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The digital nomad’s guide to online consulting — Part 2

Image Credit: My father, Chintaman Rudra

Continued from Part 1 The Digital Nomad’s Guide to Online Consulting — Part 1 | by Swati Pitre | Analyst’s corner | Feb, 2021 | Medium

Strategy/Operations

When it comes to having a strategy, plan or direction for your online set-up, it certainly needs to be given careful thought. Aspects such as your core value proposition, key strengths and offerings, target customers, advertising channels and marketing plans have to be reasonably clear. Whether one is from a management background, and has experience in these roles or not, some of the basic aspects on “strategy” need to be thought over. It may even be that a small paragraph explaining your efforts providing value and services to your clients is necessary.

When it comes to operations, it basically resolves around every transactional aspect of your business: how you timesheet, bill your customers, handle collections, seek customer feedback, communicate with your stakeholders on regular business, handle your own faults, ensure the quality of your work, convert money from one currency into another currency, pay taxes, and practically every other aspect of your day to day work once you bag a new piece of work. Make sure you have SOPs(standard operating procedures), either written down or as a mental checklist. Basically, continue doing what works and seek to change and improve or automate if something needs to be fixed. For my online art shop, after going through several blogs and success stories, I wrote a “policy” document that basically reflected my operational framework — a guide on how I execute my orders, what payment modes I accept, how I handle shipments, how I adhere to quality and what kinds of discounts are available. These things helped me clarify my operational procedures and also gave my buyers an idea of what goes into executing an order, helping to establish faith in their minds before they would proceed to purchase.

Finances — employment vs contracting vs self-employed modifying life styles

Of all of the topics detailed here, I bet this one is the most subjective and at the same time an extremely crucial aspect to consider. It can be absolutely overwhelming, exciting, intriguing, risk prone and fulfilling.

Having worked in employment, as a contractor and as the founder of a small consulting establishment, I have studied the pros and cons of each. What you go for is what suits you best and it may also vary depending upon your life conditions. The path I traversed was more “adaptive” or “change driven”, wherein I had some vision of the future and at the same time I was open to try out new ideas.

While steady finances are stronger with full-time employment, it might just be an illusion when you try and get an insight into the world of contracting wherein you see that you can potentially get fabulously higher per day or hourly contracting rates. One can easily make up for the benefits one received in employment via just possessing a higher contracting rate.

Whereas contracting (particularly longer-term contracts) stands somewhere in between full-time employment and independent /start-up consulting, please note that it is a much more widely used option in western countries. In India, it is still an establishing thing and not that widely accepted or seen. Go for it if you think it will work for you, just don’t forget to prepare by thinking of modifying your lifestyle, expenses, needs and financial provisions to work with it though.

Competitors/benchmarking

In an ideal world, one would just create an online shop or profile or gallery and get going with sales. This is far from reality though and the competition online is high. So, when it comes to selling any products or services online, you to know your competition and benchmark yourself against them. It is not a one-time task, but an ongoing one wherein you have to see how others with similar products or skills are going across the globe. You need to know what kinds of sales they’ve made, what their pricing was across that time, the look of their shop or profile, how long they have been in business, and what kind of customer feedback they’ve received. It is always helpful to study this and keep the findings in the back of your mind, so that you are aware of the market that you’re getting into.

On another note, one also needs to keep in mind that this is just benchmarking; you can always innovate and sell something in a completely different way.

Online forums, blogs, groups, collaborations, support

With the advent of technology and the digital era, you have all the help and support you need at the tip of your fingertips. All you need to do is find it. Whenever you face a question or need help, there are thousands of people across the globe who have already faced something like it before and may have a solution to the problem. They may have some do’s and don’ts to share, and some best practices. Collaboration is the way forward for your business. In a collaborative world, people help each other even though they are in the same business, in a healthy way, enabling you to do your best. Share their story and message with all, including tips on money, pricing, lifestyle changes, writing item specs, taking product photographs and so forth. Whether you are on Etsy selling products, on Amazon selling items or on Upwork selling services, there are always support groups and blogs, and you can find helpful and interesting people there who have made their way to success. I would recommend the Etsy blog “quit your day job” wherein I found so many people and their inspiring insights. Thanks to all of them.

Receiving payments

You’re all set up and it’s time to make some money. How do you go about it? What are all the possible ways in which you can receive funds? Are there any do’s and don’ts?

While the options are many, some of the most popular include:

· PayPal transfer

· Wire transfer

· Intra country funds transfer through online banking

· “Get Paid” features within Upwork (or any such online work platforms) that initiate funds to pre-defined local bank accounts

The mode of payment also depends on the kind of work you are doing, who your client is and what their preferences are. Wire transfer for international payments is an old and proven method.

Over the time procedures have become simplified, most are online and have very easy to understand steps.

Online platforms such as Upwork typically accumulate the earnings over some period and then we can just click “Get Paid” and select the linked local account for transfer of the funds.

All of the methods above charge certain amount for transferring the funds seamlessly across the globe.

You can also schedule payments as monthly, yearly or transactional in several online platforms. Needless to say that conversion to home currency is as per the current trading exchange rate on the exact day when the transaction happens.

Online shops such as fineartamerica.com, etsy.com, ebay.com etc. heavily rely on options such as PayPal as it is a trusted framework for buyers as well as sellers. All you need is your PayPal account setup as it links to your valid email id and your bank and card details. Again you can “withdraw” from your PayPal account balance into your configured bank account.

In the end you need to figure out which payment option works for you and your buyers, set it all up meticulously and then you are done.

All you have to do now is to strive to earn ! :-)

Treating yourself, rewards, celebrations

Well, you’ve made it, you’re your own boss. And, as they say, it can be lonely at the top.

How about rewards?

How about celebrations?

How about events such as birthdays and celebrating your success?

How about a drink with your colleagues?

Especially if you have worked in a full-time job before, you might be used to enjoying these rewarding moments. And then, in order to chase your dream, you become a solopreneur without the chance to enjoy such things. There are no team birthdays, organizational events or celebrations here. It is you who makes events happen proactively. How do you go about it? Here are some thoughts on how to reward yourself.

Don’t get disheartened, you just need to carve out some time for your own rewards. Take time out to meet your partners, friends and colleagues more proactively as there is no given opportunity for you to do so otherwise.

Chances are that while working remotely, you may completely forget about the prime need to meet up and connect with people. So you will need to take time out regularly to keep your morale high and feel positively supported.

And then I guess no matter how well you are doing at work, there may be some high tides and some low tides and those should not affect your mood to enjoy the rewards. The rewards don’t have to be expensive; just do what works for you and you will get good mileage for your next run. I read about this and learned a lot from inspiring blogposts such as the Etsy success blog.

Lastly, you may also find that in the virtual world, there are several support teams or groups that you can connect with; you just need to find the ones that fit your bill best.

Loneliness, isolation

So, you feel lonely? So do I. Loneliness is certainly common and natural, especially when one starts off on their own.

I think loneliness feels worse if you have previously worked in larger organizations. You have been part of a large group of people and a system working towards the common mission of an organization. It has a set structure and a set security that provides comfort. It’s a comfort of people being around, even though you may or may not be in sync with them. Human beings are so conditioned to be with people, and the flip side is the fear of being lonely.

While accepting that this loneliness is completely valid, the fact is that loneliness is an illusion!

To an extent, people, despite being together, may be lonely in their own ways. If you have set a clear mission, you will learn to channel your energy on the positive aspects of being alone, and not look at the flip side of being lonely.

Eventually, you will also start collaborating with like-minded people through various associations including partnerships, co-workers of similar interests, community forums, clients, vendors and every person you come in contact with as part of your work. There the illusion disappears. You feel you are one with the world.

Human beings at the core of their being are very similar. They all have a need to converse, excel, get recognized, and earn. They all have a need to make friends, be friends, love, care and contribute to a cause.

As they say, there is a fine line between loneliness and being alone. Yes ‘lonely’ tends to be on the somewhat sad side whereas ‘aloneness’ is the celebration of being yourself.

In my view, here are some feel good thoughts and proven ways to conquer loneliness:

· Learn a new skill or develop a hobby or interest

· Keep busy and engaged in things that you like

· Stay positive. Meet and talk to people who inspire you, and possibly inspire them too

· Meditate and use “solo” time for finding your deeper self

· Channel your thoughts with positive and re-enforcing beliefs

· Take risks and beat your own vulnerabilities

I hope you will be able beat the blues around these isolation aspects and strive towards a positive future.

Feedback

It is customer success stories that matter. Stories that matter and help us feel proud and improve!

It is feedback that matters.

It is also a feedback score that matters.

What you give is what you get. The same goes for feedback, and in most of the cases it works well if you do well. Feedback is crucial, especially in an online marketplace. It is extremely important as your future clients DO read existing feedback and scores.

If you receive genuine improvement feedback, it is always good to get it and use it for the betterment of your service, products, pricing, communication, etc.

People are unpredictable at times and despite everything being done correctly, you may just receive completely inscrutable or negative reactions. You don’t have to get too emotional about the feedback in these cases. You have every right to discuss it with the client and see if you can get it corrected.

In online platforms, there is even an option to give refunds to ‘unhappy’ customers and reset your feedback. It is also OK to leave it there as it is sometimes.

In one-off cases, you may want to file a dispute, and many online platforms may have a dispute resolution team to help you out. The dispute team is seasoned at handling various cases and can help people arrive at an agreeable theme or financial resolutions.

The key is to take feedback in your stride and work continually on improving yourself.

The future from here…

The future is something that the present becomes. Your future evolves. It compels us to take action and motivates us. It creates energy, and, although it is hard to say how your future will go from here, there is certainly a pattern. People all across the globe are coming together and working together and the world is a global village now. Thanks to the internet and the digital revolution, the ecommerce industry is also blurring the boundaries of trade.

Every country will have some talent to offer other countries; demand and supply will continue to determine the pricing. Prices or rates will keep fluctuating and find their natural balance. Online buying and selling itself has taken on so much of the marketplace, spawning off into many new jobs, such as those related to data science, machine learning and analytics.

People will be more accepting of various cultures and will become more connected to each other via various media. Seeing the bright side of it and maximizing the benefits, I think the future is also directed towards an economy less driven by full time employment and more towards contracting, impermanence, independent ventures, start-ups, and self-employment.

Employment related job risks, insecurities, and the certain monotony of it have been proven now, as has the urge to break from it, and to pursue individual passions.

All this is with the assumption and a necessity that you can make the business survive. You can work well with people whom you have not met at all. You can create a robust financial source out of it. Not all businesses would be temperamentally fit for online work and may just find safe zones better too.

Nevertheless, if it suits, one should certainly embark upon a journey into the online world. Instinctively, I feel that the future is in the making for online cloud-based platforms and that also gives one tremendous liberty to work from anywhere and get the job done, which is what is needed!

Author info

Swati Pitre, CBAP®, is a Sr. Business Analyst with 20+ years of industry experience across various domains and geographies. Her specialties include Product Development, BPM, Process Improvement Consulting, Business Analysis/CBAP®/ CCBA®/ ECBA® Training. She is also a public speaker and has completed Level 3 of Effective Coaching Pathway at Toastmasters International. Her hobbies include reading, writing, travelling and music.

This article was originally self-published as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, in 2017. URL: Amazon.com: Digital nomad’s guide to online consulting: Basics of successful online selling and freelancing eBook: Pitre, Swati: Kindle Store

Part 3 ?

I wrote this eBook in 2017, in the last few years some of my references may have changed by now, in 2021, especially during the pandemic. Setting many new normals… maybe there is a Part 3 to it? :-) Thanks for reading so far.

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Swati Pitre

Swati Pitre

Sr. Business Analyst, Product, BPM| Process Improvement| Intelligent Processes, BA| CBAP Trainer| Toastmaster