Over the last few months I’ve met with and spoken to dozens of digital nomads in Chiang Mai to research my feature article on the nomad lifestyle – Slouching Toward Nimmanhaemin. I’ve chatted with dozens more online and via email, and followed the progress of hundreds of nomads through their blogs and on social media. People interested in pursuing a digitally nomadic lifestyle can find great advice from successful nomads like Erin and Simon at Neverending Voyage, the Legal Nomad Jodi Ettenberg and Spartan Traveller Clayton Cornell. And I’ve captured some lessons from my own digital nomad experience – 4 steps to going nomad and the 3 core qualities of a digital nomad. But there is one truly essential resource that all digital nomads rely on, and every nomad I have spoken to has thought about it either directly or indirectly.
Digital nomads are a 21st century counter culture. The choices they take today will shape how we live and work tomorrow.
On the level of technology this is obvious. The internet – the network of networks – is the foundational technology without which digital nomads could not work. Websites, blogs, social media, podcasts, even just simple email. Without the now ubiquitous frameworks of the internet the idea of running a global business from a remote corner of the world would simply be unthinkable.
But it’s the intangible networks of human relationships that are most valuable to successful digital nomads. And precisely because they are hard to see, they are too often neglected by people who set out on the nomad trail. They are as important in any traditional creative career path, but when you add the additional dynamics of travel and the digital nomad community itself, it’s hard to overstate how central the network is.
If a web designer in Chiang Mai is working regularly it’s because they’re connected to a widespread network of other designers, and have likely been cultivating a network of clients for some years. If a coder in Ho Chi Minh City is equaling the income they might have made in Europe of America, it’s because they know the network of the programming world that can bring that work to them. For an entrepreneur the equivalent networks include business advisors, venture capital funds and other investors and so on.
For creators of all kinds, artists and even jobbing writers like myself, those networks can be tremendously complex. The more creative the task, the less established and obvious its networks are. Earlier this week I spoke to a well established painter whose work sells across the United States and Europe and who spends nine months of the year in Chiang Mai. When he isn’t absorbed in the creation of his work – the main reason he chooses to live in Thailand – he is busy maintaining relationships with the few dozen collectors who admire his work, the galleries and agents who represent it, and the fellow artists whose work it is conceptual related to. It’s this network of less than a hundred people that allows him to practice as a professional artist.
Because the technology of modern networks is so shiny and impressive, it’s all to easy to waste a great deal of time and money on it. You can spend £$thousands on computers and equipment, invest weeks in developing a website, and hours of every day in generating content and placing Google and Facebook ads. And these can all be worthy investments. But only if there is a network there to engage with your product – be it high art, a business start-up or an online app. Beyond the quality of your project – which is always paramount – it is the health of the network supporting and engaging with it that will determine its success.
(As an aside, it’s worth noting that the primary reason many digital nomad projects are directed at digital nomads is because this is the first and most obvious network many have to work with. And it’s not a terrible starting point. But, it is a limited network unless you can quickly reach beyond it.)
The most valuable question you can ask of any new idea, project or business is, what network does it engage with? What is your existing network? How can you grow your network? Who are the other people and businesses that you will naturally connect with if you execute your idea? Building a network is a whole skillset in and of itself, but it is not one any digital nomad can afford to ignore. And being aware of its importance is the first step to engaging with it.
4 thoughts on “The most important resource for any digital nomad”
Great article Damien! Totally agree. As digital nomads ourselves, my partner and I engage in networking most of our time. Like any business, online or fixed, it is revenue that allows you to stay in business and it is your list that is your most important asset. This is only grown from networking of some description, doing JV’s with other people and helping each other. I really feel this is the new wave of collaborators coming through, which is so refreshing to see from the competition mindset so many older businesses and business owners come from.
Actually Daniel I would be interested to connect with you. We have a digital magazine ‘House Sitting World’ and one of the sections in it is dedicated to the digital nomad lifestyle, so people can learn how to earn an online income and stay on the road. Since you have done so much research into the life of digital nomads lately, I would love it if you would share your findings with our readers. Let me know if this resonates for you :)
Cheers, and thanks again for a good read
Great food for thought. Thank you for this well thought out article. I am beginning my digital nomadic journey and you’ve given me some great insight and resources to aid my success.
Thanks Damien. Although you wrote this 3 years ago, it still has relevance today, probably even more so considering the marketing trend that pushes online social networks above anything else. This post spoke to me right as I was contemplating whether or not to go to a physical networking event or spend my time on the computer this morning posting content to Facebook and Twitter. Thanks Buddy.
Having in control of your own time is what I find best about being a digital nomad. Making your hobby as your source of income is the best fulfillment in working life. Making yourself as a boss is really a good feeling. But the trade-off with this is that you have a firm self-discipline of yourself or else you will not succeed as a digital nomad. This is also the envy of the people from cubicle nation where they have to spend eight or more hours day juggling their best to finish their assigned tasks. A digital nomad is not like this, they were the ones to set the deadline of their tasks, so it is less stress.