Finding freedom in self-employment

By Jess Van Den

Freedom is one of my major motivators in life. It's a big part of why I am my own boss and run a business instead of having a job.

Part of what I love about this freedom is that I can travel where and when I want to. I love exploring the world – getting out and seeing new places and new faces. I think travel expands us and wakes us up to life in a way little else does – and I am a confirmed (and contented) sufferer of 'itchy feet' syndrome. If I'm not travelling, and I don't have a trip of some sort planned within the next month or two ahead of me, I start to get a little stir-crazy!

Thankfully, the only limitations on the travel I can do are the ones I set for myself. I can plan my business goals around my travels, rather than having to plan my travels around my job.

I'm in an interesting situation, in that I run two businesses – one of which is completely location-independent, and one which is less so.

Create & Thrive – my handmade education biz – is run purely online, so all I need to keep that business running is my laptop, smartphone, an internet connection and a few other tech accessories. I don't plan on taking any time off from C&T this year for that reason – despite the fact that in 2015 I will be away from home for a total of 5 months out of 12 (including 3 months on the other side of the world, travelling in the UK and Europe).

My other business – Epheriell, which I sell through Etsy – is a little less mobile, since it's a handmade silver jewellery business. That said, as I write this article, I am sitting in my campervan in caravan park in the little seaside town of Robe in South Australia – over 2,000km away from home, part-way through a month-long road trip. And my husband (who happens to work with me in the biz) and I have been making jewellery on the way. In fact, he's outside the van cutting out silver to make rings as I type!

My point is that no matter what you do, most creative businesses have the possibility of being location-independent to a certain extent. It all depends on what tools and materials you need to keep your biz running, and how willing you are to experiment with your equipment and your work/life integration in order to do things a little bit differently.

If you've considered travelling with your business, I've got a few pieces of advice for you before you take the leap.

How Mobile is Your Business?

If you run a business that sells non-physical products, you're pretty much guaranteed to be able to take your business on the road. There are a huge number of digital nomads around these days – people who travel either part or all of the time, running their businesses as they go. For one example of someone who does this – and teaches how to make it happen – check out Natalie Sisson of The Suitcase Entrepreneur.

So long as you plan ahead in order to ensure you have an internet connection (and electricity, depending on the sort of travel you plan on doing!) when you need it to hit your deadlines, you're golden.

If you've got a handmade or product-based-business, things get a little trickier.

If you have the capacity to travel with a campervan or caravan, chances are you can probably take your biz on the road. You just have to figure out how to store and access all your tools and materials, and how and where you are actually going to do your work during your trip.

We have all our tools and materials pared down to the absolute minimum, and we've (well, Nick has) built a mobile work-bench based on a collapsible saw-horse that we use in combination with a folding table to do all our work on while we travel. You also need to think about security – we have all our raw materials (i.e. our silver) locked away in a safe that's bolted to our van. Make sure anything expensive is secured out of sight. And make sure you have insurance on your vehicle that covers the loss of anything inside it! We have special campervan insurance for this very reason.

It can also be quite an adventure to find somewhere suitable to set up to do our work – some of what we do is quite loud, so that's not something you want to be doing in a campsite full of holiday-makers. Planning ahead for 'work days' is a good way to get around this. And if you're travelling on the road in Australia, make sure to get the WikiCamps app on your phone to make sourcing work-spots (and campsites!) super-easy.

It may be that your business is so mobile that you can even take it overseas (maybe you hand-embroider?). Or it may be that your tools are far too big to take travelling (perhaps you use a big letter press).

That said, there may just be ways around that obstacle if you think outside the box. For example, maybe you want to go house-sit in another city for a month – chances are you can find someone local from whom you can hire the use of bigger machines or tools while you're there, while you can take smaller items with you in your luggage – or even post them to yourself!

Whatever you do, it's super-important to plan ahead so you have all the technology and tools you need for your trip. Do a test-run or test-pack before you leave, and have a list that you tick off as you go.

Do you need your smartphone, tablet, laptop, camera, diary, notebook, pens? Do you have your SD cards? Have you got all the right cords to charge everything and connect everything that needs to be connected? Do you need a power adapter if you’re going overseas or into another country? Do you have that particular small tool that you only use for a fraction of your designs, but would find it impossible to do without?

It’s no fun to get going and realise that you’ve left something important (and expensive!) at home that you need to do your work.

Not only that – make sure you have all the non-physical tools you need for your work. Do you have all the apps or software you’ll need pre-installed (or updated) on your devices BEFORE you leave home? You don’t want to be downloading that stuff with your mobile internet allowance!

Also make sure you've taken advantage of the cloud, and have any info you'll need during your trip at your fingertips. If you’re going away but know there’s stuff (photos, files etc) that you’ll need that are currently stored on your home computer, ensure you’ve uploaded them all to some sort of cloud software before you leave.

Try Google Drive or Dropbox (or the i-equivalent) to ensure you’re not stuck without that crucial document or photo during your trip.

How Much Time do you Want to Spend Working?

The thing to remember about working while travelling is that it's very hard to do the same volume of work on the road that you do at home.

After all – you're travelling! You're seeing new sites, exploring new places, and taking photos for Instagram. You don't want to be stuck in your hotel room while your partner/family are out enjoying the sights because you have to catch up on emails. Blergh.

The most important thing you can do here is prepare yourself for this reality – and don't fool yourself into thinking you can keep up the same volume of work – it's just not going to happen.

However, a nice consequence of this is that you might find yourself working much more efficiently and with more focus because you don't have the time to waste mucking about on Facebook. Setting goals, planning ahead, and being organised will save your sanity when it comes to working on the road. Know what your non-negotiable work is, and make time in your schedule to get it done.

One golden tip here is to take advantage of 'waiting time'.

There will no doubt be lots of travelling and waiting time on your journey – whether that’s time in a plane, train, or in the passenger seat of the car. If your stomach allows it, this is a great time to get the bulk of your computer-based work done, so that when you’re stopped at a destination, you can fully engage with your family and friends and really enjoy yourself.

Another good time to work is early morning before you head out for the day, or late at night once everyone’s tuckered out and asleep.

When we’re road-tripping, I do the vast majority of my computer-based work in the passenger seat while Nick’s driving. This works well for us, for while we both like driving, he hates being in the passenger seat – so I just take that place and get my work done, and when we reach our next destination, I can relax and enjoy just hanging out with him.

When we're running Epheriell on the road, we plan ahead for 'making time' – and when we set up, we both focus and get to work in order to get everything made in the minimum time possible. We don't sacrifice quality – but we do 'sacrifice' the inefficiencies that creep into your work process when you're in your comfort zone, working in your regular space. It can be a really great education into how much wasted time you actually have when you're working at home, even if you don't think you do before you set out.

Finally, as far as possible, get work done before you leave. If there are any big projects you can complete early, do your best to get them done so you don't have the stress of completing them on top of your regular workload while you travel.

Do you Really Need to be Working on this Trip?

This is a really important question to ask yourself. When you're self-employed, it is so, so tempting to be working all. the. time. and never take a proper holiday, even when you're travelling, because you DO have the ability to work as you travel.

But do you really need to be working on that next trip?

I ask myself this question whenever I plan a trip. I look at my year overall - I look at where I'm going and what my goals are for that trip. For most of the trips I do, I continue to run Create & Thrive while I'm travelling, because it's so easy to do so.

However, I do take some time off even from that once and a while – because everyone needs a complete break now and again! With Epheriell, things are a bit easier – whenever I'm going overseas, I can't run the biz (though, if I'm only going on a short trip, I often leave the business open for orders while I'm away, while explicitly explaining the subsequent delay on orders to all my customers prior to them ordering). Therefore, I plan to only have a certain amount of time overseas each year so I'm not closing the biz too often. After all – when I'm not making jewellery, I'm not making any money from Epheriell, either!

So, before you plan your next adventure, make sure to be realistic and honest with yourself. 

Do you REALLY need to be working on this trip? Or would you be better off taking an actual holiday, rather than just working from another locale?

Finally, Don't be too Hard on Yourself

Unless you're planning to travel and work all the time – to become a digital nomad – don't beat yourself up if you don’t ‘keep up’ with work quite to the level you usually do when you're working at home. Travelling will always present you with unforeseen 'adventures'.

There will be times when you think you’ll have internet reception and you won’t. There will be times that you come across a random adventure and that hour you set aside to answer emails just doesn’t happen.

Let yourself off the hook a little and just enjoy the moment. Don’t spoil it by stressing about the work you ‘should’ be doing. It will still be there when you get to it. People will understand if you take a little longer to respond to emails – especially if you’ve publicised that you’re travelling.

In order to reduce your own stress levels about this, make the fact you are travelling really clear wherever possible (on your website, email signature, social media), and that this might mean a few delays here and there. The majority of people will be super-understanding about this, so long as you do the best you can by them! You might even find they good-naturedly chide you about working when you should be enjoying yourself.

After all – you're living the dream that so many people have. You're embracing the freedom that comes from having your own business – the freedom to run things your way, and to get out and experience the world while still bringing in the money you need.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Have you worked while travelling? What advice would you give others about to do the same?

Jess Van Den is a self­-employed silversmith working under the Epheriell label. She's been making jewellery since 2008, when she opened her Etsy shop to sell her jewellery as a hobby, and turned Epheriell into her full­-time occupation in 2010 ­bringing her husband Nick on board soon after. She specialises in eco sterling silver wedding rings, and works out of her solar­-powered home studio in the countryside north of Brisbane,Australia. She's also the founder and editor of Create & Thrive, where people learn how to turn their handmade hobby into a full­-time business from those who've done just that.