In order for this article to make sense, I need to explain something. I live in Caracas, Venezuela – and as you might know if you’ve been paying attention to the international news lately, my country is in the middle of a delicate situation (to put it lightly).
How delicate? Well, imagine going multiple days without power, spotty internet service, lack of water, and other basic necessities. I’ve gone (and still am) going through all of these roadblocks, and still found a way to build a modest freelancing career.
While hopefully you won’t ever find yourself in a similar situation or environment, the lessons I’ve learned so far may still be useful for some of you, particularly traveling freelancers.
Let’s take a look at the four things I’ve learning living in Venezuela.
1. Always Have a Backup
This particular rule should apply to everyone regardless of their working conditions. It becomes that much more critical, however, if you’re living in a place where basic services have a tendency to, let’s say, malfunction on a regular basis.
When I say have a backup, I’m not just referring to digital file storage. In my case, constant and irregular electricity outages mean that I always need to be prepared for a worst case scenario. I’m always armed with power banks, surge protectors, a reliable mobile plan so I can use my phone as a hotspot.
Imagine yourself with a deadline looming. You’re stuck somewhere with no power (and no idea when it’s coming back), with a laptop running out of juice, and in a city where breaking it out to work in public is basically begging for it to get stolen. Once, when the local power outages started, I had to spend three days in a cheap hotel while power was restored to my block. Cheap hotels not being renown for their stable internet, those three nights were kind of a wake-up call for me.
Ever since then I’ve started preparing regular backups. I keep both a power bank and a smaller external battery charged at all times, and I set up a modest Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) just for my modem and router. This gives my computer time to sync itself to Dropbox (where I keep all the files I’m currently working on) in case the power goes out. I recently also got a membership at one of those fancy co-working places where everyone is part of some startup or another.
What I’ve learned from all of this is that while trying to prepare yourself for every single eventuality is a fool’s errand, a little bit of planning can go a long way even in the most unpredictable of situations.
2. Identify Your Weak Spots
In order to do this, firstly you need to identify the areas you’re most vulnerable in. For example, in Venezuela the main two problems I contend with day-to-day are power (which I believe I may already have mentioned) and water shortages. The first is, of course, critical since I need to be online all day long in order to work, and the second is necessary due to some of my more bourgeois inclinations, such as remaining hydrated, cooking, and showering.
Since access to water isn’t likely to be an issue for you (and we’ve already covered electricity), let’s talk about the other most likely problem you’re likely to encounter while working on the go: bad internet access.
I know people for whom internet cuts are basically a daily issue, and they don’t have access to an alternative workspace. For these kinds of situations, having a good mobile plan can be a lifesaver since there’s usually coverage in areas with no other internet access.
Personally, I keep an old smartphone at hand just in case I need a hotspot, which enables me to continue working until my internet provider decides I’ve suffered enough.
3. Budget Accordingly
Third World countries are attractive for freelancers for the same reason they appeal to retirees. Their emerging economies enable us to maintain a decent standard of living on a modest income.
However, a problem arises when people who aren’t used to budgeting start earning enough to increase their standards of living. After all, why would you take the time to shop and cook at home when you could be having sushi for lunch every day?
Naturally, this problem isn’t specific to just freelancers living in Third World economies, but it certainly affects us just as often. When I quit my last nine-to-five job almost six years ago, I went from answering phone calls to translating documents from home, and my income multiplied almost overnight. Being a young and brash 20-year old, I proceeded to be completely irresponsible with said income.
As if recovering from that experience wasn’t enough, Venezuela has topped the global charts on inflation for years now. According to Bloomberg, we have an annualized cost of living increase of 772%, and trust me – there’s no better way to learn about fiscal responsibility than to live through a near-hyperinflation event.
Nowadays, I’m in a relatively comfortable position compared to most people in my country, but I’ve still had to begin adhering to a budget in order to prepare for the future. That means identifying my needs, tracking my expenses, and setting aside money for emergencies.
4. Plan for the Future
A lot of people have a hard time dealing with the inherent instability of life as a freelancer. Sometimes payments will be late, sometimes you’ll part ways with great clients, and you always have to be on the lookout for new opportunities.
The thing that separates the best freelancers, though, is that they take control of their own situations through hardcore planning. They have backups, they know their weak spots, and they handle their finances responsibly.
Take my situation, for example. At some point while reading through this article you must have thought to yourself Why would anyone put up with living like that? Well, even in the middle of a crashing economy, freelancing has provided me with the stability necessary to continue my education, and save money in order to move someplace new (hopefully by the end of this year!).
The great thing about freelancing is that if you know what kind of life you want for yourself and what your professional goals are, it can provide the same results for you too – as long as you’re willing to put in the work.
Emerging countries can provide a lot of opportunities for freelancers looking for a different way of life and cheaper standards of living. However, you need to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before taking a giant leap into uncharted territories.
If you’re ready to get on a plane and experience working and living somewhere new as a freelancer, keep the following four lessons in mind:
- Always have a backup.
- Identify your weak spots.
- Budget accordingly.
- Plan for the future.
Does life as a freelancer in an emerging country sound appealing to you? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
Image credit: tpsdave.