Behind the Scenes at My Digital Freelance Business, February & March 2017

Apr 10, 2017    /    my location-independent career

This post is the second in a series about how I make money while traveling the world. For a deeper look at how I started my business and began traveling full-time, start here.


About a month ago, I wrote the first of a series of posts talking about how I make money while traveling the world full-time. I started by telling you about my journey so far: about quitting my overtaxing advertising job, starting my copywriting and content strategy business on the side while working corporate for six months, and striking off on my own full-time.

I told you about how, after about a year of self-employment, I boarded a plane for Europe on a one-way ticket and became what the kids these days call a Digital Nomad.

Then I talked about the changes, the shifts, the successes and frustrations of my first five or six years of business—of picking up travel writing work, publishing 11 travel guides, asking myself the question “could I be a full-time travel writer,” and ultimately deciding that I didn’t want to, that I wanted to slip back into copywriting and content strategy work.

I ended that post with a promise to start writing a monthly business update to talk about that month’s journey.

This is that monthly update.

Read on for a frank discussion of March and April (since the last post was published before March ended, I’ve included both here), from the kinds of projects I worked on to my plans for future income.

Copywriting & Content Strategy

As you may already know, my primary income is from content strategy and copywriting and this is the work I’ve been circling back to and seeking more of in the new year.

February and March were relatively good months for that client search. I signed a new contract with an old strategy client from 2013. They’re a health non-profit and their business is shifting course this year. They’ve hired me to help them figure out how to communicate the shift.

Then, in a wonderful little twist of fate, the founder of my old ad agency, who now owns a second business, reached out about working together again. Details are still pending, but it looks like there could be a steady stream of messaging strategies and website writing projects in my near future.

This is good news for so many reasons, but one of the big ones is this: the best kind of clients (for me) are ongoing ones. One of the things I like least about being a freelancer is the process of finding and signing new clients. In terms of both time and stress level, having a few long-term ongoing clients is so much nicer. It allows me to spend my time and energy doing the work, helping clients, telling their stories, instead of chasing new work.

Now, while I was working on signing some new/renewed clients, I was, of course, also doing some actual projects. I did a mini website audit for a blogger I love. I continued to write content marketing articles and survey questions for an ongoing agency client I’ve been working with for about eight or nine months now. This particular client is a blast because their subject matter is all over the place, from travel trends to relationships to ethics to tech.

I should probably also mention that these two months had their share of setbacks. The biggest, most heartbreaking one was a year-long contract that fell through at the very last second. After about a month of back and forth with the client, we were about to make final tweaks and sign the contract when a sudden change in their business halted things in their tracks.

Things happen, the change had nothing to do with me, and hopefully we’ll work together in future, but I was unprepared for how deeply disappointed I felt losing a potential client that seemed like such a great personality fit.

Consulting & Websites

Very very occasionally, instead of just handling the writing and strategy side of things, I take on a full website project—start to finish. You see, even though writing is my jam, I’ve actually done a little of almost everything in the web world. I coded my first website when I was 14, which is about the time I started blogging and working with content management systems, too. At university, I took photography, design, and layout courses. In my ad agency job, I started developing site maps and drawing up wireframes. I also handled just about any website question you can imagine as the website support lead (also at the agency).

So, I can—and very occasionally do—do a website start to finish.

In late 2016, I did one of these projects, launching an orthodontics office website just before I left for winter vacation. And each month this year I’ve done a little support here and there for that site, helping the client make little tech tweaks, update content, and understand how to update and manage things themselves via WordPress when they want to.

Books, Blogging, & Travel Writing

Very much in the background of my work life now are my books and blogging. I still blog regularly, obviously (and doubt if I’ll ever stop), but I do it because I love it, not because it’s an income generator.

That’s not to say that the blog doesn’t matter. It definitely does. Two of three prospective clients in February and March said they had been following my nomadic journey. So while the blog didn’t necessarily get me the business, perhaps it did keep me top of mind. My other big ongoing client actually found me through the blog (if I’m remembering correctly), hired me for a quick travel-related project, and, since we liked working together, kept throwing more and more articles my way.

So, while the blog itself doesn’t make much money, it does support my business in a number of ways, from getting and keeping client relationships to providing a platform on which I can experiment with new ideas, play with my writing, and keep up my various website skills.

What money the blog does make is through affiliate sales, mostly on Amazon. It’s not a lot (probably $5 – $50 a month), but every little bit matters and if I’m going to be blogging and recommending products I like anyway, I might as well use an Amazon link that makes me $1 instead of a link that makes me $0.

Then, there are the books. I’m not spending much (read: any) time actively promoting them, but sales remain pretty steady. Mostly they sell over at Amazon.com, but occasionally (a few times a month) I make a sale through the blog itself. These days, the books truly are a passive income source, selling enough to cover about 1/3 – 1/2 my monthly expenses without me doing any work on them.

Finally, I still have a good relationship with one of my long-term magazine clients from when I was focusing all my energy on travel writing. When I had some free time in between copywriting projects these last two months, I took on about eight short articles for their email newsletters and website on topics like my top foodie experiences in Rome and my favorite spots in all of Malta.

DIY Website Workshops

As 2016 wrapped up, I made the decision to return to content strategy and copywriting in a more concrete way, making them the bulk of my hourly commitments.

But while I was doing that, I also made a list of all the potential ways I could increase my income in 2017.

In part, I just think it’s good to know all your options. And in part, I wanted to see if there were more ways to diversify my income.

If you have just one source of income—a job, one big client, an agency—and that income source dries up, you’re high and dry, running around trying to replace it. If you have two or three or five or 10, it’s unlikely that they’ll all fail at the same time. And if one dries up, you won’t be without income while you’re trying to replace it. It’s why I’m always interested when people say that having a job is “secure” or “safe.” Because as a diversified freelancer, isn’t my financial position safer and more secure? A single loss won’t knock out my whole income the way a single layoff might do to an employee.

So, with all this in mind, I made a list: What are all my income source possibilities?

As you already know from the above, one of the things I occasionally do is tackle start-to-finish websites. It also just so happens that I meet people all the time who are trying to set up a new website for their business, project, or blog.

And so one of the possibilities that made my list was this:

A website workshop.

Something to teach and empower entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and small business owners to create a strategic, beautiful, professional website.

This workshop—called The DIY Website Workshop—opens up for enrollment today and we kick off the workshop itself in mid-May.

Sometime in mid- to late-April I’ll start actively sharing and trying to enroll clients (though if you already know you need a website and you’d like to join me, you can sign up now).

Work-Life Balance & Lifestyle

So, all of the above might feel like a lot, but keep in mind that I only work part-time, trying to keep my weekly working hours under 20 (though sometimes I do go higher, especially if I get on a roll with something). And since I do all this work remotely as a full-time traveler, I’m doing it against a pretty cool backdrop.

In February, that backdrop was gritty, chaotic Rome. In March, after a long weekend of train and plane rides, my working hours were completed in Dubrovnik, Croatia, where my partner and I rented a fourth-floor apartment overlooking the hills of Lapad in a quiet residential neighborhood. The photo at the top of the post is my current workspace here in Croatia.


Questions? Thoughts to add? Toss them in the comments or join my email list to get twice weekly blog posts in your inbox.

Intrigued? Here are more posts about my location-independent writing career.



P.S. Working on a business or creative project? I made a Facebook group where we can connect and talk all things business, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

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2 Comments
  • Ali
    April 11, 2017

    I totally agree about having multiple income streams. It’s odd how a “normal” job can, on the surface, seem like the safer bet, but it also means if that company decides to do lay-offs or they hire someone new who makes life difficult and ultimately ends up firing you (as recently happened to a friend of mine) then suddenly you’re left with zero income. I love having several VA clients and several different sources of income from my blog. Like you said, if one dries up, I’m not stranded.

    I think your DIY website workshop sounds amazing! I hope it’s a big success!
    Ali recently posted…How Much Money I Make Online: Income Report March 2017My Profile

    • gigigriffis
      April 12, 2017

      Thanks! I’m actually thinking about doing an affiliate program for the workshop as well, so I’ll probably be talking to you about that possibility soon.

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