A Digital Nomad’s Guide to Building an Online Portfolio

Cecilia Haynes

My digital nomad career started as an accident.

In 2011 remote work wasn’t on my radar. When it did cross my mind, it struck me as unattainable and reserved for mysterious entrepreneurs in the know. The opportunity came when I was leaving my first job as an English instructor at an education center in Hong Kong. My boss had asked if I would be willing to continue creating curriculum for her while I was traveling around western China and India, and I leapt at the chance. Since I had worked for her for a year at that point, I had built up a considerable cache of trust and felt confident that I could deliver high quality work, reliably.   

Six years later, working exclusively in remote positions, I couldn’t even imagine going back to an onsite office environment. While my experience is more of an oddball way of becoming a digital nomad, the key point was that my boss trusted me to work unsupervised. Successful digital nomads share one important trait: initiative. Having an internal motivation to do good work is a critical driving force for this type of work lifestyle. One of the best ways to demonstrate initiative is to create and maintain an online portfolio.

Remote Work is Not for Everyone

Before you dive into looking for a remote only job, take the time to consider if becoming a digital nomad is what you really want. An often glamourized lifestyle, few are having the deeper conversations about the practical drawbacks. Loneliness, feeling disconnected from coworkers, and being easily distracted are all factors to consider. Also, if you work for a mixed company of onsite and remote employees, you can run the risk of information silos with critical decisions being made in your absence.

Even if you are a freelancer who works independently, traveling while working is a whole different beast. Time zones, internet speeds, and the consistent low level of stress that comes with being away from home constantly are all factors to consider when making the decision to take your work show on the road.

All of this being said, in an experiment conducted by Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom and James Liang, cofounder and CEO of Ctrip, employees who were randomly assigned to work from home were 13.5% more productive than their in-office counterparts. These remote workers also took less time off and had fewer sick days. There are notable benefits to working remotely and, for me, these perks outweigh any disadvantages.

Tips for Becoming a Successful Remote Worker

With these potential drawbacks in mind, here are some ways that you can set yourself up for success.

Start Part-Time

If you’ve never worked remotely before, dip your toe in the water by either negotiating part-time telecommuting days or by working on a side project on the weekends.

Define an Office Space

If you choose to become a remote worker because you want to be home with your family, make sure that you have a dedicated office space. Close that door and separate your personal life from your professional world. 

Retreats are Important

Look for businesses that offer company-wide or team retreats. It’s important to get some face time in with coworkers.

Integrate Communication Tools

If you find work with a company that is a combination of onsite and remote employees, ensure that there are processes in place for information transparency. Whether you’re using Trello, Asana, Confluence, or some other project management tool, it’s vital that your entire company sticks to communicating clearly.   

Invest in the Right Gear

If you are about to go on the road as a digital nomad for the first time, make sure you have all the gear you need to be productive. Be especially mindful of keeping your pack light and streamlined.

Consider Co-Working

Consider joining a co-working space so that you can mimic an office feel without the same pressures of working onsite. It’s also worth considering whether or not you begin solo as a digital nomad, or as part of a group.

Now that you are prepared for the obstacles that can come with a remote work lifestyle, let’s dive right into how to get those telecommuting jobs.

Why You Need an Online Digital Nomad Portfolio

Even with the rise of remote work jobs across all industries, it can be tough for newbies to get their first digital nomad break. The competition for open positions is fierce and it’s important to grab any opportunity to stand out from the crowd. This is doubly important for aspiring digital nomads who have never had a remote position before. Demonstrating that you can handle the pressures that go along with never being around your coworkers face-to-face, and have the discipline to deliver quality work without supervision is vital.

An online portfolio is not only more engaging and dynamic than a static resume, it also makes it easier for potential employers to find you. You never know who will stumble across your website, so make sure to develop searchable content that hits the keywords of your industry.

Carving out an online presence helps you showcase your skills and provides a taste of what you can bring to the table. If you are only in college or just starting out as a freelancer, put up side projects and start engaging with your industry’s community by soliciting feedback. This will put you on the radar of influencers in your field and demonstrate that you can handle constructive criticism.

Being marketable is a talent that you can translate into any number of jobs. Remote work employers are on the lookout for employees who can demonstrate creativity, personality, and some sort of standing in your field. You not only showcase your value, but you make a compelling case for companies who want to piggyback off of your audience.  

How To Create a Compelling Remote Work Portfolio

We’ve got the why, now we just need the how. The main areas that you should focus on while building your professional brand are social media, industry-specific platforms, guest appearances, and developing a website. Cultivating an online brand can help you demonstrate your culture fit for different companies, a consideration that is especially important in a remote work environment. Use your online space to show how you can communicate clearly, concisely, and informatively.

Social Media

Twitter

Keep an active Twitter account where you post both original thoughts and engage with the community by retweeting and commenting.

Use services like Buffer, HubSpot, and Hootsuite to schedule out messages ahead of time so you can stay on top of posts without consuming all of your time.

Participate in Twitter chats or even launch your own! Twitter chats are a great way to gain followers, interact with different types of audiences, and start getting exposed to the conversations that impact your industry. Check out this comprehensive list of chats that you can hop in on.

Facebook Page

If you’re a marketer, writer, editor, or want to showcase your advertising skills, a Facebook Page is a great route to go. It offers a high level of personalization and you can start experimenting with ads.

A Facebook Page is also a wonderful choice for artists, photographers, and designers. Try to tag organizations, companies, and other professional pages to get their attention.

Instagram

Focus on building up your Instagram presence if you are a marketer, social media manager, or if you do anything with the visual arts.

Follow, like, and comment on others in your field. You’ll not only increase your own following, but also demonstrate your communal spirit.

Use tags to get your images in front of the right eyes. My own digital nomad tags include: #tasteintravel #passionpassport, #travelstoke, #lonelyplanet, #cnnireport, #beautifuldestinations, #digitalnomad, #orbitzpic, and #livetravelchannel

YouTube and SoundCloud

YouTube and SoundCloud are the channels to be in if you would like to work in remote video jobs or you want to demonstrate your podcasting skills.

This is the time to let your personality shine through, especially if you can speak to a topic that is of interest to your desired job.    

LinkedIn

Keeping up your LinkedIn account and establishing as many reputable connections as possible is worth it. I would advocate against adding too many people that you don’t know or that you haven’t worked with professionally.

Keep detailed records of all of your accomplishments and add in as much specific data as you can.

If you have a remote job in mind, go ahead and check out the LinkedIn pages of the people you would potentially be working with, including the HR rep or recruiter.

Medium

Writers and editors should have an active Medium presence. Not only will you be able to republish and further amplify your own blog articles, but you can interact with a much wider audience.

Creating a strong social media brand gives companies a paper trail into what they can expect from you as a remote worker. But don’t feel the pressure to be on every single platform. It’s better that you execute more effectively on a fewer number of channels than to overreach and be unable to maintain an active presence.

Industry Specific Platforms

It’s important to be where you can interact with influencers in your field. Look for websites like Dribble, Behance, GrowthHackers, and Stack Overflow. If you are a developer, dive into open source GitHub projects or develop your own to showcase your skills.  

Develop a Website

If you are a digital or web designer, then your website is your portfolio. This is your opportunity to shine, so be sure to highlight your personal aesthetic. If web development is not in your wheelhouse, take advantage of services like Wix or Squarespace. You could even create a WordPress website and use the creation of your portfolio as an opportunity to learn some basic HTML and coding. Once you reel in prospective employers with a great resume, your website should be the final step in ensuring you get the interview.

Guest Appearances

While having your own portfolio website is a great way to gain exposure, ideally you should also be demonstrating your work ethic by collaborating with others in your field. It can be tough to get people to open a cold email, so set the stage by interacting with editors and writers on social media. People are more likely to work with you if you build up a relationship first. Make sure that you have writing samples to reference, and keep your pitch concise and to the point.

Digital Nomad Portfolio Crushes

Here are some examples of digital nomads and remote workers who have done an excellent job of building up a strong online presence. They run the gamut of industries including design, media, and customer service.

Jon Quach, Design Engineer at Help Scout

Jon Quach has led a diverse online life. At one point he was even a YouTube personality before dedicating his energies to building up a design portfolio through Dribble and his website. He even developed a cartoon representation of himself as a part of his personal brand.

“It’s essential for a remote worker to build a strong personal brand/portfolio because they represent who you are as an individual: your skill level, your experience, your philosophies, and your personality. These traits are the primary factors that employers look for when evaluating whether or not to hire you. And it’s not necessarily just employers who are looking, but also people who are involved in organizing events or conferences where you may want to do talks, or even those who run mentorship programs that you want to participate in. Remote also means that you’re competing with everyone on the planet (within your respective field), and so the pressure is on for you to further exemplify the level of excellence and uniqueness you bring to the table.”

Tayo Rockson, President and CEO of UYD Management

Tayo Rockson is a Third Culture Kid who translated his internationally diverse upbringing into a career. His tagline is, “Use your difference to make a difference,” and he’s built a brand and a business around this motto. I first met him as a guest on his podcast, As Told By Nomads, and he is a prime example of someone who mastered the art of just start. He’s a great model for freelancers and those who want to break into the media world as a remote entrepreneur.

“When you’re a digital nomad, building your personal brand becomes your most important asset. It is the way you establish relationships and trust. When you become known for something, you can point people to a digital hub that speaks to your merit.

Trust is developed because your brand is validated by your portfolio. Your portfolio also serves as a path to referrals since you can demonstrate the great work you’ve done serving previous clients.”

Christina Buiza, Customer Champion at Zapier

Christina Buiza is also a Third Culture Kid who has done a great job of building connections through social media. She has a very active Twitter account and often participates in Twitter chats, even going so far as to tag partner companies to elevate their content. Follow her lead if you are looking to get guest author opportunities or if you want to demonstrate your customer service skills through community management.

“Building up your personal brand gives you the opportunity to tell the world what your strengths, values, and passions are. Take ownership for what people can find out about you on the internet, and make it easy for potential collaborators to come to you.”

Tools to Kickstart Your Career as a Digital Nomad

Once you have a solid portfolio and online presence in place, here are some resources to get you started in your digital nomad career.

Digital Nomad and Remote Work Jobs

Check out these popular job boards.

Here is a (short) list of remote-only companies to explore.

Digital Nomad Reading List

If you’d like to explore more experiences in the remote work and digital nomad fields, here are some articles to send you on your way.

TL;DR

It may seem daunting at first to try to kickstart your digital nomad career, but the first step is to create a brand and narrative.

Each of us had to start from somewhere, so don’t let a lack of experience hold you back.

Leverage social media, your network, and your experience to “wow” potential new clients and partners.

Be thoughtful in developing a portfolio and put your best online self forward.

 

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