Freelance SEO technology copywriter (and Fringe editor) Alex Napier Holland tells Fringe how the digital nomad lifestyle transformed his health, finances and happiness.

Alex Napier Holland, 31
SEO Technology Copywriter
alexnapierholland.com
gorillaflow.com

Why are you a digital nomad?
Because it’s a lifestyle that matches my personality and hunger for independence, freedom and variety.

Yes, being able to live and work anywhere is awesome – but more important than location is the freedom to approach making money as a fun hobby within a lifestyle I create, rather than picking a lifestyle prescribed by a company.

How do you make money?
I’m an SEO technology copywriter, so I produce website copy (written content) for technology businesses that is designed to be easily found by potential customers (because the content is search engine optimised – hence ‘SEO’).

My content drives traffic to websites, then informs and engages an audience, while building their trust and influencing them (to spend money, usually).

Why SEO copywriting?
Because I enjoy writing and copywriting is a flexible, versatile skill that every company on the planet needs done well (even if they haven’t realised it yet).

I can pitch for work quickly and easily via phone, email or in person, anywhere in the English-speaking world; then do my work anywhere with an internet browser. It’s a liberating, empowering skill.

Copywriting can earn a healthy hourly wage once you’re specialised. More interesting though, is the critical role SEO copywriting pays in generating internet traffic for advertising, lead generation and product/service sales – which is where passive income becomes possible.

I can massively impact on a company’s exposure, using a few internet tabs.

What makes SEO copywriting challenging?
SEO isn’t that difficult. Most people can learn the basic principles of keyword research fairly quickly – and the bottom-line of Google’s search algorithm updates is that they keep making it easier for people with no knowledge of SEO to produce content that ranks highly.

Copywriting is difficult. You have to grab someone’s attention, empathise with and understand their challenges – then convince them that you’ve got an effective solution.

Sales is acting. It’s about developing the psychological capacity, imagination and knowledge to empathise with your audience – and that’s why great sales people can make excellent product managers.

Copywriting demands a double act, because you must also develop this empathy and understanding for your client, as well as their audience.

How do you sell a product for someone, unless you’ve meditated upon their life experiences, knowledge and qualities?

And that’s why you shouldn’t copywrite for products you don’t ethically agree with – because if you’re any good at your job, you’ll suck at it.

What advice do you have for aspiring copywriters?
Find your niche – and that’s critical advice for all consultants.

I’ve been fascinated by gadgets and technology since I’ve been a kid. These are topics I spend a huge part of my daily life reading and thinking about – because they give me pleasure, excitement and fulfilment

I could write about finance; but someone out there who goes to bed dreaming about stocks, shares and dividends is writing about finance already – so why waste my short, valuable time on this earth doing that?

If you aren’t writing about topics you have a genuine passion in, you’re selling yourself short – and you’re wasting other people’s time.

And get life experience. I spent six years in international technology sales before I became a copywriter. Admittedly, that’s overkill – but I’d definitely expect someone producing sales copy to have some sales experience.

Oh yeah, learn about SEO – start with Yoast

How did you become a digital nomad?

 

 

I had been in Sydney for two months and was casually going through recruitment, while taking a short career break, when – overnight – the government reformed the 457 visa programme and removed the permanent residency pathway.

I was already unhappy about continuing my career in technology sales, but viewed getting a 457 as a tempting incentive to work for someone else, as I could be granted permanent residency after four years.

So what was – briefly – a devastating decision by the government, turned out to be a blessing for me, as I had no reasons left not to go freelance.

My first move was to grab two days a week on a building site, as this – just – covered my living expenses. I pitched my friends for work and did various sales jobs (using Skype for international calls at only $20/month), to keep my head above water, while I figured out what to do next.

Four months of hardship followed. I was eating fast food and struggling to get by, while exploring options and trying to make money online. Fortunately, I had surfing and freediving on my doorstep, to remind me why I was going freelance.

Recruiters regularly contacted me with six-figure job opportunities. Sydney’s CBD was visible from my living room window – reminding me how easily I could fix my financial challenges.

I knew that to make copywriting work, I had to learn SEO, so plunged into weeks of reading blogs and experimenting with WordPress. Eventually I became confident enough to consult for friends.

I started attending entrepreneurs meetups and established that high-quality content, written by someone with a strong background in technology sales was useful for a lot of companies.

I reached out and started pitching a lot of marketing companies. I was honest about the fact that I planned to build my own company and only wanted two days a week – which is probably why most didn’t reply!

I was taken advantage of and asked to produce content for free, by a company that had no intention of hiring me.

Eventually, I pitched a web design company with a slick page I found on Facebook and was invited for coffee with the MD. The first thing we established was that he planned to run his company while doing a ski season – we clicked and I got two days a week copywriting, in-house.

Fresh with confidence from this success, I started pitching more marketing companies and picked up work with several more agencies. By this point, I think my confidence was helping me sell myself.

I haven’t looked back since.

 

Describe your daily routine
I usually wake around 7 or 8am and stretch, mediate and drink water.

 

 

 

 

What’s the biggest challenge of being a digital nomad?

Balancing your time and responsibilities.

 

Sure, you can surf every day. Maybe the waves are awesome and you don’t want to miss out, so you plan to reschedule some work you had planned, for a monster surf session – but have you got time to fit the work in before the deadline?

But for me, this is being an adult. You are free to do anything you like, but you have to deal with the consequences – and this is more true for someone working freelance, than an employee.

Becoming a digital nomad has forced me to become more responsible, self-aware and motivated.

 

 

 

I coasted through my career and underperformed, relative to my level of ability. But on reflection, why not?

If you love snowboarding, playing the drums, golf or just spending time with your family and make your money doing something you don’t actually love, then it’s rational to compress the time spent making money, to allow more time for what you love.

Sure, working harder and better might result in a promotion or annual bonus. But the equivalent time relative to the cash value of your bonus against your salary, taken off your hours for the next working year, is the correct incentive – if you want more time to do things you love. Most companies don’t offer this.

  • Most companies respond to you finishing your work, by giving you more work.
  • I respond to me finishing my work, by giving myself surfing.
  • Surfing is a superior incentive to perform work, than more work.
  • Thusly, I now have a great work ethic.

None of this seems complicated to me.

What advice would you give to anyone considering nomadism?

Be rational. Be objective. Be open-minded.

Start asking yourself important questions, like:

  • What kind of lifestyle do you really want?
  • Which activities do you enjoy doing?
  • What are you naturally good at?
  • What would you like to become good at?
  • Where and how do you want to live?

Start mentally building your ideal life – and in a practical, sensible way.

Imagining flying around in a private jet is fine; but the useful part is constructing the financial models and methods you’ll use to fund it.

Network HEAVILY. And don’t just network with CEOs and ‘important’ people – but with anyone who shares your values, dreams and goals. They are more likely to be your potential partners and customers.

Experiment. Try out your potential service offerings on your friends. Offer your services on fiverr.com or with small, local companies, until you’re confident you’re good at and enjoy them – then pitch a bigger company.

If after all that, you conclude that working in someone else’s company for a fixed length of time, most days, for the rest of your life, is the most effective way to lead a happy, rewarding and healthy life, then go for it.

I did these things and discovered that I could enjoy more money, fun and freedom, working from a laptop. But that’s just me.

What’s your favourite gadget?
The obvious answer has to be MacBook or iPhone.. there’s no escaping it! Both devices allow me to communicate and create content, but one’s more powerful and the other’s more compact.

I’ll skip the obvious though and have to say, my AiAiAi TMA-2 headphones.

They’re modular over-ear headphones produced by a Danish brand that sound amazing, are super-comfortable and stylish – in an understated, matt-black way (the total opposite of garish, plastic Beats headphones)!

I’ve got a set of huge, padded over-ear pads which feel like cushions and sound massive, for relaxing at home; and hard on-ear pads, which are compact and sound tight, for travelling around the city.

The ‘Young Guru’ model I’ve got came with a long studio cable for recording, but the shorter cable with a Microphone and iPhone/MacBook controls is great for phone-calls and Skype. AiAiAi just released a condenser mic for phone-calls – so I’ll be buying that too!

Everything fits into the slick AiAiAi hardcase, which lives in my rucksack – so I can build the best headphone for my needs, wherever I am.

How does the world look to you, now?

Strange.

It’s slightly surreal watching people all heading in the same direction, to the same place, most days. And the predictability of which towns and cities will be mainly empty or full on five specific days of each week. I live alongside a world, while interacting with it in a very different way to most people.

When I’m asked, ‘Why are you a digital nomad?’ I usually ask, ‘Why aren’t you a digital nomad?’

Some answers are pretty rational, like someone needing to provide for a family and being concerned for the security of guaranteed earnings. I respect anyone providing for their family. Also, some people really love their jobs – and workplaces are definitely improving, in terms of quality of life.

Many of the answers I hear just don’t make sense though.

  • Humans cluster around CBDs, working hard to attain high salaries, that are drained by the high cost of property close to the CBD, which they’re only working in because it pays a high salary. Which the property drains.
  • People sacrifice their peak years in terms of fitness, to sit in an office all day, with the consolation of being free to play golf all day once they’re in retirement age.
  • A lot of people – especially in finance – spend significant time away from their families and (worst of all) damage their well-being and happiness to the point of causing harm to people they love, because they’re trying to earn money to provide for those very same people.
  • Holidays absurd a chunk of post-tax income, allowing a commuter to spend a fraction of their year in a place they ACTUALLY want to be.

None of these behaviours make any rational sense. It seems clear to me that they’re driven by social convention.

I mean, no-one could actually be that bad at maths, or unaware of the value of time and health, that they sacrifice these things for a number on a piece of paper that is swallowed by the lifestyle they’ve developed to live in the place that gives them that number. Could they?

When you dissolve any interest in status or social convention and start looking at money as nothing more than a commodity to serve a purpose (living), you’re free to explore totally different strategies.

Earning money from a laptop frees you to live anywhere with an internet connection. And your earnings are totally relative to your location.

Once you commit to minimalism (seriously, it’s empowering), you can choose somewhere cheap, rural, near the beach or in the mountains – anywhere you like.

Making enough money to live is just a problem solving activity – and conventional careers are, in my analysis, a poor strategy.

If you design an app which makes you more cash than you and your family need to live on, then congratulations. You don’t need a job anymore. Enjoy.

Many CBD-commuters would be happier on half their income, if they could make it from any location in the world.

What’s the broader significance of digital nomadism?

Firstly, minimalism.

My attitude towards possessions is healthier, now I live out of a suitcase and rucksack. I own far less, yet am profoundly happier and more productive.

In my previous life, I had thirty pairs of shoes and three drawers of expensive branded t-shirts – with a nagging feeling that I’d never found ‘the one’.

My suitcase holds four pairs of Nike sneakers and a simple set of identical, plain t-shirts and jeans in whites, greys and charcoals that I can blend – with no stress, ever.

My rucksack holds a MacBook, iPad and camera equipment.

My electric guitar is the one impractical item I take everywhere – but that’s a luxury offset by my minimalism.

Everything else I use – from furniture to surfboards – is rented, or bought second-hand and sold on when I leave.

Any objects I buy usually replace something that’s totally worn out or sold on.

Impulse purchases have no place in my life, whatsoever.

I am immune to advertising and shop displays – because I literally have no place for things I don’t need.

Yet I live in beautiful rented and fully-furnished properties, which are swiftly made ‘mine’ when my Apple TV and electric guitar setup are running through their home’s television and speakers.

I have minimal distractions, no broadcast TV or commute and can spend my whole day working, reading, playing guitar and improving my fitness.

 

Secondly, using time productively.

Everyone in an office job I’ve ever met spends time procrastinating each day; the difference is that instead of pretending to work and browsing social media, now I close my laptop and do something I actually want to – like play guitar.

 

We’re disrupting everything from home rental (AirBnB) to travel (Uber) – isn’t it time to disrupt the way we live and work?

Life is meant to improve and get better – and if you don’t believe that, then I wonder what actually motivates you to get out of bed each day.

The nine-to-five office working convention was invented by people who didn’t have the internet. It doesn’t deserve any respect.

There are no rules saying what time any human has to wake up, which clothes we should wear, or what hours we should perform certain activities between.

Work, in essence, is pretty simple.

In our current economic system, we each have to make sufficient money, in order to pay for our food, housing and any possessions or services that we require.

Somewhere along the way, people started mistaking their jobs for their identity, personality and values – so no wonder retirement is devastating for many ‘high achievers’.

For me, being a digital nomad isn’t about escaping responsibility – it’s about taking responsibility.

The only responsibilities you escape as a digital nomad are socially constructed, such as ‘get a career’, ‘fit in’, ‘settle down – none of which have any intrinsic value or meaning. They’re just outdated, socially-conditioned mantras, which kept people busy making money for shareholders.

The irony, is that jobs which demand the most social convention (uniforms, fixed working hours and repetitive actions) will be the first to be replaced by machines – whereas creative industries will hold out far longer.

But when it comes to responsibilities like, ‘take control of your earning potential’, ‘be healthy’, ‘decide where in the world you should be’, ‘choose which companies, products and ideas you should help’, then being freelance and able to move, live and prosper anywhere that has an internet connection is clearly a massive advantage.

We’re trying to create formulas here – whether that’s for curing diseases; reducing carbon emissions; making faster planes; or designing better living.

And contrary to popular perception, I think people tend to think about helping other people more, as they become more time-rich.

 

Being a digital nomad is – absolutely – about freedom.

Here’s the caveat – ‘freedom’ incorporates a strong sense of

 

History teaches us that life gets better, but that many people reject change. If you want life to get better, you have to make the argument for it.

Building site! 🚧

👷 Alex is building Fringe, for nomads.
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