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How to freelance yourself around the globe

Freedom. That’s what it’s all about, right? The tantalizing harlot of complete autonomy: being your own boss, making your own decisions, owning the direction you take with a purposeful stride of unadulterated, self-branded brilliance.

Except, of course, life isn’t a Jack Kerouac novel and you almost certainly aren’t Bill Murray. Not to worry though, there is a way to make travelling pay, I know because I’ve done it. It is, however, important to be realistic about it, because like all things desired en masse – this freedom we speak of, it ain’t easy.

Here are some tips and tidbits I picked up during my four years of working, freelancing and travelling around Europe and Asia – and if you’re reading this and have nuggets of your own to share, please do leave a comment below.

Do your research

Not many people can just rock up in Mongolia and be like, ‘Yo, I’m gonna start a rock concert and you fine people are gonna pay me for it.’ Having said that, a friend of mine managed to do just that. I see your raised eyebrows you petulant people, he did it and he did it through research.

He found out that Mongolian folk like rock music, that they had never before seen anything like the scale of what he had planned and therefore there would be a big interest in the event (ergo marketing 101).

Originally this friend was in Mongolia working for the Peace Corps but used this as an opportunity to meet the right people, branch away and create his own brand, which he then took with him in a very over the top, red-coated, beardy ploom of excess to jolly old Shanghai.

NB. Research is also necessary to discover what the tax laws are in the countries you’re planning to freelance in. In Prague a freelancer has to go on the Živnostenský list, a feat in and of itself and something that needs prior planning for – thorough research means you will always be prepared.

Discover your skill

Discover it, get really really good at it and then shout about how this skill you have is pretty much the most necessary thing since man somehow discovered the intrinsic value of water (which leads nicely to point number three).

A freelancer in Prague read somewhere, through extensive research (see above), that the expat community were craving a decently priced, English speaking hairdresser. She had always wanted to live in Prague and although she had never been too bothered by hair design, she took a course and shimmied on over to the land of beer and beautiful ladies.

She made a killing. Being pretty much the only ‘expat-centric’ hairdresser in the city, she didn’t even need to promote herself too much because word of mouth is a fantastic thing, especially when you live abroad.

This point can apply to anything. Do you love writing and have a blog? Don’t write for free, find out what is missing from the media coverage of your given country and fill that gap. When I lived in China, I somehow found myself with a weekly column about new businesses because there are an awful lot of them in China but no one was writing about it.

Are you a plummer, gas man or electrician? Find out what countries are crying out for your skills and maybe factor those places into your travelling tour. An avid yoga-ite? Take a course and set up a freelance gig somewhere where the usual classes are extortionate (ie pretty much everywhere).

Shamelessly promote yourself

Being sure of your skills and telling people that they should go for you over all the other really-cool-and-totally-awesome expat freelancers is not the same thing as being cocky. Remember, you’re out on the big wide road now, you’re halfway there and by jingo you just might make it. However, if you don’t believe that you’re good enough, no one else will.

Not everyone is an exhibitionist, of course and you don’t have to be – a simple ‘I really like what you do and feel I could make a valuable contribution because…’ will suffice.

Find out whose face needs invading and get yourself up in it

“Oh hello Mr big-shot editor, what a happy coincidence to see you in this swanky pants bar. Let me introduce my very talented self…”

It doesn’t always work but it does work sometimes. The longer that you’re in a country or even the expat scene (it’s amazing how many faces crop up in different places), the more you can build a network and get introduced to people. It is therefore important to be sociable and put yourself out there. If you are a wallflower, then it is unlikely a life of travel-freelancing will be for you.

Take advantage of your surroundings

Whether it’s working on organic farms in New Zealand, writing articles about culture in China or giving city tours in Rome, find out what the place you’re in does best and get involved.

It is amazing how many people forget this very simple trick – if your skill is scuba diving, don’t go to the Czech Republic, if you’re a trained English language teacher, maybe Australia isn’t the best destination for you.

Really look around you, what is there already and what is missing? What can you contribute? Being a successful freelancer is all about having a (semi?) unique idea or in-demand skill and figuring out a way to sell it to someone. What better stimulus for that than the ‘freedom’ of the road.

I do not in fact have some kind of weird spy camera on your computer. Your eyebrows and other strange habits are none of my concern

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