Two months ago I was living in a townhouse on the West side of Los Angeles, driving my CR-V to and from parties and other social events and running my sustainable design studio from my home office. This morning I woke up in my apartment in the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires, threw on one each of the five shirts and three pairs of jeans that I own and walked a block down the street to snag a cup of maté and a few facturas (smallish, sweet croissants) before taking a few hours to wander around, explore the local shops and museums and recover from the all-night party I went to a few days previous.
In a few months I will be exploring all over again, enjoying a different combination of foods and drinks for breakfast, and very likely recovering from a completely different kind of party, because in a few months I will be in Albania. Or Thailand. Or New Zealand. Wherever my readership decides to send me is where I’ll be headed, spending my time learning about the local cultures and languages as I work to further optimize my businesses for my lifestyle in exile.
I love my work, so developing a new business is always fun for me. I started my first one back when I was 19, and though it wasn’t a huge success, I learned a lot and had a blast. Starting up Exile Lifestyle has been even more fulfilling, however, as it has allowed me to take my passion for learning and combine it with my passion for design and consulting to create a completely novel business model. There’s something incredibly exciting about casting off all the trappings of your life – your habits and possessions and home and sense of place – in order to take on completely new, more dynamic ones.
Knowing that I only have a short time in each place instills a sense of urgency that I didn’t have living in LA. There, I could take the time to slowly ease my way into new circles and situations and businesses and skills. Living here in Buenos Aires, I feel an almost frantic need to create create create! I want to meet new people while I can and bull my way through obstacles! It’s an invigorating feeling, and one that I’m already hooked on.
At the moment my main revenue stream comes from my studio, Colin Is My Name (I’m building and designing websites, doing branding work, and consulting on a variety of topics; all of which have been easy manage via Skype and email). This brings in plenty of money, but requires a lot more direct involvement from me than the other businesses I’m building.
I’m working on a handful of revenue models for Exile Lifestyle right now, including sponsorships and longer-term streams of income rather than the traditional ad-based methods. I’m also considering what other kinds of media I can create and market through the brand, including ebooks (I’ve already created a free one on personal branding), video content and hopefully some kind of print- and ebook-deal through a publisher.
More and more I’m thinking that automation of certain aspects of my work will be key to achieving my goals while continuing to reduce the number of hours I work every month. Because what I do is so personality-based, though, a lot of the advice on out-sourcing that’s already available doesn’t work very well for me.
There is a freedom of mobility that owning very little and streamlining your business affords you. Just knowing that I could pack up everything I own in 10 minutes and be out the door and on my way to the airport, ready to fly anywhere in the world is a great feeling. I thrive on change, and knowing that I’m not anchored to one spot by anything makes me feel like I can take more risks and really put everything on the line. It’s like vacationing every place you go: you don’t have very much to lose if you make an ass of yourself.
I built my business and evolved it to the point where I can run it from anywhere by following some simple tenets which apply across all industries and professions:
- Do what you love: I would design things and give advice every day, even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. If you can’t say the same, it’s time to rethink your lifestyle. You only get one time around, so every second you spend in a situation that makes you unhappy is a second wasted. Additionally, you do better work and provide better value if you’re excited about the good/service/idea you sell. Everyone benefits if you keep this in mind.
- Streamline: This will mean different things to different people, but for me it involved making use of the 80/20 Principal in order to reduce the time-intensive, low-value projects and activities from my life in order to make room for more of the opposite. By handing lower-paying clients off to other designers and reducing the amount of time I spent doing things I didn’t enjoy (finances, for example, are very easy to automate), I was able to reduce my workweek from 60-80 hours down to about 10. Reducing the amount of ‘stuff’ you own can also have some serious benefits, though they are more mental and harder to quantify.
- Pay it forward: I can’t tell you how many times a bad situation has just worked out because of something nice that I did for a client or friend or stranger. Take the time to be a good, helpful, friendly person and drastic changes to your lifestyle will go much more smoothly.
- Avoid making enemies: Invariably at some point you will offend someone. If the rift is permanent, don’t do anything to perpetuate the problem. In general, the fewer enemies you have, the less time you have to spend looking over your shoulder and the more time and energy you can focus on the things that matter.
- Plan for the worst, expect the best: I’m not naturally an optimist, but I have reason to assume things will go well. I plan for just about everything and if something happens that I haven’t planned for I know I’ll be able to figure out a solution, largely because I enthusiastically practice tenet #6.
- Seek out knowledge: Part of my lifestyle goal is to have the ability to learn whatever I want whenever I want. Reclaiming so much time every week has allowed me to take courses I didn’t have time for when I was in college, drown myself in online tutorials and read six or seven books per month on average. These are things I enjoy, but they are also an investment, allowing me to expand the scope of my businesses, solidify my position as an expert in several fields, and be prepared for unexpected eventualities.
- Be social: Most of my clients come to me via recommendations from other clients, but I’ve found the most effective way to market myself is by going out and talking to people in real life and taking part in discussions online. Being a good conversationalist is key, and talking to people about what is important to them is a great way to make friends and allies (you’ll also learn a lot about what they do, and if there’s an opportunity to work together it will likely come up). Keep your conversations organic both online and offline, build relationships by helping others solve their problems, and have fun.
A lifestyle in exile will not be right for everyone, but knowing that the opportunity exists should be freeing. Take the time to refine your business and streamline your processes and you will be able to take more risks. At that point if something goes wrong, you can always hop the next flight to Buenos Aires, fully confident that your life and business will continue to function and thrive.
Colin Wright is a 24-year-old sustainable designer, entrepreneur and world traveler who is currently living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.