“I should have started blogging sooner”, Digital Nomad Developer Interview with Jerrie Pelser

Jerrie is a busy guy: he runs a popular blog, curates and distributes a weekly ASP.NET newsletter and offers a series of screencasts. And it’s paying off – by delivering all this great, free content, Jerrie has clients lining up to pay for his expertise.

What was your main reason for wanting to live this sort of lifestyle?

I turned 40, and was not married and felt my life was diverging from those of my friends, as theirs all started revolving around their kids and families.

So I took a look at my life and realised there was no reason for me to live a “typical” life of going to work, paying off a car and house etc, as there was no family I had to provide that stability for.

I had already telecommuted quite a few times throughout my career and knew that it didn’t make much difference whether I worked from home, or from somewhere halfway across the world.

So all these thoughts came together and I decided it was time for a grand adventure, so I set off travelling knowing that I could also still support myself my getting remote work.

How do you make money?
I do freelance software development work

How do you find freelance clients?

I have a blog about software development geared primarily towards ASP.NET developers. The blog gets a lot of traffic and I have made it very prominent on the blog that I am available for hire. So I get a lot of enquiries through the blog.

I also have found work through people whom I have met at co-working spaces. When I see fellow programmers at co-working spaces I like to chat with them, and sometimes that have led to me getting actual work from them, or their referrals.

I found one of my most recent projects through Twitter. One of the Microsoft employees I follow tweeted about a company in the US looking for some freelance developers and I reached out to them and I got the work like that.

So far all of my clients have been IT related companies who get me to do internal projects or proof of concepts for them, or alternatively, they will subcontract a piece of a larger project to me.

What is it about your blog that keeps people coming? It feels like there is an almost infinite number of blogs, but really not many good ones.

I cannot say. I have been trying to post regularly on a set schedule every week, so, according to the blog experts, that is a good thing for traffic.

Also, most of my traffic comes through Google as I am ranking well for certain things – though I never write to “rank” for keywords, I write about what I find interesting.

I have also been getting a lot of referrals from the official Microsoft ASP.NET website as they feature my blog posts regularly.

So all of those play a role, but I wish I can figure out the perfect recipe though, as I would really like much more traffic.

Do you do the same work as before you became a Digital Nomad?

Yeah, but it worked a little differently. In South Africa I worked through big “contracting houses” which would place me on fairly long-term projects with clients (usually large corporations). I never went out to try and find my own clients.

The way I do contracting now is to go out and find my own clients (or they come to me through the blog).

What do you enjoy about the work? What do you hate about it?

I like the variety. I usually balance 2 projects at the same time, along with my blogging, a weekly newsletter I put out, as well as the screencasts I produce. I also have various other smaller side projects going on.

So far I have also had really interesting projects, which I am very grateful about, and all my clients have been super nice people.

There is not anything I hate. I do find juggling all these things a bit challenging sometimes, though.

How do you stay productive?

The Pomodoro technique 🙂 I came across this video from John Sonmez some time ago. I have adopted it (and adapted it a little bit), and I find that it makes me very productive. I won’t go into too much detail – just watch the video as John explains it quite well.

What tools, equipment or tactics do you rely on for working while travelling?

I travel with a Macbook Pro – though I am looking to “upgrade” to a Surface Pro 4 soon 😉 I also have a Rode Podcaster microphone I use for the screencasts.

I use Visual Studio for the actual software development. The other primary software tools I use is GitHub for source control and collaboration and Trello for lightweight project management. My clients usually have Slack, so they add me to their Slack accounts for communication.

I may also use Skype or Zoom for video conferencing.

I try to adapt to whatever tools my clients use. Like I said before, they are all IT-related companies and have a set of communication and collaboration tools they prefer, so I stick to that. So far though it has consistently been the tools I mentioned above.

Lastly, I also use Toggl to track my time, and I bill my clients through PayPal.

One of the key tactics for me is to stick to a daily routine. When I don’t stick to my routine I can notice that my productivity is dropping.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I wake up without an alarm clock (one of the freedoms I enjoy most about working for myself), but that is usually sometime between 6AM and 7AM. I’ll grab a cup of tea and spend around 30 minutes doing the curation for my weekly newsletter.

I’ll go exercising and grab breakfast and head to the co-working space around 9AM. I’ll try and put in 3 hours (6 pomodoros) of work before lunch.

I take an hour for lunch, and after lunch I will again put in 4 to 5 hours, depending on my energy levels. I’ll grab dinner and then maybe go out, or relax at home with a book, or work on some of my own projects.

Mondays are set aside to put together the weekly newsletter which goes out Wednesday mornings. That takes a few hours.

My blog posts go out on Tuesdays, so I also spend Mondays writing my blog post for the following Tuesday.

On Fridays I may spend time working on open source projects, or once again on my own projects.

Right now I am very busy with freelance work, so I will actually try and fit in the newsletter and blog posts during the evenings.

At the end of every week I send each client a timesheet of my hours worked the week, with a small write-up of what I have accomplished and what my goals are for the following week. I may also remind them about some challenges we are facing, and remind them when I am waiting for feedback from them on something.

They like it, and I think good communication is one of the key things that differentiates you from crowd of developers who charge $10 – $20 per hour.

What’s the biggest challenge of being a Digital Nomad? And how do you deal with it?

I have always been a bit of a loner, but it does still get lonely even for me sometimes.

I try and talk with people and make friends at the co-working spaces, and also go to local tech meet-ups wherever I find myself.

What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you were starting out as a Digital Nomad?

Start blogging much earlier. I started blogging when my digital nomad life started in 2013, but now that I realise how much exposure one can get through a blog, I wish I would have been more serious about it at an earlier stage of my career.

Also, my current hourly rate is not very high in terms of US standards (though I think it is quite decent), but it is still more than double what my hourly rate was back in South Africa.

So I wish I started with the blogging and getting work through the blog (and earning in US dollars) when I was still living in South Africa.

Thanks Jerrie! You can check out Jerrie’s blog: http://www.jerriepelser.com, his newsletter: http://www.aspnetweekly.com and his screencasts: http://www.aspnetcasts.com

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