Success only came after defeat. It all started when I got on plane to Vietnam from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was 2014 and I’d just quit my career as a bank executive. I really didn’t know what to expect next. What I did know was that I was leaving some serious job stability behind. My coworkers just couldn’t understand what I was thinking; the idea of leaving such a cushy job was almost a travesty to some. They were totally perplexed as to how I could suddenly upend to a place like Southeast Asia with but a backpack and a dream. Honestly, I didn’t have the remotest clue as to how I’d make money while traveling the world, either.
Yeah, there were tons of how-to-make-money articles out there that seemed straightforward enough, but I had my doubts. When I say I didn’t know what to expect, I mean I was probably the most clueless “digital nomad” to hit the trail.
I left my six figure job on a quest to reinvent myself.
With a rough roadmap sourced from many blogs I’d read, I figured I had enough info to weather the initial turbulence. Fast forward six months. I landed in Vietnam and stayed one month, following a story of love that meant the world to my writing. But Vietnam proved a little too chaotic for me at that stage in my life, especially after having lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years.
I decided to visit Bangkok and the digital nomad hub of Chiang Mai, and eventually settled in the latter. 2014 was coming to a close and I hadn’t made a dime in months. But as I started into 2015, I thought to myself, this would be the year.
I was willing to work 12 hour days, 7 days a week, to make it happen. What could go wrong?
As the months passed, all the information I’d read on how to make money while traveling the world unravelled.
I was counting dollars, cents even.
On a good month, my blog was pulling in $13 (don’t laugh!). I thought to myself, sh*t! What’s a man got to do to make money around here?
By then, I had over one hundred articles posted on my blog and still no idea how to properly monetize it. The entire blogging industry seemed overly shy and reclusive. Information was hard to come across; unless you bought yet another how-to course. So far these hadn’t helped me.
No one had told me it would be this tough.
I even contemplated teaching English on the side, just to at least make a little something so I wasn’t going in the red every month. As 2015 progressed–a bad romantic relationship did me in as well. It totally sidetracked me for a few months.
By mid-summer I’d already spent a whopping $36,000 and had made less than $1,000.
I started thinking that making money while traveling the world was but another gimmick.
My faith waned.
As August 2015 rolled around, I decided to fly to Lebanon to visit my dad and discuss the possibility of getting a banking job in Dubai. He rallied around the idea. Everyone around me nodded, saying my “wild adventure” should finally come to an end; that I should step back into reality.
I’d had my fun and they were glad I’d gotten it out of my system. Little did they know how many hours I had put into various ventures so far, blogging included, and how discouraged I was deep inside.
I’d tried so many things and failed at all.
There was no way I could make any serious money while traveling.
Discouraged, but willing to give it one last shot, I pulled myself together and took the advice of a close friend: focus on only one thing and take it to the next level. I decided to take the dive and follow a veteran dropshipper’s advice, for a fee. He came in highly recommended through several people I knew.
His fee was really pricey.
A lot of people told me I could find all the information he covered for free if I just searched online for articles about dropshipping. But I was looking for some hand-holding. There’s nothing like having a veteran with over ten stores to teach you and personally respond to you. The support is what sold me.
Through word-of-mouth, I learned that a couple guys were looking to sell their failed dropshipping stores. Little did I know these had been pimped around the digital block for a couple of years. They’d been passed around, experimented on, wasted, reinvented, and none of this was disclosed properly to me.
I was just glad I’d bought them both for $5,000 total.
If they failed, it would be an acceptable loss.
At first, I thought it’d be as simple as turning them on. Any sale at that point, even the smallest one, would be enough to motivate me. But heck, it took me a month just to get them licensed properly (huge issue with a lot of dropshipping stores! Don’t avoid this important step. If your competition knows you’re not properly licensed, they can totally sink you–for good!).
Eventually I got my licenses (3 in all) and hit the ON button. My checkout cart was active! I was officially an independent businessman!
So here I was, with two sloppy stores, a half-a** Adwords campaign, and the sound of e-commerce crickets in the background.
If that wasn’t bad enough, my blog Banker in the Sun got hacked. My web designer said it was a DDOS attack. At that time, I had no clue what a DDOS attack was. I later learned that it was a cyber-attack that could take down your site for good. My host at the time was BlueHost and I had been paying for a backup service should something like that happen. Come time to use that backup, everything went tits up.
There was no back up.
When it rains, it pours. But in Rashad-land, it pours a deluge of bullsh*t cultivated from the stankest of bulls.
I felt like someone had raised the ocean and dropped it on the speck of my digital existence. BlueHost’s customer service was a nightmare. No resolution and a lot of aggression. Yeah, I got a great deal with their hosting at first–but now I understand why customer service matters a ton more than cheap deals. My web designer suggested I switch to SiteGround, which I did, and have been ever so grateful since. Their customer service was stellar (and remains so today) and the move was smooth.
Within a week, and two thousand dollars later to rebuild the site, Banker in the Sun was back up–with no Google penalty! What remnants remained of it on BlueHost: RIP.
…In the meantime, my dropshipping adventure was costing me $150 per store per month. I was close to spending $600 so far and all I’d gotten was a customer shopping me on some cheap item, saying WalMart beat my price by $2.
But this is the interesting part.
I mean, I asked myself, how could this be so different than retail banking? I sold products at the bank too. The marketing, the value proposition, the delivery were similar. Who cared what niche I was in? As long as I replicated what I did successfully at the bank, it should work in the e-commerce realm.
I did a lot of research.
I wanted to crack this elusive nut and find out how to make money so I could travel the world without an end date in mind.
I refused to give up.
I wanted to be in control of my destiny.
The first part was to make sure that the correct hosting was in place. My stores were powered by the Shopify platform, which is hands down one of the best platforms for ecommerce stores. They were also hosted on a reliable hosting service, SiteGround. But I went further and completely face-lifted both stores. I spent $750 on each store, revamping their image.
I then sold tons of suppliers on my stores and quadrupled my inventory.
I followed my gut and my mentor’s advice. It didn’t matter what niche I was in, success could be had and I knew it. If others were doing it, I could too. Getting sales out of these experimental stores would be a huge boost to my morale, if I could do it.
I was going to apply value propositions; the feature & benefit model.
I wanted to be that store that people trusted. I researched the right freight companies and hired an affordable attorney to help with the policies (a friend who gave me a pricing break). I wanted to be the go-to choice and I knew that in any retail field, banking included, the more you have on offering, the more legitimate you appeared.
I implemented a slew of changes.
Soon-after, my first sale came in. By then, it was late November of 2015.
A day later another sale came. Hallelujah!
And the next day, another.
By the turn of the year, I’d gotten so busy I hired a VA to help me.
I was ecstastic.
I hadn’t made money in over a year and I was finally bringing in some decent income. Gone was the fear that I’d have to don my suit and go back to banking. I loathed the idea.
I was now the proud owner of two stores that had been on life support for two years before me. They had passed hands through some dropshipping veterans as well, so I was pretty psyched that I’d been able to turn them around.
The key had been to apply experience. There is so much advice out there it can easily get overwhelming. If you have experience, use it. My mentor carefully explained the whole process and taught me all the best practices. But my previous retail experience was undeniably helpful too.
Soon my stores were collectively netting $2-3,000 per month.
Two things happened next.
The first was that I diversified. I’ll admit, to this day, the whole digital nomad realm scares me. I wake up thinking about all the what ifs, including what if the Russians decided to cut the transatlantic internet line. I just don’t know how long any one business model will last. But I took a leap of faith and decided to buy a package of websites that dealt in various fields. I invested $17,000. Thankfully, because of my savings, I had the money on hand. But even if i didn’t, my stores would soon have made me the money I needed to invest in these sites.
This package of websites gave me an additional stream of income of roughly $1,400 a month.
Many of you who know Chiang Mai’s digital culture scene are familiar with a coworking space called Punspace.
I’m not a big fan of coworking spaces, since there are tons of awesome cafes in Chiang Mai, but the people I met there were invaluable. I soon caught wind of someone there looking to sell a modestly successful dropshipping store.
After some negotiating, I ended up buying it.
It belonged to a guy who’d started a dropshipping store when he’d been flat broke three years ago. His success wasn’t so much about his niche as it was about his passion. What I’m saying is, without passion and 150% dedication, his store would probably have gone the route most dropshipping stores do: Highway 404.
I soon launched another three stores. Two failed and the third netted almost $1,500 the very first month. I then built more websites in various blogging niches and implemented Adsense income.
It was all finally coming together.
There were three invaluable lessons I learned along the way, which helped me make over half a million dollars while traveling the world:
1. Discipline is King
There’s no way around it. I’d been a little sidetracked by all the 4-hour lifestyle advice out there. I’m sure you can totally get there… eventually. But there’s a steep slope to climb at first. And that slope involves hauling a sh*tload of patience and discipline on your back. I had to apply myself day and night, and I spent tons on shoulder and back massages after a stressful day.
2. Love What You Do
I pursued some things out of greed and others because I’d heard you could make money from them. But whatever I tried revolved around making money and not doing what actually made me happy. Because I didn’t enjoy some of my early ventures, I never succeeded at them. After learning about dropshipping and closely following my mentor’s advice, all the while applying my former retail experience, things took off. I loved retail and I pursued a business model whose psychology I understood. What worked for me likely won’t work for the next guy over. It’s so important to pursue what you love. Therein lies the greatest chance of success.
3. Begin With The End In Mind
This was a tough one for me to grasp. At first, I didn’t know what the end would be. I didn’t possess vision. Whatever vision I had was marred by success stories that seemed out of reach. My vision was about paying my bills, nothing more. But when I sat down and carefully started planning things out, the fog started to clear. I wrote a 3-month, 6-month, 1 year and a 3 year plan. I know this sounds borderline obsessive-compulsive, but it gave me vision and a solid direction.
There is nothing like clarity when everything around you is hazy.
The only thing that could guide me was a solid plan and to at least have a structure, some kind of pathway to success, which I could adjust over time.
So it is now November and I did say that I made over half a million dollars while traveling the world. I did not count the full months of November and December’s average numbers, which ought to significantly boost my numbers.
So what do I own so far?
- 4 Profitable Drop-shipping Stores (+2 Failed Stores; closed down)
- Banker in the Sun blog (40k+ views per month–it’s come a long way since having my mom and brother as sole visitors!)
- 12 Various Websites, such as secondary blogs, affiliate sites, etc.
If I were to liquidate all today, how much would I have in the bank from one year of working as a digital nomad while traveling the world?
- Average Monthly Net Profitability of 4 Stores combined (last 3 months) using common multipliers from business brokerage websites:
- $3,636 + $2,276 + $1,052 + $512 = $7,476
- $7,476 x 26 mo. average sales multiplier = $194,376
- Banker in the Sun Blog:
- negligible, I only started using affiliate links recently so let’s say zero! This is my next project 🙂
- 11 Various Websites:
- Average of last 3 months: $3,619.86 x 28 average sales multiplier for these types of sites = $101,356
Grand Total NET Sales Price: $295,732 if I walked away right now.
If I expanded at the same rate and did this for 3 years, all things constant, I’d earn a net sales price of almost $887,196 (295,732 x 3).
This is a net sales price and I’d still be earning money every month until the sale. So I’d have made over $1,000,000 when you take into account monthly income from all these sites.
So how did my websites gross over half a million dollars in one year while traveling the world?
It took some hard work and dedication.
Based on the screenshots above, here are the gross numbers:
Store 1: $160,753.27
Store 2: $35,150.58
Store 3: $56,188.94
Store 4: $330,752.32
Various Sites: $34,373.61
The beauty is anyone could do it. So long as they put in the effort and don’t take short cuts, and don’t follow the next shiny thing, success is within reach. The vastness of opportunities online never ceases to amaze me. I was able to gross $617,218.36 my first year with absolutely no prior online experience.
Not only that–since I use my rewards credit cards, I make over one thousand dollars per month in cash back (if you’re in Chiang Mai, I’ll gladly show you my transactions). That’s free money, which can pay for anything from rent to food.
I am ever thankful to be able to work from exotic beaches and cities across the world.
And you don’t need to invest money like I did.
I simply chose to hit the fast forward button. I purchased two cheap, failing stores, which I turned around. I bought another store which was marginally successful but somewhat going downhill due to lack of TLC. In order to double its income, I significantly improved on it using the lessons learned from the other stores.
Being that I knew absolutely nothing about ecommerce, and my time was limited, I had no choice but to hire or buy into things. I am also a writer, so I don’t have the time to take endless courses online, unfortunately. Every spare minute is spent on writing. So if you have any experience in web design or programming, you would save yourself the hassle and money I spent.
To this day, I don’t regret any part of the struggle; I loved every part of the adventure to get here.
Never give up. Success is there for all to be had; just follow your heart and what you love.
Have you been making a stable stream of income as an expat? How did you manage to make money while traveling the world? What was your greatest financial obstacle?
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