My Journey to Becoming a “Remoter”
I have the unusual situation of being able to live anywhere in the world.
It wasn’t easy to become a “Remoter” – it took planning, preparation, and vision.
In this article, I’ll share the steps I took to gain the flexibility of living anywhere in the world, and my experience after living 2 years in Colombia with my family.
Preparing to Become a Remoter
The first step was having the vision to live anywhere in the world. Everything starts with “intention”, and believe it or not, the first and most important step was knowing that this was the direction I wanted to move in.
It started with a vision board. The vision board made it clear that it was time to move in a different direction, one with more ocean, time for family, and spirituality. And yes, money and success as well.
Moving to the Clouds
A year before we considered sending everyone to work remotely, we started using cloud apps. We started using a combination of these tools:
- Google Apps for Business: All of our company emails are hosted on Google Apps for Business
- Google Drive: All of our docs are hosted on the cloud. This gives us incredible flexibility for collaboration on documents
- Dropbox: All images, infographics, AI files, and any other files that are not text docs or spreadsheets are hosted on a company dropbox account
- Trello: Before creating our own in-house project management team, we used Trello boards to manage pending projects
- MindMeister: This was used to brainstorm projects, manage workflows, and create new processes and procedures
- Visual.ly: Fabulous tool to create visuals and brainstorm layouts of landing pages, etc
- Podio: Combined with Trello, Podio allowed us to track the process of content marketing, recruiting, client management, and more
- Streak: This Chrome extension for Gmail was fundamental in helping to organize our inbox for outreach processes before we created our own in-house blogger outreach app
- Skype: Skype is used for communication between individuals and teams. We have group skype chats for when we need to communicate as a team, and use Skype screen shares for training purposes.
- Quickbooks Online: Enables collaboration between us and our US based accountants
These tools formed the foundation of a cloud collaboration system that enabled all of our team members to work effectively from home.
Managing the Details
Next we had to address those pesky physical things such as mail, checks, and other tasks that required a physical presence. We opened a PO Box nearby, and changed all of our business and personal mail to be sent there. We then hired a trusted family member to go to the mail box every week, deposit any checks that came in, and scan and email a copy of all of the mail received.
Next, we rented out our home and moved everything to storage, identifying only the essentials – in the end, these turned out to be only clothes and electronics. All we took with us when we moved abroad where our computers, TV’s, and clothes. The rest turned out not to be necessary.
Moving overseas required a few different stages in terms of phones and communication. We set up a local Vonage line with a Los Angeles number that we could take with us wherever we lived. Then, we set up an account with TollFreeForwarding, a former client of ours, to redirect our company and any other local phones to the Vonage line.
Next, we switched our cell phones to MetroPCS, who has good international calling plans that are relatively inexpensive. For $60/month, we get unlimited data, calls, and 200 international minutes every month – more than enough. When calls come in to our cell phones, we normally let people know that we’ll call back shortly, which we do from the Vonage line.
Finally, when we actually moved to South America, we purchased a 2nd phone to use locally, while keeping the international cell phone. It’s irritating to carry around 2 phones, but essential to be able to have a local SIM card while receiving calls from our U.S. based clients.
Our first destination was Colombia. We moved to Cartagena, where we enrolled the kids in a local, bilingual private school. They didn’t understand a single word of Spanish, so their first 3 months were hard. Not surprisingly, within 3 months they were able to understand Spanish, and within 6 months they were fluent in Spanish. Our youngest son lost the ability to speak English at this point, although he understood it perfectly. It’s taken 2 years for him to regain both languages. Our oldest daughter, 4 at the time that we moved, was fully bilingual and able to switch from English to Spanish and back within 6 months.
I have to admit we made a lot of rookie mistakes during this first move. The first was renting an unfurnished place, requiring us to buy all the furniture, appliances, and household items. It wasn’t long until we realized that we could’ve easily rented a furnished place and saved considerably in terms of time, and stress.
Establishing an Office Abroad
Hiring people to work with us was also difficult, as you have to build a network of trust. It took a good year until we had a strong, trusted staff to work with. We got lucky because we were able to hire someone that we knew to help us set up and manage the office. She helped facilitate so much of the process, from helping to find a local accountant, to dealing with the local banks, and more. I believe this is the single most important step – hiring a local to help “ease” you into the culture and navigate the pesky nuances.
Living and Working in Colombia
We are 2 years into our first “Remoters” experience in Cartagena, Colombia. We have built a strong, trusted team of designers, programmers, and project managers in Colombia – all working from home. Our children have learned to speak Spanish, dance salsa, and have been deeply changed by experiencing a different culture and way of life. Both my husband and I have improved our health and fitness considerably, as the cost of these in Colombia is considerably less. I lost 20 lbs in my first year and established strong eating and exercise habits. And we have been able to slow down a little and enjoy a slower, more social, less hectic way of life. All in all, incredible gains for just 2 years abroad.
The company has grown again, going from a small team to having a staff of over 20 people located in 3 different countries. Removing the overhead of a local office has also helped to streamline costs and give us more latitude for growth.
A wanderluster at heart, I’m starting to wonder…what’s next? Stay? Go? Where? We have built a life in Colombia, with a network of people that we absolutely love. But Cartagena is a tiny city with even tinier opportunities. At some point it’ll be inevitable for that question to become impossible to ignore. Back to LA? Over to Europe? We’ll be more skilled the next time around, more “lean”, with a few more notches under our belt. Who knows??!