Location Independent Career Basics

By Nora Dunn on 17 July 2009 (Updated 26 April 2010) 18 comments
Photo: Nora Dunn

Would you like to have the ability to work from anywhere you wish? The backyard? The café down the street? Your bedroom? Or even on the road…a tropical island somewhere, perhaps?

A location independent career is your ticket to workplace freedom. More and more people are striving for this freedom themselves. We’ll look at the basic qualities (good and bad) of a location independent career, and in so doing, you may come up with a few ways to make your own career location independent.

What is Location Independent?

As it sounds, location independent refers to a career that does not require your presence in any one place for your job to be done. You may still opt to attend meetings or networking events here and there, but for the most part you are free from any geographical commitments.

The Basics – How it’s Possible

Location independence is enabled by technology. Without telephones and cell phones, the Internet, virtual offices and conference functions, scanners, faxes, and express postal services, most location independent careers would not be possible.

So although you don’t need to be a technological wizard with an ability to speak three different computer languages, you will need a basic understanding of computers, the Internet, and the various modalities of communicating.

Many location independent careers do indeed require a high level of proficiency in all things Internet, but this is not always the case. As you will see further on, there are many people out there who have the ability to be location independent; some may not even know it!

Advantages of a Location Independent Career

  • You save money, time, and resources since you don’t have to commute to work.
  • It’s more casual. Most location independent people don’t wear suits. Heck – you can work in your PJs if you want to (just turn the video off on those conference calls).
  • You make your own hours. Are you a night owl? Then feel free to work until 3am. Would you prefer to take time off in the afternoon to be with your kids? Go ahead; you’ll make up the time when you need to.
  • You can explore the world slowly with long-term travel, since you can work from the road.

Disadvantages of a Location Independent Career

  • You must be very self-disciplined. Rarely is anybody holding you accountable.
  • It is easy to become distracted if you work from home. You can potter around the house all day in the name of “working” without actually getting any work done.
  • It can be very lonely. Depending on your line of work and the degree of social contact that it entails, location independent careers can be a touch lonesome. Sometimes office banter is refreshing.
  • It can be easy to lose yourself in your work and be at the grindstone for longer hours than you should be. (Again, this is a matter of self-discipline).

Three Types of Location Independent Careers

Location independent careers tend to fall under three main categories: entrepreneurs, freelancers, and telecommuters.

Entrepreneurs

As an entrepreneur, you are your own boss, and have complete freedom to call the shots. But simply being an entrepreneur does not give you a ticket to location independence; many industries or business structures require your physical presence.

Where entrepreneurialism enters into the location independent realm is in the entrepreneur’s intrinsic ability to see (and act on) business opportunities and market needs. Successful location independent entrepreneurs tend to be inventors of items or technology, import/exporters, or pioneers of business ideas that can be marketed virtually.

Freelancers

Any location independent career involves a degree of organization and self motivation; qualities which most entrepreneurs and freelancers share. Where freelancers differentiate themselves from entrepreneurs is in the nature of their work and who they work for. Freelancers usually juggle projects for multiple clients, and in the location independent business, frequently work across different industries.

I have met any number of location independent freelancers who wear multiple hats, such as online marketing, PR, writing and copywriting, business strategizing, virtual assistance, and publishing. Many will package up their repertoire as “business services” and take whatever work comes their way, outsourcing what they cannot do themselves.

I am location independent myself, and although I boast a mean entrepreneurial streak, I am solidly planted in the freelance category, with multiple clients and publications that I write for in the realm of personal finance and travel.

Telecommuters

Rounding out the spread of location independent career categories is the telecommuter. This is somebody who (usually) works for one boss or company, but has the flexibility to work from home (or anywhere that has the technology available for the telecommuter to keep in touch with the office).

Some companies are incorporating “flex hours” into their employee incentive programs, which allow employees to do some of their work from home. It saves the company paying for dedicated office space for all employees, in addition to the advantages of location independent careers, listed above.

As more and more companies look into outsourcing to reduce their expenses and increase productivity, I believe that telecommuting will become even more prevalent. In fact, the gap between telecommuting and freelancing is easy to bridge; if your company cuts your hours or responsibilities as a result of these hard financial times, you might complement your work with another part-time telecommuting job, and whamo: you are a location independent freelancer before you know it.

And just in case you still think that location independence is solely for computer geniuses, here are a handful of wacky location independent careers that I’ve come across in the last week alone:

  • Jewelery Designer
  • Hand Analyst
  • Professional Barterer
  • Coach (this encompasses a lot, since you can coach within many areas of specialty)
  • Lawyer
  • Industrial Designer
  • Voice-Over Artist
  • Airport Services
  • Game Designer
  • Financial Planner
  • Sales

If you have a pressing desire to embrace a location independent lifestyle but aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of online resources for you to check out. For starters, you may want to take a peek at the Web Site whose address says it all: locationindependent.com.

 

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Myscha Theriault's picture

Good one, Nora! Is this the start of a series, perhaps? I'm looking forward to more on the subject, if so. For example,do you have any particular communication services and software programs you feel are above par for things like document sharing, receipt documentation and conference calling?

Check out my various projects and services at Itinerant Tightwad. I also have a monthly education newsletter.

Guest's picture

Hi Nora - I like the simple breakdown of the 3 types of LI careers...makes it easy for people to figure out which one will work best for them.

Thanks also for the link love :)

Guest's picture
AJ

This would be my ideal situation. I have a long way to go until I get there though.

Guest's picture

Really your work is much impressive...Thank you

Guest's picture
Guest

I am a translator, and I have been working on my own, from home since 2003. I wouldn't want to go back to the m-f, 9 to 5 job. I felt like a slave when I had to.

Guest's picture

Great intro to location independence, Nora. I've been working location independent since the beginning of this year (from San Francisco, multiple places in Mexico, Portland and Vancouver B.C.). It's really fantastic, but does definitely require some discipline. I find it really important to set expectations with friends and family, otherwise people tend to think you're on permanent vacation and don't understand that you need time to work.

Nora Dunn's picture

@Corbett - Amen to that! On Permanent vacation we are not...

Guest's picture
Guest

I am loving this but what is out there for international persons....? do u have any idea what can be got by an outsider looking in and wanting to work on his/her own. thanks

Nora Dunn's picture

@Guest (#8) - I'm not sure I understand your question...anybody from anywhere can be location independent. That's the beauty of it! It shouldn't matter where you live or choose to work - you can make a living with an internet connection (or other technology).

Guest's picture
luc

the first point above about "What is Location Independent" is must

Guest's picture

I wish to have this kind of opportunity soon..but indeed you are right. Self discipline is very important for this type of career.

Guest's picture
Guest

The basic question is:
How to select the to separate the wheat from the chaff? Looking at job databases to find a legit independent online job is not that easy at all - there are a lot of scam offers around!

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Guest (above) - great point! I guess you vet the good ones from the bad with a dose of good judgement and gut instinct. Also, in terms of payment for freelance work, escrow services are a great way to protect both the buyer and seller. Any suggestions from other commenters on how to determine if an online job offer is legitimate? 

Guest's picture
Guest

A good virtual office that I use is New York Virtual Office. I like 'em. High five!

Guest's picture
Kelso Rae

Hey Nora,

This location independent thing is exactly what I've been looking for - just didn't know the name for it! One thing I don't really understand though is how we would get taxed. Do we get taxed from our home country or the country that we are currently located in?

If that country did, in fact, find out we were working in their country without a working visa - wouldnt there be huge problems?

Please let me know how you go about it, any personal experience?

Thanks tons, I'm very interested!!

Guest's picture
Christina

This is a new term for me, but when you broke it down I got it easily since I fall under LI. I work from or any place with internet connection, I handle my own time and get to be my own boss. And I have to agree with the advantages and disadvantages of LI careers.

Nora Dunn's picture
Nora Dunn

@Kelso - Taxation depends on both the country of your residence and exactly how you work. It also depends if you work for yourself or somebody else, how long you're out of the country, and where your clients are located.

Generally speaking for myself, traveling through countries isn't a problem with a tourist visa (although I always check depending on the country I'm visiting), since I'm not taking jobs away from locals, and am instead earning off-shore money and spending it in their country.

I'm actually putting together an article about some of the US tax regulations around uprooting business and operating location independently: stay tuned!

 

@Christina - Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you agree!

Guest's picture

Nora,

Cheers for sharing the basics of location independent career. I am myself location independent. I work at home making money online and I can bring my work whenever I go on a vacation with my kids - or even I often left my business behind.

Since I run blogs, all I need to bring while traveling is a laptop/tablet (and ensuring that I can get Internet access!)