10 yrs traveling the world & working online – Riskiest thing you can do?
A freelance web developer and project manager | Digital Nomad
1. Hey, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Niall Doherty. I'm from Ireland but worked my last 9-to-5 office job in the United States.
I quit that job in 2010 and have been working for myself online ever since, mostly earning a living as a freelance web developer and project manager.
Here's a quick video showing some highlights from my first 7 years working remotely:
At the end of 2018 I started a website called eBizFacts.com, where I try to help people make money online.
I mainly do that by reviewing products and services related to building an online business. I recommend the best resources I find and warn people off the stuff that seems like a waste of time or money.
2. What motivated you to choose remote working?
My old 9-to-5 job was actually pretty great as far as office jobs go, but I was eager to travel and start my own business. I figured both pursuits would give me far more growth opportunities than staying an employee ever could.
It also helped that I had some role models at that time. There were a handful of bloggers I followed who were traveling the world and working online, and I thought, "Hey, if they can do it, surely I can too!"
3. What were your initial months like? Did it live up to your expectations?
Looking back, I was incredibly naive. I was sure it would take me no time at all to start earning a lot of money working for myself.
Books like The 4-Hour Workweek were very inspiring and motivating but they also made building a sustainable business sound much easier than it actually is.
As it turned out, I struggled to earn any regular income in that first year working for myself. That was largely because I busied myself chasing passive income streams rather than focusing on something more dependable like freelancing or a remote job.
4. How did you find remote working roles?
Things turned around for me once I started taking freelancing seriously. I was a web designer at my old 9-to-5 so it wasn't too hard to start cashing in on those skills remotely.
My first proper freelance gig was building a website for my brother's business. After that I found some clients via my existing network – always the best place to start, IMO – and occasionally via online job sites like Upwork.
Over the years most of my work has come from referrals and repeat clients. One client in particular sent me regular work for years. I started off as a web designer for his online store, and ended up in more of a project manager role, managing a small team and ensuring everything was getting done the right way and on time.
Nowadays I work full-time on my own website and I do that 100% remote as well. I hire contractors as needed.
5. What have been the best, good and worst aspects of remote working for you?
The best thing about working remotely for me is the freedom. Early on it gave me the freedom to travel, and I've been able to visit 50+ countries so far. I've slowed down my travels in recent years as I prefer to have more of a home base now, but even when I stay put in one place I love that working remotely gives me so much control over my schedule.
Working remotely also helps me reduce my living expenses as needed. I've spent most of the past few years in places like Gran Canaria, Chiang Mai, Bali, and Tbilisi. The cost of living in all of those places is pretty low compared to back home in Ireland or in the United States.
As for the worst aspects of remote working, it's probably the added responsibility. You have to be more on top of things and get your work done no matter what. I sometimes miss my days in a cubicle when it was easy to look busy all week but really get nothing done and still collect a full paycheck.
Not that I did that very much 😜
6. What tools do you swear by while working remotely?
My own website is built on WordPress and Elementor, both of which I like a lot.
I keep things simple and inexpensive with my mailing list, using Sendy with AWS.
Ahrefs is an excellent tool for keyword research. I use that a lot.
Teamwork is great for project management and time tracking. I used that with clients in the past and now use it for all my own projects.
I use Google Docs and Google Sheets extensively for many things, but especially for research notes and creating content.
7. Your most exciting/ hilarious experience since you started working remotely.
Back in my freelancing days I had many tense moments trying to get client work done in spots with bad wifi. I remember being on an overnight train in India and using my hotspot to grab a few minutes online to upload some files for a client. I ended up breaking their website and couldn't get it fixed until the next station!
Another time in a remote part of Panama the wifi was so bad in the hostel that I slept during the day and worked at night when the connection was a bit more stable. That was the only way I was able to meet a deadline for a client.
Those sounds like stressful experiences – and they were! – but on the plus side I was traveling the world and having many great adventures away from the laptop.
Perhaps a better example of an "exciting" experience working remotely was back in 2015 when I decided to go live in Amsterdam for a year. It's my favorite city in the world and I figured I might as well go live there for a while since my work could be done anywhere.
A few months after arriving in Amsterdam, I launched a digital product that did $5000 in sales in the first 24 hours. I put in a ton of work leading up to launch so it was very exciting and gratifying to see it all pay off on launch day.
8. What is your golden advice to a new remote worker?
Do a test run before you commit to it fully. I absolutely love working remotely but it's not for everyone, so it's best to dip a toe in the water before going full cannonball.
If you're currently in a regular office job, see if you can arrange to work from home one or two days per week and see if you like it. Or take on some short-term freelance contracts on evenings and weekends and see how you handle client projects that are fully remote.
Those kinds of experiences will let you know pretty quick if remote work is right for you.
9. How do you see your career shaping up and your goals?
I decided to stop freelancing about a year ago and I now work 100% on my own site, eBiz Facts.
My long-term vision for the site is to make it the ultimate gateway for anyone looking to build an online business. There is so much conflicting advice out there about the "best" way to make money online – as if there is one such way for everyone 🙄 – that it can feel confusing and overwhelming, especially for newbies.
I want eBiz Facts to be the antidote to that, providing clear, research-based, no-nonsense guidance to anyone who needs it, thereby giving them a much better chance to earn a good living online.
I'll continue working towards that vision, but my crazy travel days are behind me for the most part. Later this year my girlfriend and I hope to establish a long-term home base in Europe.
10. How do you expect remote working to evolve in the future?
I expect it will become the de facto way of working for anyone doing knowledge work. When you think about it, it's pretty crazy that so many companies still require employees to be present in a specific building at a specific time every day, when those employees could just as easily do their jobs from home.
As remote work does become more mainstream, I hope we'll see more people moving away from cities and repopulating small towns and villages.
Back home in Ireland a lot of people have moved to Dublin in recent decades to find work in office buildings. They leave behind the nice little communities they grew up in, in exchange for living in overpriced and cramped apartments with neighbors they'll never know. I'd love to see that trend reversed and more people moving out to the countryside while still having the opportunity to do well-paid and fulfilling work remotely.