DNG presents Online Job of the Month: VA (Virtual Assistant)

DNG presents Online Job of the Month: VA (Virtual Assistant)

In our new blog series ‘Online Job of the Month’ we share the most interesting online jobs with you. You might think only web developers and graphic designers can be digital nomads. But there are actually a huge number of interesting (and profitable) jobs out there for aspiring Digital Nomad Girls.

This month we will tell you all about working as a Virtual Assistant. Digital Nomad Girls spoke to three girls who are successfully working as Virtual Assistants while travelling the world.

What exactly is a Virtual Assistant? What do Virtual Assistants do?

A virtual assistant is a professional who provides assistance to business owners on a virtual basis. They help to free up valuable time for their clients, for instance by supporting them with admin or online marketing tasks.

The scope of what a VA can help with is much more varied than the traditional office worker, which is perhaps one of the most beneficial and exciting aspects of this career. You can be flexible in the hours you work, the services you provide, where you work from and the clients you choose to work with. VAs can work for individuals, agencies, or other VAs (as associates), but are always self-employed or business owners. They can work from anywhere in the world, so long as there’s a stable Internet connection.

What kind of skills do I need to become a Virtual Assistant?

“There’s a huge misconception that VAs need to have extensive experience to get started. It’s true that training and tech skills would be beneficial in getting the higher paying jobs – but to start, I bet you that pretty much anyone reading this already has a skill that could be transferrable” says Hannah Dixon. “If you have some skills in any of these key areas, there are people who would pay you for those services online:”

General Administration…you could be doing: Email correspondence, producing reports, taking minutes, organizing digital assets (dropbox/google drive), data entry, invoicing, bookkeeping, diary management, travel booking

Writing…you could be doing: Blog posts, social media posts, correspondence, copywriting for sales pages, crafting recruitment ads, proofreading, ghostwriting, preparing presentations in Powerpoint, transcription, translation, copy for email marketing campaigns, press releases, SEO copywriting

Graphic Design…you could be doing: Social media graphics, logo design, web design, banners, marketing materials for print, flyers, business cards, signage for events, ebook & pdf design, preparing presentations, creating infographics

Social Media Management…you could be: Scheduling posts, running ads, community (group) engagement, strategy, creating Facebook groups/pages, managing scheduling platforms, curating and creating content, monitoring insights and stats

“Speaking a foreign language is definitely a bonus. Most of my work involves graphic design, translation, proofreading and social media management” adds Julia Neubauer from Austria, who is working as a nomadic VA in Tenerife.

To support a client’s online and cloud activity, a VA needs to have knowledge of “at least one application or platform for working with email, documents, file storage, calendar, and communications. A VA does not need to know everything, but rather know the areas they wish to work in, are good at, and enjoy” Elaine Rogers adds.

Do you need any qualifications or certificates to become a VA?

The VA industry is not regulated, so the short answer is no. However, some VAs feel more confident with a certification. Certifications in specific online tools can attract higher rates, but that is down to the individual.
“A good education, excellent language and written skills, attention to detail, and a responsive nature will go a long way” Elaine shared with us.

Julia thinks “It’s essential that you’re someone who loves to learn and can be self-sufficient in learning new skills if they are needed.”

Hannah added that “the online world is ever changing. Technology, tools and programs are always being tweaked to suit the times and needs of their users. It’s pretty much your duty to stay ahead of the game to be able to set yourself apart as a VA – you can learn the basics and get by, or you can be a pioneer in the cutting edge and offer your clients the newest, coolest strategies and tools for success. You want to be pretty passionate about learning as this career will require just that.”

Where do you find jobs as a Virtual Assistant?

All three VAs we spoke to agreed on this topic. While online freelancing platforms can be a way to get a foot in the door, they warn that “there is lots of competition and hourly rates tend to be low.” They can be great for building up a portfolio of work and a small client base. After you’re comfortable, it’s definitely best to source clients yourself” said Julia. Hannah emphasised that “sites like these will not provide you the clients you really want to work for, the ones that value you and want to build a lasting relationship.“

They all agreed that using your network is key to a successful career as a VA. Elaine said “Personally, I use my own professional networks both offline (business communities from a previous profession) and online (LinkedIn and FB groups are key for me).”

Hannah says she focuses on building her network organically. “I cannot stress enough how important building true relationships with your online community is. I spent hours, weeks, months…okaaaayyy…maybe 3 years building my network and I still am. I rarely look for clients anymore, I am so well connected that I get tagged on Facebook by people I don’t even know for VA opportunities and wake up with people requesting to work with me in my messages every morning. How would that feel? To not have to even market yourself anymore?”

“It can seem impossible to find your first client” Julia adds – “but once you have a couple under your belt, you start to trust in yourself and realise that it’s actually not as hard as you first thought.”

How much can you earn as a Virtual Assistant?

As usual, when it comes to rates, it depends on the specific skills you can offer and whether they are in demand.

“A general VA can earn up to $30/hour, more if they package certain services. A specialist VA (copywriter, SM strategist, graphic designer, backend expert) can charge $50-120/hour, because of their specialty” says Elaine.

Julia agrees and adds that “an average rate for new VA’s is around £20 per hour and professional clients are more than happy to pay for quality work. It’s important not to undersell yourself! Clients will value your work much more if they pay £25 for it than £5 per hour.

Elaine points out that “pricing your skills is very important, in order to ensure you can survive on the road, or wherever you are stationed. As a gal who’s been around the block a few times, I also put certain things in place for my future, so I take that into consideration when pricing my services. You also need to be very aware to include hidden costs (taxes, social charges if applicable, overheads) as well as putting 20-30% aside for when you do stop travelling, or stop working.

If you charge $8 as a nomad, you will need to work 250 hours a month to create a turnover of $2000.”

“There are three main ways VAs price things: hourly, retainers and value-based pricing – the latter being the kind of mecca of pricing models that you can achieve only over time with experience and a deep understanding of the value and ROI you bring your clients” adds Hannah.

Is it easy to work as a VA while travelling?

Absolutely! So long as you have good internet access, a good work horse (aka laptop), and good systems in place, you’re good to go. A general rule is: The less correspondence a specific task requires, the easier it is to complete while travelling

Hannah, who is currently in Hoi An, Vietnam, adds that “providing you don’t work with clients who require you to work on their time, it can be super easy. You get to make your schedule based on the deadlines you have. So long as you meet them and are meeting your client’s expectations, you can do whatever the hell you like in your spare time.

“If you’re managing social media accounts, the time changes can be difficult – luckily there’s so much you can schedule in advance” says Julia.
“It’s worth investing in a good laptop that can take the heat (in every sense!) and spare chargers, dongles, headphones and mic, and any other equipment that will make your life easier” Elaine shares.

What part of the job do you like most and which one least, and why?

All agree that they enjoy the freedom and flexibility this job offers them. “Becoming a VA has allowed me to travel and achieve what I call work-life integration. My work and play are happily intermingled, and I love it” says Elaine “I enjoy freedom of choice by being a VA – I choose my clients, how much I charge, and when I get paid. I don’t subscribe to industry standards or what is normal. I am not lucky, I have designed my work that way, and my clients respect me because I attracted them by marketing to the right types of clients.”

Of course, every job has some downsides. Ironically, Hannah dislikes the admin side of her career “doing my own paperwork sucks…I totally need a VA haha.”

This seems to be a common thread among freelancers and entrepreneurs. Elaine adds that she “does not enjoy the bureaucracy that comes with being self-employed.”
Julia warns that “clients can sometimes forget that you’re not just working for them, but also for others. Each client would like their own project to be finished as soon as possible”

Hannah, who now trains others to become Virtual Assistants, shared the top soft skills she thinks clients are looking for when hiring a VA

The soft skills are really where your success lies. Here are the three most important soft skills:

Adaptability: Able to change and adapt to clients’ needs, new software and tools, time zones and a multitude of tasks that you’ll often need to figure out on the go.

Confidence: Being a VA does NOT mean you are an employee. You are a fully-fledged business owner in your own right and that means you need the gusto and confidence to ensure your clients treat you as such.

Patience: for sooo many reasons. Working with clients who don’t know their copy from their paste can be frustrating, patience and understanding goes a long way. Tech issues: they will happen! You must be prepared to deal with issues calmly and efficiently.

 

We hope you now have a better understanding of what a career as a VA could look like and how you can get started yourself. A HUGE thanks to our three interviewees for sharing their experience, tips and tricks with us.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with others who might like it too!

To find out more about the girls you can find their author bios below:

Elaine Rogers

Elaine Rogers is originally from Ireland and was a business coach and trainer in her previous profession. Due to her background in IT, a love of social media and WordPress, and a genuine interest in all things tech and internet, she re-invented herself as The Smart VA

Hannah Dixon

Hannah Dixon from London is an adventurer extraordinaire with 8 consecutive years of travel experience. She funds her lifestyle through her ninja VA and OBM skills, serving those in the mind, body & soul industries. Her goal is to also empower other travel hungry folk, giving them the necessary skills to create their own thriving, location independent VA business.

If you feel that becoming a VA could be for you, why not take the next 5 Day VA Challenge this February? It’s a free 5 day group intensive where you’ll figure out if this is for you, identify skills you already have, be challenged to move out of your comfort zone and potentially get a paying client! Yep, in only 5 days 🙂

Julia Neubauer

Julia Neubauer is a virtual assistant and visual artist exploring the world. You can find out more about her virtual assistance on her website Merakiva and follow her art on Instagram.

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Kay: Brand Storyteller & Communication Strategist

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Kay: Brand Storyteller & Communication Strategist

In our Digital Nomad Girls interview series we feature interviews with Digital Nomad Girls from around the world with interesting location independent jobs.

This month we talked to Kay Fabella, brand storyteller and communication strategist.

Introduce yourself!

Hi there, I’m Kay, a Filipina-American expat entrepreneur based in Madrid. I have an ongoing love affair with Spain, my Spanish husband, and Sriracha. And I not-so-secretly wish my life was a musical.

What is your location independent job?

I am a brand storyteller and communication strategist. I help businesses to stand out with their story, to meaningfully connect with their customers, and boost their revenue through targeted online communication strategies.

We’d love to hear your story! How did you get into professional storytelling?

When a work contract fell through with no warning, I had to reinvent myself… fast!

I had always loved communication, languages, and helping people connect. So I looked into Master’s degrees in online marketing. But all of the Master’s degrees wanted someone with experience. And all the companies where I could get experience wanted candidates with Master’s degrees! What started as a way to build my portfolio as a freelancer to apply for a Master’s turned into my full-time business.

Now, I help solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies in English and Spanish. I was also published as a storytelling expert in the Huffington Post and in El País, the largest Spanish language newspaper in the world.

What advice do you have for others? How can we use stories to help us in business?

Too many entrepreneurs I see focus on “how I sell my thing” rather than “how I can be of service.” It comes across as too pushy, too aggressive, and ultimately ends up being disastrous for their business.

No matter what industry you’re in, you have to communicate what you do in a way that connects with, convinces, and converts your audience into customers. And sharing stories is a great way to do that.

In the age of the social media, people care more about WHO you are + WHY you exist > WHAT you sell. So don’t be afraid to go past the shiny Instagram posts and show your human side once in a while, because that’s what people relate to most.

When everything on the market looks the same, your story is what determines if people like you, if they trust you, and, most importantly, if what you have to offer is worth their time. The decision as to whether or not they buy from you depends on how you make them feel. So if you don’t try to create an emotional connection with your audience first, you’ll never gain their permission to sell what you do.

kay-fabella-digital-nomad

What made you pursue a location independent life? Have you always loved travelling?

As the daughter of Filipino immigrants growing up in Los Angeles, I was exposed to many cultures at once. So I think it goes without saying that I’ve always loved travelling!

Before college, I had spent a month living in Paris and a month living in Mexico. I fell in love with the idea of travelling “deeper,” rather than checking a bunch of sights to see off a list. So I leapt at the opportunity to study abroad in Spain while at university. I came back in 2010 with the intention of staying for a year… met my now Spanish husband… and the rest is history.

I realized how lucky I was to have a business I could run from anywhere when my grandmother had her second stroke back in California in 2015. At a moment’s notice, I was able to book a flight to be with her, without having to worry about vacation days or checking with a boss.

So my idea of a location independent lifestyle has definitely evolved. I may not be a nomad moving from one country to another with my laptop. But I love that my business lets me work from wherever, especially if it’s close to the people I love.

Did your friends/family/colleagues think you’ve gone crazy or were they supportive?

I’m lucky to have an amazing support system here in Madrid, back in the US, and all over the world. And though I think my parents still don’t understand exactly what I do… they framed my El País interview even if they couldn’t understand it!

What’s been helpful is finding people who are also running online businesses, the ones who are “your kind of crazy”. Tribes like the Digital Nomad Girl group are super helpful for connecting with like-minded people who you can swap resources and experiences with!

kay-fabella-digital-nomad

What do you struggle with most when it comes to running your own business?

I’d have to say patience. You may have a grand vision for what you want to see happen. You may have certain expectations and objectives. But when other people, technology, and so many other factors are involved, you have to be willing to step back, reassess, and pivot if need be.

There’s a great quote by Bill Gates that really resonated with me: “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.”

And I couldn’t agree more. So my new personal project is learning not to let my own ambition get the better of me. It’s a very humbling exercise, but having a strong support system and team has really helped.

What item should every Digital Nomad Girl pack on her trips?

Just one? 😉

I’d have to say all the chargers and adapters for your digital gear. And a good pair of sneakers to go exploring when you turn off your laptop.

What are you up to next travel or business-wise?

I just got back from marrying my husband in San Francisco, renting a Mustang and driving down the California coast for a month!

As for my business, I launched my first online coaching program for women entrepreneurs to help them sell with confidence using their story: Move Hearts Make Profits.

What is your favourite business/travel/self-development book you’d recommend to other digital nomad girls?

I’d have to say the Suitcase Entrepreneur: Create freedom in business and adventure in life. This year, I had the pleasure of meeting the author, Natalie Sisson, who was one of the first digital marketing gurus I followed!

And last: Do you have a favourite inspirational (or cheesy) quote you’d like to share?

“Imperfect action > perfect inaction.” It’s my go-to motto whenever I’m nervous about taking a step outside of my comfort zone… as long as you’re moving, you’re learning!

You can find Kay on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin. Check out her website in English and Spanish and visit the Story School here.

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Meg: Travel Blogger and Podcaster

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Meg: Travel Blogger and Podcaster

In our monthly Digital Nomad Girls interview series we will feature interviews with Digital Nomad Girls from around the world with interesting location independent jobs.

This month we talked to Meg Collins, travel blogger, podcaster and co-founder of the Travel Blog Monetization Summit

Introduce yourself! Where are you from, how old are you, if we may ask 🙂 and where are you currently living?

Howdy, most people call me Meg or Megsy. I’m a 32 years old Aussie gal who grew up just outside of Brisbane. Along with my boyfriend Tom we have been a digital nomads since April 2013 and we are currently hanging out in Tbilisi Georgia.

What is your location independent job (or what are you working towards)?

We are travel / food bloggers and photographers and we also run the Travel Blog Monetization Summit which teaches travel bloggers how to make money and keep travelling.

meg-collins-travel-blogger

How did you get into this line of work?

We realised that the regular 9-5 – buying a house etc was not the life for us – so we looked into ways we could do what we loved most – travel – and sustain it through an online income source.

What did you do before you became a Digital Nomad?

I was working as a wholesale travel agent specialising in Cruise Sales at Infinity Cruise Australia.

How can others do the same?

Study, study, study the profession you want to go into. Work really really hard. Sell everything and give it your best shot!

What made you pursue a life as a Digital Nomad?

We wanted to travel and have our own business. We were tired of working for other people.

Did your friends/family/colleagues think you’ve gone crazy or were they supportive?

They were all very supportive – but I don’t think they really understood what we were planning on doing. Nor do I think they realised that we could potentially travel for this long. I think they figured we’d be back home, working and starting a family like normal people long ago….

meg-collins-travel-blogger

What is your favourite city/country/beach/mountain destination to work?

For work i.e having other bloggers around and learning, we really liked Chiang Mai as there was a great community there. For affordable living, a great lifestyle, with really good internet – Tbilisi, Bucharest or Athens are some of our favourites.

What do you struggle with most when you travel and work?

Reliable internet. Plus feeling guilty about not seeing some parts of the cities we are in because we have to get work done. You can’t have it all.

How do you connect with and meet new people while travelling?

Couchsurfing meet ups are really great – plus we have a pretty large network of friends online all over the world. Also shout outs to groups like this are a good way to see who’s around.

meg-collins-travel-blogger

What item should every Digital Nomad Girl pack?

The first thing I thought was menstrual cup – lol. You don’t realise how difficult it can be to get the products you like using around the world – once I went menstrual cup I’ve never looked back!

What advice would you give a girl friend who wanted to start out as a digital nomad?

Do it – but realise it’s not all beaches and beers – it’s hard work and you need to have many back up sources of revenue to make sure you can be secure in not running out of money.

meg-collins-travel-blogger

What are you up to next?

Off to GREECE!!!! We loooved Greece and we have booked an airbnb apartment in the heart of Athens for almost 3 months to really experience local life.

What is your favourite business/travel/lifestyle book you’d recommend to other digital nomad girls?

Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? LOL.

For the single girls out there (or even not so single girls like me) I just finished reading Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari – really interesting look into dating in today’s world of technology!!!

And last: Do you have a favourite inspirational (cheesy optional) quote you’d like to share?

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” – Hunter S Thompson

You can find Meg on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and check out her blog at http://foodfuntravel.rocks.

What I Learned During My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

What I Learned During My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

I spent my first day as a full-time freelancer spectacularly hungover.

I’ll admit, it was not the most auspicious (or romantic) beginning to my new self-employed life, but I’d spent the evening before at a send-off party with my now-former co-workers, and I was riding the excitement and fear of what I’d just done: quit my job, cut down my safety net, and convinced myself that this was something I could actually do.

The next thirty days were a learning experience, and as with most things in life, some things lined up with my expectations. Others didn’t, and there have been more than a few surprises along the way. Here are just some of the things I learned during that first month as my own boss.

Getting sick is terrible when you’re self-employed

What’s worse than being hungover your first day on the job? Getting sick the week after. The fates were not on my side in early September, and I had a nasty little cold that lasted for a solid week. While I could physically still write for my clients, I was very slow and unproductive. It was a harsh reminder that I would no longer be paid when I feel like I’ve been run over by a truck.

A support system is an absolute necessity

I was seriously on the fence about attending the Digital Nomad Girls retreat in Javea. After all, I’d just left my job and didn’t have enough clients to replace all of my income yet. Wouldn’t it be foolish to drop a grand and jet off to Spain?

I did it anyway—and I’m so glad I did

What I Learned In My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

The women I met there just got me. This was my community, my new support system for a life that can feel very isolating and scary at times. I learned a lot of practical skills while I was there, but more importantly, I learned that I do know more than I think I do. I am worth more than I think I am. And I am totally capable of making my dream work.

My new friends are all tackling the same problems I am and have the same insecurities and fears—but they’re all doing amazing work and taking the world by storm. When women support one another, great things happen.

We laughed, we cried, we listened. It was an intense week, and the perfect way to kick off my new life.

What I Learned In My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

The stress is different

Do I still have stress? Of course!

Is it the same kind of stress?

Not even a little bit.

As a freelancer, my stress mainly focuses on money, raising my rates, and getting new clients instead of the day-to-day work I do. My opinion? It’s a much better type of stress to have.

I am very bad at time management

I am a procrastinator–always have been. I hesitate to say that I always will be, because miracles do happen, but the possibility of this one coming true seems remote.

I have never had so much time alone with my own thoughts. I wander from one task to another; check Facebook; read an article that catches my eye instead of finishing the draft of the one in front of me. My fear of deadlines is the only thing that keeps me in check. Somehow, I finish everything. Every time. I am NOT good at time management, and it’s something that is constantly a work in progress.

Days of the week matter less than they used to

I constantly have to remind myself what day of the week it is. They all kind of run together now that I have nowhere to be. I live my life by deadlines, but when I think about my schedule, the urgency is just not there anymore—it doesn’t have to be. I wake up every morning and it’s just another day, a day that moves quickly because I’m always doing something. The weeks feel shorter.

I can go anywhere and do anything

During that first month, I found myself at yoga at noon on a Thursday. Now, I can plan my writing around my exercise and appointments instead of the other way around. Even though I’m not a full time nomad, the freedom of setting my own schedule and choosing where I work is extremely liberating.

What I Learned In My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

I’ve always been a traveller, but now I can plan any trip I want as long as I can fund it. I can spend 7 weeks with my family and take quick weekends on a whim with friends. There is nothing holding me back from this big world, and I can’t wait to see as much of it as I can.

My home is a peaceful oasis

I love my slow mornings. These days I have the luxury of cooking myself the breakfast I want, going for a run, doing a little yoga, and starting work a little too late. My home is a peaceful oasis on the weekdays when everyone is at work, and the only noises are my fingers on the keyboard and the dog shifting in his sleep.

What I Learned In My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

Going out means more

I like to think that I always try to look cute when I go out, but now that my ventures are more infrequent, my opportunities to show off my wardrobe are limited. I put more effort into my outfits than I did before and walk with renewed confidence because I know I look good.

What I Learned In My First Month as a Full-Time Freelancer

It’s really scary

I fly into a panic at times, because I’m not productive, or I’m not making enough money, or there just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done. But then I take a deep breath and remind myself that nothing is perfect, and that it will get easier with time and practice.

Life goes on

As a fortune cookie once said to me, “Only those who dare, truly live.” There are so many reasons to love self-employment: the freedom, the ability to linger in the small pleasures of a life lived slowly. On the flip side, there’s the loneliness, the uncertainty–the knowledge that it really is all on you.

It’s hard. It’s hard because life is hard, but you know what? The fear I feel over finding new clients and pleasing the ones I have is small potatoes compared to the lifelessness I felt every day getting up to work for someone else. And that feeling is enough to let me know I’ve made the right decision.

Susannah Bruck is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for travel. She spends her time visiting exotic locales, cooking new dishes, gaming, and writing her dystopian novel. You can find her at www.susannahbruck.com and www.welltraveledwriter.com (coming soon!).

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Stella: Online Social Entrepreneur

Meet Digital Nomad Girl Stella: Online Social Entrepreneur

In our monthly Digital Nomad Girls interview series we will feature interviews with Digital Nomad Girls from around the world with interesting location independent jobs.

This week we talked to Stella, online social entrepreneur and founder of 22 STARS.

Introduce yourself! Where are you from, what’s your background and where are you currently living?

I was born in Germany but moved to the Netherlands at age 6. Following in the footsteps of my parents, I lead a very active life and have travelled all over the world.

For the last couple of years I have literally been living nowhere. At the moment I am travelling in a Land Rover through West Africa: Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, and DRC while working on my new 22STARS project: bridging cultures through fashion and design.

Stella Interview Digital Nomad Girls Online Social Entrepreneur

You created a social enterprise called 22STARS. Tell us a bit about it and how you got inspired to become an online social entrepreneur!

In 2008, I decided to travel around the world alone for about eight months (South America, Hawaii, new Zealand, Australia, South Africa). Wherever I went, I was regularly confronted with poverty and injustice. For that reason I decided to do a master’s in Public International Law where I learned that the best way to help people out of poverty is by making sure that they can provide for themselves. I wrote my thesis about girl child soldiers within the Lord Resistance Army and visited Uganda in 2009 to volunteer at an AIDS Information Center and do research for my thesis. This is how my passion and interest for Uganda started. I interviewed a couple of women who were making jewellery from recycled paper.

A few years later I founded my social enterprise called 22STARS. I help post war victims in Uganda designing their paper jewellery and find international and national market to sell their products. I also raise money for school fees for the children and I help women get small business skills. Travelling is a huge part of my life. Twice a year I spend months at a time in Uganda making new designs with the women and checking on production and quality.

From Uganda I ship all the products to the Netherlands in big 30 kilo boxes. Shipping costs and import taxes are always way more expensive than people expect. Whenever I’m not in Uganda, my work is a big mix of everything and I can do it all from my laptop. Designing new collections, writing product descriptions and stories for the website, social media, finding new retailers, keeping contact with customers, making special edition collections, editing videos and pictures; the list goes on.

Stella Interview Digital Nomad Girls Online Social Entrepreneur

Why was it important to run your business as a social enterprise?

I want to help people directly in improving their life and making an impact. In particular, I choose people to work with who have no other chance on the job market because they are illiterate and ill. The story of one of my artisans, Susan Laker, is very touching.

Susan was born in Northern Uganda. When she was only 13, she had her first child. Her husband was a soldier, and soon left her, never to return. Susan fled to Kampala because of the war, where she found out that she was HIV-positive, had tuberculosis and cancer. She was extremely weak. When she got better she started working in the stone quarry in the Acholi Quarter. A terrible place to work with not much hope for the future. After Susan started working with us, she was able to build a new home for herself and her three children. Before that, they were all living in a tiny room, perhaps 1.5 by 1.5 metres, with no electricity or running water. With our help she went back to school, improved her English and now helps us as a translator. Susan’s dream was always to become a fashion designer. Recently we bought her a sewing machine and are now paying a teacher so she can start making bags and clothes. In this way she will not only be making products for the western market, but also for her local market. All her three kids are in school and doing really well. It is hard to imagine, but if these women were not working with us, they most likely would still be in the stone quarry, or would be dead by now.

Stella Interview Digital Nomad Girls Online Social Entrepreneur

What advice do you have for other women who’d like to start a social enterprise?

I would recommend to just get started. Just give it a try and see how it goes. Talk to a lot of people and see if there’s a market. It helps a lot if you go to meetings with other startups and entrepreneurs so you can get ideas and follow a course, and just really talk to people.

I would definitely suggest to go out and sell the product at a market. Even if you don’t make a profit, you still get a lot of customer experience, and you can talk to your customers right there, which is really helpful for an online store. Have your own website and see if you can collaborate with bloggers or magazines.

The best marketing effort I’ve found is to partner up with bigger companies. I don’t have a large marketing budget, but what I’ve done is partner with a website called Discovered, they put more effort into marketing and have a higher margin.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your business?

It is really a challenge working with artisans who have no phone, no email address, had little education, are HIV positive, war-traumatized, cannot read and write, speak only Acholi and have very large families. So that is definitely my biggest challenge. But that is also the main point of my business. Making fashion that gives back. Part of our net profit will be used to finance our 22STARS projects, educating our designers and their children.

Back to travel and the nomad lifestyle. What is your favourite city/country/beach/mountain destination to work from? What is important to you when choosing your next destination?

I have a lot of favourite destinations, but Cape Town is definitely one of my favourites. Obviously I travel many times to Uganda and to Africa, because I need to go there for my business. The rest of the year I love to hang out with other Digital Nomads, and I have a nice group of girls who are also location independent who I see now and then in different places. I went on the Nomad Cruise twice already and will join again this year. I also joined Coboat and some other workation camps.

Do you have a funny/crazy nomad story you’d like to share with us?

Recently, I arrived in Marrakesh in the middle of the night and got picked up by two other digital nomads that I know from some FB communities. We drove to Agadir in the middle of the night, arrived around 4 am, just put a mattress on top of the land rover and some blankets, and then the three of us were sleeping there! Around 5 am we woke up because some Moroccan kids discovered that our spot was great to have an after party and played loud Moroccan house music. Luckily I fell back asleep again, but woke up around 9 am to the sound of tourists standing next to us sitting on a camel!

Stella Interview Digital Nomad Girls Online Social Entrepreneur

How do you connect with and meet new people while travelling?

Often through Facebook groups, but also by just bumping into people in bars. I also have a tinder profile which clearly states: no mating, no dating, and that I am into people who share a passion for music, travelling, love, adventure, sports & changing the world. So far I met great people through it. And since I use it more as an app to hang out with people, I would also take my male friends with me. I had already a couple of guys thanking me for bringing them along to my “tinder dates” because they became really good friends afterwards. Haha.

What item should every Digital Nomad Girl pack?

Swiss Army Knife. Babybell. Tabasco. Lipstick. Mascara. Perfume. Good luck 22STARS bracelets.

What advice would you give a girl friend who wanted to start out as a digital nomad?

Don’t prepare yourself, just go! And while falling off the cliff, you will learn how to fly. Quite often I hear excuses from people, “but what if this” and “I need to do first this”. All nonsense. Just get yourself on the plane, and see from there!

What are your future travel plans?

In October I will be back in Uganda, I will be visiting all the schools and checking how the kids are doing. November is still open, perhaps the USA or Europe. In December I will be on the Nomad Cruise for the third time, travelling to the Dominican Republic.

And last: Do you have a favourite inspirational (or cheesy) quote you’d like to share?

“What you do for yourself dies with you, what you do for others lives on forever.” I would recommend every aspiring entrepreneur to keep that in mind, and make it an incentive for starting their business. Always ask yourself whether you’re giving back with what you do and, if not, how you can make that happen. Also surround yourself with positive people that believe in you and uplift you. And try to not get distracted from your end goal, or let any setback bring you down.

You can find Stella on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter and visit her site at www.22stars.com.

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