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Becoming a digital nomad

Ever daydreamed about working by the beach or in a cafe on a mountain side? Or have you ever read the 4-hour work week and thought, wow this is for me? I did too and this year I took action. During the month of May, I relocated to Malaga, Spain to focus on and to develop the Kaizen brand.

Below is a little bit about my experience in becoming a digital nomad, how I set up my technology infrastructure and overall how things went without me being physically present in the Kaizen Print office here on the Lisburn Road, Belfast.

What is a digital nomad?

A digital nomad is someone who can work independent of location.

Can you grab your laptop, your mobile and hit the road for weeks on end and still ensure your customers are managed effectively? If so you’re already on track to being free of your office. For me however, with a traditional bricks and mortar business, this wasn’t just as simple and at first glance seemed an impossible task. In fact I started planning for this 18 months prior to leaving for Spain.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail

I had Trello boards about Trello boards, notes on everything from VPN’s to VOIP set ups for Mac. My mobile-business set up was akin to my office set up. Same mac book pro, same VOIP provider and same tools we use day to day to communicate. It all hinged however on the internet set up we were to have in our apartment. Thankfully fibre optic broadband is almost universal in the city of Malaga.

As you can see from the photo below. My work set up is pretty minimal. The key was internet access.

VOIP Phone Systems

We use a VOIP phone system within Kaizen and if you haven’t already installed such a system, it is one of the most amazing things ever. We have a stable phone system that can be transported anywhere in the world. As long as you have internet connection the costs are absolutely minimal.

I chose to use a soft-phone version for Macs as opposed to bringing a physical phone with me. This works perfectly anywhere in the world I have internet. Alongside Skype, this enabled me to chat with our team in real-time, all the time. If I had of brought a phone, plugging it into the router would have exactly the same effect.

Skype

We communicate daily via Skype and this was no different. Again with reliable internet, it was as if I was working from a different office within the same building.

The challenges in working abroad

Working remotely definitely presented new challenges for me. As a business owner just upping sticks and leaving is a huge hurdle that shouldn’t be taken lightly. With proper planning, all the what if’s can be overcome easily however.

Here are the top 5 challenges I faced in working remotely

  1. Mentally getting over the fact you aren’t in the office – This was probably the hardest change for me. I happily run between floors answering questions, but working remotely this forced me to change my tactic and communicate in a different manner.
  2. Not being available for face to face meetings – I definitely limited my face to face meetings in May, but for those clients I personally was working with, I engaged in standard phone calls or Skype meetings. For those who didn’t know I was elsewhere, their response was genuinely that they couldn’t tell the difference in call quality.
  3. Not being instantly accessible for the team – If a question needed answered or advice on fixing a machine, being out of the office meant I wasn’t instantly available for a solution. This did force action to be taken without my consideration, but this is not a negative in my opinion.
  4. The “What if’s” – What if something goes wrong, what if sales fall? The list of what if’s is endless. The bottom line and what I came to realise is, that What if’s will happen regardless of where you are. I had resigned myself to figuring out the worst that could have happened and I had planned all steps to avoid that, whatever the situation. In most occasions the worst that could happen was that I had to fly home and fix a problem. It didn’t happen.
  5. “Holiday thoughts” – like those that work from home, when working abroad you can be tempted so much more easily to step out of the working mindset. Fortunately anyone who was visiting knew the importance of me making this a successful arrangement and kept their suggestions of hitting the beach to a minimum.

The benefits of becoming a digital nomad are:

  1. Time spent wisely – I spent the month working on the business and not in the business. Being in the office and dealing with the enquiries in the manner I had previously would have forced me to never step outside and look in a more critical manner at how Kaizen was operating. In being absent, I forced myself to become infinitely more selfish with my time and ultimately a lot more productive.
  2. Work smarter and harder – Personally I had to prove that I wasn’t on holiday and this was a business decision. While this was an internal thought, I made sure I worked to my absolute capacity when in Malaga.
  3. Lifestyle – I love Belfast, but the weather we endure 11.5 months a year leaves a lot to be desired. I sold myself on Malaga by saying that I could spend my weekends on the beach and my evenings’ sitting in cafe’s around the city enjoying the warmer climate. Apart from torrential rain over 12 days, we got this exact experience. At least the rain was warm.
  4. Work/Life Balance – No commute and living in the city centre allowed me a work/life balance I haven’t experience for some time. Granted this did put more pressure on our team back home, but did plan for this and account for this with increased staffing during this time.
  5. Business Growth – Not only was May a bigger month in terms of sales than the previous years, but the plans and actions I put into place during that time has helped Kaizen grow until now and will continue to have an impact long into 2017.

Other things to consider

The months stay in Malaga was unbelievable and truly gave an immersion into the local culture you don’t see in a 2 week package holiday. Most weekends and any time off was spent at the beach or the cities endless list of tourist destinations. This lifestyle shift allowed me to completely refocus on opportunities to grow Kaizen, which was exactly what was intended. Being out of the business premises I was able to switch off and look in at what was happening. Something I haven’t done for some time.Most certainly. I found the ability to refocus on the business as a whole extremely beneficial both for the business and my own personal development. The next trip might only be to the coffee shop on up the Lisburn Road or it could be further afield, but with the knowledge I have now on set up and mindset of working remotely, I know this will be no issue.

The absence forced me to put the measures in place to ensure our business survived and thrived during this time. Thankfully everything went smoothly and as a result I’ve overcome one of the hardest hurdles a business owner has. That is letting go.