What is a Digital Nomad Entrepreneur (Definition, Job, Lifestyle)?

A few years ago, I had a robotics start-up and was a digital nomad traveling and working out of start-up incubators around Europe and China. I met my share of entrepreneurs and digital nomads. Most of the people I met easily identified themselves as entrepreneurs and part of the start-up scene.

When it came to meeting digital nomads, I noticed a slight difference. These people also had a business they were trying to grow, but they often were from another country. There was a more significant focus on freelance projects as well as looking for activities to do in the city or a nearby country. The one thing in common with everyone was that we all were working very hard to make our business succeed. 

It got me thinking, what actually is a digital nomad entrepreneur, and what kinds of companies and lifestyles do they have? After researching as well as reflecting on the many entrepreneurs I’ve met, I’ve identified three types of digital nomad entrepreneurs:
1. The freelance entrepreneur
2. The start-up solo entrepreneur
3. The start-up entrepreneur with a team

Let’s take a look at these different types of entrepreneurs in the context of being a digital nomad and living the digital nomad lifestyle. We’ll start by first nailing down and reminding what the definitions are:

Definition of a Digital Nomad:

Digital nomads are a type of people who use telecommunications technologies to earn a living and, more generally, conduct their life in a nomadic manner. Such workers often work remotely from foreign countries, coffee shops, public libraries, co-working spaces, or recreational vehicles. It is usually accomplished through the use of devices that have wireless Internet capabilities such as smartphones or mobile hotspots. Source

Definition of an Entrepreneur:

An Entrepreneur is an individual who creates a new business, bearing most of the risks and enjoying most of the rewards. The entrepreneur is commonly seen as an innovator, a source of new ideas, goods, services, and business/or procedures.  Source

There is some controversy over whether the word entrepreneur is overdone or not. People I’ve met in the start-up community think that the concept of an entrepreneur is good; however, it is often over-glamorized. I’ve met successful serial entrepreneurs while working in incubators around Europe and leading one small incubator in Finland. What you find is that an entrepreneur or start-up doesn’t care what you call them. They have a business, and their sole purpose is to make that business successful, i.e., it becomes profitable.

Merging the two definitions brings you to a result that can be quite lengthy. However, I will try and summarize it in a short and crisp definition here.

In the context of being a digital nomad, you are most likely living in a different country from where you were born and raised. You also have the freedom to make all the decisions of where, when, and how to go. When it comes to continuing this lifestyle, working digitally with the laptop and a mobile connection, you must succeed at building your business. That’s where the entrepreneur concept comes in. It mergest the definition of an entrepreneur combined with the spirit of freedom to travel and live the way that you want to.

Stitching those ideas together, we come up with the definition of a Digital Nomad Entrepreneur :

“A person who is working to grow their business that is providing products and services to customers using digital communication tools, often while traveling from country to country.”

Why is This Important to Know

There are different levels of difficulty and complexity in owning and growing a business. Depending on the type of digital nomad that you are aiming to be or that you are currently in another country, these definitions and knowing the demands that it will take to be successful can significantly increase your planning and eventually your success in your business. It also gives you a chance to choose the direction that you want to take with your business.

The Different Types of Digital Nomad Entrepreneurs

In describing these types of digital nomad entrepreneurs, I will outline the benefits, the drawbacks, estimate the hours per week that a digital nomad will work and finally discuss some of the career path options that this type of entrepreneur can take. Keep in mind that all of these options are difficult to generalize. One person may do the complete opposite and be very successful too. My aim here is to try and get some guidelines to help with your planning and improvement of your business.

FREELANCE ENTREPRENEUR

So let’s take a look at the different types of entrepreneurs that digital nomads can be. The first is a freelance entrepreneur. The freelance entrepreneur has their own business doing freelance projects. The freelance work can be anything from writing articles and providing photographic images to graphic design artwork or creating software code. There are multiple platforms where a digital nomad freelance entrepreneur can post their skill sets and request projects as well as apply for specific projects advertised on the platform. A few of the more well-known ones are Fiverr and Upwork.

BENEFITS – the benefits of being a freelance entrepreneur is that there is no limit to the number of projects you can apply for and secure to do work on. You can choose as few or as many as you want to reach your budget.

DRAWBACKS – the drawbacks of this type of entrepreneurship is that projects can last days or weeks or months, and then they end. There is no guarantee that once the project is over that, there will be a continuing flow of work with which to receive money.

HOURS PER WEEK – the number of hours per week is entirely flexible. It depends on the projects.

CAREER PATH OPTIONS – the career path options for a freelance entrepreneur is difficult to describe because you’re talking about skills and skillsets. For instance, if after one or two years, you have worked in art design projects, you may be able to bid for higher-paying projects. But you are still in the situation that you are working on projects. If you decide to change your digital nomad lifestyle for one that is more home-based or location independent, you may have opportunities to then work for a company and start a career path from there. However, you also have the option to continue working on your own business.

START-UP SOLO ENTREPRENEUR

The second type of digital nomad entrepreneur is a start-up solo entrepreneur. This type of entrepreneur creates a company, sometimes creating a digital product like a software platform or a type of digital service and makes a product that can be sold. They then can create the marketing for the product, find customers to sell to, and find new-age ways to promote the product. Another kind of start-up entrepreneur can be a digital retail store that develops products and works out the logistics to deliver them to customers. These are just a few examples – there are thousands of different types of companies one can choose to establish.

One of the main differences between this type of entrepreneur and the freelance entrepreneur is simply that this type of company takes more time to develop and run and may have more complex contractual agreements with customers. Although the start-up entrepreneur may hire a team to help him run the business, many digital nomads prefer to work by themselves because it gives them more freedom and of course, more profit. We will get to the team type of start-up entrepreneur in the next section. 

BENEFITS – The benefits of a start-up entrepreneur who has his own company creating and selling digital products is that if the company succeeds, there’s a good chance that there is a lot of money to be paid and this makes it easier for the digital nomad’s lifestyle. It also means that the possibilities of doing much more adventure travel is possible.

DRAWBACKS – the drawbacks are that building a company can mean a lot of extra hours. When you hear stories about digital nomad entrepreneurs who are working 10 to 12 hours per day, this is a reality if you have customers and the business that you want to grow.

HOURS PER WEEK – the number of hours per week can vary, however as mentioned above, it is not uncommon that one needs to spend more hours per day to take care of the business

CAREER PATH OPTIONS – the career path options for a start-up entrepreneur are not many if the entrepreneur wants to continue with his or her business. If the digital nomad decides to work for another company, being a business owner and learning all the intricacies of marketing and sales and customer support can help a lot in finding a career path with an employer. After I decided to and my start-up, I had some new skills to offer my new employer, ones that I would not have gotten if I had not been an entrepreneur.

START-UP ENTREPRENEUR WITH TEAM

A start-up entrepreneur with the team is pretty much the same as described above, a start-up entrepreneur, except, of course, that the entrepreneur has decided to build a team to build the company faster. Having a team brings many more responsibilities into the mix of running a company. As a digital nomad living abroad, the entrepreneur can hire people in the same location or can opt for remote employees. Some of the additional responsibilities are people management, paying salaries, which brings more pressure when payday is due, and the responsibility of hiring and firing, which is often not easy.

It is still essential for you to be able to take days off and to live the digital nomad life as you have envisioned, but a team is depending on you and often at being available is extremely important for the team.

BENEFITS – The benefits, of course, are if the company is growing faster than there are more money and profit. An additional benefit is that sometimes it is much more fun to run a company with a group of people. The motivation to continue is strong with the team.

DRAWBACKS – people management and the skill of human resources management can be very stressful, especially when you have to let go, good people, if the business drives up and you cannot pay the salaries.

HOURS PER WEEK – the hours per week can be substantial as described above, 10 to 12 hours per day sometimes. However, one possibility to bring down the number of hours is that with the team you can always delegate specific responsibilities when you decide to take a short one to two-day holiday during the week.

CAREER PATH OPTIONS – the career path is the same as a start-up on a trip and is with the added skill sets of people and HR management. It can be valuable to an employer even if you are not taking an HR position.

Lifestyle Impacts

The lifestyle impact of these three different types of digital nomad entrepreneurs is mostly centered around the amount of free time the digital nomad has and in balancing working time to take advantage of benefits a digital nomad lifestyle makes possible.

Project-based work that the freelance entrepreneur does gives opportunities to take a day off or even to take several days off. It’s possible to vary the number of projects they undertake, loading more projects on specific days so that other days can stay free.

For the digital nomad entrepreneur who has started a business with a team, the flexibility of being able to take days off at the spur of the moment is not impossible. When I was a digital nomad, I could decide that the next few days were going to be focused on adventure travel and I went. However, this was not the norm, and I found that planning ahead and informing my customers and team that I was going to take some days off in advance was much more polite. When it comes to having a team, there are additional things to consider when taking days off to travel. In some ways, it depends on the team. If they are fine to continue working with you while you are moving and don’t mind calling later in the evenings to catch up, then it can work out quite efficiently.

Lifestyle is different for everyone, and the choices people make usually are very personal. Knowing the demands of the business are in, you can help you make decisions that significantly improve your planning and time to spend doing other activities and work.

Final Thoughts

Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Being a digital nomad is just taking that hard work and adding a possibility to do extensive travel and live in different countries. By taking an approach to understanding what the demands on your time that work will have as well are your ambition level of building and growing a business, you have a better chance to balance all the opportunities and attractive options there are as a digital nomad.

Life changes all the time, and there is no way to plan everything, especially your work. But it’s good to know what you are aiming for and to have a plan where you want to take it. So, figure out what type of entrepreneur you are, decide where you want to go with your work and match that to your digital nomad life. The choice is yours! Keep it going.

Michael Haralson

I'm the owner of Digital Nomad Explorer. I've traveled to over 50 countries and been an expat in Scotland, Finland, and China. I was a digital nomad while having my own robotics company and traveled throughout Europe and China working remotely. Currently, I'm location independent with a home base in Kirkkonummi, Finland.

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