Michelle Wintersteen on Location Independent Living
Michelle Wintersteen is the Brand Designer and Creative Director behind MKW Graphics, a freelance design agency that specialises in helping small businesses turn their brand visions into beautifully functional visuals. Michelle started her business in San Diego, thanks to some encouragement from her interior designer mother, Susan Wintersteen of Savvy Interiors and Savvy Giving by Design. In July 2017, Michelle went full time ‘digital nomad’ and has been traveling and working remotely from countries like Costa Rica, South Africa, and Croatia, which has inspired her works and connected her with freelancers around the globe.
What does being location independent mean to you and what led you to adopt this type of lifestyle?
To me, being location independent truly means I can work from anywhere. Growing up, I watched my mother start and grow her Interior Design business in San Diego. Although it’s not a 100% remote job, it’s not a traditional office job, either. She was totally in charge of her workday when she met with clients when she did her billing and invoicing and was the best example of plenty of work-life balance as we spent summers up at the lake in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I always knew I wanted the flexibility to work where I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted, so starting my own graphic design business was the perfect way to achieve that lifestyle.
How do you decide your travel schedule, and do you do this in advance?
My travel schedule ranges from super planned and organised to totally winging it. I am very close with my family, so I end up zig zagging across the globe every few months. I usually base my travels around what chapters I want to join with the digital nomad group called Wi-Fi Tribe. I love the community they foster, and each location where they set up coliving and coworking accomodation becomes its own networking experience and mastermind for my growing freelance business. I am currently writing this from Split, Croatia, which is my third chapter with the tribe. I’ve been able to meet so many like-minded individuals with similar life and travel goals that now I have a whole network of fellow nomad travellers to hop around with.
How do you get the balance right between travel and running a business on the road
For me, it’s hard to travel with others who are not living the same lifestyle. Although I love my friends and my family, traveling with people who do not have remote work can be difficult. I’ve found that travelling with other people who do live and work in this way, helps me to stay focused and clock in some solid work hours when it’s really easy to be tempted to spend the whole day at the beach or siteseeing.
Do you think being location independent can be beneficial in terms of growing your business and business development?
I think that being location independent is crucial to the success of my business. Being in a creative field, it can be really easy to fall into a slump or a routine when you’re stuck in one spot physically. Seeing new places, immersing myself in new cultures, eating different food and having new experiences always inspires me to be more creative and to think outside the box when it comes to the branding and creative direction projects that I work on with my clients.
Can you give your top 5 success tips for living a location independent lifestyle
- Balance:Although difficult, it is super important to practice work-life balance. You shouldn’t travel so far away to just sit in a coworking space or your accommodation all day, BUT you can’t totally neglect all responsibilities either. Finding a good balance is essential to feeling successful as a location independent entrepreneur.
- Network:Some of the best business connections I’ve made have come from eavesdropping on coffee shop conversations, meeting other travellers at bars, or attending local networking groups in the cities I visit. If no one knows who you are or what you do, it’s pretty impossible to expect the perfect clients to land in your email inbox.
- Set expectations and overcommunicate:I believe in utter transparency with my clients as I travel. Not everyone understands that location independent remote work does not equal one giant vacation. I always explain to my clients that I am still taking on work even though I may be in South America, Africa, or Europe. Time Zones can also be tricky. When scheduling calls and video conferences, double, triple and quadruple check that you’ve got the right time for both parties.
- Be active on Social Media:It’s super important to maintain an active social media presence while living a location independent lifestyle. Since I travel often, I want to make sure I am creating content that is still engaging my audience back at home. I make sure to post at times when I know my clients, potential clients and referral partners will be awake so that they can see what I am putting out there and so that I can be top of mind when a referral does come their way. I love using Instagram stories to share snippets of my travel, behind the scenes of my projects, and to ask questions in the form of polls.
- Take Care of Yourself:If you don’t have your health, you’ve got nothing. It may sound cliché, but you can’t possibly be getting your best work done when you’re not staying active, staying healthy and staying sharp. Limit drinking and partying. Exercise regularly. Eat healthy. Get plenty of rest. Stay hydrated. Treat your body and your mind like a machine that needs all these things to run efficiently and your quality of work will follow.