Living and working as a digital nomad
By Danielle Sendou
As a self proclaimed coffee-hipster, 26-year-old Maya Nikolovski owns an iPhone and a MacBook, an undying love for Starbucks (or any kind of independent cafe so long as it has coffee) and cats.
To top it all off, she works independently online while traveling full-time.
Having to go travel and earn money at the same time is basically any Millennial’s dream plan these days.
As a digital media expert, Maya’s work scope does not really require her to work in the office, allowing her to travel anywhere in the world. As long as she has her laptop with her and a decent internet connection, she is good to go.
How did it all start?
After graduating with a double major degree in psychology and philosophy from the University of Western Ontario in 2012, Maya quickly landed herself a job in customer service and marketing in London, Canada.
“They needed more and more help with marketing, but then I realised they did not do anything online. So I set up their whole email programme, CRM (customer relationship management) system, social media, and I was able to grow those accounts really quickly for them,” she said.
Even though she majored in psychology and philosophy, Maya decided not to pursue that field as she would be required to go back to school for another five years.
“And also, I have always been entrepreneurial.When I was 15, I made jewelry and sold them at flea markets in Canada,” she said.
After working in online marketing for a time, Maya began to realise how much more amazing it was compared to traditional marketing.
With online marketing, she found that real-life examples could be tested out straightaway and statistics from any online campaigns gave a better gauge of their progress.
“With traditional marketing – which is not using social media, you just put it out there and hope it works – there isn’t anything you can do if it doesn’t work,” said Maya.
“But with online marketing, you can put up a campaign, you can set it up to run for one day and if it is working and there is someone responding to it, then great, but if it is not, then I am going to switch this campaign up right away.
“Or I can test two campaigns right next to each other and put my budget into the campaign that is actually doing really well,” she explained.
After realising how much she loves digital marketing, Maya decided to to go back to school a year after she started working, taking up a course at Fanshawe College in Canada.
“It was a one-year programme, and I started while I was working full-time, which is great because I still had all the experience, so whatever I was learning I was able to use it right away,” she said.
With her newly discovered love for marketing, it was not until June this year that she was inspired to travel and work on her own projects.
“I think the idea started when I wanted to travel this year – I went to Mexico, Boston, Buffalo and San Francisco. And it was in San Francisco back in June that I realised that I was the happiest when I was in an airplane and going somewhere new,” she said.
It was one of the toughest decisions in her life. Maya resigned from managing the SEO and Content department at Northern Commerce, a digital marketing agency where she worked for two years, ended up selling or giving away most of her stuff, even her cat, car and apartment back in London.
“But that was great though. The more stuff I gave away, the more I was not tied down and the happier I was,” she said.
She admitted that it was hard though because she had a full-time job.
“I was thinking ‘How could I leave?’ but I realised that sometimes you need to go for it, you need to go for what you want to do. I really wanted to travel and I really want to do marketing project, and I can do both of that,” said Maya.
With all the contacts she collected on the job, Maya quickly landed herself projects and also a job as an instructor of Google Analytics at Fanshawe College.
With a background in marketing and skills she acquired from her previous job, Maya acquired sales and users for her platform as a base and began to work on her own projects.
Among one of the projects she is working on is an e-commerce NGO called ‘Elephant & Co.’, a site selling elephant-related products such as tapestries with elephant motifs.
“I think when I was two, my dad and I went to this elephant park and I must have had some sort of experience with elephants that really affected me,” said Maya when asked why she founded Elephant & Co.
“Right now, we are working with a team of nine to 10 volunteers to launch our social media, our big campaign, and create content as well,” Maya said, adding that the website now has about 8,000 visitors a month.
Proceeds from sales are donated to The International Elephant Foundation which works on conserving elephants and help orphan elephants.
In future, Maya would like to work with the David Sheldrick Wildlife Foundation.
Besides Elephant & Co, Maya is also the founder of Digital Nomad Forum along with partner Robert O’Kruk.
Digital Nomad Forum is a question-and-answer site for digital nomads to exchange information on tips and places they travel to while working at the same time.
“One thing that brings digital nomads together is the desire to travel and being able to make money to use the internet,” she said.
Besides being the founder of Digital Nomad and Elephant & Co., she is also one of the founding partners for an international digital marketing firm, Digital Coalition.
The ups and downs
While traveling to different places seems to be the best way to live and love your life, Maya finds the perks of becoming a digital marketing expert and working online also has its challenges.
Depending on whether one works in an agency or in house, among the perks working as a digital marketer includes have an amazing team and working with people who have similar mind set on tons of different projects. With an in house role, requires one can go little bit more in depth into what they are doing.
“So I think that the benefits and challenges are different based on what role there is. But overall, the benefit is that you will always have to be learning, so online marketing is always changing. There are always new tactics and new technologies that come out,” she said.
“You can technically work as a digital nomad in an in house position or an agency as well, so as long as you can work you do not have to be in the office. Being a digital marketing expert is one of the skills that you can be a digital nomad with. You can work while you travel, if you have the right kind of job,” she said.
On the other hand, as a digital marketing expert, the challenges also happen to be some of the perks.
“The challenges are that things are always changing, so you need to be on top of things. For example, what kind of strategies are working right now, you need to always be reading and learning and always trying new things,” explained Maya.
“Another challenges is that there would be a lot of competition for certain strategies you used,” she said, adding that among the tools she find helpful for her work includes Google analytics, HubSpot and Ahrefs.
A digital nomad herself, picking a new location is also a new challenge as she has to make sure there is reliable internet connection and some sort of community around her.
“I think finding a start up community is also a challenge as people who are like-minded and starting their own venture actually make you better,” she said.
“As an entrepreneur and a marketer, you would always be meeting people who are pushing you to your boundary, so I think finding new places where you can have that is a challenge, but that is a challenge that you can overcome by doing research,” she said.
Aside from that, time management is also proving to be a challenge as she to balance her time to not
“What really important for my business right now is how I manage my time depending on what is most important and what is going to have the most impact, and I prioritize it that way,” said Maya explaining that she would work and take a day off alternately.
“It is challenging to do both so you have to turn on when you are working. You need to be very focus. And when you are relaxing, you do not want to be thinking about work while you do that,” she said.
Just do it!
Raised by conservative parents who hoped their children would follow in their footsteps and secure a stable job with great benefits, they couldn’t understand why Maya quit hers to take up the digital nomad life.
“It was kind of scary because you know this life and you have this stability, and to leave that to do something on your own is scary,” she said.
“But my advice is to just do it now and to not wait because there is nothing that you are waiting for. You can do no matter what position you are in and if you have the skill that you can work online.”
At the end of November, Maya will be doing a presentation on Digital Marketing in KL with her business partner, Robert.