Today’s interview is with Lea Woodward, founder of LocationIndependent.com, serial entrepreneur and digital nomad. Lea and her husband Jonathan, have be working remotely from various locations around the world for more than two years now. They offer graphic design, web development and business consulting services. Lea shares some great advice on about their location independent lifestyle.
What countries have you lived in?
Since we left the UK in early 2007, we’ve spent time in the following places:
- Panama – 2 months
- Buenos Aires – 1 month
- Grenada – 5 months
- Toronto – 1 month
- Dubai – 2 months
- South Africa – 9 months
- Thailand – 1 month
- Side trips to: Italy & Hong Kong
Most of the places were chosen simply because we wanted to go there – although as with any destination we decide to go to, we do quite a bit of research first to ensure there’s the type of accommodation we want, good Internet access and that from a visa/immigration perspective we can stay for at least a month quite easily.
Can you please provide a rough estimate of living expenses in those countries?
I have written a couple of posts on the blog summarising & comparing our living expenses & costs in each country we went to for 2007 and 2008 versus what we’d have otherwise spent in the UK:
- Toronto : £2,750 (US$4,632)
- UK : £2,400 (US$4,042)
- Grenada + car : £2,000 (US$3,368)
- Grenada – car : £1,700 (US$2863)
- Panama : £1,500 (US$2526)
- Buenos Aires : £1,100 (US$1852)
- Dubai: £1,000 (with free rent at Lea’s brother’s apartment) (US$1684)
- South Africa: £950 (US$1600)
- Phuket, Thailand: £880 (US$1482)
- South Africa: £1,180 (US$1,987)
- Dubai: £1,100 (paid £400 for Lea’s brother’s apartment) (US$1,853)
(John’s note: All amounts are for monthly expenses and the exchange rate was calculated on August 3, 2009, where 1GB£ = 1.684 US$)
A few people have pointed out that our costs are relatively high and that’s it possible to live for a lot less in some of the places we’ve been to. That’s very true but as we always say, this is our lifestyle – it’s not a temporary situation nor a holiday nor a travel experience so rather than making do and living as cheaply as possible, we choose to live as comfortably as we want to, even if that means paying a little more to do so. Most of the time it’s still much better value than if we were living that same quality of life back in the UK.
What has been your favorite country to live in so far and why?
We loved South Africa for the great quality of life at very affordable prices. The food & wine are world class – you can visit some of the country’s top restaurants for the same price as an average meal out in the UK or US. It’s also a fantastically beautiful country with so much to see and do with spectacular wildlife and nature.
We also like Thailand – largely because we like Asia anyway (I was born in HK and have spent a lot of time in Asia already) – and the people are lovely. Culturally, it’s also great to spend time in a place that is totally different from the West.
How do you earn an income?
We run a business, Kinetiva, which has multiple parts (and streams of income) to it. There’s the service side – which consists of a range of professional services such as graphic design, web design and development and some limited business consulting. We have a couple of corporate clients (for graphic design) but largely service small businesses in specific industries. Jonathan mostly runs this side of the business these days, aside from the consulting work which I only do if there’s a client I especially want to work with.
We then have a products side to the business – which at the moment, consists largely of the products we sell at LocationIndependent.com (the ebooks, destination guides & business course). We have a couple of other niche websites which sell digital products – one of which is a range of exercise animations for personal trainers and the others sell ready-made logos for specific types of businesses. Jonathan is also an illustrator and is aiming to start generating another income stream from his illustration work over the next few months by selling prints and original artwork online.
How do you get your customers?
On the service side, at least half of our existing customer base comes from a lot of networking I did *before* we left the UK (this is a tip I share in the business course). We’ve retained quite a lot of clients and gained some new ones through referrals. Many of our clients come back to us again and again so we don’t have to focus too much on generating new ones all the time. We have also generated new clients through the online networking we do – largely through Twitter these days although this isn’t a specific strategy we follow to market this part of the business.
Another source of clients has come from meeting people on the road – we’ve met people in coffee shops, at airports and on planes – once people find out about the kind of lifestyle we lead, it usually leads them to ask us how we earn a living and what our business is – almost everybody wants/needs a web/graphic designer they can trust, so we’ve picked up a bit of business this way too.
The customers for our products come largely through our social networking activities – via blogging, Twitter, Facebook and our efforts to build & grow the Location Independent community. We’ve really set our stall out to become the “go to” resource for anyone wanting to create a location independent lifestyle that enables them to live and work from anywhere so we have a clear mission and focus when it comes to connecting with people – who are potentially also our customers.
Are there any problems working remotely?
We haven’t lost clients although we may not have converted a couple due to the fact we couldn’t meet them. That’s a tiny number of missed conversions though over the course of 2+ years so we’re not overly concerned about that.
The main challenges we’ve found are, as you mention, Internet access. We had quite a few problems with this in South Africa the 2nd time round as the place we stayed in didn’t have it. We thought we could manage using the 3G modems but the connection was really bad from our house (must have been in a blackspot). Typically we’re really careful to try ensure, as much as we can before we arrive, that there’ll be decent Internet access so we haven’t had many other problems.
The other challenge we had nearer the beginning was maintaining focus on our business projects. When you’re living in the Caribbean with the stunning blue ocean outside your door, it’s kind of hard to focus on work! We’ve found it’s just a case of being disciplined and planning your time out so you can fit in the work stuff around going out exploring and having fun. Whilst many people want to live this lifestyle to escape routines, we’ve actually found that with this kind of nomadic lifestyle, establishing some loose routines help you adjust, settle in and feel comfortable more quickly.
You are very active online with your blog, ning community, and Twitter, how important is social media to your business ventures?
Blogging on the whole has been very important to our business. It’s only relatively recently that we’ve been so active on Twitter (and Facebook – although we largely use that for personal purposes). I typically spend around 2 hours a day on blog-related things (writing, editing, planning etc.) and maybe another 2-3 hours on other social media sites like Twitter & Facebook. Some days it will be a lot more, others less but 2-3 hours is about average.
I don’t think anything we’ve tried is really a waste of time – it’s all about experimentation and as many of these tools are so new, it’s good to try them out to see whether and how they’ll work for your business before making a decision whether to continue or not. I think you’re wasting your time though if you try something, it isn’t working out and 12 months down the line, you’re still “trying”!
For people new to promoting their online ventures/services, I’d probably recommend having a central focus (usually a blog or website) that you drive people back to with your other activities. You have to give people something to be interested in, entertained by or provoked by – an article, series, ebook, manifesto or other piece of quality content. Then it’s all about using the most appropriate social media tools to connect with your ‘tribe’. Out-and-out selling and promoting of your services rarely works and will likely turn people off – social media is about engaging with people in a more personal way. There’s that rule of marketing “people buy from people they know, like & trust” – social media is just a way of helping people to get to know, like and trust you enough to buy from you.
You have managed to get many people involved with and supporting LocationIndependent.com, what is your secret?
Bribes. Just kidding! Actually, it was an idea that Skellie wrote about on her blog which inspired me to set up my own version of a street team – I call it the COT (Community Outreach Team).
The purpose of the COT is to help promote the LocationIndependent.com site as the “go to” resource on Location Independence and spread the general concept and core messages of Location Independence. I’m really lucky to have been able to put together a fantastic team of people – Amy Palko, Andy Hayes, Andy Drish, Cath Duncan, Sharon Hurley Hall & Zoë Westhof (and formerly Cody McKibben who’s always been a great supporter) – to help with this.
We do offer a few things in return to the Team Leaders – like free access to all our products and some business consulting and we’ve tried hard to create win-win relationships by helping raise everyone’s profile within the community, partnering on joint ventures, connecting people with each other and more – but most of the guys are doing it because they’re passionate about the concept and lifestyle and want to help spread the word to others.
What do you like and don’t like about being nomadic?
Being nomadic doesn’t suit everyone – and in fact, I’m quite a homebody at heart. That’s why we don’t move around week to week and try and stay at least a month somewhere, if not more. It can be very disruptive, especially to your business but also on an emotional level – I get quite stressed in the run up to moving on somewhere but settle in pretty quickly once we’ve arrived. In contrast, Jonathan is totally relaxed before we move but takes longer to settle somewhere new. It’s a good combination!
The benefits are multiple – we get to experience different cultures frequently (one of the biggest benefits in my eyes), try different foods, meet different people. It keeps life fresh, interesting and exciting – and stretches, challenges and inspires me far more than staying in one place does.
Our nomadic future will be interesting & possibly a little different – we’ve just had our first baby (she’s 3 weeks old) – and we are still planning to continue with the nomadic lifestyle for a while, baby in tow. We’re still adjusting to life with a newborn but are slowly beginning to think about where we might go and when. She will obviously have an impact on where we choose to go – but we’re pretty flexible so we’ll just go with the flow!
What advice would you offer for others thinking of moving abroad and earning an income online?
Everyone who has done it says it’s easier than you think it is – and that’s largely true. However, most people still struggle with earning an income online so that’s where you should really put most of your focus and all your efforts to begin with. The other important piece of advice I’d give in this area is to make sure you diversify your income and have multiple streams – don’t just rely on one.
Do you have any plans to settle down and have a more traditional life?
Yes, we do plan to settle down one day but I’m not sure I’d call our plans traditional! We plan to settle, in the sense that we hope to buy/build another house as a base in a place we really want to live – and we want it to be totally self-sustaining and self-sufficient. However, as we’ll (hopefully) still be location independent, I think we’ll always incorporate an element of nomadism into our lives and even with a base, we’ll probably still plan to go off for a couple of months at a time to explore the world.