You really can run (almost) any business from anywhere

Probably running a hairdresser in Idaho

In the six years since Tim Ferriss popularised running a business remotely, most people’s perceptions haven’t evolved that far: you can only do it with certain types of tech-based business, and only if you’re young and happy to live on the cheap.

But several factors are aligning that’s making running any business remotely more realistic and desirable – and as a result, we’re hearing about a lot of people making the leap who don’t fit the typical “lifestyle design” mould.

So why might we start to see way more businesses being run remotely in the next couple of years?

(Almost) any business can be run from anywhere

With adoption of technology where it is now, I’d argue that more businesses can be run remotely (with the right combination of thought, skills and dedication) than definitely can’t.

That’s important, because a lot of people – especially those beyond their 20s – think they can’t work from around the world because they’re “not web designers”. Maybe they already have a career or a specific skillset, and they’re not at a point in their lives where they can chuck it in and learn totally new, more portable skills.

Take a friend of ours who’s a mortgage broker. He realised that he was spending all day sitting alone in his rented office, because his clients would rather email him than visit him these days. So he forwarded his Skype number to his mobile phone, and now works from wherever he feels like.

Or take us: we invest in real estate in our home country despite being away most of the time, and run a client-facing business that would typically involve in-person meetings.

These possibilities don’t come just from the technology, but from the mainstream willingness (even preference) to do business with someone you’ve never met. Many people spend so much time forging relationships online that working with the best accountant (even if she’s on the other side of the country) is more important than working with an accountant whose office you can visit.

Location independence doesn’t mean making less money

There’s no either/or between living in one place and making a good living.

The Ferriss conception was to have a simple business that supports your lifestyle and takes up as little of your time as possible. But what if you want to make a great Western living while living in Thailand?

Well, why not? You won’t be able to do it in a few hours a week, but there’s no reason why you can’t build a serious, quality business of lasting value – and do it wherever you are.

Just look at Buffer, whose founder scaled the business to serve tens of thousands of people by building a distributed team while he moved between the UK, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Tel Aviv.

As Mish wrote recently, running a business abroad isn’t much different from doing it at home. And that means that if you want to make a lot of money (which necessarily involves providing huge value to a large number of people), there’s no reason why your location should stop you.

The need for tech skills is lower than ever

And any specialist knowledge you do need can be bought in at minimal expense:

  • To take online payments, you don’t need to program an online shopfront – you just need to follow the prompts on Gumroad.
  • To have all your files with you wherever you are, you just need to set up Dropbox once.
  • To get a website up and running, there are a zillion point-and-click services – or outsource it on Elance for a couple of hundred dollars.

If you can’t turn on a computer or use a graphical interface like Windows, you are admittedly screwed. But these are basic life skills anyway – good luck voting or banking without computer skills in ten years’ time…

A “portable” business is increasingly appealing

We know plenty of people who have set up their business in a way that would allow them to travel – they’re just choosing to stay in one place for now.

Setting up a business along these lines is often cheaper and easier than doing things the “traditional” way, even if you know you never want to leave your town:

  • A remote team means you can hire the best people wherever they happen to be…
  • …and you don’t need to take on the overheads of an office for them.
  • You’re forced to have efficient systems in place, and be more-or-less paperless.
  • You can serve a tighter niche of customers, because they can be drawn from a larger geographic area.

Many businesses necessarily involve a physical presence, but you as the business owner don’t need to to present all the time yourself. Take Mish’s parents, who’ve got a central office running their business, but their systems allow them to work from wherever they feel like.

Setting up your business so you don’t have to be present is the ultimate way to make sure you’re thinking like a business owner, not getting sucked into the tasks of an employee.

“Stuff” is over

The Western World is past the point of peak “stuff”: digital media rendered much of it unnecessary, and the recession made many people realise that accumulating trinkets never really made them happy.

Still though, millions of people are trapped by needless crap. Take Mish’s parents again, who’ve suddenly realised they need five t-shirts, not seven wardrobes, and have vowed to order a skip as soon as they get home.

A lighter life means you spend less money, need less space and have more psychological space – whether you pack that life into a single suitcase and head abroad or not.

And perhaps most importantly…

…the trail has been blazed.

I read the 4-Hour Workweek as soon as it came out, but I found it only moderately interesting: I didn’t want to run an AdSense site and live on a beach. It was only when we discovered blogs and podcasts talking about the digital nomad movement that we realised there were plenty of people running a huge range of businesses while they travelled…and they loved the business of business, rather than seeing it as a necessary evil.

Those people made us realise that we could do it – and we’re hopefully now making people believe that if a pair of idiots like us can do it, almost anyone can.

They can do it without tech skills.
They can do it with any type of business they want.
They can do it without rapid, backpacker-style travel.
They can do it while making great money.
And it’s about the most fulfilling lifestyle you can possibly have.

Don’t get me wrong – this is always going to be a niche lifestyle. But the niche could be getting significantly broader and deeper over the next seven years than it did during the last.

And we’re going to be here all the way to motivate, educate, and harangue anyone who’s even vaguely considering it.

  • Awesome article! It’s so true, we don’t have to make a tiny amount of money just because we are location-independent, and most of the constraints are in our minds. I was liberated from my day job in April 2011 yet it took me another two years to realize that I could also travel freely by having others take care of my cats. Literally the cats were all that held me back, and that limitation was in my mind.

    Also – for employees, it is so silly that employers require them all to commute to work every day. I could have done my day job remotely they just wouldn’t allow it. Imagine what it would do for the environment if most people started working from home. My mileage on my car has dropped below 4000 miles per year now. It used to be about three times higher. The implications are magnificent … cheers 🙂

    • Thanks Erika! It’s true: so much is done online now, running a location independent business isn’t that different from running a traditional one. That includes being able to make just as much money as if you were rooted in one place (and having lower overheads to boot).

      Like you say, it’s just a case of realising that it’s possible. Although I do wish we could get a cat 😉

    • On the other hand, when freed from the office and when meeting other free spirits in foreign lands, we may realize there is more to life than making money. (However there is still a lot of mindless money-chasing going on in the digital nomad community.)

      By the way, you *can* travel with a cat. My girlfriend and I are travelling around with one. We’ve already done eight flights with it. Sure, it’s a hassle, but it’s our little baby. 😉

      • Ha, I actually thought of you when I was writing the post because I remember being jealous of you having a cat 🙂 I suppose it reinforces the point that almost anything is possible – it’s just a case of determining what’s important to you.

        And you’re right, there’s more to life than making money. I just feel like the perception that you CAN’T make as much while travelling as you can rooted puts some people off giving it a try.

  • Love it, love it, love it!

    Completely inspiring… and thats coming from someone who searches the web for inspirations all the time… albeit camping and glamping inspirations.

    I’m also a UK’er and someone who lost their job because of a serious illness. This resulted in me setting up http://www.inspiredcamping.com – a camping and glamping inspiration portal – with the aim of working as a location independent digital nomad. Now I’ve got the bug (and it seems you have too) and I’m very happy to have found you.

    I feel very strongly that everyone should be given the chance to do this if they want to. After all, life is for living otherwise whats the point?!

    Here’s a bit about why I ended up doing what I do and what I’ve discovered on my own road to becoming a digital nomad if you have 2 minutes spare to link up http://www.inspiredfreelance.com

    BTW I’m going to sign up for your bad jokes 🙂 and future inspirations. Sarah

    • Woohoo, thanks Sarah! I’m really glad you found us (and liked what you found).

      Our whole mission is to make people realise that this lifestyle exists, and that the barriers to making it work aren’t as high as they might think. It’s not for everyone, but everyone should be able to give it a go if they want to.

      It looks like you’re doing an amazing job with Inspired Camping, and the story behind it is just incredible. Love it.

      Your ultimate mission though will be to convince Mish and me that camping is a good idea…we’re yet to find anything glam enough to shake off the memories of missing tent pegs and leaky canvas 😉

      • Then you must take part in a bit of glamping. Its perfect for anyone who fancies sleeping under the stars in ultimate luxury. Think of 5 star hotel accommodation under canvas, with a hot tub, fire flies and shooting stars, and you’ll begin to see the attraction of this new way of staying outdoors. Sarah