argentina.
Halfway through January I’ll be moving up through South America to Bogota, Colombia to hop a flight up to Miami, then Los Angeles, then Sydney.
Why did you choose Buenos Aires?
I didn’t, actually; my brilliant readers did! I ask the people who read Exile Lifestyle to suggest 8 countries and then vote on them. I move to the country that receives the most votes and live there for 4 months.
Please tell us about your lifestyle in Argentina?
I found a nice little studio apartment in the most expensive district in BA for about 1/3 of what a similar place would have cost in Los Angeles. The food here is delicious (almost without exception) and cheap (empanadas can be had for about $0.25 – 0.50 USD apiece, and two can make a meal, for example).
Speaking of the food, they LOVE sweets here, and panaderías (bakeries) are absolutely everywhere. Dulce de leche, a kind of caramel cream, is spread on everything from toast to cookies to cakes…it even serves as a replacement for peanut butter in sandwiches (they don’t have peanut butter here…boo!).
There are some really incredible restaurants in BA, and fusion definitely seems to be the name of the game. You’ll be very disappointed if you’re looking for spicy foods, but if you want modern settings and complex tastes, look no further.
A big part of my project has been to continue cutting my work hours down without diminishing the amount of value I provide to my clients. On that front, in the past 6 months I’ve been able to reduce my weekly work hours from about 80 to the current rate of 6-8. This is good, because otherwise there’s no way in hell I would have time to go out and explore BA as thoroughly as it deserves!
The parties in Buenos Aires get pretty crazy. The people here are ga-ga for eletronica, disco funk and reggaetone, so the music played in the clubs is distinctly different from in the States. Also, on Friday and Saturday nights people seldom go home before 7 or 8 the next morning. I’ve gotten very accustomed to leaving a club and getting breakfast before heading home to sleep a few hours (and then doing it all again the next night).
Buenos Aires is an interesting creature in that it has most of the trappings of a major First World city, but just underneath the surface are obvious signs that this is definitely not the First World.
For example, the sidewalks can be very dangerous to walk on, broken and riddled with pot holes as they are. And even if you don’t stub your toe or trip and fall, there’s a good chance you’ll step in one of the many piles of dog droppings that decorate the landscape. Those dogs (and their owners) are absolutely shameless here.
Crime is also a big problem in BA. I personally was almost mugged, and I’ve seen other people get mugged a few blocks from my apartment (keep in mind, this is the SAFEST district in the city). I also saw a kid break into and start to hotwire a car in broad daylight on a street full of people the other day. Ballsy.
I’m told the level of unemployment is an astounding 30-40% (depending on who you talk to), which is the official reason given for all the crime, though I’m sure the level of corruption in the government (very high) doesn’t help!
What are your living costs there?
My costs are really tame compared to what I was paying to live in Los Angeles. One US Dollar is worth about 3.88 Argentine Pesos, so the conversion rate is very favorable to people from the States (or other countries with comparable currencies).
My apartment runs about $750 USD (though that’s a lot higher than a local would pay…they would probably get the same place for $500 or less) all utilities paid (plus Internet, Cable and furnishings).
A sack of groceries usually costs about 60 pesos (about $15 USD) and will last me 3 or 4 days. A beer at a nice bar generally costs about 12 pesos ($3.15 USD) for a local brew (Quilmes, for example) or 18 pesos ($4.72 USD) for an import (Heineken, Grolsch, etc).
Services are SUPER cheap in BA, with a cab-ride all the way across town seldom costing more than $5 USD, and most trips running closer to $2.50. I can get a whole sack of laundry done (fluff-and-fold style, with ironing for your nicer shirts and stain removal, in case you somehow attract red wine stains like I do) for 16 pesos (about $4 USD). An hour-long massage can be had for $15-40 USD.
You’ll probably want to think twice before buying electronics here, however. As I understand it, the prices are double to triple what they cost in the US because of heavy import fees and a kind of ‘luxury tax’ that assumes only rich people will buy electronics (therefore these items must be taxed much higher than everything else).
Clothing from outside countries also tends to be pricier than you would think, though as far as I can tell it’s about equivalent to what you would pay in New York or San Francisco.
I’ve found most forms of entertainment to be reasonably priced; a tango lesson cost me 15 pesos ($3.94 USD), and a good bottle of wine costs between 20-40 pesos ($5.25 – $10.50 USD)(though a really decent bottle can be had for much less). A good wedge of cheese will set you back 10-12 pesos ($2.62 – $3.15 USD), and a package of way-too-many crackers costs less than $1 USD. Sounds like a good date to me, and for two people it’s still less than $20 USD.
How easy is it to get set up and stay long term in Buenos Aires?
I had this idea that most people around the world spoke at least a little English, and I think this misinformation stemmed from the fact that most people from other countries that I had met spoke a modicum of English at the very least. Then again, of course they would because I met them in the States…I speak a bit of Spanish because I moved here, and visitors to the US do the same.
The truth is that very few people speak English here, and fewer still speak it well enough to get past basic (and slightly awkward) hellos. If you really put yourself out there, are willing to make mistakes and take every opportunity to go out with native speakers, you can do what I’ve done and pick it up as you go along. This works fairly well, and I can operate like a normal human being in BA at this point, 2 months in (though I won’t be giving any lectures on quantum mechanics in Spanish in the near future).
From what I’ve been told, renewing your visa is quite the easy process if you live in BA. All you do is hop a ferry over to Colonia, Uruguay and then come back. As far as I can tell, the little town of Colonia exists more or less to give people a place to rest for half a day before returning to the comparable bustle and noise of Buenos Aires.
I believe the cost to leave the country is about $20, mas o menos (more or less).
How do you earn an income?
Most of my income at the moment comes from my studio, Colin Is My Name. Through this studio I do design, illustration, branding, motion graphics, production, web development, consulting and copy writing work, though most of what I’ve been doing lately has revolved around branding, consulting and web design.
If you can, network in places where a higher-value currency is earned. This isn’t a new trick by any means (it even has a name: geo-arbitrage), but believe me when I say that doing it right can open up the whole world to you (quite literally). Thankfully these days you can appeal to audiences with more valuable currency even if you live far from them without much trouble. Go to events where there will be folks visiting from elsewhere, take part in online projects and discussions, and really make an effort to get your name on peoples’ tongues (start a blog, for example!).
I’ve also been experimenting over the past 4 months or so with alternate means of making money that would make use of Exile Lifestyle’s readership – including affiliate programs, advertising, sponsorships, developing products and the like – but so far none have really struck me as the right fit. I really don’t want to sell out my audience, so at this point I’m keeping it clean and continuing to do the best work I can. At the moment the biggest benefit has been increased awareness of my brand, a lot of new connections with people around the world, and the opportunity to write (which I love).
Someday I’d like to publish a book (to go with the ebooks I’ve already published), so if nothing else running the blog helps me gain legitimacy for that magical day.
How do you find new clients?
Honestly, these days most of my clients come as recommendations from past clients who liked the work I did for them.
To get whole new sub-sets of clients going, though, I have a different method. People either laugh or cringe when they hear this, but I’ve found the best way to meet new people (and therefore new business associates) is to get out and party. Networking events, clubs, parties, gallery openings, special events – they’re all fair game, and just as likely to serve as a gathering point for the kinds of people you want to meet as any convention.
Figure out WHO your ideal client is and then go where they go for fun. If you approach them in business settings their guard will be up. If you meet them as people first and develop up a casual relationship, then you’ll stand a much better chance of being the person they turn to when they need whatever service you provide.
Do not approach any relationship one-sidedly. If you go in with the intent of using someone for his or her connections, you will most likely fail. Build relationships with the intent of making friends first and the business connections will come without any extra effort on your part.
Also: help others and they’ll help you.
How do you collect money while abroad?
I actually have 3 banks, and each serves a different function.
Bank of America houses my business account out of Los Angeles and gives me access to a brick-and-mortar establishment should I need one (plus, I like their WorldPoints credit card).
My Charles Schwab High-Yield Investor Checking account pays me well to keep my money with them (not common for a checking account) and allows me to take money out of any ATM anywhere in the world for free (they pay the charges associated with the withdrawal). This has already come in incredibly handy here in Buenos Aires, since it charges over $11 each time I take money out (but I get it all back at the end of the month).
My Schwab account then transfers a chunk of money every month into my investments and my ING High-Yield Savings Account, which has one of the highest interest rates in the industry, and is very user-friendly (like Schwab, it’s all online – no brick-and-mortars – so their online services work quite well and they can afford to pay you more).
My PayPal account is plugged in to my Schwab account, so if I get paid online I can funnel it right into my checking. If a client wants to send me a check, I have them send it to my wonderful family in Missouri, who take the check, slip it into a prepaid envelope, and ship it off to Schwab to be deposited. Easy breezy.
I still manage all my bills (online) and taxes (using free software). It’s the easiest and most cost-effective way to do it right now, though I may hire an accountant sometime in the future as I begin to do more business internationally.
What is your next destination?
I’ll be heading to New Zealand next (again, because my readers voted for me to do so). I’ll be there for 4 months and will be moving between cities (just like in Argentina).
In between Argentina and New Zealand, I’ll be visiting several other South American countries, visiting both Miami and Los Angeles, and spending a week or two in Australia.
What are your future business plans in the short and long term?
Short-term I’m continuing to run my studio and grow my blog, taking the time to investigate opportunities as they spring up and learn more about related industries.
Long-term I’m planning on writing more ebooks and a professionally published tangible book, to expand the Exile Lifestyle brand into other media and to continue refining my lifestyle so that it becomes even more flexible, prolific and ridiculously fun.