This guest post is by Ben Taylor of HomeWorkingClub.com.
Eight years ago, my wife and I were about to step off the hamster wheel of city life.
Some of our friends were in awe of our bold decision. Others struggled to hide how crazy they thought we were. But the decision was made – we were moving to Portugal.
Obviously, we still needed a way to put food on the table, but there’s always a way. We had meticulously planned the move for several years, and came up with a three-phase plan. It involved:
- Selling most of our possessions and living a less materialistic life.
- Me selling most my London IT business to another consultant, keeping a few clients I could serve remotely and on trips back “home.”
- My wife striking a deal to carry on doing her existing job from our new country.
Ultimately, it was my wife’s ability to work remotely from abroad that allowed us to make the jump. I didn’t really have much of a plan. But we were free to set off on our adventure, so that’s what we did.
Working Abroad: The First Steps
After a couple of joyful yet scary weeks of unpacking and acclimatising, it was time to get to work. My wife was downstairs, dialed back into London doing her normal job. Now I needed to find something to do.
That’s how I found myself sitting cross-legged on a bed with my laptop, which was now an electronic blank canvas on which to create a new working life. It was intimidating, but boy was it fun.
Armed with Darren Rowse’s ProBlogger book, I set about turning my personal Moving to Portugal blog into a “real” website. I read and learned and tried things out, and it was very hard to tear me away from the laptop that evening, or on the days that followed.
Reality Sets In
Of course, the thing with blogs is that they don’t make money overnight. Exciting though it was to keep refreshing my Google AdSense account, jumping up and down on the rare days it made 50 cents was not going to make me feel like I was contributing much to the household. It was time to find some real online work.
The next few years were a rollercoaster, but we never really struggled. The great thing about online work is that if you’re determined enough, you genuinely can make your own luck.
Getting Started with Freelance Writing
I did a bit of everything; Grinding at content mills, working via job boards like eLance and oDesk (now Upwork), and even writing significant bodies of articles for revenue-share websites that have long since disappeared. Some of the work I did was pretty soul destroying, but gradually I noticed a portfolio starting to build that I felt rather proud of.
My Moving to Portugal blog gathered momentum and there were some particularly exciting moments. Being approached by a major UK bank who wanted to advertise was seriously exciting – they asked for my media kit before I even knew what one was! Then I was commissioned for some magazine articles. Once they were published, I finally felt like I could call myself a writer without sounding conceited.
Moving to Portugal eventually morphed into a book (that’s now gone on to sell several thousand copies). It also had a sister blog about Portuguese food and wine that I sold on a few years ago.
Everything was rather good. A combination of blog earnings, book royalties, writing jobs and IT work in London meant that my earnings were respectable again. We’d made a slightly risky move to Portugal work for us and we felt quite proud. Unfortunately, there was a serious curve ball heading for us.
Starting All Over Again
Three years into our overseas adventure, my wife was made redundant. Her salary was about to disappear and we had some tough decisions to make.
She’d never wanted to go freelance, and even my own reasonable level of success wasn’t enough to convince her. She wanted a “proper job.” The only trouble is that they don’t have jobs on the Portuguese coast that pay London wages to people who can’t speak Portuguese. After some serious soul searching, she reluctantly decided to give it a go, because we didn’t want to prematurely end our Portuguese dream.
Thankfully, it all went rather well for her too. She was able to save a lot of time by not repeating some of the mistakes I had made along the way, and managed to establish reliable streams of income within six months.
We’d survived the crisis and both turned into nomad freelancers, almost by accident!
More Big Changes
The next few years brought more big changes, the most significant which was the birth of our first child.
Parenthood can be a catalyst for many things, and for us it contributed to us making the huge decision to move back to the UK.
It wasn’t until we made the decision that we had a realisation: These freelance careers were completely portable. We didn’t need to move back to London, we could live anywhere in the country we wanted. (We now live in a far smaller town, just ten minutes walk from the sea – it’s not Portugal, but it’ll do!)
If we hadn’t lived abroad, we’d never have learned how to do what we do. Streams of income that we tapped into out of necessity have now become the way we make our living.
My wife now splits her freelance time between editing, PR work, project management and various writing projects. She’s a “born again” freelancer, and fiercely competitive regarding our respective monthly incomes!
I still do consultancy and various writing assignments while I work on my own online labours of love. The most recent is a blog called HomeWorkingClub, where I review freelance work options and provide advice to people wanting to get started. It’s the site I would have loved to have on that day when I started at my laptop wondering “what now?”
Advice for Aspiring Freelancers
Having freelanced for many years, there’s loads of advice I’d love to share with people keen to do the same. Here are the five most important things that spring to mind:
- Be prepared to take risks
A lot of what we’ve learned has been out of forced necessity. It’s all too easy to get trapped by guaranteed money, but it can prevent you doing what you actually want.
I’ve recently given up a well-paid contract because I realised I wasn’t being left with any time for my own projects. I may regret it one day, but everything that’s happened to me for years has been because of taking risks. If you don’t “take a leap” occasionally, nothing changes.
- Don’t ignore the content mills and job boards
Content mills like TextBroker and job boards like Upwork get a lot of bad press, but such places have kept money coming in for us on countless occasions. It’s therefore well worth building a profile and positive reputation on these platforms as something to fall back on.
Years ago, I wrote a ton of content for a now-defunct content mill called Demand Media. It was fiercely hated by most freelance writers, and not a whole lot of fun, but it kept us in wine and shellfish.
- Pay your dues
Sometimes it’s necessary to invest time and effort in things that don’t directly pay – things like building up freelancer profiles, or writing articles for free to build up your profile. It’s all worth it in the end.
- Remember your personal network
Your existing friends and business associates can often be a source of work. One of my wife’s main freelance contracts came about as a result of us pitching directly to an old client of mine who had planned to take on an employee rather than a freelancer.
- Never stop learning
The online world moves incredibly fast. Freelancers who keep moving with it can constantly evolve and get involved in interesting new work.
An example to put this into perspective: When I launched the Moving to Portugal site, Instagram and Pinterest didn’t even exist. I’m now working to learn these platforms so I can go back and bring it all up to date. I’ve also got a full site redesign planned. It’s almost as exciting as when I did it the first time!