Meet Elly, a freelance writer and online coach who – along with her partner Colin – left New Zealand to embrace a life as digital nomads. Check out her interview below…
1. Please introduce yourself.
My name is Elly McGuinness and I live with my partner Colin Clapp and our gorgeous three year old daughter. We’re from New Zealand but consider ourselves global citizens.
In February 2017, we commited to a decision to be ‘digital nomads’ and took a one way ticket to South East Asia. Not long after, we discovered Penang in Malaysia and decided it would be a great place to base ourselves while we learned how to actually be ‘digital nomads’!
2. When did you start working from home? What inspired the change?
Colin and I have been working for ourselves for a number of years. We both made the decision early in our careers to create our lives ‘by design’. For us, stepping away from employed roles gives us the freedom we desire. We’re both highly driven but also very lifestyle focused. By choosing the self-employed route we certainly work hard, but we have the flexibility to set our own hours around our family life. We’ve also thought ahead to the future and to the lifestyle we want to be able to live in the years to come.
Technically we don’t work from home because that doesn’t often work out too well with a three year old in tow! Instead we’ve worked out a plan where we take turns working at a local co-working space while the other partner spends time with our daughter. We have a vision to ‘un-school’ and ‘world school’ our daughter, so the plan we’ve got in place aligns with that vision.
3. What different ways have you tried to earn an income working from home? What do you do now to earn money?
We both started out in the self-employed world by selling our services. I worked as a mobile personal trainer, and Colin worked in business development. With the birth of our daughter I knew I needed a different approach to a completely ‘time for money’ model. This was because I knew I wanted to be able to stay home with her but still keep my career development going.
After she was born I wrote and published a book. At that stage I didn’t have a solid plan on how the book would fit into an overall strategy. By the time she was 18 months old that vague plan had already taken a back seat when we decided to invest in an online family business. A year or so later we had ‘pulled the pin’ on the business because it wasn’t working. That was when a new plan for a location independent lifestyle started coming to fruition.
Since moving to Malaysia, our business model is a lot simpler. We’ve both launched new websites this year. I earn money from freelance blogging and online coaching. In the background Colin and I are both working at monetizing our blogs through efforts such as affiliate marketing. We realize that this is a long term strategy, which is why I also do freelance writing and online coaching.
As the blog and my online presence grow over time I will plan to decrease coaching and freelance time. Overall, the most exciting part is that what we’re doing already allows us to be location independent.
4. How long did it take you to earn enough money to quit your day job?
As I mentioned, we’ve both been self-employed for some time. We’ve been on a non-traditional route for a while so our path is a bit different to someone who is transitioning from a full time employed role. When we decided to take the leap into our previous family business and next our move to Malaysia, we didn’t wait to earn a certain amount of money. Instead we threw ourselves into it! We sold our house and cars and decided to live off savings to make it work.
5. How much do you earn in an average month now?
Put it this way. We invested and lost a lot of money from the previous family business we took on. It was a more complex business model and we took a lot of risks that didn’t pay off. Then we simply stopped to breathe for a few months and enjoyed the relief of not losing so much money every week!
Since we adopted our simpler business model we’ve been gradually increasing our monthly income through freelancing and coaching. We’re still relying on savings to support our low-cost lifestyle, but we’re steadily increasing our income and are excited that this model could give us the exact lifestyle we crave!
6. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you first started working at home?
When a kid comes along, aim to work outside the house whenever possible! Seriously, I do know some people who work from home with their kids there and they seem to be able to pull it off. Every family is different and some families have kids that sleep during the day (?!) so they can get some work in during those hours. As a mum I found it hard when Colin worked from home once our daughter was old enough to know that daddy was in the office and she wanted to go in there!
We do some work from home with our daughter around. We just make sure the tasks we do there are low value admin type ones that don’t require as much focus and attention. It’s also important to make sure that the other partner is present for our daughter at the time. For us it wouldn’t work if we both pulled our laptops out at the same time!
So I guess I would have prioritized finding a good work space away from home earlier than we did. Some of the places we’ve taken our work include cafes, libraries and co-working spaces. And even an airport! When we lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, we were close to the airport and found working there to be easy and productive!
7. What has been the secret to your success?
We’re still a work in progress! We consider ourselves successful because we’re making conscious and intentional parenting decisions about the way that we live and we’re dedicated to our vision. We’re both very purpose driven and are willing to take risks for what we believe in. We measure our success with our own indicators, not what society deems as successful. Overall, we consider ourselves lifelong learners and are willing and eager to adapt and grow along the journey.
8. What mistakes have you made along the way?
Sometimes we’ve both focused on too many things at once. This spreads everything a bit thin and none of the ideas end up doing well. I get much better results from really focusing on growing one thing at a time. This also goes for business development. For example, I achieve more and get better results from focusing on one area at a time. As a blogger I might focus a whole day on writing, another whole day on you tube, and another whole day on Pinterest. I’ve found this to be more effective than jumping from one thing to another, which I’ve certainly done in the past.
Some people might look at our previous family business (that failed and cost us a lot) and say that it was a mistake. We don’t see it that way. It was a well-researched venture that we put our heart and soul into but couldn’t make it fly.
But understanding the reasons that it didn’t pay off has simply helped us to adopt a different approach this time round. For example, and very importantly, we know we need to prioritise sales activity. We can’t rely on marketing and word of mouth to bring in sales. We know we have to hustle more.
9. What is the best part about working from home?
I never get ‘Monday-itis’! Or ‘Tuesday-itis’ for that matter, considering I don’t actually work on Monday! There are a number of things I love about working from home. Primarily I am passionate and excited about what I do, and our lifestyle enables us to fulfil our family vision of spending lots of time with our daughter and each other.
10. What is the worst part about working from home?
It can be a challenge to set boundaries around work. The lines become blurred and it can be hard to properly switch off from it. I’ve set my own personal boundaries around this, such as not working at night time. For me, I know that my sleep is too adversely affected if I do so and I’m much better to get up super early if I absolutely have to! Because I love what I do this doesn’t feel like a drag. I just know that it’s important to maintain as much balance as I can.
11. What advice do you have for anyone starting out?
If you’re starting an entrepreneurial venture, do plenty of research. Send out surveys to find out what people want before you launch an idea. It’s easy to decide to offer something that you think is awesome…but it doesn’t mean others are going to buy it. Find other people who are operating in the space you want to enter and ask lots of questions!