Interview with Caroline Thomas Digital Nomad Entrepreneur

I recently had the pleasure of working with Caroline Thomas on a European Funded project offering social media workshops to small businesses across the East of England. Over the ten month period that we worked together, Caroline was based in other countries when she wasn’t physically training in the UK. Today she shares her experience and advice for others considering running a location independent business.

Hi Caroline, can you tell us a little about you.

I’m an entrepreneur with a passion for online marketing, training, personal development, travel, gadgets and the great outdoors. I work with businesses and individuals all over the world to help them identify their uniqueness and then communicate and promote that to their dream prospects. I’ve always been a big picture thinker, and had dreamed of having a location independent business.

What type of business do you run?

I run a social media marketing and social media training company.

You have been working in different geographical locations over the last year, can you tell us a bit about your decision to do so and the experiences you’ve had?
Hosting start up Grind Bali Chapter with Paul Dunn
Hosting start up Grind Bali Chapter with Paul Dunn

It was always a dream of mine to work overseas, I love travelling and discovering new cultures, and meeting people from all over the world. I came across my mentor Roger Hamilton a couple of years ago, and he had a programme in Bali called iLab which is an entrepreneur’s programme that helps you to explore running your business from anywhere in the world. It was just what I needed, and I attended in August last year. The course runs for 30 days, and that gives you the opportunity to get everything set up in your business to be able to work from anywhere in the world (although I do need to make sure there’s decent Internet speeds to be able to do my work).

That first 30 day trip was challenging, it was hard to communicate with my team back in the UK, firstly there was the time difference, and then the whole developing trust to believe that they were working in the same way as they would have done if I was in the office. We had already done a large piece of disaster recovery work a couple of years ago, so we had everything in the cloud, from a process and procedures point of view, it was easy, it was more the people part that presented me with the challenges. Additionally, I communicated with all of my clients to ensure that they knew we were contactable, so that their service levels were not affected. It was essential to make them feel that they were still valued and were going to get the same service, despite the fact that we were no longer just up the road, or at the end of a telephone in UK office hours (Bali is 7/8 hours ahead). We have not lost any customers as a result of this way of working (it was a fear I had at the beginning) and we have continued to hold Skype meetings and deliver most of our service via email when we are back in the UK.

Christmas Day in Bali facilitating a global entrepreneurs accelerator programme
Christmas Day in Bali facilitating a global entrepreneurs accelerator programme

I’ve since returned to Bali to facilitate the ilab programme, to help and support other entrepreneurs with the same hopes and dreams of having a location independent business.  I was there for 6 weeks the second time, with no problems at all, and with a much more robust trust in my team, knowing that my client’s felt looked after in the same way that they would if we were in the UK.

Last month I worked for 5 weeks in Gran Canaria, and we’ll continue to work in different locations, so that we get to explore exciting places and cultures, all the while working in and on our business.

How does travelling impact your business?

It does not impact our business – we have set up robust systems and processes to ensure that it does not. Additionally, we set expectations with our clients about how and when they can contact us by phone in emergencies, otherwise, we are able to deliver on all of our SLA’s no matter where we are in the world and what time zone we are in

What are the main benefits and challenges you have experienced?
Office view in Gran Canaria
Office view in Gran Canaria

The benefits are endless – I’ve worked from the most beautiful beach clubs in Bali to the loveliest resorts. I feel so grateful to have the freedom to be able to go to any country (that has Internet) to explore and work. The ability to network all over the world has opened new opportunities for us, and we have clients now based in Thailand, Dubai, Australia, Indonesia and all over Europe!

The main challenge for us is always – is the Internet going to be fast enough. In Bali we were able to get speeds up to 10MB, but in Gran Canaria, the most reliable speed was 0.5MB, certainly very different to the 70MB internet speed we enjoy in the office in the UK. Oh, and I haven’t yet worked out how to work in direct sunlight whilst being able to see my laptop screen! We also know that our laptops have taken quite a hammering. There are the tiniest little ants in Bali, and we know that they would have got into the laptops, and then working outdoors in Gran Canaria, we worked through a couple of sandstorms, so I’m imagining the inside of my MacBook isn’t looking too healthy right now (although it is still working!!)

One other major learning curve for me, was getting my head around which clients I have to charge VAT to, and who I don’t (it all depends on which country they are in). I’m lucky to have a great accountant who answers questions really quickly on that subject, and supports our international client growth strategy. The more networking you do overseas, the more international opportunities to do business open up!

What are your top tips and advice for entrepreneurs who are considering becoming Digital Nomads?
Presenting in Balinese traditional dress
Presenting in Balinese traditional dress
  1. Remember that the globe is a very big place with lots of opportunities, you can win clients anywhere in the world, not just in the place that you’re travelling at that time.

  2. Determine your target market and ensure that they will be happy to do business with you if they cannot reach you for all UK office hours (consider setting up a virtual answer service for the UK office hours you won’t be answering your phone, or if you have a team, ensure that they communicate the hours that your clients can expect a call back directly from you).

  3. Connect in with your clients by Skype or remotely before you go away, so that it’s business as normal by the time you go away

  4. Consider the worries that your existing clients might have about you working overseas, how can you overcome their objections? What can you put in place to ensure that you deliver the best customer experience possible, no matter where you are in the world.

  5. If you need internet access, research the easiest way to access the fastest speeds.

  6. Use co-working spaces – you’ll meet other entrepreneurs and freelancers and learn a lot about economies and opportunities in other countries (it’s all market research).

  7. Get involved in the digital nomad communities online before you go – others already in the locations that you want to visit can share their experiences and advice and are always happy to do so.

  8. Don’t listen to the naysayers – follow your dreams! You CAN do it!

  9. Consider how you will get paid, and if taking payment by Paypal, be sure to build in currency fluctuations and paypal fees into your commercial business model, to ensure that you don’t lose out financially on deals that you do whilst travelling.

  10. Attend meet-ups and networking meetings in the locations that you visit – even if English isn’t spoken – you’ll always find people you can converse with somehow.

  11. Determine the cheapest way to make phone calls whilst you’re overseas. We set up a Skype number so that clients can reach us directly and we can make outgoing calls without worrying about the cost of international mobile calls.

  12. Pack light! You won’t need many clothes, and it’s always casual dress code in co-working spaces. I took 2 business outfits with me, even on my longest trip, at most meetings shorts, t-shirt and flipflops are the order of the day!

  13. Follow blogs of those who are already living the digital nomad lifestyle to inspire you and for you to learn more about the experience.

  14. Connect in with friends on social media, just in case you get home sick.

  15. Find somewhere that does a good roast dinner… after 6 weeks of Balinese food (which I loved) I was craving a roast dinner, and found a place that did them in a tourist resort in Bali.

  16. To keep costs lower, live like a local rather than a tourist, eat local cuisine, shop outside of tourist resorts.

  17. There are co-working spaces now that also offer co-living, this is a great way to test out how you can survive as a digital nomad if you’ve not done much travelling before, and a fabulous way of connecting with people who are looking for the same experiences.

  18. Consider personal safety no matter where you go – it’s easy to get “comfortable” and forget. I didn’t feel unsafe on any of my travels, but you do read horror stories occasionally, and most have gone off the beaten path and not followed common sense safety advice.

  19. Consider that some of the countries that you may want to visit don’t have law enforcement that is as honest as at home. Some police officers will want payment, even if you’ve done nothing wrong!

  20. If you’re planning on having a moped or car whilst overseas and need to get around, be sure to check if you need an international driving licence. We chose to take taxis everywhere in Bali, especially for meetings happening later in the day.

  21. Be mindful of the culture that you are visiting – things don’t always happen as quickly as you might like. Sometimes a handshake replaces a contract, ask other entrepreneurs and freelancers how they have put agreements in place with their clients that are based overseas.

  22. Take enough time out to enjoy your surroundings, explore and experience the local culture.

  23. Keep a blog (I wish I’d done this in hindsight) as there will be many new stories to tell of your adventures!

Thank you for sharing your experience and advice Caroline, this is so helpful to those of us considering following in your footsteps. How can people connect and stay in touch with you?

Visit our website: www.salesscene.co.uk, follow on Twitter: @salesscene or connect on LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/carolinethomasuk

Hearing about the successful experiences of independent location entrepreneurs, like Caroline, is inspiring for those of us still in the planning stages. If you have any advice and experience to share, we’d love to hear from you. Post your comments and feedback below and add a link to your blog so we can follow your journey.

If you think this post would be helpful to others, please share with your friends.

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One thought on “Interview with Caroline Thomas Digital Nomad Entrepreneur

  1. These are fantastic tips. My son is still in school and at the moment in my life I am happy being a home girl for most of the year and holidays are switch off from work times. I have though intentionally set up my business so that as long as I have an internet connection I can in reality work from anywhere. I lived abroad for many years and have no desire to do so again, but the idea of jumping on a plane and travelling for a month at a time really appeals to me. I love my life as it is right now and this is something that I fully intend to do as my son gets older.

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