Digital Nomad Sage is a UX Consultant (Research) and entrepreneur who promotes the remote working lifestyle so that others can ditch the 9-to-5. See his journey from English teacher to passive income guru.
What made you want to be a remote worker?
I remember leaving South Korea after teaching English there for four years and having a super hard time trying to find a full-time job that paid a living wage in California. I had a Master’s degree in Health Administration but lacked job experience. Although I believed my teaching experience abroad would help…I soon realized that in America, companies only really value experience relevant to the job position that they list.
It kinda felt disheartening because growing up in California we were taught that soft skills and having a “well-rounded” education would make us valuable for most jobs that we applied for. It was a huge wakeup call about how the real world really works.
Companies want to hire those with experience relevant to the jobs that they list and don’t want to take on additional risks to “train” someone. There’s been a huge trend for “entry-level jobs” to require 1-3 years of experience. For Millennials like me, it’s tough to get an entry-level job when we aren’t given the opportunity to prove ourselves.
In 2016, I bit the bullet and took a job that only paid $14 an hour…and it had minimal medical benefits. It was an in-house Webmaster position but I had to juggle other responsibilities on top of making a website. It eventually became stressful and I ended up quitting due to a toxic work environment.
I started an Amazon FBA business wanting to “be my own boss” and worked remotely at the end of 2016. While things were going well initially… 1 bad and unwarranted review tanked my sales. That business failed but I was determined to continue working from home.
I didn’t want to commute to work…and that was a huge incentive to wanting to become a remote worker. I saw my dad spend 3 hours a day commuting and waking up early at 3:30 AM every day. I realized I didn’t want to live that lifestyle.
I also didn’t want to sit in an office and stare at a clock thinking, “Why is the clock moving so slow!?” I really wanted to live life on my own terms.
So the main reasons why I wanted to work remotely as a remote worker are enjoying my time, not commuting and wasting 2+ hours a day, and having more control of my destiny.
When did you know it was something you could do?
I realized that in order to be employable, I had to develop valuable skill sets. I couldn’t be an “entitled Millennial” anymore. I studied multiple skill sets that would help me to become more hirable. I studied Social Media Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web Development, etc. I advertised what I was learning on Facebook and a former teacher of mine noticed.
He had created a UX company and needed someone to help him. He decided to take me under his wing and made me a UX Research Consultant for his company. Because I didn’t know anything about UX prior to being hired, I initially had a tough time. Luckily, he was patient with me and continued to help me grow into an experienced UX Researcher.
Not only that, but thanks to him I have over 2 years of experience in UX Research. I’ve worked for him remotely the entire time and continue to do so. I realized that working remotely was something that I could do when I successfully completed entire UX Research projects with my boss’s mentorship and guidance.
Why do you think creating passive income online is important?
I think creating passive income is extremely important. I learned early on when I was unemployed that you can’t really depend on a single source of income. Depending on a single source of income is super risky. By having multiple sources of passive income, you are fully empowered to take care of yourself and those that you care about.
During the Recession more than 10 years ago, I had a tough time finding a job. It was the main reason why I went to South Korea to teach English. Now that I’m back in the US and making money by working remotely, I want to funnel the money that I make into different passive income arenas such as e-book publishing, digital downloads, affiliate marketing, etc. I’m a really big fan of the FIRE movement, so I’m going to strive to save up for a big nest egg and then retire early.
What methods have been the most successful for you as a remote worker?
For me that best methods that have been most successful for me as a remote worker are utilizing word of mouth, outsourcing, and having great time management. I got WordPress gigs through word of mouth and helping out friends. By outsourcing to a good friend of mine in the Philippines, I was able to continue my UX Design studies. This allowed me to not get stressed out with an overloaded workload. With time management, I was able to prioritize important tasks to save time.
How has the world of entrepreneurship and the gig economy changed from your viewpoint?
The gig economy is MUCH MORE competitive! We’re always taught as freelancers/remote workers that the work that we do is valuable. We create value by developing skill sets that future employers like and that allows us to earn a living by providing services for pay.
In the past, we had to worry about competitors from developing countries undercutting us. Of course, this still happens and it’s just a fact of life and I bear no ill will towards those from developing countries. You can turn this into a positive by outsourcing and recruiting from developing countries and turning them into specialists that are respected for the value that they provide your business.
Pay loyal workers above the market rate or give them incentives on a commission-based structure that will reward them for their hard work.
We also have to deal with more and more younger people becoming freelancers. I’m a millennial myself and understand this. People want freedom from the 9-5 and will work for free or significantly lower rates to compete and build up their portfolios. This leads to clients not understanding the pricing structure of more experienced freelancers.
Some clients don’t understand the hidden costs that freelancers/remote workers deal with on a daily basis. So they oftentimes “expect” lower prices. The best way to counteract this is by improving your skillset, soft skills, and overdelivering on quality and customer service. Also, having a portfolio will help immensely as well.
In regards to entrepreneurship, there are more and more people seeking “quick money”. It doesn’t help that “gurus” make it seem easy (it’s not).
Just a few years ago, a new seller could private label their own products and make “easy money” on Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon). I joined in on this “gold rush” but tons of people in my niche all lowered prices…and that reduced profitability. I was eventually left with a large inventory. It didn’t help that Amazon kept raising their storage fees. The bar has really been raised no matter where you go. I am noticing this with Amazon Kindle Publishing as well.
Not too long ago you could do well selling a 5,000-word book. Now the bar has been raised to a minimum of 15,000 words. To be competitive though you’ll want to make a book somewhere in between 20,000 to 30,000 words. Of course, this is much riskier because outsourcing a book that long is going to be expensive.
The biggest thing that I learned from being an entrepreneur is that not every product you sell will succeed. If you fail, learn from that experience and move on.
What tips would you give someone who wants to make passive income online?
I have plenty of tips to give! A mentor of mine said that “Preparation is 90% of your success”. If you just jump into something with no plan you are destined to fail with disastrous results. Take your time and study the market. Think of the problems that your customers have and learn how to not just solve those problems but also improve their user experience.
Throwing money at problems does not solve anything. Learn when to cut your losses. Never do business with friends because it can lead to them becoming your worst enemies. Always use a contract and have everything in writing. I was scammed in the past and will never make the same mistake ever again.
What works for someone may not work for you. I could go on and on but the most important thing to realize is that YOU are the determiner of your success and the best investment you can ever make in this life is to invest in yourself. Good luck!