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Interview with digital nomad Niall Doherty

Irishman Niall Doherty from the website Disrupting The Rabblement is a “Digital Nomad” – he quit his 9-to-5 job in November 2010 and has since become a self-employed vagabond, travelling the world without flying, pursuing his passions, all done while making a living online.

Easyspace recently had the chance to ask “Digital Nomad” Niall Doherty a few questions:

Q1. Please give us a brief background on yourself and tell us why you started your blog Disrupting The Rabblement.
I’m 30-years old, was born, raised and educated in Ireland. I studied Multimedia/IT in college and then moved to New Orleans for three years to work as a web designer at a university and follow my favorite basketball team. A couple of years back I decided to quit my job and start traveling while working for myself online. I’m about a year deep into a 4-year trip around the world without flying, currently stopped in Thailand and loving it here.

I started my blog to share my personal growth experiences and life experiments. It’s helped push me to try new things, achieve big goals, and connect with cool people all around the world.

Q2. Why did you decide to quit your 9-to-5 job and go travelling? What were your initial plans to support yourself financially,  and how do you make money online while travelling??
I decided to quit because I knew I wanted to travel long-term and knew that self-employment would work better for that. Plus, I was interested in the challenge of working for myself and learning all about business. My old 9-to-5 was actually a pretty good job. I was working with cool and talented people for fair pay in a great city. It would have been easy to stay there, but I don’t like getting too comfortable. I figure that’s when growth and learning stops.

Initially I was hoping to make a living from my writing and affiliate marketing. I saw other digital nomads out there who had managed to make it work, and I figured I could do the same. It ended up being much more difficult than I expected however, and I eventually had to resort to freelance web design to earn a decent income. Over the past year I’ve steadily been raising my rates and now charge $150 an hour. The work is coming in pretty easy.

Q3. Why do you recommend WordPress and what are your favourite WordPress resources that you use i.e. theme marketplaces, plugins, tutorials, stock images, etc?
I recommend WordPress because it’s so flexible and there’s so much great, free support for it online. It’s also pretty easy for non-techie folks to learn and use. I like WooThemes for premium themes, and also maintain a list of high-quality free themes here. I often use the creative commons search on Flickr if I’m in need of a few high-quality pics. As for plugins, a couple I use regularly are Backup to Dropbox, and Display Widgets.

Q4. Is WordPress development a good opportunity for new Freelancers?
Yes. Web design in general is a good way to go. You obviously need to be skilled and work hard, but there are so many great resources out there for learning WordPress that anyone with a healthy dose of work ethic and resourcefulness can become proficient with it in a matter of weeks.

The hardest part is always finding clients. I’m lucky in a way because my blog has a decent-sized audience now and most of my clients come through that. They like what I write and know I do web design, so they often contact me if they need anything done along those lines.

That actually relates though to my best advice for finding clients: Put yourself out there. Whether it’s via a blog or some online community or in-person meetups wherever you live, try to be social and make a name for yourself as a helpful and honest person.

Q5. What makes you the most money?
Most months this year it has been freelance web design. I have a few clients who send regular work my way while other clients come and go. Last month I also made a good chunk of money from selling ads on travel blogs, but a lot of the work involved in that was setting up the blogs to begin with, so you could say that was money earned from web design, too.

Q6. How do you work? What’s the pros/cons to how you work?
I work pretty much every day. I try to batch tasks as much as possible and leave myself uninterrupted chunks of time to get big things done. I keep a to-do list and set reminders so I don’t have to remember everything. I keep myself accountable with deadlines and public goal setting. I stay away from instant messenger and limit my social media time.

I always try to stay in places with reliable Internet access, though that’s often hit and miss. When my Internet connection is shoddy I try to knuckle down and get some offline tasks done (writing, reading, etc.).

My email response time is not always very good because I tend to juggle several projects at once and I’m often on the move, but I’m clear with clients about that up front so it’s never really an issue. That said, I do of course try my absolute best to meet agreed upon deadlines.

Q7. As a “Digital Nomad” what equipment/resources/tools do you use for your “mobile office” which allows you to work while travelling?
I have a MacBook Pro that’s on its last legs so I’ll be upgrading that soon. Main software applications I use for work: Photoshop, FileZilla, TextWrangler, OpenOffice, Things (to-do list for Mac), Chrome/Firefox/Safari, Camtasia, Skype, Firebug (Firefox extension).

Websites that come in handy: BrowserStack.com (for cross-browser testing), Flickr.com (for creative commons images), WordPress.org, jQuery.com.

Q8. Once you decided to go travelling, what business/IT processes did you put in place to help you while working on the road?
One thing I do regularly is update my travel plans on PayPal so they won’t freeze my account when I log in from unusual locations. While traveling through Iran and India I needed VPN software to access certain sites. In Nepal and India I also invested in mobile Internet packages (USB wifi), which I highly recommend. Often that connection would be faster and cheaper than the wifi offered by the hotels I was staying at.

Q9. You wrote your own ebook. What software/systems did you use to create & distribute it? What advice would you give to somebody wanting to write an ebook, to promote their product/services/website?
I wrote and formatted the PDF version of the book in OpenOffice. For the ePUB and MOBI versions, I used Calibre as per the recommendations here. I designed the cover in Photoshop and created the 3D cover art with myecovermaker.com. The book is currently only for sale on Kindle via Amazon, but in the coming months I’ll start selling it in all formats via my own site.

For anyone else wanting to write an ebook, I’d encourage you to start a blog first. Do that for a year and stick to a writing/publishing schedule. Build up an audience and get real feedback on your content. Then you’ll have a much better idea of what your ebook should contain.


Q10. How have you grown your email subscribers and how do you manage them? What are the benefits you get from having subscribers?

I’ve grown my email list mainly via patience and persistence. I’ve rarely had any large spikes as regards subscriber growth, but in about two years now I’m up to 2,500 subscribers. I used to give away a 44-page manifesto to new subscribers, but now I give away part one of my book. I also publish exclusive content for subscribers, specifically monthly traffic and finance reports, the latter detailing all my income and expenditure each month.

The benefits from having subscribers are many. First, it’s easy to get your new content in front of them. Second, they’re more likely to provide feedback and support for whatever I’m doing. Third, they help spread the word about my writing and web design services. Fourth, they often invite me to crash with them if I’m passing through their town 🙂

Q11. What mistakes have you made while trying to earn a living online, and what would you have done differently?
Biggest mistake: Starting off trying to make passive income. Took me almost a year to give up on that naive dream. If I could start over again I would have offered freelancing services from the get-go. I’ve learned that trying to earn passive income before learning how to earn active income is completely backwards.

Q12. What were the best things you did for your business?
Two things come to mind: Gave up on passive income, and steadily raised my rates as the demand for my services grew.

Q13. What tips /advice would you give to a person who wants to become a Digital Nomad? How should they start?
My advice on this is pretty well summed up in a recent post I wrote. In short: Be very wary of taking the leap unless you already have some marketable skills that will help you earn money online. If you don’t already have those, stick with your 9-to-5 for now and either develop some smart skills within that environment, or start building your own location independent business on the side.

Regardless of what approach you take, remember that you need to get really good at something, and that always requires hard work.

Q14. What are your plans/goals for the next 6 months work & travel wise?
I just arrived in Thailand and plan to stay in Southeast Asia for about a year before heading down to Australia and New Zealand and then trying to cross the Pacific without flying. Work-wise, I hope to keep doing what I’ve been doing of late and building up a bit of a savings buffer so I can afford to invest more time/money in my business education and experiment with some alternate income streams.

 

Thanks Niall, from everyone at Easyspace. Good luck with your travels and online activities

You can follow Niall’s travel adventures at his blog Disrupting the Rabblement.

 

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