Our Lives Online

Digital Nomads: Lea Woodward Celebrates Location Independent Life

Today’s entrepreneurs are ditching their desks for a more wandering working life, from dancing around the globe with Matt Harding to running a startup while running with the bulls with Konrad Waliszewski.

The digital nomad movement has become a new paradigm for not only how we work, but for what the workplace could be.

Nearly a decade ago, Lea Woodward coined the term “location independent,” when she and her husband Jonathan decided their jobs — a management consultant and graphic designer, respectively — shouldn’t be limited by one location. Together, they founded Inspiring Ventures, a global community and series of resources dedicated to helping “pioneering families” achieve freedom and flexibility by working from anywhere. The duo believed that building a business in any location of the world was “a way of living, and more than anything, a way of being.”

In this fourth installment of the Digital Nomad series, iQ spoke with the Lea about raising a family while traveling across the globe, and how she and Jonathan are encouraging others to embrace location independence.

How did you get started as a digital nomad, and when did you realize it was possible to work from anywhere?

My husband and I decided to leave the United Kingdom in early 2007, and head overseas and run our business from there — our first stop was Panama in Central America. At the time we were working with mostly U.K.-based clients, so we spent around 6 months ensuring our business could be marketed and run from anywhere.

When we were confident that we’d [gotten] everything in place — a website that attracted and converted people to clients, a way to reach out and market to our audience (via a blog) and the tools we needed to run our businesses at the time (Skype and email) — we knew we could make it work, and we did.

What surprised you the most when you embarked on your nomadic lifestyle?

In the early days, we were often surprised at the positive reaction we had from prospects and clients; rather than being put off by the fact we were running our business while being nomadic, they loved it. It allayed many fears we’d initially had about it being a disadvantage, and eventually became a positive brand advantage.

The more negative aspect we experienced was the need for constant decision-making: where to go, when to go, where to stay, how to get there, etc.

As a business owner, you’re already making constant decisions on a day-to-day basis about your business and its needs — add the nomadic travel element on top of that and we quickly became decision fatigued!

What are some of the most fascinating places you’ve been to?

To us, places like Panama and Buenos Aires, where we couldn’t speak the languages well, were challenging and intriguing.

The social diversity of Cape Town, South Africa, was also fascinating to experience. In every place we went to, it was a challenge to experience day-to-day life as an outsider trying to fit in.

Is it viable to have a successful career without settling down in one place?

It is certainly a lot more viable these days than ever before. More and more companies are using location independence and remote working as a benefit, including companies like Buffer App, Basecamp, Automattic and more.

If you are going to be more fluid in your choice of location, it does tend to require you to have a certain kind of mindset and some specific behaviors and resources in place. These include things like being comfortable online as a “digital citizen” — being able to grow and nurture your network and professional circles online via social media, [as well as] manage your reputation and “personal brand.” It also means being able to easily demonstrate your value and capabilities to people without the traditional face-to-face meetings and interviews.

What specific technologies do you use the most when working remotely?

As far as software goes, email and the usual “Office” suite are our primary business engines — we use Google Apps for this. We use Skype a lot for calls and meetings, and PayPal and Gumroad to collect payments and charge our customers and clients.

We also use email marketing tools like MailChimp and Drip to stay in contact with our audience. WordPress is our primary website platform for our network of seven websites.

Behind the scenes, we use Dropbox, Google Drive and Amazon S3 for remote file storage and online backups, and we use FreshDesk to power our customer help desks. When it comes to hardware, we use an Apple Macbook Pro and a Macbook Air, along with an iPad and iPhones.

What has been your most memorable experience while raising a location-independent family?

There are almost too many to mention! Before the kids, I’d probably say our time in Cape Town was a highlight; the combination of spectacular scenery, friendly people and a sense of feeling at home there made it a very special place for us.

And after we had kids (who are now 18 months and 5 years old), [it was] watching each of them experience the beach and sea for the first time, both in Thailand. It’s also been magical to watch them experience the truly global nature of travel — from seeing our daughter attend a local school where the cultural mix included students from Thailand, Australia, France, Sweden, China and more, to making good friends with the owners of the local Thai coffee shop and watching them teach the kids how to play the ukulele.

What’s the one thing you never travel without?

My phone. Though we often work on/in our businesses while traveling, we’ve set them up in a way that the work could, if needed, be done on any computer or any device.

These days my phone is so much more than just a phone. It’s my camera; it’s my social and professional network; it’s my wellness tracker; it’s my note taker; it’s my calendar; it’s my calculator; it’s my entertainment system; and it helps me run my business.

Do you think we’re seeing less need for physical workplaces? Are we entering an age of work from anywhere?

In many areas, yes, most definitely. None more so than the opportunities for people starting up their own micro- and small businesses — you no longer need to rent a dedicated office space, your sofa can work (or the local co-working space, if there is one).

Some larger businesses are also seeing the benefits (i.e., flexibility or access to a much larger talent pool) of a remote workforce, while effectively navigating the challenges (i.e., building a strong culture, communication and connection, in both senses).

It’s not for every business, and it’s not without its challenges or pitfalls, but it is definitely becoming a far more viable option these days than ever before. Exciting times!

What’s one thing you would tell others who wish to become location independent?

Ignore the naysayers, and believe that you WILL do it. Once you’ve got the right mindset, it’s then about being strategic in how you make it happen, then cultivating the right daily and ongoing behaviors to make it happen, and using the right tools to support yourself.


Images courtesy of Lea Woodward.


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