Steal This Self-Taught Digital Nomad’s Fearless Approach to Work

As the popular Instagrammers How Far From Home have openly admitted, the life of a digital nomad isn’t all filtered photographs and postcard-worthy sunsets. It can, in some circumstances, involve scrubbing toilets.

That said, many freelancers have found that working from remote locations has far more benefits than drawbacks. One such talented individual is Phil Manning, a 28-year-old digital nomad and founder of the Complete Travel Developer Course. Here he drops some knowledge on us about how he’s living out his dreams and making cash-money while doing it.

What are you working on right now?

Right now, I’m living in Costa Rica and planning on venturing out to Southeast Asia in the coming months. I currently have a few different clients, one in Costa Rica, one from France and some contract work for Jet.com in the U.S. Additionally, I’m in the process of creating an online course for people looking to become freelancers in design and/or development. I just finished my Kickstarter campaign and will be launching the course in late February.

Sweet. What’s this course all about?

The Complete Travel Developer Course covers everything you need to know to become a location-independent web developer. The curriculum includes everything from web development basics, to learning the most popular design tool  (Sketch) and up-selling services with SEO. Students will also learn freelance business skills such as perfecting the cold-email, managing multiple clients, and streamlining their billing and finances. All of these lessons are taught using software and skills that can be used anywhere in the world.

So, what were you doing before all this?

I’m a self-taught full-stack developer, designer, and small-business consultant. I went to undergrad at Elon University, where I studied Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and minored in Computer Science and Philosophy. After graduating, I went back to my hometown and worked various side gigs as I went to General Assembly’s inaugural code immersion course , called “Programming Fundamentals with Ruby on Rails.” I then continued my studies online with various courses in a wide range of topics from SEO and mobile design to body language and lie detection.

During this time, I started my own freelance business, doodDevelopments, and continued to hustle by bartending and slanging coffees as a barista on the side. After saving up a bit of money—and after Hurricane Sandy decimated the beachside bar I worked at—I decided to take a chance with my freelance skills and travel. It ended up being the best year of my life.

What’s the biggest challenge of freelancing?

The most challenge aspect is that the cadence of work can be unpredictable. You constantly deal with either anxiety due to not getting enough work and watching your bank account dwindle, or on the opposite end you get anxious when you have so much work you don’t know if you’ll have time to finish everything. Keeping a good structure and work calendar helps with this, but sometimes you have to make some tough decisions on work priorities, not to mention sacrifices in your personal life.

Some of the most fulfilling parts of freelancing come from being able to put your full creative heart into your work. When you have more of a choice over the projects you get to work on and you’re working in an environment that really inspires you, you’ll naturally create your best work. It seems like a simple idea, but even the top companies in the world struggle with trying to create this type of workplace environment for their employees.

What would you say to people considering the life of a digital nomad?

Go. Just f—king go! I mean, obviously, have a set of skills first–bartending, cooking, accounting, graphic design whatever. It’s much easier than it seems once you get mobile. If you grew up like myself being raised to be pumped into a corporate machine you have this massive, unnecessary wall of complexity. It’s not that difficult. And the people doing it are not that special – they’ve just taken the jump.

The best advice I ever received was to leverage the power of saying, “No.” If you have a skill that’s in high demand, you’ll have no problem with getting clients. Don’t ever sell yourself short and always ask for your fair value. And always—always!—write up a scope of work and formal contract. It’s your responsibility to protect yourself from being overworked and underpaid.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Four years ago I was doing mostly web development projects. Since that time, I’ve migrated to mostly iOS. Ten years from now, I’ll probably be working in whatever comes after machine learning. By that time I’ll probably slow down my nomadic ways and settle down with a family on a farm somewhere in a quiet surf town (location TBD) while working on some of my own personal projects.

Are you a digital nomad? Tell us your story in the comments below.

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