Hey readers! I’m starting a series of Remote Work Case Studies featuring entrepreneurs who consider themselves either location independent or digital nomads. My goal is to give you proof that this lifestyle IS possible by showing you inspirational business owners who have gone before you. Would you like to be featured here? Email me a bit about yourself and I’ll see if you’re a good fit! First up in our series is Laura Pennington, a successful freelance writer and business coach.
How long have you been working remotely?
I started working online in 2012, and I’ve been working full-time for myself since July of 2013.
What inspired you to start your business?
My boyfriend is active duty Navy and we move all the time. I knew I needed a mobile career. I’ve also always been told I’m a good writer, and I ultimately wanted to be a fiction writer. Writing non-fiction blogs seemed like the perfect foray into that!
Please describe your location-independent business.
I am a freelance writer, business coach, project manager, and researcher. I write for clients all over the world and I also create online courses for students who want to “do what I do.” It’s been liberating. I used to be an inner city teacher and I was constantly exhausted and frustrated. Now I get to teach people who are passionate about working online and I get to do it from wherever I want! Since I’m in control, I’ve had more time to start on projects I want, like writing romance novels under a pen name. My business is so flexible and I love that!
What is the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
I attempted to outsource my entire business in 2015. It was brutal. Clients were unhappy. I was unhappy. My business was either profitable or enjoyable but never both at the same time. I realized that it was very hard to train someone to meet the demands of my clients and that I was miserable managing other people.
What lessons did you learn from overcoming this obstacle?
I learned that I’m really good at working by myself for a reason- I stick to deadlines and I’m the only one on the hook for work. Having to wait for other people to submit things late, having it be sub-pay work, or having to pay so much to get it that I made no money from it caused me to recalibrate my business at the end of 2015. With outsourcing, I did nothing but give myself a lot of unnecessary headaches. I actually fired half my clients in February of 2016 because I was burned out and wanted to align only with my ideal clients. Although I lost some revenue there, I also built up my relationship with my ideal clients, leading to more work and more referrals, so everything evened back out again within 60 days. Taking a leap of faith like that can be terrifying!
Since taking the reins back, I love what I do again! I get to work on my time and not spend so much of my week managing people, invoices, deadlines, systems, etc. My system for working is so streamlined that I get to work for amazing clients and do what I do best- create!
Do you take advantage of the fact that you work remotely to be able to travel more? If so, please describe where you’ve been while working!
Yes! I visit my mom several states away for 2-6 weeks at a time, working less than 3 hours per day. I spent 3.5 weeks last year during July visiting Cape Cod, San Francisco, and Alaska. In three weeks, I’m headed on another three week trip to the U.K and France. Since most of my work is deadline-driven, I deliver ahead of time and take a few weeks off to decompress before returning to the grind. This gives me the appropriate mental break and spark of creativity so that when I come back from traveling, I feel even more motivated and I’ve had lots of great ideas!
How much revenue does your business make? How much does it cost to run your business?
This really depends on how many people I have on my team and of course, it fluctuates. Right now my expenses are quite low. My revenue is between $9k-15k per month and I try to keep my expenses under the 25% mark, but sometimes it’s higher if I bring in a coach or high-level VA. This expense number has been all over the map, however, and before I invested in growing my business, my expenses were less than $500/month. For new freelancers, having expenses in that range is completely doable.
Do you make enough to support your lifestyle?
Absolutely. Being a two-income family and also having the flexibility to move often, visit family, etc has been a huge blessing for us.
What’s a typical “day in the life” for you?
I get up really early because my brain is sharpest in the morning. I either work or exercise from 4:30-6 and then take a break to eat, shower, run the dishwasher, and the like. I start up again around 8. I then do several periods of focused 50-minute work either for my clients or my own business. Depending on whether or not I’m trying to create a new course or something like that, I may work until somewhere between 2-5. Then I’m done for the day. Since I run three different businesses right now, I’m certainly working longer hours than I have in the past. Previously, I worked around 20 hours per week as I scaled up my writing business. But I have some pretty big goals I want to achieve by the end of 2016, so I’m hustling! Since I’m preparing for that big vacation, I’m working until 5:00 since I will be three weeks ahead of my deadlines when I leave.
What advice would you give someone considering becoming a digital nomad and/or location-independent entrepreneur?
Make sure you select a business model that allows you to deliver easily. For example, I don’t like taking hourly projects. I don’t want to be paid by the hour and prefer getting paid a monthly retainer for a set amount of work or for milestones. That way if I go on vacation I just get ahead of schedule and deliver and invoice early. When you work on milestones, I have found that there’s less of a constant back and forth between you and the client. Nothing bothers me more than unnecessary emails, especially when I have a full workload. I usually tell my clients 3 weeks in advance that I’ll be unavailable and deliver their work early. It has taken me a few years to get my vacation strategy down, but this really works. Put an autoresponder on your email, too, when you’re out of the office. Clients will still email you, but being ahead of schedule makes their lives easier, too. I also chart out what I’ll need for when I’m working reduced hours or on vacation about a month in advance. Since I’m a blogger, I sit down and figure out every single thing I’ll be blogging about for my clients and record it and any resource information in a spreadsheet. As I write it, I turn the cell yellow. As I deliver it, I turn the cell green. This way I keep track of all my ideas and make sure I have the right count before I go. The visual helps me tell how on track I am to meet the goal.
How can we follow your business and/or support your endeavors?
Laura Pennington is a former educator turned freelance writer. Since 2012, she’s provided hundreds of unique content pieces to law firms, insurance agencies, and digital marketing agencies all over the globe. Having worked for companies like Microsoft and TrueCar hiring digital talent, she now teaches others how to launch fulfilling freelance careers. She’s a regulator contributor at the Huffington Post and writes at www.sixfigurewritingsecrets.com and www.yourwaytova.com.
If you liked this, be sure to read the rest of my remote work case studies! Are you a digital nomad who’d like to be featured here? Email me at email@example.com.