When you do a Google search, it appears like starting an online business is a walk in the park but for over 10 years of being a digital nomad and an online entrepreneur, I didn’t build my brand overnight. In this post, I will share some unfortunate truths for you to know what lies ahead if you wish to go on your own.
Reader Mail: Trisha, I appreciate you! I appreciate all the help you give to digital nomads. Thank you for all the free and honest guides! I am not a digital nomad yet but I am thinking to go on my own. I am very scared!
From what I understand, you’ve been a digital nomad for over 10 years so I want to ask what are the struggles and hardships that you faced? I know I should look at this in a positive light but I just want to know what I am getting into.
Your insight will really help me decide. I just got laid off from my company. I am very good at what I do but I do not have the confidence to go on my own. Thank you so much for being you!
– Hellen Dillow, USA
I am so glad you asked this question because not a lot of people understand that starting an online business is hard. I always tell people that if you’re the type who easily gives up, this might not be the best path for you.
I do believe that everyone can do it and that “giving up” is just a state of mind. I have a strong feeling that we humans are fit for anything, especially when it comes to our survival.
I highly encourage you to go through it no matter how hard it is because in the end, you will get to work for yourself and run your own business wherever you are in the world.
Good luck, Helen – I really wish you all the best! If there’s anything I can help you with, please send me a message. I am excited for your journey!
The global pandemic definitely encouraged everyone in starting an online business. These online businesses that I am talking about here can be anything but the point of this article is going your own way.
It is particularly popular to those who have been fired or cut off during COVID as many companies had to let go of employees. Just in the USA, about 30 million positions were shed because of the Coronavirus.
If you are one of them, I am sure you thought about starting an online business but somehow don’t have an idea of how to start. I won’t be discussing that here since there are a lot of resources on the Internet on how to start an online business.
I also want to highlight the effects of social media when starting an online business. We look at everyone and they seemed to have everything figured out. It appears that everything is super easy but that’s not the case.
In this post, I’d rather share with you the struggles and the unfortunate truths that not a lot of people talk about.
Can I start an online business?
The most common question I receive in this blog: can anyone just start an online business? Absolutely! The Internet allows us to work from anywhere we want, hence the growth of digital nomads traveling around the globe with their laptops.
If you are the type who does not like to travel and simply just work from home, that would work, too. You don’t have to be a digital nomad in order to have a successful online business.
See also: How to create a professional website on your own
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What types of online businesses can I start?
Anything, really! It depends on your skills and what you want to sell. It can be a variety of physical products like clothing, gadgets, and skincare products. Even lawyers and doctors go on private practice and start working for themselves!
If you are in digital media, this is definitely easier as everything is delivered online. You don’t have to be physically present in order to get the job done.
For example, if you’re a graphic designer or a web developer, you can simply sell your services on online job websites.
A little bit about me: how I started my online business
For most of you, I am just a travel blogger and have no idea how I make a living. You just see me visiting places and publishing photos/videos on Instagram. Then what?
The general impression for travel bloggers is that we travel for free which makes us create content from anywhere in the world but not many think there is a myriad of income streams in the content creation industry.
The initial intent of starting a travel blog (or whatever blog for that matter) is to share experiences, write guides, and share photos online but along the way, when the readers and follower grows, we realized there is a potential of converting these followers to a loyal, paying customer.
From starting at sharing my personal travel experiences on my blog without pay, I’ve been hired as a destination marketing consultant where I work with tourism boards on how to better their online presence.
Recommended: How to become a digital nomad with no experience
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I also did a lot of relocation consultancy where I help digital nomads and expats decide where to live. These are all from my travel expertise and from staying in one place for a long time.
I realized that in order for me to give meaningful advice, I need to experience the place 100% and not just stay for 3 days to a week.
Since this blog did not give me those income streams at the beginning, I started working online as a translator and virtual assistant. A girl needs to eat. If the blog wasn’t giving me money (yet), I had to find solutions on how to provide for myself.
I will discuss more about this later on but if you want to know how I started, these 2 articles will help:
Do I need to be a blogger to start an online business?
The word “blogger” is incorporated into Influencing or Instagramming but this isn’t the case. You may need to be a blogger to start your online business because this is where you show your customers who you are.
The more you open up and share your expertise with the world (FOR FREE), the more customers you will get. For example, if you are a graphic designer, you can create blogs like “How to easily use Canva for graphic design.”
Read: 17 best websites to find remote jobs
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Any free advice that you can give, you post that on your blog. This will make clients trust that you know what you are doing. It also helps your presence on Google as many people search for this type of free tutorial.
You only need to blog if you are opening a website for your online business. Many individual business owners heavily rely on micro-blogging on Instagram and Facebook.
I have to be honest with you though – I’ve seen very little return on investment when I put all my time on social media. You even have to spend more on ads as opposed to blogging where Google will make your website visible on the web without costs.
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Starting an online business: the unfortunate truths we don’t talk about
It’s scary and you will doubt yourself. A lot.
Starting an online business is scary because we’re always thinking about the negative outcomes first. What if I fail? What if it doesn’t work? What if people won’t like it?
There will be a lot of what-ifs and they are pretty normal. If you are not thinking about the negative outcomes, then you won’t succeed. Negative thinking is what challenges us and challenges make us become better in our craft.
But please don’t overwhelm yourself by only thinking about the negative. There should be balance. Think about the positive things too and manifest them in your daily actions in life without ignoring or shutting off the negative.
Remember, you are against yourself here so nobody else can solve that way of thinking but you. Being scared and doubting yourself will not only occur in the beginning. It will be consistent.
Believe me, I have been doing this for 10 years but I still feel scared about taking on new projects and doubt myself a lot if I will be able to complete them.
Let fear and doubt sit with you on the passenger seat on this road trip but do not let them dictate the directions or the stopovers. This is your journey and there is no one else who will decide but you.
You will compare yourself to competitors
“Why the hell will I start this online business if there are a lot of other people who are already doing this?!”
Comparing yourself to others is super normal especially if you haven’t found your branding and voice on the internet yet. Competitors discourage us because we always compare our page 1 to their page 100.
Remember that everyone started at something. People did not build their online businesses overnight. But think about how many graphic designers, web developers, cake vendors are there? A LOT! You won’t be able to keep track of competitors, I promise you!
The trick that I always tell my private consulting clients is that you need to believe that what you are doing is important and that it matters. This belief has saved me all throughout these years when I compare myself to others.
You will also feel that you are copying your competitors’ work but no one is original on the Internet. Everyone’s doing the same exact thing because that’s what works for consumers.
Look at all the travel influencers on Instagram you are following – same format, same editing, same content, same buzzwords. There is no one person who is original online so keep that in mind.
Taking a look at what others are doing actually educates you on the effective ways of managing your business. We have this obsession with being unique and original but everything you see on the Internet has a format because that’s what people consume.
You will spend long hours on the computer
This does not end. I still work 16 hour days up until today even if you think that my business is already successful. The Internet is a Universe of never-ending processing. It is faster than humans and all we do is keep up.
When I was starting an online business, I read a lot about these 4-hour workweeks but I found that not to be true. There is no such thing as working a few hours because you are always in the race of making your online business put its name out there.
You may be vacationing and working in Mexico as a digital nomad but the truth is, all that vacation time will be spent on sitting down with the computer.
But the good thing is you have control of your time. I usually split my working hours and do stuff in between. My days are very long and I am already used to that life but I finally found the work-life balance that works for me.
I stop working every four hours to go to the beach, go on a hike, run with my dogs, do the groceries, etc. This is subjective and personal but mind you, once you start your business, you will have a hard time staying away from the computer so you need to impose that on yourself.
You need to keep up with digital trends
You might see me very equipped on the Internet but I still can’t keep up! Google search trends are constantly changing. Just this year, there were already two Google updates that I haven’t even figured out.
There are many layers when it comes to digital trends but the most common for online business owners is social media. Well, those too, are changing every month.
You don’t realize that because you’re only posting on Instagram thinking that your branding message is sent out there. But I do know you realize that even if you have 2,000 followers, your post only reaches 1% of them.
It’s because social media is used by many businesses so the metrics are jagged. You need to pay for ads even if you already have followers because they do not see your posts.
Facebook and Instagram control our businesses and we really can’t do anything about it because these are the platforms that our consumers use.
I won’t go into details about social media marketing because this post will never end if I do. My point is, it is very tiring to keep up with digital trends but you need to keep up.
You will probably not earn anything in the first year
You will be lucky to get 1-2 customers in your first year but this time is all about spending. You need to create a professional website, pay for domains, pay for web designers – this is your investment period.
It’s very amusing how many articles on the Internet lure us that we can earn up to $10,000 USD per month but this amount is equivalent to long hours on the computer and a lot of hard work.
The income in being a digital nomad is very inconsistent. You can earn $1,000 USD today and $0 USD the next month. It depends on how many projects you take and how long you complete them.
While I consider this as one of the cons of starting an online business, I also greatly consider it as a pro since I can decide how many hours I will work per month by setting a target salary.
You will not trust other people to help you with your business
Here’s the thing: when you start an online business, you are on your own. Unless you have savings to pay for 1-2 employees to help you start, you will do all the work by yourself.
By doing work by yourself, you will develop dynamics and systems that work for you, and this, honestly can backfire. Your business is your baby and hiring employees will be difficult since you will be overprotective of your business.
Believe me, I’ve hired over 50 people in the 10 years that I am a digital nomad and each time, they don’t even last a year because I am looking for someone meticulous and is more organized than I am. I always found something wrong with the people I am hiring.
Again, your business is your baby so it is pretty normal to micro-manage. It took me a lot of years to understand that as the business grew, I needed help and that I should trust that the people I hire will be capable of doing the right thing.
Lastly, hiring the right people seems to be very expensive than the usual salary so bear in mind that creating a great team is also an investment.
Starting an online business is for the brave and the tenacious
No online business succeeds overnight – you know that. What I see in my digital nomad clients is how easily they give up when they don’t see results within 6 months.
Let’s be real since you already know that you will hardly earn anything in the first year – going your own way is hard and you can’t just bail when things go hard.
You need to believe in what you do and that it will take off, otherwise, you will be discouraged with the lack of income. It is an investment that you have to pull through.
Always remember, fortune favors the brave. And bravery comes from perseverance and believing in what you do.
Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She’d like to believe she’s not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.