How to do business when you can't travel

Written by Xolo
on April 17, 2020

With airports closed, borders shut and lockdown policies in place, the paramount question being asked by global freelancers and solopreneurs is definitely ‘how do I do business when I can’t travel?’

2020 has officially got off to a weird start. COVID-19 has swept the globe and people everywhere are now stuck at home, unable to go out properly due to social distancing measures. This has obviously affected the world of work enormously. ‘Normal’ working people have found themselves at home alongside the hordes of self-employed and freelancers who have been doing it for years.

In a way, maybe it shows that freelancers, digital nomads and solopreneurs all over the world were ahead of the curve – we’ve been social distancing for a long time! Indeed, remote work has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a survey by FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics showing that remote work grew 92% in the 10 years up to July 2019.

However, as the monikers suggest, freelancers and digital nomads alike definitely have had their worlds turned upside down as well. They are no longer ‘free’ to do as they please and they can no longer be ‘nomadic’. Although many of us work from home, we often view trips to co-working spaces, coffee shops, client offices and networking events as essential. This doesn’t even include all those freelancers who are lucky enough to have clients overseas who they regularly visit and collaborate with.

So how can we do business if we can’t travel? How do we sustain our globally focused clients if we can’t visit them? And how do we find new work streams as we feel our way through the gig economy?

We need to go digital of course! We need to make virtual reality our new reality and nurture our online relationships with as much care (probably more so) as our ‘normal’ ones.

Benefits of virtual collaboration

Many people think that ‘virtual collaboration’ is second-best to being face-to-face. While it is true that there is a lot to be gained for ‘in-person’ meetups, now is the time to challenge that belief and make the digital world work for you.

According to the results of a LinkedIn global survey, ‘61% of professionals agree there are opportunities to be found through regular online communication.’ In this scary and uncertain time, there is no time like the present to go digital!

With millions of workers across the globe suddenly isolated, the importance of digital collaboration has never been clearer. So, what are the benefits?

  • Referrals: Expanding your network online could result in new partnerships and more work.
  • Prominence: Increasing your visibility across your online platforms will keep you in the minds of the right people.
  • Insight: Attending webinars and conversing with people digitally is likely to give you new insights and keep you abreast of industry developments. Learning from others will help you to overcome your own challenges.
  • Social wellbeing: Connecting with clients, peers or like-minded people online can help to alleviate feelings of loneliness and will increase your positivity.

How to make the digital world work for you

There are lots of tips and tricks out there on how to replace travel by working well from home, how to stop yourself from going mad in isolation and how to choose the right tools for solopreneur success.

But how should you make the digital world work for you when you can’t travel anywhere?

  • Create a physical space: If you’re a solopreneur who is not at home alone then creating a space where you can escape the chaos of family life is essential. Afterall, you don’t want to go viral for the wrong reasons in a conference call like Professor Robert Kelly!
  • Work on your communication skills: Communication over video conferencing is naturally harder. Time delays make conversation difficult, normal social cues are harder to read, audio and video functions can sometimes fail, and presentations can be less engaging. This is why you need to make sure your full focus is on the task in hand, and you are concentrating on everyone else in the conversation. If you are leading a group call, then be sure to give everyone a chance to speak and ensure your meetings are engaging and inclusive. Choose channels that are easy-to-use and allow for documents to be shared easily. If someone else is in charge of your meeting, be sure you give them your attention and are ready to respond when required. Making video calls the norm, rather than the exception will make them easier and feel more natural.
  • Improve your online organisation: Each of your clients may be using different project management or video conferencing software for different purposes. Whether its Zoom, Webex, Slack, or Go-To Meeting, you need to be sure you are familiar with them all.

    After you are ‘au fait’ with the channels your clients and collaborators use, then make sure that you understand how they use them. Do they use Email for formal communication, WhatsApp for quick questions and Teamwork for project tracking? Get yourself in-sync with the way they work, and you’ll make sure you won’t get left behind.
  • Have some fun: Do you regularly travel to meet your client for after-work drinks on a Friday or a casual lunch on a Wednesday? Organise to do this virtually instead. It will ensure that your social connection and personal relationships continue and are supported. In this socially distant world, your clients will definitely thank you for it!

Staying positive 

Although these do seem like very uncertain times for freelancers, there are plenty of reasons to stay positive and make the new order of things work for you.

Who needs overly air-conditioned airports, overcrowded coffee houses and too trendy coworking spaces anyway? Online is where it’s at!

Thank goodness for Wi-Fi, thank goodness for the entrepreneurial spirit that makes hustling for new work a breeze, and thank goodness for a freelancer’s confident mindset in the face of adversity.

How can you do business when you can’t travel? Maybe that question should be ‘do we ever need to travel for business again?’