Stephanie Danforth is a digital nomad from Colorado Springs, USA, who spent the last years working as a remote designer specializing in branding and web design for female entrepreneurs.
Before the pandemic, Stephanie also went to over 20 different countries, hiked dozens of mountains and even spent nine months living and traveling in a van with her husband Nick.
You might be wondering – what was she doing before all this?…
Working as a barista in a local coffee shop.
Turning a Passion Into a Successful Online Design Business
Back in 2013, Stephanie’s husband came up with an idea to live out of a camper van and travel around the country. Even though it sounded crazy at first, she liked the idea of having the flexibility to work anywhere she wanted. So she ditched her barista job in Austin, TX, packed all her stuff in a van, and decided to sell handmade jewelry on Etsy to fund her travels.
She thought that her Etsy business was the best way to do it, as the jewelry was easy enough for her to make on the van. She picked up the craftwork through tutorials on Pinterest, where she also observed the kind of jewelry people would be interested in buying. After designing a few failed products, Stephanie finally hit a profitable niche, which was making simple bracelets, necklaces and rings that she delivered to her clients in the USA while traveling the country.
For the first 9 months, Nick and Stephanie were completely happy traveling around the USA in a van, but then they decided to take it international and went to Europe. However, jewelry making on the go was not a feasible business model anymore: “After we started traveling internationally I started dabbling in web design because it was too hard to bring all my jewelry supplies and figure out shipping individual pieces from abroad.”
Since Stephanie needed to find another way to make money remotely, she decided to try her hand in web design. Stephanie was extremely passionate about design, but with zero experience in the field, she had to start from scratch: “I had a little bit of design knowledge from managing my Etsy shop and I heard that it was a marketable skill that many people were willing to fork out money for a simple website. So I enrolled in an online course that taught me everything I needed to know about making professional websites and selling my services.”
Hard Work is Key to Get Your Freelance Business Off The Ground
After taking the online course, Stephanie started creating websites for her own personal projects. She then created a profile on Upwork and spent hours observing how other freelancers were marketing their services and what kind of offers they were sending out to potential clients. Once she had a better idea on how Upwork worked, she started sending out job proposals every day for up to three hours.
Finding clients on Upwork was a lot more difficult than Stephanie had expected, but after 2 months of work, she finally landed her first customer. Looking back, she could have gotten her first gig a lot faster: “It would have helped if I had taken the time to make an actual portfolio site by creating a couple more websites for friends. It would have definitely made me look more professional and experienced, which probably would have gotten me a job quicker.”
Although her first gig was a low-paying job, the client left her a positive review that helped her get discovered by more customers. In only six months, Stephanie didn’t need to actively search for clients anymore as they were recommending her services to their friends – giving her so many job offers that she even had to increase her hourly rates: “I’ve raised my price to $120 per hour and then lowered it back to $75, just to see what types of clients or requests I would get. It was very interesting because despite raising my rates, I didn’t have a hard time getting offers.”
Even though she had multiple jobs coming in from Upwork, she wanted to experiment with Fiverr. At Upwork, she was offering web design and branding services at a fixed price with higher rates, but at Fiverr, she decided to offer something more specific. She came up with the idea of feminine logo design, and it blew up. She was getting so many gigs she had to hire another designer to handle her work.
Stephanie was extremely lucky to have found her niche at Fiverr, but she said that in order to make it even more profitable, she had to optimize her gigs: “I had to start offering different packages and priced them accordingly by charging more if they wanted more file types, revisions or designs. It made it a lot easier for me, creating a huge difference in my profits.”
Being Your Own Boss Doesn’t Mean You Need to Overwork Yourself
Stephanie and her husband have successfully spent 4 years working and traveling as digital nomads. It had been a long journey for this former barista to become a web designer, but it all worked out great, since these days she has enough work to keep her fully occupied for the next 5 months.
Stephanie’s daily work schedule includes working an average of 6 hours per day on her design business and up to 4 hours per day on side projects. It might sound like a lot of work, but that is what keeps Stephanie going on: “As an entrepreneur and self-employed person, I’ve found that it’s really important that I listen to myself when I feel like I need a break. Sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to my thoughts about taking a break and instead I keep working away. But after a while of not paying attention, I slowly start to feel anxious, overloaded, or over-worked.”
For those looking for ways to start out, I think Stephanie’s story is evidence that you can do it too – just remember to put in the hard work. She also added: “Make a point to meet some people and make good friends. Real community is what you need to last long term with this lifestyle. Otherwise, it’s easy to get tired of all the pretty places and amazing food.”
Interested in Following Stephanie’s Footsteps?
Check out these online courses to learn how to become a successful freelance designer, just like Stephanie:
- Graphic Design Bootcamp;
- Learn Photoshop, Web Design & Profitable Freelancing;
- Get Started & Find Success with Freelancing on Upwork.