Looking for a change of scenery? Find your creative freedom by designing virtually, from virtually any place you desire.
Illustrations by Beth Walrond www.bethwalrond.com
Whether you’re ready to fire your boss and start up your own company or just need a new setting for your existing solopreneur business, the beauty of design these days is that you can do it from nearly any location on Earth. More and more industry creatives are packing up and hitting the road to design from their desired destinations. Regardless of what may be motivating you to relocate—better cost of living, adventure, a change of pace without needing to change what you do—the key is to remember that you’re never truly tied to one place.
During the 2008 economic crash, my husband and I decided to examine our careers and see if relocating our ad agency would be a good fit for us. His brilliant idea was to sell nearly everything we owned, empty a 3,200-square-foot home, pack up our 4Runner and head to Mexico … from Delaware, with our dog and two kitties in tow. If your mouth is gaping, know that mine was too. We had only visited Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, once, just six months earlier. But it had all we were dreaming of: gorgeous, warm weather; the beach; beautiful people; culture; electricity; and the internet… most of the time, anyway.
Before we made any concrete decisions, though, we had to do our homework and carefully study the pros and cons of such a move. Now, from the sum total of our experiences, I’ve put together a series of checklists for any designer looking for a change of scenery—to ensure that your move is the right one for your business and, moreover, for you.
THE 3 KEY BASICS
To get started, you have to take three major things into account—a trio of core factors that apply regardless of whether you’re relocating your business or starting a new one. Doing the following will help guide and shape the realities of where you can move.
1. Assess your business infrastructure. What do you need in order to do your job? What hardware, software or ongoing training is necessary for your chosen design specialty? Do you need access to an airport for travel? What level of phone, mail and internet service allows for a seamless workflow?
2. Do a reality check. Are you a web developer who could work from a remote location with just internet access? Or are you a product designer who needs press checks and to attend frequent client meetings with key suppliers, printers or partners? How much of your work can you realistically do remotely? Don’t be surprised if the answer is “most of it”—but also don’t ignore the facts if it’s just the opposite. Not everyone can move to Mexico, but there are slews of well-connected alternatives.
3. Determine client needs. Do your clients need to meet you once a year, every week or never? Are they low- or high-tech? Are they low- or high-maintenance? Study their needs, and assess the feasibility of the move based upon that.
TAKE CLIENT CONTROL
Speaking of clients, if you’ve decided to go forward with your big move, it’s time to break the news to them. This step must be approached strategically, and with a great deal of care.
1. Be transparent, but only give the most necessary details of your situation. Your client doesn’t need to be bogged down with personal, administrative or logistical items (those will only plant seeds of doubt in their minds). They do, however, need to know how you’ll fully service them while you are in this new location, how you’ll deal with emergencies, how their projects will still be a priority and how you’ll continue to deliver the same quality that you’re currently providing. Be prepared to answer these questions should they surface. Convey competence, confidence and commitment.
2. Meet face-to-face, if possible, to review the above details and answer any concerns your client may have. Even a Google Hangout or Skype call can be helpful while you deliver the news, but in person is always best. Again, it conveys dedication and security.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Never leave your clients in the dark. If you communicated only occasionally with them before, up the frequency after your move so your client doesn’t feel like you’re farther way—even if you are.
Before leaving the U.S. for Mexico, we made the following arrangements. The key to a successful move is research, so use these considerations as a starting point in deciphering what you need to do, depending on where you’re planning to set up shop.
1. Set your address. Though we were moving to Mexico, we decided to keep our business grounded in the U.S., with a Maryland address. This meant we had all of our mail, magazine subscriptions, billing and accounts receivable go to that location. This also simplified tax filing, and meant we could stay with our longtime trusted accountant who was already acquainted with our business and local and federal laws. (Speaking of that—if you don’t have an accountant, it’s probably time to invest in one.) Does it make the most sense to retain your central hub, or to take things with you and permanently re-establish elsewhere? Assess your long-term plans.
2. Nail down the mail. If you’re considering an international move or a relocation to somewhere remote, this can be key. In Mexico, regular mail can take up to three months to reach a recipient … if it gets to you at all. So we relied on Mail Boxes Etc. for daily deliveries from the U.S. We used this address only for a small number of items that we absolutely needed. This came in handy when my hard drive crashed one day and our assistant had to send over all of my software and a new hard drive immediately.
3. Work out the logistics. What are your bare-bones necessities, and what are you going to do with the rest of your stuff (personal and business)? Store it? Sell it? As I mentioned, we sold nearly everything because that’s what was needed in our case. Also: How are you going to get to your new destination, and how much will you need to travel throughout the year? Plan for the cash fl ow and time needed to cover these future expenses and details as they apply to you, and budget carefully so that your move will be a strategic—and viable—one.
4. Get wired. To stay in touch with clients and maintain your relationships, you need to have reliable tech. Regardless of whether you’re moving internationally or sticking stateside, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) can be a great way to save. We used Packet8, which utilizes the internet for our business phone line. We also added an extended service plan to our U.S. cell phones so we could use them while in Mexico.
Every plan is different, so it’s best to match your business and personal connectivity needs with the reliable options and services available. You’ll also want to research your destination’s local cell phone service and carrier, if available, because that option may be cheaper than keeping your old cell phone number and carrier. Also take data plans into consideration. Do you really need one, or would you rather save money, instead? We started with the basics and grew as our personal and business needs grew.
5. Stay in touch. We conducted business mostly via phone and email, but fl ew back to the U.S. for client meetings quarterly while living in Mexico. Being 45 minutes from the airport was ideal, and the in-person meetings helped some of our clients feel more connected with us. When we later moved to Nashville, our business grew, and we started visiting Maryland and Delaware every other month.
6. Get staffed. Our part-time, home-based administrative assistant was an incredible help with daily business tasks. You’ll need to decide if there are any parts of your job that you may need to delegate to someone else if you won’t be able to perform them from your new location. Our administrative assistant in the U.S. handled light clerical tasks (mail, accounts receivable deposits, management). We entrusted this detail to a family member who was up to the task and did an excellent job.
7. Know the tax laws. Tax codes vary in every state and country (which makes them impossible to sum up in an article), so you’ll need to consult with an accountant for the best option for your business, or do thorough research to make sure you’re aboveboard and won’t hit any legal issues down the road.
8. Get savvy on visas. Again, this applies only to those looking to go international. Visas vary by country, and so do the fees associated with them. For Mexico, we had tourist visas that were good for six-month periods, which meant that we had to return to the U.S. to renew the visa semiannually. As a U.S. citizen, it usually isn’t hard to obtain a tourist visa to countries that have a close working relationship with the U.S. Depending on the country in which you wish to live and work remotely, it’s best to start this research early to see how the laws may affect you and your business, and how long the process may take.
9. Hit the road right. Consider: Is it worth having your vehicle at your new destination, or is it cheaper and simpler to buy one once you’re established—or forgo the car entirely by choosing a destination with a good public transportation infrastructure? If you’re leaving the States, you’ll likely need a vehicle permit if you want to bring your car along for the ride. We took our 4Runner, so at the end of six months, we drove it back across the U.S./Mexico border for a temporary permit renewal.
10. Expect the unexpected. No matter how well you plan, organize and adjust, there will always be some unforeseeable circumstance, so expecting them makes for a smoother experience. We had no idea that electricity and consistent internet service would be such a challenge. We asked the locals about this before moving, but everyone’s perception of consistent, timely and fast are very different. So when our electricity would go out almost daily during the rainy season (which also meant no internet), we would pack up the laptops and walk down the hill to the neighboring hotel to utilize their wi-fi in order to meet deadlines. It was part of the cost of living and working in paradise.
If the internet is a main lifeline of your business, take the time to thoroughly investigate your new destination and have a back-up plan so you can nail your deadlines, regardless of what happens. Remember, the key is to make things run so seamlessly for your clients that you could be right down the street.
Looking to boost revenue from your solopreneur or small business venture? David Sherwin shares 9 Ways to Increase Profits for Your Creative Business.
PUTTING THE WHEELS IN MOTION
As we approached our one-year anniversary in Mexico, I yearned to relocate back to the U.S., so we organized a plan and just had to pick a place. We had some clients in Nashville and have always loved the welcoming, cultural city, so I suggested it to my husband. It was an easy sell because music is part of his DNA. So we went through our checklists yet again, and hit the road for Tennessee.
What’s the key to making all of these major moves?
Map it all out. What otherwise seems like a complicated and unattainable goal soon becomes much more feasible—and you soon realize that it’s indeed possible to work from anywhere. To start:
1. Break your desired goal into smaller, achievable parts. No matter how many steps you need, get them all down on paper, a calendar or a spreadsheet—whatever aligns best with your style and has the greatest odds of coming to fruition.
2. Determine the tools or skills you’ll need to reach each goal. Research and interview others who have done or are doing what you want to do. Learn from the boots on the ground. If you don’t know anyone at your desired location, consider posting on local message boards—chances are, you’ll find someone who has taken a similar leap, and can provide some valuable insight.
3. Be flexible and adaptable. Designer and visual brand consultant Jenny Poff of Erie, PA, had to re-evaluate her entire career after her 1-year-old daughter became afflicted with multiple health issues. Poff left her ad agency job and tried to work full-time consulting for the same agency, but quickly realized she couldn’t take care of her daughter and work the job. So she started to pick up more business on the side and quit the agency. Presque Isle Designs was born because it was her hope to return to Erie one day, which she did. Poff’s dad recommended her to an area realtor and soon a long-term partnership ensued.
Today, she is happy, and her business and family are thriving. Her story goes to show that it’s indeed possible to relocate and to make your career work with your life.
4. Don’t forget about family. This may sound like a given, but it’s easy to forget as you’re working on your career: Anyone in your household or anyone meaningful to you should be considered as you plan. Their input can be invaluable, and you might even be surprised by their reactions. Your biggest cheerleaders may present themselves. Stepping outside of your personal bubble and soliciting feedback now will prevent major hiccups down the line.
5. Re-examine and take action. Make sure your goals still work for the time frame and budget you originally set. Review your action plan daily, and do at least one thing from it every day to move yourself closer to your goal, even if it’s something small and simple. If you need motivation, seek out a mentor or accountability group to help you progress.
When you have the option of building your business almost anywhere, you can gain a brand-new perspective on your career: Getting distance between your work and your locale allows you to see everything from afar with a new perspective, and to remedy problems and spot growth opportunities you may not have seen before. It’s not for everyone, but if your business infrastructure, supplier, client and family needs can all be met while you work from a fresh hub, you just might discover a whole new world of possibilities.
This article first appeared in the Creative Business issue of HOW Magazine.
Damien Golden has over 15 years experience in advertising, marketing and graphic design. She’s the creative director and owner of iKANDE Advertising, a virtual advertising agency with clients in multiple countries. She also contributes to chamber academy speaking engagements, community blogs and HOWDesign.com. www.ikandeadvertising.com; @iKANDEgraphics
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