At 25 I graduated, moved to Europe & made an online business my full-time job. Here's how.
I have a quick q for you, have you ever been sitting in your cubicle thinking “my lord, is this really going to be my life!?” and then you look around at your older coworkers and think ‘if that’s me in 15 years, I’m going to be straight up depressed.’
Then you open up Instagram to scroll through for the 32nd time that day to escape to a more exciting lifestyle that all the influencers seem to be having.
You’re dreaming of a life more like what you see on Instagram but quickly brush it aside as ‘not realistic’.
If your parents were anything like mine, they told you to go to college, get a stable job and save your money.
But if you’re reading this, I’m guessing there’s just something inside of you that’s saying ‘there’s got to be more,’ and you’re determined to find a way to make your travel, lifestyle and financial dreams come true!
Wait until 65 to finally travel abroad and live your life your way? Ugh, no! Not down! You’d much rather fulfill those dreams NOW, not 30 years down the road.
Let me ask you a question.
How does living abroad while having complete financial and lifestyle freedom sound to you? If you’re into that, well then lovely, be sure to keep on reading!
In order to explain how I got here, living in Europe, earning more than I could have ever dreamed of in a 9-5 and designing my day and life my way, I’ve got to give you a little background info.
How it all started
At 23, I headed off to Ole Miss for a Masters degree.
(Honestly, because I had so much fun in undergrad, I figured ‘why not keep going and get a Masters?’ Very logical decision making, I know.)
On day 2 in Mississippi, a state I had never been to previously and knew no one in, I bumped into a charming German guy in the bar and we started chatting.
Fast forward a couple months, we started dating and when he moved back to Germany after his semester abroad, we did long distance.
Around the same time, my travel dreams were real, so I started a travel blog.
I quickly learned however that I liked giving my blog a facelift and redesign every couple weeks as much as I liked the actual blogging about travel.
I had a crazy thought in my mind. I wondered if anyone would pay me to redesign or build them a blog or website too?
Seeing the fact that I didn’t know how to code, this seemed to be a pretty far-fetched idea, but I wasn’t going to let that small detail stop me.
I started a web design studio called The Paige Studio on Etsy and advertised blog and site designs for (it’s embarrassing now to say it) $580.
Low and behold, people go to Etsy looking for a website designer, and they’d see my little web design listing. Like magic, every few weeks or months, people would book me through Etsy to do their site!
I also posted some of my web design work on a site called Dribbble and as it turns out, a web design agency needed a new web designer, saw my work on Dribbble and asked me to do a few site designs here and there for them.
Each of those projects for the agency brought in between $500-$1,000.
As a college student, a few extra hundred a month was nothing to sniff at and I was stoked every time someone booked me for their site! … And then took the money directly to spend on travels, mostly to see my boyfriend in Europe. 😂
When graduation rolled around, I was faced with the decision of what to do next with my life.
I had just spent 6 years getting 2 degrees and racking up 45k in student debt.
I knew I had good job prospects back home and could do what my parents wanted; go get a stable job and start saving for retirement and a house.
But I was pretty over the long-distance aspect of my relationship and really felt like maybe 5 years from then I’d be down for a stable job, but I wanted more adventure and travel at that moment.
I dreamed of days like back when I went on exchange for a semester to England, hopping on flights and traveling to new European destinations every weekend.
I weighed the pros and cons.
I figured if I took off to Europe for a year and then went back home to get a job, I could just say I was taking a ‘gap year’ and moved to Europe to learn a language.
I figured that wouldn’t look so terrible on a resume and wouldn’t kill career prospects in the future, so why not go for it?
(Spoiler alert: I never went home and got a real job. 😁)
Moving to Germany
I did a little research to try to figure out how to stay in Europe past 90 days and found the Work and Travel visa. With that visa, you can apply really easily and it doesn’t require you to have a job lined up in the other country in order to apply.
I Googled to find out all the paperwork I’d need, compiled it in literally 2 days and then headed off to the German embassy to apply.
My ‘visa appointment’ was a total of 4 minutes long. I passed my paperwork across the counter, the embassy guy checked that I had all the documents needed and said “your visa will be ready in 2 weeks.”
🙌🏻😃✈🌍💃 Well, that was easy I thought.
I booked a one-way flight (very Hollywood movie of me 😂), bought a cute dress for graduation, walked across the stage, collected my diploma, threw my strange square graduation hat in the air, and then hopped on my flight over to Europe just in time to enjoy a beautiful European summer!
Turning my online business into my full-time job
Once I got to Germany, I was determined to turn my little side-hustle web design studio into my full-time job.
I had saved enough to sustain me in Germany for about 3 months, but really needed my web design business to bring in more income than it already was in order to stay in Europe long-term.
I did all the research. I had been binging on blogs for years of other web designer and started trying to figure out how to bring in more clients.
I determined that blogging was my best bet to both build trust with potential clients and to work my way up in the Google search rankings.
And blog I did. I blogged 2 days a week consistently for months.
Here’s the thing about blogging though, it’s a slow build. Thankfully I still was getting projects sporadically through Etsy and that web design agency still gave me as many projects as I wanted.
I was doing 3-4 websites at a time for the agency, which would earn me about $1k/month.
Every month I could see the traffic picking up on the blog as I posted more and more useful, helpful content on the topic I wanted clients (Squarespace website design).
As the traffic picked up, people started using my inquiry form and booking free consultations with me. And then after a couple months, I started landing clients!
Each of my clients would bring in 2.5k and I could start & finish their project in 2 weeks, meaning if I was able to get myself booked, I could make up to 5k in a month.
I found as I kept blogging, the clients kept coming through my inquiry form every few days.
At one point, a business friend encouraged me to up my prices and I doubled them from 2.5k for a website to 5k for a website.
My best month that year I did 7.5k.
Staying in Germany long-term
At that point, the business was bringing in solid income and I was in no rush to quit what I had built and go back to the real world.
I loved the flexibility my job gave (I’d spontaneously book trips and take a few days or a few weeks of vacation whenever I felt like it), I worked from where I wanted (my bed, couch, a cute cafe or co-working space), and my job even gave me the ability to head home to Canada for a few months and continue working from there.
I had the ability to live in Europe and head home anytime I wanted to see family and friends.
My Work and Travel visa was only valid for 1 year though, so I did have to apply for another type.
Thankfully I found a visa for Germany called the ‘Freelance Visa’.
Legit, it’s a visa for people who don’t work traditionally for companies, but instead are a freelancer and work for themselves/clients.
I was amazed that that visa existed and it fit exactly what I was already doing and needed!
The application for the freelance visa was definitely more in-depth than the Work and Travel one. I actually had to show a portfolio of my past work, write a business plan and project future income.
My boyfriend and I spent 2 weeks putting the application together and translating it into both English & German. (I don’t think that was required, but we really wanted to make a good impression to the person who would potentially approve my application.)
They also wanted to see that I was financially stable.
They don’t say exactly what ‘financially stable’ is in an actual financial amount, but I gathered the idea they just wanted to be sure I wasn’t about to go broke and claim welfare or benefits from Germany, so I piled up quite a few thousand into my bank account during the application.
What life is like now
Now I’ve had Germany be my home base for almost 3 years and make frequent travels from here. I also make sure to head back to Canada every summer for a couple months. My student loan is paid, I got rid of the 45k of student debt in 1.5 years, all thanks to the success of my business.
I NEVER want to go back to the ‘real world’ and plan to do absolutely nothing with my 2 degrees, because I feel that running an online business and working for myself trumps every other job out there.
My top 4 tips for moving abroad & building an online business:
1. Know the 9-5 will always be there
If you’re anything like me, you sometimes let your fears and anxieties take over and completely sabotage your dreams. You worry about these terrible, life-destroying things that could happen if you ‘fail’.
But I want you to truly ask yourself, if you follow your dream and it doesn’t work out, what’s the work that can happen? You go back home, get another 9-5 and try again, this time with more experience and knowledge. No big.
2. Start by going somewhere that’s you can get a Work & Travel visa for
If you’re Canadian, good news, there’s more than 30 countries you can get a Work and Travel visa for, and there’s some reallyyy solid countries you can go to with it! If you’re American, the options for Work and Travel visas aren’t quite as plentiful as for Canadians but there’s still a few countries where you can get one.
The reason I recommend this is because this type of visa is by far the easiest to get.
Or, you can always play the visa hopping game. That means, only staying in a country for however long you’re allowed to visa-free and then moving on. Or, living in a country full-time, leaving for a day (which then resets your visa) and going back again, thereby basically living in a country without a visa still completely legally.
3. Just book the flight already!
If you’re currently paralyzed by fear and don’t even know how you’ll get started with moving abroad, you really just need to do one thing and that’ll start a chain reaction of forcing yourself to do everything needed to make your life abroad happen. That is: Book the flight!
Once you book the flight, it’s going to suddenly be real. You’ll then have the motivation and drive to do everything else; cancel your lease on your apartment or sublet it, quit the job, buy a suitcase and a cute passport case, etc.
4. Build a business that utilizes the skills & talents you already have
If you learning to code gives you nightmares and you are generally a technophobe, don’t try to become a developer because that seems to be the only option for working online. Truly, it’s not.
In my travels I’ve met people running the absolute most random and unexpected online businesses. I truly believe (and have seen it myself) that you can turn your seemingly random talents into an online business.
I actually created an entire training related to this, because when people ask me about how they too can work online, the biggest objection I hear it “but I don’t know how to build websites and don’t have any other skills that could be a business.”
(Remember, I didn’t know the first thing about how to code and yet here I am living the laptop lifestyle for years. It’s possible!)
I’m going to challenge you there and say, girl, I’m happy to report that that’s just your fear speaking and it’s not true at all.
If you want to make the first step towards your online business dreams, you need to get inside the free training I created, The Online Business Matchmaker!
The Online Business Matchmaker will help you figure out:
What talents and skill you already have that are online-business-worthy
Match them up with your perfect paying customer/clients
Determine which business/revenue model works best for your business and life