Note from Sean: This is a guest post from Location Rebel member, Mike Harrington. Mike has made a huge transition in the last year, and is now living in Colombia. This post discusses some of the mistakes he made when first relocating – many of which I made myself when moving to Thailand.
With that, take it away Mike!
I landed in Medellin in early February of this year, 2 weeks removed from the shackles of my corporate life. While I had lived and visited Colombia in the past, much had changed in the years I was back stateside.
The digital nomad phenomenon had arrived.
Those with a bit more traction (and cash flow) in their enterprises had relocated to Medellin for the weather, quality of life, and it’s now-vibrant digital startup community.
I was no longer a backpacker, or just an expat looking for a job teaching English so I could scrape by. I had launched my location independent business months prior, in a carefully executed plan to escape from the 9-5 grind once and for all.
However, I noticed common pitfalls that many new digital entrepreneurs were facing. Even though I was prepared, these are the additional lessons I learned on the ground. I want to save you from these mistakes that led to lost time, lost clients and a sense of frustration.
I wrote this post as a reference guide to your pivotal first 30 – 60 days “in country.” I wish someone had written this guide for me, as I made every single one of these mistakes in my first month.
Below are the most critical actions and strategies you can take to ensure you:
- Don’t go broke
- Retain your sanity
- Have a solid new peer group
- Get your living situation and visa sorted with minimal stress
- Hit the ground running
1) Cultivate a Digital Peer Group
You know those friends of yours in your hometown?
The ones that you know you’re going to have to, ahem, leave behind when you become a Location Rebel?
Perhaps you feel slightly embarrassed and gun-shy about discussing your plans for going abroad in order to bootstrap a business.
They don’t get it. They’re not supposed to get it.
Becoming a location independent entrepreneur is simply not for everyone, and you’re burning precious calories on trying to convince some people of the viability of your plan.
Instead, it’s time to step up your peer group.
You’ve heard the old maxim that your life is a direct reflection of the 5 people you spend the most time with. I’d take it a step further and say that you can get this same jolt from people you haven’t even met in the flesh…yet.
I like to refer to this group of people as my digital peer group. They are the people most willing and able to hold each other to a higher standard. These are the people you need to get around, in order to accelerate your progress and solidify your entrepreneurial mindset. They’re going after what I’m going after:
- Working 100% online.
- Starting companies.
- Putting in the work, in the trenches.
- Committed to continuous learning and growth.
- Striving for long-term Location Independence.
So, where do you find them, and how do you establish enough rapport so you can forge an actual relationship?
Look at places you already spend plenty of time online. They’re there…and…they’re probably looking for people just like you.
Do you have a twitter account? In my experience it’s simply the best medium to join existing conversations. Create an account and start following other people that are in pursuit of this lifestyle.
Step 1: Create a twitter account. It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to have a huge following. The goal is to simply put stakes in the ground to establish your presence and activity on the platform.
Step 2: Start following the people whose content and personality you jive with. Don’t worry about the “follow back” game, that stuff can come later, once you’ve already added some value to the conversations.
Step 3: Start replying and engaging! Like a tweet or a piece of content someone shared? Don’t be shy to thank them for it, and even add your own reaction. Twitter is a great place to start a short dialogue. I’ve found that previously “unreachable” people are much more inclined to respond to me on Twitter. Don’t overlook this great inroad to influencers.
Step 4: Focus on adding value to the conversation. Have a resource you can share? Do it. Know a person who can solve the person’s challenge? Don’t be shy, become a connector!
Step 5: Take it off twitter. Where twitter lacks, other social media platforms can close the gap. Whether that be a FB connection, a private message on Twitter or even a personal email, the goal is to build on that initial rapport. Think of Twitter as a solid introduction at a party, but it’s up to you to strengthen and deepen that relationship. Those that have the confidence to speak up and make themselves known (without becoming an ego monster) can really accelerate their influence online.
Retweet people’s content. Comment on content they post. It’s the best way to get access to the successful people you want to emulate, 140 characters at a time.
In my adopted hometown of Medellin, Colombia, there are no less than 10 separate Facebook groups dedicated to expat entrepreneurs (fixed and location independent) that are hustling, building and enjoying the fruits of their digital labor. It’s been invaluable to ask for advice on visas, where to eat, sourcing local talent and interesting social events.
Don’t see any related Facebook Groups for the area you are moving to? Start your own! This could be the quickest (and cheapest) way to establish authority online. You’ve shown initiative and a willingness to connect others on a similar path. If you become a connector and a leader, you will never be at a lack for growth opportunities.
- Location Rebel – This one should be self explanatory if you’re already reading Sean’s blog!
- Tropical MBA & Dynamite Circle – The flagship blog and private community for established digital entrepreneurs. While it’s not cheap, it’s jam packed with resources, contacts and people that want to help you get to the next level in your business – if you’re willing to bust your ass and do the work.
Blogs You Already Read
Already getting knowledge and a kick in the ass from successful entrepreneurial bloggers? Don’t remain a wallflower. Just like I mentioned for Twitter, the more you can engage and contribute, the better off you’ll be.
Comment on content that impacts you. Too many people remain in “lurker” status online, and are leaving a valuable opportunity on the table. That is, the chance to step up, get heard and gain digital street cred. Simply because they are willing to speak up.
Insightful, thoughtful and value-added comments get you on the radar of influential people. That being said, avoid the thoughtless “nothing” comments like “Great post!,” or “Awesome stuff, keep it coming!”
These pseudo-comments might as well have come from robots, and miss the mark at what you are trying to do – join the conversation and cultivate your own brand of online influence. It shows that you haven’t taken the time to digest the content and add anything of value to the conversation.
Don’t be shy.
Email the writer what specifically made an impact on you, and how you applied it to your life. Ask them a simple question. Most high-profile bloggers like engaging with readers – as it keeps them on the pulse of what their audience wants and needs.
A focus on reaching out and connecting with others can be a real game-changer in your quest for Location Independence. You’ll have an established network of friends and colleagues that will save you a lot of stress in your new location, and you’ll never be lonely.
Look at location independence as a team sport, you need more experienced people in your corner. You’ll grow faster by getting around them, and focusing on how you can possible help them. Remain focused on serving others and you will quickly build trust and respect.
2) Locate the Closest Bustling University Zone
The beauty of living in developing countries is that they usually have a high ratio of students in the population, especially in some of the faster growing areas.
This can be great for you, the newly location independent entrepreneur on a budget with a set amount of cash runway for these reasons:
- Plenty of Inexpensive Food – Some of the best, home-cooked meals can be found in areas with lots of students. Follow the other students around lunchtime to see where they flock. This can easily save you 50% or more on your food costs. Remember, in many developing countries it is cheaper to eat out than to cook at home. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s because labor costs are so low.
- Shared Furnished Housing Options – Here in Medellin, you can find fully furnished rooms in shared houses for half the cost of other areas in town. Typically, these home shares will provide you with a private furnished room, private bathroom, shared kitchen and shared common areas.
- Wi-Fi should be a given – Be sure to check out the speed on Speedtest.net before deciding, especially if you’ll be working from home.
- Fitness Facilities – Regular exercise should be important for both your physical and mental wellbeing.You need to be at your best as you continue to grow your client base and business. That being said, some of the best fitness facilities can be found on university campuses. Often, you don’t need to be an official student there, and can make use of the gym for a reasonable monthly fee. Spending an afternoon looking got me access to a comparable campus gym for 1/3rd of the price of near-by commercial gyms.
A baked-in social circle
Depending on where you choose to start your location independent journey, you might value the full cultural immersion experience, in order to master the local language. If this is the case, the university environment can be second to none.
People you meet here can be a great addition to your entrepreneurial social network – educated people that might also be interested in doing language exchange with you, that can introduce you to more of their friends and contacts.
3) Avoid Backpacker Mentality
I’ll keep this short and sweet.
You’re not a backpacker, and you’re not on vacation.
Backpackers are after a different experience altogether. And, if you fall in with that crowd, you can find yourself spinning your wheels in your fledgling business.
Backpackers employ the “short timer” mentality. This means they’re trying to pack in as much fun and experience before loading up their packs and moving on to the next stop on the backpacking trail.
Let’s look at a case study of a new entrepreneur falling victim to backpacker mentality, Brian from Minnesota.
Brian sold all of his stuff and wanted to make a go of location independence. He was teaching himself web development and coding, and really wanted to build a sustainable income from his newly acquired skills.
Yet, Brian has a growing problem. He had been bouncing around Latin America, staying in hostels throughout Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. Each time he almost established a solid work routine, he found himself pulled on to new adventures by his hostel peer group. They didn’t see the long game he was playing, and were only concerned with partying, beaches and live-for-the-moment fun.
By the time I had met Brian, his funds were low, and he was frustrated with himself for not making more progress on building his freelance business.
He was unaware of the existence of other people with similar goals, and that he could connect with them. He was instead trying to do this in a vacuum, and surrounded by a peer group that didn’t support his long-term vision for building his business and lifestyle.
There can be a lot of lost time and productivity if you’re partying too much, something a lot of hostel-bound travelers are known for. This works for them because they are on a limited time schedule before they go back and join the “real world,” with a real paycheck.
Keep in mind – you are on a path of building a new lifestyle business from the ground up. You’re not going back to work for someone else, right?
Hostel life seems attractive at first due to its cheap rates and abundance of instant “single serving” “friends. However, you should steer clear.
Hostels are typically noisy, crowded and full of people on vacation. Focus on finding people who are staying put for the next few months at a minimum. You’ll be more likely to get into a good living and working routine, devoid of hangovers, distractions and general buffoonery.
I make the distinction between expat entrepreneur and backpacker because it’s an important one, especially for those of you that have never lived abroad before.
The lesson: You must choose your peer group wisely, and they’re usually not staying in hostels!
4) Hire a maid (and chef)
I admit, at first blush this might seem like a total luxury splurge, but it might be one of the biggest entrepreneurial hacks out there for hitting the ground running in a new destination.
In the United States, I simply don’t have the budget to pay a maid or cook. However, in developing economies this can be much more affordable than you ever thought possible.
We hired a maid that comes once per week, and stays for 8+ hours. She thoroughly cleans the apartment and washes, dries and folds our laundry and even cooks for us. We pay her $20 per week. Between 2 or 3 roommates in the house, that is dirt-cheap and keeps us focused on the task at hand.
As a new business owner, where are you getting the most return on investment (ROI) for your time?
Are you focusing on getting initial clients and developing skills, or, are you getting sucked into the rabbit hole of grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking and organizing? Exactly.
Focus on your business and growth first and foremost, and outsource the rest of these daily tasks as soon as possible.
Steps for Hiring a Maid or Chef
- Ask fellow entrepreneurs on Facebook Groups for referrals.
- See what the more experienced expat entrepreneurs are doing to most effectively leverage their limited time.
- Always go on a recommendation. This is someone that is going to be IN YOUR HOUSE, with close access to your valuable items (laptop, cameras, electronics, wallets, passports, etc) Choose wisely!
- If you find someone that goes above and beyond, do what you can to keep them loyal. The ones that can cook you healthy meals and keep your place in tip top shape will have a net positive effect on your life and business. Pay them well, think about all that extra time and focus you’ll have for productive tasks for growing your business.
5) Get your VISA handled
The dreaded visa can be a headache for even experienced location independent entrepreneurs.
Fortunately, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Find out how long you can stay in country based only on your initial entry stamp at customs, otherwise known as a tourist visa. In Colombia, for example, they give you 90 days, no questions asked. After that, you can extend it up to 6 full months for a modest fee and visit to immigration.
Some countries, like Brazil, require that you secure your visa PRIOR to entering the country. Do your research and work your contacts to get the most accurate information.
If you’ve done a good job of developing your digital peer group and building your social circle of expats on the ground, you’ll have access to the most up-to-date intelligence on what it takes to procure a long-term visa. In case you’re coming to Colombia, I can’t recommend the expat blog Medellin Living enough. It’s saved me tons of time (and cash) on getting my visa and other expat issues sorted.
The best advice comes from people who have gotten their own visas, and the connections and shortcuts they learned. Take someone out for a beer or lunch, and pick their brain on the most efficient ways to get a visa, so you can stay in your location of choice, long term.
Another great option to secure a long-term visa is studying at a university or private institution. There are many options here, and what you study is totally up to you. I believe the best bang for your buck would be to study the local language, especially if you plan on making this your newly adopted home.
Other options include:
- Studying music or music production.
- Taking an online course through a local company.
- Interning for a local company, perhaps someone in your digital peer group can take you on as an intern or employee, and can help you with the paperwork required. I’ve done this multiple times, as have other friends.
Here are some additional resources to solving the visa issue:
- Process for getting a business visa in Colombia
- A fantastic resource for finding out what visa you need for any country, depending on what passport(s) you currently hold
6) Get Your Smartphone Up and Running
One of the best moves I made prior to departing for South America was getting in touch with my cell carrier (AT&T) and informing them that I was leaving the United States for work.
I politely inquired if it was possible to terminate my contract early (and waive the Early Termination Fee) due to my changing employment circumstances – I’d be living in a country where they couldn’t provide service to me!
I was pleasantly surprised when they said yes, that was indeed possible.
One phone call saved me well over $300, and meant that I now owned my smartphone outright.
Speak to your provider about getting it unlocked, so you can pop in a local SIM card in your country of choice.
Another choice is to simply wait until you’re on the ground in your new country. Ask locals where the cell phone district is (usually a mall or commercial area) and ask to get the bands opened (unlocked) on your phone. This typically will cost between $5 – $20.
Once you do this, you’ll be up and running on the local networks. For convenience, most developing countries allow you to top up your credit at grocery stores, ATMs and newsstands. Just ask.
An added bonus!
Data and calling plans in developing countries are much cheaper than in the United States and Western countries. For example, my rates for similar data and minute consumption were less than half of my monthly bill back home. These countries are on to something. =)
Check out the new phones from up-and-coming Chinese manufacturer Huawei. Their newest smartphone models are getting reviews on par with the latest iPhone and Samsung Galaxy models, for a fraction of the price.
You will own this phone outright, meaning you’re no longer beholden to any telecom provider via contract. This is a must for any Location Rebel.
7) Map Out Your “Ideal Day”
A good friend and fellow location independent entrepreneur, Matthew Newton showed me a fantastic tool that has saved me a lot of wasted time.
He calls it the “ideal week tracker,” and he created it on a simple Excel spreadsheet.
The idea is that you have your ideal week scheduled out in advance, including what projects you want to move forward, which skills you want to learn, fitness routines and even social activities.
The value of having a tool like this at your disposal is that it keeps your from drifting and simply reacting to the demands of others.
As a newly location independent person, you’re going to have an abundance of what seems like free time. And, it can be easy to let your priorities slip while you sleep in, get distracted by adventure and let daily structure fall by the wayside.
You have finally bought back control of your time and life. Be proactive in how you will be investing your time. The productive habits you build today will dictate your progress, or lack thereof!
8) The Power of Focus
I learned first hand that it’s very easy to spread yourself too thin.
At first, you’ll be feeling exhilarated with your abundance of free time and control over your schedule. However, you can actually become greedy in terms of what you want to learn and take on.
In my case, I thought I could:
- Take salsa dance lessons
- Practice mixed martial arts 5x a week
- Maintain a cardio/gym routine
- Cook all my healthy meals at home
- Build my business and
- Maintain a semblance of a social life.
Nope. I crashed and burned within a month.
Thanks to some coaching, I got clarity on what my true priorities were, and cut out the non-essentials to focus on what was giving me the most energy, as opposed to what ended up feeling like and obligation.
Tough Love from the Trenches:
It is tempting to say yes to every new activity with newfound friends. Saying “no” is an essential part of becoming a highly effective entrepreneur. Don’t be a people pleaser and feel obligated to participate in every invitation.
You’re not a tourist, and you’re not on vacation.
You’re here building your lifestyle and business from scratch. Remember what you’ve sacrificed to come this far.
Pick 1-2 main business objectives that you want to see to fruition, and jam on those. Every day.
9) Attend Local Meet-ups
You never know where you’ll meet a potential business partner, client, someone that can save you tons of wasted time and money on a project, or someone that is already working in your niche that can refer you more work.
Don’t try to live this lifestyle and build your business in a vacuum.
Just like the book Sean Ogle recommends: Never Eat Alone. If other entrepreneurs want to meet up for coffee or invite you to a dinner, by all means go.
10) Find the Best Cafes and Co-working Spaces
Having a go-to workspace is essential to hitting the ground running in your new home.
I wasted too much time dealing with unreliable Wi-Fi, distractions and inconvenient cafes. If you find a reliable café where you can be comfortable and focus, that’s great.
Sometimes, the better solution is a co-working space. They typically have much faster Wi-Fi, as well as a collection of other entrepreneurial types you can meet. Mine was affordable and worth it, at a price point of $125 USD per month.
When I’m in Medellin, I work at Espacio.
The idea is to develop a set routine, so you can get into a nice working groove, day in and day out. Do whatever you can to remove excess friction that prevents you from getting into your productive zone.
What’s your speed?
Download the Speedtest app to your smartphone. This is great not only for choosing where to live, but also evaluating cafes and co-working spaces for their productivity potential.
Nothing is worse than internet speeds that slow to a crawl when you’re trying to have an important Skype call, or submit a client project before a deadline. If you do this legwork ahead of time, you’ll know where to go so you don’t get caught off guard.
11) Factor in Noise Pollution
Excess noise is a fact of life in most developing countries.
I was completely unprepared for how noise would affect me, and my productivity. I found myself mostly doing work in cafes, so I could get out of the house.
The downside? Developing countries are notorious for having more street noise, and worse yet, nobody seems to care! The locals just accept it as a fact of life.
Whether its taxis honking, brakes screeching, a neighbor’s yappy dog or street vendors hollering at the top of their lungs, disruptive noise comes at you from every direction and kill your focus for the day.
The best solution I’ve found is two-fold.
Your improved focus, productivity, decreased frustration and preserved sanity will more than make up for this initial investment.
I just bought the Sennheiser’s as I’m gearing up for the upcoming launch of my Red Flag Clients course, and wanted to invest in my focus. Sure, they’re not technically “noise canceling,” but the sound quality is epic, and the over-the-ear nature of them means I am hearing NOTHING but my selected working music.
Find your go-to music or ambient noise to stimulate creativity. As far as what to listen to while working, that’s entirely up to you.
Focus@Will is the best resource I’ve found to really get into the “flow”. This free service is based upon neuroscience, coupling classical soundscapes with binaural beats infused into the tracks. It coaxes your brain into alpha state faster.
Other options are:
- YouTube DJ and instrumental mixes
- Café del Mar – www.youtube.com/user/cafedelmar
- Chill Out – www.youtube.com/user/ChillOutKingIbiza
- BBC Essential Mixes – www.youtube.com/user/bbcradio1
- Classical Music – www.youtube.com/user/jabig
Going location independent is a defining moment in your entrepreneurial journey. It’s an exciting time, filled with new opportunities and challenges you’ve likely never faced before.
Your time and ability to focus are your most valuable resources – guard them accordingly!
I’ve met many people attempting to walk this path, but they lacked a solid, sustainable plan to keep them focused and productive.
These same people end up running out of money, have to take side jobs, or worse, end up going home feeling defeated because they failed to have an effective strategy for building a lifestyle that supported their business efforts and professional growth.
Avoid these mistakes and you’ll be miles ahead of the pack.
About Mike Harrington:
Mike discovered Sean Ogle and Location180 in 2013 – and his life hasn’t been the same since.
Within 3 months of joining Location Rebel he quit his corporate marketing job, started an online copywriting business and moved to Medellin, Colombia – the city of eternal spring. More about Mike’s Transition.
Mike’s is currently building a digital course serving creative freelancers and entrepreneurs that want to increase their perceived value and massively raise their rates – with a focus on providing killer value over bargain-basement hourly rates.
You can find Mike on his personal site: Career Deviant
And, as a special gift to Location 180 readers, grab a complimentary copy of Mike’s new guide to handling “Red Flag” clients, all while getting paid what you’re truly worth here: Red Flag Client Playbook