How Digital Nomads Build Business Connections
Combining work and travel isn’t a new idea, but today it’s even easier than ever before. If your work can be done 100% through the Internet, you might be able to join the throngs of digital nomads who leverage technology to work remotely.
There’s now the option to join programs like Hacker Paradise and Unsettled, or take planning into your own hands by using coworking spaces, cafes, and sharing economy startups like Airbnb in cities around the world.
In 2016, I lived and worked in 17 countries, which was a jump from my 2015 number of 10.
One of the most common questions I am asked by others is if it’s difficult to build business connections while always on the move.
For my role as Community Evangelist at Piktochart, a digital nomad lifestyle is the perfect fit. I can easily find opportunities to meet with users anywhere in the world through our PiktoTour event series. But things get tricky when I want to connect with people in a more networking-focused way.
Here are four ways I have found to accelerate serendipity, share knowledge, and make the most of the new environment you find yourself in — even if it’s a temporary one!
1. Plan ahead and tap into local networks
The first step that I usually take after planning my next stop is to begin filling up my meetings calendar. I do this because it doesn’t only set the intention for the trip, but it also makes the entire experience a more proactive one.
I do this in three ways:
- Send a bunch of emails to people who live in that city. These can be warm connections with people I have met before or cold connections with people I would like to meet.
- I then send out a batch of messages to people seem to be fine-tuned to the business network in that particular city. I ask if they’d be able to make any introductions. Startup Weekend organizers or those who manage community work at tech-focused coworking spaces tend to be my favorite people to contact.
- On Twitter, I put out an open call to see if anyone would like to meet up during my time in the city.
People are busy, so it’s important to get on people’s calendars before you land. The same can be applied to attending a conference in another city. Don’t be presumptuous that people will have time to squeeze you in for a coffee — get those meetings set up weeks in advance!
Below is an example where I put out an ask on Twitter before arriving in New York City.
2. Create a game plan in advance
Besides filling my calendar up with meetings, I also do a fair amount of research to look for opportunities to immerse myself in ahead of time. These are opportunities to network, but to also add value and engage the local community.
Most valuable opportunities are snapped up ahead of time, which is why I will do this step ahead of time.
A few examples of this are:
- Apply to attend or speak at a conference (depending on the size of the conference, contact 4–6 months out)
- Offer ‘Office Hours’ at a startup hub like a co-working space or startup incubator (usually 3–4 weeks is enough time to get this set up)
- Register for high-demand meetups with limited seats (I look for these opportunities 4–6 weeks in advance of my stay)
One recent opportunity happened when I was heading back to the United States to attend a friend’s wedding and to spend time with my family. I saw my trip overlapped with a monthly meetup of Utah’s largest digital marketing association. I emailed the organizers to see if they were looking for a speaker for their upcoming meetup and sent along a talk proposal.
I ended up landing an opportunity to speak to a room of 100 or so local digital marketers with no travel or accommodation cost for our startup. We were also able to invite local Piktochart users, who were thrilled to hear someone from our team was giving a talk in their neck of the woods!
3. Fill your calendar with planned serendipity events
In their book Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business Thor Muller and Lane Becker wrote :
“More than blind luck, serendipity can produce quantifiable results — breakthrough ideas, relationships that matter, effortless cooperation, synchronized market timing, and more.”
The book’s key takeaway is there are no coincidences in life. Instead of waiting for serendipity to happen, you can actually play an active role in creating luck for yourself.
Muller and Becker also point out that planned serendipity is composed of eight key elements: preparedness, motion, activation, attraction, connection, commitment, porosity, and divergence.
How do we apply it to building business connections while on the road? Here are two things I do to create planned serendipitous moments:
- I look for events happening at coworking spaces, such as pitch nights or fireside chats
- I arrive a few hours early to work at the space to mingle before the event
I also spend time searching Meetup.com for interesting events, such as coding user groups, women in tech events, or panels with thought leaders. Having events on my calendar has an added productivity benefit — it helps me shape my day so I can take a break from heads-down work, explore my new location, and return to my projects refreshed.
4. Plug Into a Global Community
Being a digital nomad trapezing from city to city sometimes makes me feel like I have start all over again each time. The best way to counter this is to look for organizations that have a national or worldwide presence.
These are typically organizations that have operations that span more than one city, which provides digital nomads a chance to plug into a global community, no matter where in the world they are. The best thing about this is that each location tends to have a shared vision with the wider organization, so there is less hit or miss when it comes to building connections at events.
Going with a trusted organization often means their event in a new city will be of a similar caliber to the last one you attended in your previous location.
Some great examples of this are:
- Impact Hub, which has 80 locations worldwide with 15,000 members
- Startup Weekend, which has hosted 3,000 events across 150 countries
Remote work can actually increase business connections
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, released just this past February, shows more American employees were working remotely and for longer periods. As the worldwide trend of remote working continues to shape the future of work, the barriers between living, working, traveling, and playing are coming down.
There’s no reason building meaningful business connections needs to slow down as environments change. With a little planning and strategy, these opportunities may actually increase!