Today I had the opportunity to interview Marquis Matson, an SEO analyst and copywriter of six years and VP of Community at Sozy.
What was your inspiration for living and working nomadically? What factors inspired you to leave the stationary lifestyle and start earning money remotely?
I used to work in higher education in the United States for a public college. I was given two weeks of vacation days each year that accrued throughout the year. I lived in Miami at the time so flights to Latin America were really cheap. I would travel to Central America and South America on any public holidays or vacation days that I had stored up. The more that I traveled to these places, the more backpackers that I met. So I had an idea of what it might be like to travel long-term, which was really attractive to me.
After one trip to Colombia, my boss had scheduled a meeting with me to tell me that he was concerned that I was the only employee that used all of my vacation days and that perhaps I was not as dedicated to my job as my colleagues. At that point, I decided it was time to quit. I gave my notice and promptly sold all of my belongings. I took the cash in my savings and left the country. I didn’t know how I’d earn money remotely but I knew that I’d figure it out. I’m resilient and smart enough, so I knew it’d be fine.
What unexpected challenges and hurdles have you encountered so far as a digital nomad?
Yes and no. Living nomadically presents so many challenges that you never expect to face. They’re mostly logistical challenges at first, like learning to accept the fact that most places around the world are highly disorganized or that public transportation is unreliable. Figuring out visa stuff was also challenging at first because I wasn’t used to the inconsistencies that many governments have, not to mention that everything was in a different language (Spanish, which I eventually learned).
The transition period was tough because I came from a different culture and a different country, so literally every single thing about my day-to-day had changed. That was the most unexpected challenge of all and is perhaps where the most growth came. Learning how to let go of my ego and assimilate to another culture was incredibly humbling and has fundamentally changed the way that I view right and wrong. That has been the biggest surprise that came from my experience as a nomad.
Do you have any personal anecdotes or stories about the hardships you’ve faced as a location independent worker? How did you overcome them?
Internet! The biggest challenge is always finding a good wifi signal, that’s why you’ll see so many digital nomads camping out in cafes no matter where you go. Again, learning how to let go of the control I had in my western life and learning how to go with the flow was the biggest challenge and poor wifi signals were the catalyst for that growth.
The other challenge is that it’s not always easy to find the resources that you need in these kinds of places, like when my laptop crashed and I had to fly home to buy a new one.
One time, when I was living in Ecuador, I was watching Netflix on my laptop, which was placed on top of my bed. It was an extremely humid place and the fabric of the bedding prevented the fan from cooling my computer. The condensation wrecked the motherboard and because I had a Mac computer, there were no skilled computer repair shops that could fix it. I found people who tried, but nobody could fix it or find the appropriate parts to replace the damage. Because Ecuador has steep import taxes for technological goods, computers were insanely expensive to buy brand new. For months, I had to borrow a computer from a local friend, but that computer was so old that it really couldn’t keep up with the kind of work that I was doing.
I eventually booked a cheap flight home and bought a brand new computer. I opted for a Lenovo this time around for the fact that it would be a lot easier to fix no matter where I was in the world. A couple of years later, when I was in India, there were power surges while I had my Lenovo laptop plugged into the power source. It fried my battery and the connector ports for my charger. I was able to find someone to fix it that same day for less than $20. That day, I was glad I made the switch to a more universally used computer brand!
Has any aspect of the lifestyle and career been easier than expected? Is there anything that you thought would be difficult but, in reality, hasn’t been?
I thought it would be really hard to travel the world without speaking the local languages, but the truth is that people are really good at finding ways to communicate. And most people speak enough English to help you, anyway. In fact, most people in most places have been tremendously helpful, no matter the language barrier. Like when I found myself lost in Nicaragua in a rural area, a man grabbed my bag and walked me to the bus station to help me find my way out.
Another time in Colombia, I accidentally boarded the wrong bus because I didn’t speak Spanish at the time and had no idea what I was doing. The bus driver stopped at the next pit stop and signaled for me to follow him. He took me to the ticket counter and evidently asked them to book me a ticket on another bus. I had NO idea what was happening, I just stood to the side and waited for him to signal me again. Eventually, they put me on another bus and found someone who could translate, at which point they finally explained to me that the bus I had previously boarded was going to an extremely dangerous area where tourists don’t typically go. So the bus driver knew I was on the wrong bus and helped me find the right one.
People have been incredibly generous and helpful and that’s made it a lot easier to get around than I thought it would be.
What character traits would you say are the most important or essential for successful digital nomads?
Openness, curiosity, and humility. If you get to wherever you’re going and you’re not open or humble, then the world will eat you alive. Things will go wrong, naturally, and it will be miserable. But if you have the right attitude, it’ll be a really beautiful experience.
If you were starting over from scratch today, what would you do differently?
When I first left the country, I was incredibly naïve about it all. I had no idea what was about to unfold or what I would encounter. And I honestly think that is the best way to do it, so I really wouldn’t change anything at all. The more that you try to control things, the more misery you’ll cause yourself because nothing will go how you planned. The earlier that you can recognize that, the easier that it will be. Since I hadn’t planned anything at all, it gave me a lot of space to let things unfold naturally.
What would you say to aspiring digital nomads looking to get started on a similar career path? Any words of wisdom or cautionary tales?
Be open to every opportunity that comes your way. When I first started working online, I basically applied to any gig that I could reasonably complete for any amount of pay. My initial goal was just to see what kind of work was out there and what I was naturally talented at. I started out as a ghost writer, then moved into social media, then finally found SEO. I only came to this point because I accepted so many underpaid roles and absorbed the lessons like a sponge. I learned from anyone who was willing to teach me and took bad clients and bad gigs as lessons on how to find my way.
I’d also recommend to not do any work for anyone that doesn’t sign a contract or doesn’t offer payment protection. I did $1,000 worth of work for someone in my early days and was never paid because I had been scammed. But again, if you’re open to these lessons, they can be incredibly valuable.
What were some digital strategies that originally helped get your business or service off the ground, and what were some of the challenges you faced regarding digital marketing?
Finding a mentor has been the single most important thing in my business growth. When I was a ghost writer, I was being paid so poorly that I started to look into ways to make more money as a writer. That’s when I came across information about search engine optimization (SEO). I had read that SEO writers can make good money, so I learned a few basic principles and started using them in my writing. After awhile, one client asked me what magic I did to bring them so much traffic. They thought that I was SO good at it that they asked me, a $20/article writer, to train their in-house team on the principles of SEO.
Of course, I hardly knew anything at all but that showed me the real value in SEO from a business standpoint. So when I looked into it more, I realized that I really needed an internship to teach me the skills I needed to become an SEO that could charge a living wage. So I searched for “SEO” on Upwork and found a job listing for a travel company that I still work with to this day. They were looking for someone they could train and who would eventually take the lead on their site. During our interview, I told them plainly that I would work for them in any capacity and for any pay if they would just teach me how to be an SEO. They did and now I’m making six figures as an SEO, all thanks to the mentorship they provided me.
The biggest challenge came when it was time for me to find my own clients. Because I was so new at it, I didn’t have much experience knowing what a “good” or “bad” client was. I ended up with a few really “bad” clients, who didn’t pay on time, played a lot of games, or didn’t give me access to their websites. So I ended up in some pretty stressful situations just because I didn’t know what kinds of red flags to look out for. But that comes with experience and is also a part of the process.
How did you initially find success with attracting clients or new business?
Word of mouth has been the best marketing tool for me. After finding my mentor, he introduced me to two people who were looking for SEO writers. One eventually hired me as their SEO and the other introduced me to a new client who hired me as their SEO. Those two people told others about me and I got more work. Then as my name began to appear on reputable websites and in discussions on Twitter, it became a lot easier to find new work. I don’t have to market myself at all, clients always come to me.