What Exactly is a Digital Nomad and Can I Be One?

What is a digital nomad?

A guide for CMOs and Heads of Marketing with FOMO.

An irreverent look at keeping relevant, skilled and fit for the future of work.

I want to be a digital nomad.  The only trouble is that I am 47, recently married, have a mortgage, Arsenal season ticket and other commitments.  Yes, I still own a backpack, but it’s normally reserved for my bike these days.

If I was 26, the thought of running my business, whilst I traveled round Asia, South America and Africa (delete for personal preference), would be perfect! Providing digital marketing services from a beach in Bali, or a hostel in Lima, sounds like a dream.

Why is that?

Taking a step back, what is a digital nomad?  Effectively, you manage your business from wherever you are. It suits some professions more than others. Tech, design, digital marketing, ecom. It’s a hot buzz word, but it is real. A good friend of mine has been doing it for years and has just published her book on Florence from Bangkok @Nardia. One of the most talented digital marketers I know has just booked a one way ticket to Thailand (on Jack’s flight club obviously) @anthony.

A super-coach of the future @Sam is off on a six month voyage to record content and create a brand as he goes.

Basically, if it’s task-based, iy can be managed remotely from anywhere, and if it involves travel and leaching off someone’s WiFi then you’re in the club!  It also involves a huge amount of hard work, confidence, resilience and an inbuilt desire to be your own boss and do things on your terms.

So should you employ one?

My Head of Marketing at Freeformers works out of Budapest and has been in the office three times in a year. She has a better internet connection than I do in North London.

It’s a state of mind not an age, but you do need a company to accept it. “Digital Nomad Friendly” companies.

Thinking about it, I am a digital nomad- just a London based one. I would say 70% of my work is now managed remotely. I just don’t need a passport, only a loyalty card.

I could write a book on the different WiFi strengths and cost of peppermint tea around London.  I work from home, I work from the South Bank, I work from client offices.  I’ve completed a UK  project from my iPhone in a bar in Cambodia and wouldn’t let taking 3-4 weeks off abroad get in the way of running a business.

So, what has changed in 20 years?

At 27, I needed a physical work community to learn from and drink with.  At the time, I was working in loyalty at Safeway (now Morrisons). I was with a hugely talented , heavy drinking group of marketers and data analysts. I would never have met them, if we didn’t have a base.

The work, actually,  given the tools, could have been done remotely a lot of the time but there is a spark that comes from working face to face. Yes, Skype/zoom/hangouts doesn’t do a bad job- but it’s not quite the same.

However, I think the real reason is that careers were hierarchical and sequential, and I don’t think that is the case now. You were a marketing assistant, then an exec, manager, then you headed up a team and then, if you were lucky and worked hard enough, you made it to Director level.

Now careers and opportunities don’t need to be sequential.  Anyone can jump straight into a CMO or an owner of a company or an entrepreneur.

I suppose there is also another reality, 20 years ago, the first step was saving for an achievable deposit. Now, you need to be a successful entrepreneur to afford one, why not roll those dice first?

Just as I applauded those that upped sticks and went travelling , I applaud those that can make being a digital nomad work.  But let’s not forget to learn the skills and gain the work experience.

Finally, let’s also not forget that it’s never to be late to be a nomad. It doesn’t need to be sequential, but don’t forget to learn.

5 final thoughts on this
  1. Mindset is important in your search for independence and entrepreneurship- as are skills
  2. There is a spark that comes from physical connections: you can find that on a train crossing Siberia or in a shared work space, but it needs time to grow, so allow yourself a good amount of time. .
  3. You can run before you walk, but if you want to avoid hitting those obstacles, it’s good to put the hard graft in
  4. I operate as a Virtual CMO. Just like travelling on your own, it can be lonely, but if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t have learnt half as much!
  5. Call it a gap year, finding yourself, sabbatical, enforced redundancy, ripping up the rule book. Do it , not just to find yourself (although that is important), but to prepare yourself for the future of work.