Harrison Tsai is a 29 year-old WordPress web designer from Hawaii, who spent the last 5 years traveling to over 45 different countries around the world as a digital nomad.
He went from studying at an Ivy League school to working a regular 9-to-5 job at a huge American corporation, to eventually quitting it all to become a digital nomad to do what he really wanted to do – travel and surf.
What was his first step?..
Leaving his Ivy League degree behind.
How a Hobby Can Become Your Ticket to Digital Nomad Lifestyle
Right after graduating high school, Harrison managed to get into Cornell University, where he took up meteorology studies to become a TV weatherman. After a few years of studies, he realized that it wasn’t really the path he wanted to take, and so he got himself into the fashion industry in New York City as a graphic designer for two different menswear labels.
However, working there was exhausting and commuting took up a few hours everyday, so he left the industry a year later. Then he took up another 9-to-5 job at Target Headquarters in Minneapolis, but it didn’t last long either:
“The turning point of when I decided to become a nomad was when I took on a Sourcing Business Analyst corporate office job at Target HQ in Minneapolis, which only lasted 5 months. I was miserable at that job and I knew then that I didn’t want to deal with office politics and just wanted to figure out how I could travel and surf while I made money online. This all happened back in 2012.”
Once he made the decision to stop working regular jobs, Harrison joined an online group of location-independent individuals to figure out how to become a digital nomad himself. Soon after he realized that his long-time hobby, which was creating websites with WordPress, could actually become a profitable remote business.
The Only Way to Get Your First Customer is By Getting Yourself Out There
When he knew what he wanted to do, he took up an online class on how to earn money by creating websites and doing search engine optimization (SEO). After that, he started offering his services to friends and family, so he could create an online portfolio to showcase his skills to his potential clients.
Even though he was doing it at zero profit, he said that it was exactly what he needed to get started: “When you start out, ask your friends if they need free help on their websites. Just build small websites so you can have 2 or more examples. This way you can both help your friends and develop your skills. The important thing to remember is to not have this ‘free’ mindset forever. Your goal at the end is to be paid for what you are worth, so you can charge accordingly as you accumulate more skills and experience.”
Once Harrison had his portfolio set up, he realized that he needed to get himself out there in order to get clients; this was exactly how Harrison acquired his first two clients as a web designer – at a local small business networking event in Maui. The first one was a baby-sitting business which needed someone to develop their website as a platform for tourists and locals to find baby equipment; and the second one – a local web design agency looking to outsource some of their work to a freelance web developer.
In retrospect, these two clients were an essential part of Harrison’s digital nomad journey, because they helped him develop his skills, grow his portfolio and, most importantly, acquire more clients via word of mouth.
And these days, that is exactly how Harrison finds all of his customers: “I get work consistently from other clients who simply refer me to their other friends. Clients sign on easily because of ‘trust’ – simple as that. It’s easier to acquire clients if they know you”.
He also keeps a good habit of sending thank you emails to clients after a project is done, where he puts a referral promo code for his clients to pass on to their friends. While the discount can be as small as $50 to $100, he says that it is a great incentive for his future clients.
There are thousands of freelance web developers, making the competition especially fierce. However, Harrison doesn’t seem to be worried about it, because he’s just out there being himself – which is what sets him apart. This is what he believes web developers need to ‘sell’ to get good business:
“All the clients hire me for who I am personality-wise as well as if I’m a fit for their project “design” wise. People need to sell themselves as to why they would be a good fit. It’s okay to take rejections, because there will always be someone out there that will need your type of design.”
Living the Life of Your Dreams Starts With a Plan
One of the main reasons why Harrison wanted to become a digital nomad is because he gets to set up his own working schedule and environment. Being location independent, he only spends an average of 3 hours working per day, with 9 hours max on the occasional busy days in Hawaii, a place where he could just leave his desk to surf and snorkel, whenever he wanted.
He said deciding to stay in Hawaii was the right choice for him, as it taught him how to balance his work/play ratio better: “It’s okay to give yourself a day off and step away from the laptop. Having a morning routine and getting a proper night’s sleep is also super important. A planned structure still needs to be in place so that freelance work gets done.”
When I asked Harrison how he can stay focused in a beautiful place like Hawaii or anywhere else he travels to, he told me he makes sure he gets his work done by creating a list of urgent and important things to do, such as getting his writing work done first in the morning, then checking emails after. “I find checking emails to be a distraction, which can lead to loss time. I even take it to the extreme and block websites that would lead me adrift like Youtube.”
If you’re a web designer thinking to go remote, here’s what Harrison suggests: “What you need to do is write out exactly the lifestyle you want. Figuring that out will allow you to get a game plan of what to do next. Too many times, people will hate their job, but not be sure of what to do next. That fear is what holds many people back from leaving their job to pursue what they like. Don’t feel the need to perfect your decisions. Just GO for it. That’s what I did.”
Interested in Following Harrison’s Footsteps?
Check out these online courses to learn how to grow a successful web design business, just like Harrison:
- How to Build a Web Design Business at Home;
- Web Design for Beginners;
- Ultimate Web Design and Developer Course.