This post was written by Tom Morkes, an author, publisher and all around instigator. He’s a West Point grad, Iraq War veteran, and for a while he even got paid to jump out of helicopters.
How to Build a Location Independent Business From Scratch
In September of 2013, I left the Army.
After spending over 5 years active duty, I was burned out and, frankly, a little bored. I knew there were other things I wanted to pursue with my life, so I knew the time had come for me to move on… I just didn’t know where.
The Dream of Location Independence
A couple years before I left the Army, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to travel around the world for one straight year. I didn’t know how or where, but I was committed, and I set the date. At the time, it seemed like a great way to unwind after a high-pressure few years. Almost an ‘Into the Wild’ type experience.
But there was one problem: I still needed money to eat, sleep, and buy plane tickets.
While I had a bit of savings, I wasn’t keen on blowing through it if I didn’t have to. So I started searching for a solution by asking the question: how can I sustain my travel through location independent work?
This one question has led me to writing and publishing my own work, building an artisanal publishing company, starting a gift economy-based consultation business, launching an in-person (and now online) business incubator program, and ultimately creating enough cash flow to sustain my travels (and then some); all of this from the comfort of my mobile office.
In the following sections, I’m going to share with you my strategies for building a location independent business from scratch.
For those of you wondering if location independence is possible, I hope this is the kick-in-the-rear you need to get started.
Step 1: Ask Good Questions
Notice the question I started with:
How can I sustain my travel through location independent work?
I’m not asking how I can make a million bucks – or even $30,000. I’m not asking how I can build a muse business or whatever that means. I’m not asking how I can impress my friends or family or be taken seriously by people with letters in front of their names.
Those questions elicit entirely different responses: answers that will solve those particular problems.
There are a dozen ways for me to make a million bucks, and the best ones (the most efficient and effective) don’t involve location independent travel.
But when I ask myself, How can I sustain my travel through location independent work?, I’m left with dozens of different options:
- I can write and sell my own books;
- I can publish others;
- I can lead a collaborative project with programmers, designers, etc. and ship it to market.
Note: I’m not design / tech / programming savvy, so I have to look to things I know (or kind of know), which for me is writing (barely).
The questions we ask dictate our answers, and our answers dictate our actions. So be careful what you ask, (and make sure it specifically addresses the real thing you care about, not what other people care about).
Step 2: Start Small and Fast
Once you’ve asked the right question, it’s time to put your answers to the test. For me, that meant I actually needed to start writing. More importantly: I needed to ship – to let my writing intersect with the marketplace.
So I built a blog in a day and started writing. And I wrote the day after that, and the day after that, and the day after that.
I wrote for hundreds of hours in my spare time (side-hustling nights and weekends) and wrote several guides and books. When I had a little over 100 subscribers, I decided to sell my first book to see if I could make money from my writing. But being relatively new, I felt uncomfortable charging, so I made the book “Pay What You Want”.
By the end of the month, I made my first $500 online.
It didn’t take long to realize if I doubled, tripled, or quintupled my audience, that I could have a legitimate money-making endeavor on my hands here…
Start small, start fast.
Step 2.1: Ignore the Internal Self-Doubt Propaganda
Step 2 sounds simple, but then our scared little brains try to reason with us, identifying everything that could possibly go wrong.
Of course, these “things that could go wrong” are usually irrelevant or imaginary factors like ‘but what will Joe Blow think?’, or ‘but what if I fail?’
So? Who cares what others think? And who cares if you fail?
As long as your actions don’t destroy other people’s lives, and your failures don’t destroy yours, then there’s nothing to worry about.
So the next time you catch yourself second guessing a course of action because of some fictional what if, that’s when it’s time to stop thinking and start shipping.
Bonus Technique: If you’re truly terrified, just ask yourself: what would Vin Diesel from Knockaround Guys do? Then do that.
Step 3: Keep Shipping
So you’ve written one book, or developed a plugin, or designed a premium website theme and made some money… what’s next?
The answer: the next book, the next plugin, the next theme, the next whatever it is to continue creating revenue for your travel (or other goal).
Since writing does not come naturally to me at all (I spend 6 – 12 hours on most blog posts… I know – brutal), I knew I couldn’t scale by continually writing new stuff. So I brainstormed things I might be able to do that wouldn’t be quite as time intensive as writing.
It also had to be something that could make money, (in particular: I wanted to model another business that was already cash flowing so that I knew it would work), and something I enjoyed, (otherwise I’d quit)… Oh, and it couldn’t require a degree or any other superficial acknowledgement of my proficiency in the subject.
I chose publishing.
I got a bunch of authors on board to create individual books, but the actual ship date wouldn’t be for a year at that point, (this was back in the fall of 2013); so I looked for ways I could build something faster.
I decided to try my hand at a collaborative business and arts journal, where great business education and beautiful art collide. The first issue of The Creative Entrepreneur launched in July 2014 and featured notables like Steven Pressfield, (Best-selling author of The War of Art), and our very own John Lee Dumas.
I only expected this to be a side passion project, but it’s been such a success that we’ve brought on 3 new full-time team members, (including two professional designers), to scale it into something that competes with the best magazines and business journals in the industry, (including a reboot and rebranding of the journal, which we’re now calling: Bootstrapped).
This is the beauty of constantly shipping: the more you create and ship, the more opportunity you have for something to become a blow-up success.
There will be failures along the way, (I skipped over mine here, but they’re real and they sucked), but that shouldn’t deter you from constantly testing and shipping.
When in doubt, go back to Step 2.1.
Step 4: Systematize the Things that Make Money
If you’ve been following John and EntrepreneurOnFire for a while, then I’m beating a dead horse by talking about systematizing your business. Because of properly designed systems and processes, John and Kate were able to completely unplug from EntrepreneurOnFire to go explore Europe. And while they was traveling, their business continued to cash flow and grow.
Systems are essential to moving from one-man-side-hustling-wolf-pack to business owner, (and that’s what we all want to be, right?)
A quick warning for those just starting out:
For the new entrepreneur, you don’t know what you don’t know. So don’t worry about the perfect system, process, or even the perfect tool for the job… at first. Just ship until something hits, then build a system around it to reengineer the success.
Trust me when I say: early adopters care more about the energy and ideas you bring to the table than something polished and commercialized. So start and ship, even if it’s rough around the edges, and even if you have to hack the solution together.
If the idea resonates, people will pay you for it.
Step 5: Enjoy Experiencing the World
At the end of the day, that’s what location independence is all about: enjoying the experience of exploring this beautiful world that is, quite literally, at our fingertips.
Just to be clear: I work about 10-12 hours a day on average, 7 days a week. But there are a couple things to point out here:
First, because I wake up early, I still have plenty of time in the day to explore and have fun.
Second: I legitimately enjoy what I do. This is important: if you don’t love what you do, you’re more likely to quit when things get tough (and they will get tough).
So if you decide to go the location independent business route, don’t ever forget step 5 .
Oh, and if you’re just starting out, (or need a motivational jolt), check out the next issue of Bootstrapped (formerly The Creative Entrepreneur), where we’ll be focusing on the theme of ‘Starting from Scratch.’
We’re launching the second issue (physical and digital) on July 1st and we’d love to have you be a part of our community!
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. I love connecting with like-minded readers.
Good luck and keep creating.
Tom Morkes is an author, publisher and all around instigator. He’s a West Point grad, Iraq War veteran, and for a while he even got paid to jump out of helicopters. Check out his newest publication: Bootstrapped – a business and arts journal for disruptive innovators.