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.