One of my main concerns when I decided to become a digital nomad, apart from getting good medical attention, was keeping and expanding my client base. In this post, I want to share my experience on how to keep and even grow your customers as a digital nomad while you travel.
Will Living As A Digital Nomad Affect My Business?
I think this a legit question we all ask ourselves before venturing into a nomadic existence.
Specially if your business is highly localized, you may be afraid of loosing contact with your current customers, or unable to find new ones.
The truth is: today, it’s not enough to look for customers locally anymore. Particularly, if you offer information services, like design, development, consulting, or marketing…, there’s a growing number of competitors that can –and will- reach your target market. It’s not a matter of “if”, but of “when”.
On the long run, you cannot completely rely on a local market. You need to think globally.
From that point of view, becoming a digital nomad is in fact something good. It forces you to take action and start expanding your business opportunities.
At the same time, you should be careful to tighten the links with your previous customers to keep them on your side even when traveling abroad. Let’s see how.
Keeping Your Existing Customers
A happy customer will stay with you, no matter what.
When you can no longer rely on your physical availability, you need to make sure your customers will still love doing business with you.
Be Up-Front And Proactive
Let your customers know about your plans. Be honest and up-front with them. Also, assure them that you are still going to be there for them, and that they can still rely on you.
This openness and frankness alone can make your customers appreciate you or your company more.
Some of your customers are going to have doubts, specially regarding your availability if you move to a different timezone. You need to transmit them that they will still be able to contact you even in the distance.
Additionally, it’s a perfect occassion to let them know the best way to stay connected while you are traveling.
Cultural Differences Matter
Nowadays, there are so many ways of being connected to your customers, that physical meetings are becoming an anachronism. However, there’s a strong cultural aspect involved that you can’t ignore.
As an example, Spaniards tend to rely on physical meetings and networking a lot when doing business. Conversely, most Estonians I know are not that keen on face-to-face meetings, don’t enjoy smalltalk and instead like to keep it short and get back to work.
You must be well aware of these cultural differences. It will be probably harder to convince your Spanish customers that everything’s going to be the same than the Estonian ones.
Use The Tools You Have At Your Disposal
In my previous post, I talked about how being unreachable allows you to focus on deep work and helps you get more done faster. However, when traveling abroad, you will need to communicate with your customers, probably regularly.
While trying to empathize with your customers’ preferences, you should design a communication strategy that works for you. One that lets you focus on your work.
There are many tools out there available: Skype, Email, Facetime, WhatsApp, Slack, social media… Nonetheless, I would definitely try to avoid chat-like tools unless you really need to provide immediate support to your customers. They can easily lead you to a procrastination rabbit hole.
A solution that works for me is communicating via email for non-urgent tasks and setting a Facetime or Skype meeting if absolutely necessary.
You can even set an auto-responder to let the customer know that, despite the timezone difference, you have received the message and will answer back as soon as possible.
Whatever you do, it’s important that your customers feel that you are still there for them.
Hire A Local VA If You Can Afford It
If most of your customers are in a specific area, or you really need to offer them live support, you might consider hiring a VA. Someone who speaks their language and lives in a similar timezone.
At first, this might seem like an unnecessary expense. However, under some circumstances, it can be one of the best investments for your business.
You don’t need to look for them in specialized websites, spend a lot of money, or hire someone 4 or 8 hours a day. This VA might be someone you know, or even a friend. Someone who can spend 1-2 hours a day taking care of your customers.
My partner works with a friend for his Web Design Estonian company, Woloweb OÜ. She lives in Spain and can offer live support to his customers while we travel. Then, she adds some tasks for him at their team management tool or does a short meeting if necessary.
For a small amount of money, he has someone who can take care of the customers while letting him time to focus on the business.
As always, it all depends on your business. I am not hiring any VA currently, because my customers come from very different parts of the world and don’t require my immediate response.
Turn Your Travels Into An Advantage For Your Customers
Instead of presenting your digital nomad lifestyle as a drawback to your customers, try to showcase it as an advantage for them.
As an example, when I was about to become a digital nomad, I contacted my customers and let them know about my plans. I told them we were about to move to Riga and enter in contact with the local startup scene at TechHub Riga.
I sent them an email, describing how they could benefit from having a point of contact with the Baltic ecosystem, the kind of technological innovations that were blooming there, and the potential benefits of expanding their businesses thanks to my presence there.
They appreciated the gesture and that actually resulted not only in an improved relationship with my customers, but to many business opportunities for them.
Making New Customers
Making new customers as a digital nomad may seem like a daunting task. You move to a new city, probably knowing nothing about the country or the markets there, and have to face a completely new environment.
However, that move may actually result in new opportunities to grow, enter new, uncrowded markets, or find clients through channels you were previously neglecting.
It can actually end up being very benefitial for your business.
Develop A Strong Online Presence
First and foremost, if you haven’t invested a lot of energy in your online presence, now it’s the right time to do so.
As I mentioned before, today it’s not enough to make business locally. If you offer digital services, you need a digital presence.
The specific channel you choose depends on your business. If you are into video, obviously your audience is at YouTube or Vimeo.
If you are a solopreneur or freelancer, and this is my personal opinion, the best way to grow your customers is a blog.
Share your knowledge and experience and help others without expecting anything in return. Eventually, that will lead to customers looking for your services.
Social media might be a nice addition to that, but don’t rely solely on it. The same goes for online communities.
If you are, say, a designer, it’s ok to have your portfolio on Dribble, Pinterest, or Behance. However, don’t forget that you don’t control these communities, the algorithms they use to position your work, or how fair they are regarding the quality of designs vs the number of followers pushing mediocre works.
Don’t Be Everywhere, Be Only Where It Matters
While most people out there repeat this “You need to be everywhere” mantra, I personally thing that’s wrong. Trying to be everywhere can exhaust your energy and won’t necessarily bring you more customers.
You need to be where your customers are. Find out what works best for you, and keep on experimenting, but don’t try to be everywhere. In my case, as I am not primarily a designer or a video-blogger, it doesn’t make sense for me to have a profile on Pinterest or Youtube.
You need to make sure that potential customers can find you easily above all the noise.
This, of course, requires a lot of time and dedication. It won’t happen overnight.
Nevertheless, the result is well worth the time and effort.
Merge With The Local Startup Community
Most cities nowadays have local startup ecosystems. They are usually perfect places to look for new customers as a digital nomad.
Getting involved in the local tech scene will not only expand your professional horizons, but will bring you lots of contacts and job opportunities.
In my experience, different cities and different startup communities have different needs. While Madrid or London have no shortage of developers, in the Baltic countries (Latvia, Estonia…), they are a lot harder to find. That means opportunities for you if you land in the right place.
Even if you work comfortably at home, find a good startup hub or co-working center. As an example, being at TechHub Riga helped me find my first new customer soon after I opened my Estonian company as an e-Resident.
Do Some Local Networking
Apart from pure technological hubs and startup associations, try to merge with the local business community.
There are many tools at your disposal to do so, like social media or Meetup. Spend some time there and do some research about your new town.
Look for interesting groups where you can share your knowledge and genuinely add something valuable to the community. Get involved and let people know you are there and are an expert in your field.
Here, they key is separating the wheat from the chaff. Your time is limited, so be selective. Choose the groups that will add more to you at a personal or professional level while putting you in contact with the right people.
Attend Events -Or Maybe Not-
In my experience, events are not the right places to find customers as a digital nomad. However, this depends a lot on your business and the type of person you are.
Most people attending these events want to sell their own stuff, or are there to watch the speakers, or just because they need to “be there”. They are not that interested in networking with people like solopreneurs or freelancers.
As I am not the most extrovert person out there, your experience may of course greatly vary.
So my recommendation is: attend some events, but choose carefully the ones to go to. Try to make the most out of them, talk to people you don’t know, make connections… And see how that works for you. If it does, great! You found another way of getting new clients.
If not, consider if the time and money you need to invest are worth the results. Remember your goal, finding new ways of acquiring customers as a digital nomad.
Experiment And Seize Every Opportunity
You never know where a new business opportunity will come from. What you see in the picture above is just a small part of a giant board at the Tallinn Airport, Estonia. It was completely filled with business cards.
I thought it was cool and left mine -the orange and grey one with the laptop- there too. The picture doesn’t show you the whole board, but there would probably be thousands of business cards sticking there.
In spite of that, just some days ago, a guy called me from Estonia. He was looking for a developer and had found my card somehow at the Tallinn Airport.
Say, what are the chances of something like that happening? This little example shows that you never know in which crazy ways you’ll find customers as a digital nomad.
When you decide to become a wanderer, it may seem hard to keep in touch with your existing clients. Furthermore, specially if they were mostly local, acquiring new customers can look like a haunting task.
In this post, I talk about how keep and even grow your customers as a digital nomad. Also, I share some tips that have helped me maintain and even expand my client base.