Thank you so much for reaching out to me. Having read, re-read, and pondered damn hard about what you wrote in your email to me, I came to realize that–fuck, this is a real issue for Filipinos. Becoming a digital nomad is hard. Becoming a digital nomad from the Philippines is harder albeit not impossible.
You’re dead right, the average Filipino earns PHP 264k a year after tax, and you’re also right that living costs alone add up to about PHP 200k. So that leaves you with more or less PHP 64k a year to travel with or save towards your digital nomad game plan. Frustratingly, you’d be lucky to get a month of living out of that in some parts of Asia.
You’re right in your research, too, which is impressive by the way. You’ve done your homework! The average digital nomad needs USD 1,300 a month to survive and thrive in Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, or South America. If you want to live in a buzzing business metropolis like London, New York, or Paris, you’re gonna need to double that potentially. But equally, you can live on a lot less than this if you put your mind to it.
Landing a more permanent gig
Now, you say you look for work on UpWork and OnlineJobs.ph. These are great freelance job platforms! They are the perfect springboard for freelancers and digital nomads to kick-start their career. Although these websites present themselves in such a way that makes you feel you can earn $$$ through these alone, I’m inclined to disagree.
Yes, you can make money through these websites, but they’re not the be all and end all. If you focus on these alone, you will just end up getting a burnout from all the gigs you’ve accepted to rake in the cash. As I always say, you need to work smart, not hard. So, try to land a more long-term gig and haggle your way to becoming a full-time remote worker. WARNING: This search can be very, very frustrating. It will take a shitload of perseverance and patience to keep submitting your CV and taking rejections while remaining enthusiastic.
However, when you’ve successfully built a relationship with your regular and satisfied clients, it will be much easier to take the job outside the platform. This is strictly not allowed but a necessary move if you want to make enough money to stay on the road. Be careful with how you word your proposal to take work off the platform as your messages are monitored!
Mastering one trade
I see that you take on so many roles, and that can be a big advantage for you when landing an online job in various industries. However, although it’s good to be a Jack, Jill rather, of all trades, to be a master of one is even better! I have always believed that to be a Jill of all trades, you gotta be a master of at least one trade first. In your case, being a financial advisor means that you have loads of transferable skills. So, bank on those skills (pun intended) and look for jobs in the accounts and consultancy section! Focus on one thing you wanna be an expert at, gain knowledge and experiences, and increase your value.
No to underselling
This is where the biggest roadblock is. I understand that competing for booking gigs can be tough, especially when there are other Asians like you offering the same services for a cheapo price. However, don’t underestimate employers as well. They can distinguish mediocre work from a professional and quality one. Chances are, those with the cheapest rates are the ones that do not have the proper skill set because they are too busy being Jacks of all trades (see above), booking every gig possible.
Check the going rates in your field and against other candidates that have a similar skill set to yours—regardless of location. From there, you can base your offer price. There’s no need to sell yourself short just because you’re from the Philippines. Prove to these potential employers that you are a bang-for-the-buck worker by showing off your achievements (didn’t I tell you about the importance of client feedback before?) and by practicing excellent work ethics.
Booking the first few clients and getting positive feedbacks under your belt are two of the most important digital nomad milestones. If you don’t have any yet, this is when you offer a discounted rate for a limited time only. Again, for a limited time only. Only until you get enough feedback that will eventually increase your value back to the normal going rates.
At a brief glance, financial advisors on UpWork charge on average USD 25-30 an hour. You can charge in dollars, so charge a competitive rate, not just the low converted amount that you would usually get in the Philippines. Once you have a rating and a client base, you can up your hourly rates for new clients.
I’ve always been a proponent of building your own online presence because one, it opens up to a potential income stream, and two, it is a way to advertise your services independently of the freelancing platforms. If you think a blog is too much, not to worry! You can have a Facebook page first. Potential employers will be willing to pay more if they can easily see and understand the services you offer, the high quality of work you deliver, and a bit of your personality, too.
This is exactly what I did. I advertised my expertise through this blog and worked hard to create a buzz around my name through my socials and collaborations. Three years later, I’m officially Mr. Digital Nomad, and I have lovely people like you reaching out for my advice.
I suggest you take time to work on this before you even think about upping sticks and traveling. You can even go beyond the usual social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Set up a LinkedIn account and start reaching out to potential clients. Answer questions relating to your expertise on Quora. The list goes on!
Getting out there
I appreciate the aim is to get to Europe or Australia or America. You’ll get there, but the first step is to get out of the Philippines. You can even start by moving to another island within the country. You’ll even find yourself working much harder once you dip your toe in the water because you finally get a taste of what it’s like to be living like a digital nomad. One step at a time, but never lose your focus on your end goal.
Much of my advice shared on my free online course and my blogs are still true for Filipinos. Yes, we’ve established that you guys do have it harder. But again, it is not impossible. It only makes success that much sweeter! Don’t let the saturated freelance job platforms dampen you. Know your value and never undersell yourself.
Thank you for reaching out to me, dear Filipina! This has given me the opportunity to write about an issue that I think many of my followers find important and want to learn more about. I hope this letter has shed some light for you!
Big love and I wish you the very best in your journey into digital nomadism. You’ll be amazing!
Hey, MDN readers! Let’s start a dialogue here. If you any questions, issues, or topics related to the lifestyle or my area of expertise, please comment below or contact me through here. I’m always striving to make my content as relevant as possible, and for that, I need your input and to converse with you. Let’s create our own community!
DISCLAIMER: I purposely omitted the real name of the letter sender for her own privacy, in case she doesn’t want to be named. 🙂