Getting Started With Location-Independent Work: What Do I Do, Anyway?

After my recent taxes posts and a discussion had with some parents of travelling teens, I’ve been receiving quite a few questions about my work. I’ve been replying individually, but thought it might be best to give a more detailed response here. In this post, I’ll cover what kinds of work I do, how much income I average (apparently it’s rude to ask, but I don’t mind telling), and how I scored these gigs.

location-independent, hedgehog, freelance
My location-independent office buddy. I work, she snores.
location independent, cafe, work
A cafe office for the day.

What do I do, anyway?

I first got this question from my grandparents and it made me laugh. We realized that although I’d generally share my successes and allude to my projects, I’d never actually told them HOW I was managing to support myself online at age 20. It was just “some web thing.” Ha. Here’s the answer:

I do multiple different projects online and my job description can change at any given time, even daily. My work is self-guided and incredibly flexible, so I tend to juggle multiple projects at once instead of dedicating myself to, say, the social media management of a single company. Here’s what I’m doing at the moment:

  • I teach creative writing via Skype to students around the world. Some of these kids are travelers themselves, some are homeschoolers, some are public schooled and looking for a tutor. I’ve had many students come and go. Most stay for at least a year, some have stayed for three. I’m currently working with four students who live across Europe and North America. Each student has an hour with me once a week and we work on fabulous projects. Most of my students have started with short stories, but have gone on to work with novellas, poetry, argumentative essays, or literature. We have a good time.
  • I manage social media for a few different companies and organizations. Again, these gigs come and go, but I’m currently working with Travel Access Project and the American Gap Association. I’d like to work with the Hero Round Table conference. Just throwing that out there. You know, just in case. ;)
  • I build websites. Not from scratch, I’m still learning how to do that. Instead, I’m there to help people set up hosting, pick a suitable theme, get everything working properly, and do some of the simpler customizations in CSS. I’m like a techy handyman who sorts out the annoying crap other people don’t want to deal with or spend time learning how to do. It’s a surprisingly fun gig. This work comes and goes as well. I’ve had to turn down several gigs over the past month because I’ve been too busy and the recommendations have been coming in too fast. Seems like a good thing, but it hurts to let the opportunities go. I like those gigs so much more than I like writing university essays!
  • I optimize SEO on people’s websites. Usually this includes going back through a bazillion posts and photos and editing them to be search engine friendly. It’s a detail-intensive job, but it’s fun. Who doesn’t want to pick through dozens of posts looking at meta descriptions and alt tags? Ok, maybe it’s just me. I really do enjoy it though.
  • I take on odd jobs on the side. Right now I’m creating a spreadsheet of detailed visa information for Americans. It’s about 16 hours of searching the web for official info, but it’s good work. I’m enjoying it for two reasons: 1, it doesn’t take much mental effort and I can chill out as I work, and 2, I keep learning interesting things about destinations around the world. Did you know that you can stay in Albania or Georgia for 1 year without a visa as an American citizen?
My "office"
My “office”
One of my odd jobs. In this case, quite odd.
One of my odd jobs offline. In this case, quite odd.

Other odd jobs I’ve done have included:

Multiple freelance writing gigs, content editing, ghostwriting a series of novellas for fifth grade girls, research projects, film projects, and more. I was a VA for a second, but it wasn’t for me.

How much do I get paid?

It really depends on the month. I never make the same income two months in a row. Some months I’ll make over $2,000, other months I’ll make somewhere between the $1,000-$1,500 range. I know that’s small potatoes to some of you folks, but there are a few things you need to take into consideration. First, I’m working maybe 15-20 hours a week, tops. More at the moment because I’m working a few more gigs than usual, but usually I’m working less than that. Minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25 per hour, but students typically get paid less than that. So I’m making at least three times per hour what I would be making if I were working a student gig. Also, I get paid in USD. The USD-CAD conversion rate is currently 1 USD = 1.32 CAD, which means I’m rocking. So in the end, $1,000-$2,000 a month for someone living on a student budget in Canada and going to university for 6 hours a day is pretty fantastic.

Another thing to consider is that this work just keeps growing. Last year, I was making around $500 a month. It’s doubled in a year and only continues to do so. This is work that I can take with me when I go to intern in Guatemala or do university in the Netherlands. It may be growing into a career that will support me throughout my life. One day, it may allow me to travel and work from home independently as a mom. Who knows?

freelance, location-independent

How did you get started with these online gigs?

I was raised in an entrepreneurial family and saw my parents working from home from an early age, so I never doubted that I could do the same. Me and the boys made money from odd jobs as we traveled, doing yard work, stacking wood at campgrounds, whatever we could figure out. We never had an allowance; we found our own ways to make spending money. I started with the online gigs at age 15. When I realized that I could write a post about a travel experience and sell it for the equivalent of 3 hours of wood stacking, I was hooked. Manual labour has never been my favorite, I was excited about the prospect of making money using my mind instead. I was published in Bootsnall, which was my teenage claim to fame for a bit. I also published 3-4 posts a month on Teen Travel Talk, a travel webazine written by teens for teens. They were paying me practically nothing, $5-$15 a post, but it was good practice and it was ultimately the stepping stone to bigger things.

My work really took off when I joined Dr. Jessica Voigts’ travel writing mentorship at Wandering Educators. This was a serious turning point. I don’t know how to emphasize it enough. This travel writing mentorship was where everything began to coalesce. I got my first big gigs within a year of working with Jessie. Those gigs led to more gigs, which led to more gigs. I began to make important connections, who connected me with more people, who connected me with more people… Without that mentorship, I doubt that I’d have done as well as I have. It would have taken much more time and effort, at the very least.

So if you’re looking to get into online work, here’s my advice for you:

  • In the beginning, take every gig you can. Work for pennies, make connections, do your very best work even when you aren’t getting paid. You can be choosy later, when you have the resume to back it up.
  • Start early and don’t expect to see a great return quickly. I started working on this stuff at 15 and I’m only now making a decent amount of money, five years later. Granted, I’ve worked much more intensively on it over the past two years. But the point still stands. You’re not likely to be instantly successful. This is something you have to keep building up. Don’t give up.
  • Connections, connections, connections. You are nothing without your connections. Seriously. If you know all of the right people, getting gigs is so much easier.
  • Choose a niche. Eh. I put this here because it’s common advice, but I’m not really a believer. Most of my work is in the education-travel categories, but that’s happened by coincidence. If you get a gig that doesn’t fit your niche, you may still want to take it. Unless you specifically need a niche for your work, don’t worry about it too much. Do what interests you and the rest will fall into place.
  • Say yes to everything, even things you’re not sure you’re an expert in. I’ll let you in on a secret. I took my first website management gig without having ever put more than two websites together. I taught myself as I worked. I did the same thing with my first social media management gig, and the same thing with my first SEO gig. Teach yourself how to learn. If you know how to learn, you can take on pretty much anything and be successful. This is especially true with online work, because online markets change at a frightening rate and you’ll need to keep up with the times.
  • If you’re a teen, don’t let your age dissuade you. You CAN do this. You absolutely can. Educate yourself, learn how to present yourself professionally, present your skill with confidence, and charge what they should actually pay you. Who cares if no one ever formally taught you how to do your work? The internet is a fantastic place, you can learn whatever you want to. If you know what you’re doing and have put the hours in, charge the going rate. People will pay it. Oh, and another thing: there’s no real reason to tell a client your age. Let them assume whatever they want to assume. If you’re doing the work of an adult, you deserve to be treated like an adult. I didn’t tell anyone my age unless absolutely necessary. I still don’t, because it’s actually none of their business. ;)

Hopefully this helps! Feel free to ask me questions. Do you do some form of online location-independent work? If you have tips to share, I’m sure we’d all love to hear them.



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