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105. How to travel the world as a remote bookkeeper with Susan Moore

On this week’s episode, I speak with Susan Moore who is a remote bookkeeper and travel blogger behind Solo Trips and Tips. 
 
Susan spent 7 months traveling around Southeast Asia back in the 90’s. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia.
 
She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely.
 
Currently, Susan is in year 4 of living a nomadic life, road tripping around the USA and Canada and writing about her experiences on her travel blog SoloTripsAndTips.com
 
Listen on to find out how Susan is able to travel the world as a nomadic book keeper. 
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Show Notes:

Debbie:  

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us for this interview. I am here with Susan. Hey Susan. How are you?

Susan:   

Hi Debbie. I’m doing great, thank you.

Debbie:   

Can you tell us a little bit more about you, Susan, and why you live in offbeat life?

Susan:   

I live on offbeat life mainly for freedom. Many years ago I took a backpacking trip around South East Asia and loved the freedom to roam around. However, I wasn’t making any money. So now I’ve done it all again but with the income and the freedom to explore and travel as well.

Debbie:  

How were you able to become a digital nomad right now and actually make this lifestyle more sustainable?

Susan:  

Well, the main thing is the technology nowadays allowed me to run my bookkeeping business. Austin, Texas is where I started the business and worked on site for each client. So I travel around to each client’s office. Technology like Microsoft desktop connection and Dropbox allows me to share information and log into a client’s computer and do my work from anywhere as long as I have an internet connection.

Debbie: 

Traveling and also bookkeeping. That’s something that not a lot of people will think about when they think of becoming a digital nomad. How did you get clients even when you’re on the road?

Susan:    

Actually, I didn’t think that bookkeeping was not an option for the nomad life. So, when I started looking into it I realized I could make it happen. I could work with my clients. I talked with a couple of the technology guys, the IT guys for my clients to get some information from them on just making sure I had a secure connection with them. We use VPNS with a couple of clients.

There are QuickBooks online, and everything seems to be moving to the cloud these days. People are more and more willing to accept that for different aspects of running their business. So when QuickBooks online first came around, it wasn’t all that popular. They’ve improved it and it’s becoming more the norm and there’s an awful lot of other competition now in that field as well.  

remote bookkeeper

Debbie:    

When you were first starting out and you wanted to make this into a business because obviously you wanted to travel and you wanted to be on the road, how did you get your clients?

Susan:   

I had a client base already before I became nomadic. But when I initially started in Austin, I started with good old fashioned networking. I’d go to these breakfast meetings, lunch meetings. You’ve got to put yourself out there and meet people. Also, I had my website so people would find me through Google initially, and then things changed with quickbooks. That’s what I’m using for all my clients.

And they have a program called a pro advisor. So you sign up for this program and get certified through quickbooks in order to prove that you understand how to use all the software and they have a help button on every single program. So when people are looking for somebody, my profile would show up and they could contact me directly. So it shifted from getting clients from Google or from online internet searches to quickbooks would be sending me referrals. So that helped immensely.

Debbie:           

Are they still doing that right now?

Susan:           

They are. Although I have noticed it’s changed substantially. In the beginning, I was getting really great referrals. Now they’ve changed the way that people can contact the accounting people, the bookkeepers, they can blast out, one message to 20 people. Whereas before they had to contact each person directly. So it was more geared. They’d be more particular about who they’re picking two or three people. So I find out the quality is not as good as before. There’s also a lot more competition in bookkeeping now in the 10 years, 11 years since I started.

Debbie:    You have clients already that you have, so that’s always good. But what about for somebody who wants to start this and who’s just starting out, what would be the first steps that they should do in order to get into this type of career? And is there anything that you need in order to become a bookkeeper?

Susan:  

Well for me, I do not have a degree. So you need experience, you need to love numbers, organizing and analyzing. If that’s what you like doing, you’re probably going to be a good bookkeeper. So they need bookkeeping experience or at least a love of numbers and then start taking courses in bookkeeping and you need starting out. You need your website and you need to go after a certain niche.

A market for me was getting a lot of legal boutique firms, law firms, and that became my one area of expertise. So they’d start referring their other clients. And that’s the other thing that people can do is once you start getting a client or start getting a few clients, ask them. You can approach those clients and ask if there is anyone else they know would need a bookkeeper? You have to do networking. You’ve got to get on social media, which I never did with my business. I didn’t bother with any social media whatsoever. Everything was through my website or the QuickBooks referral program.

Debbie:

There are so many avenues that digital nomads can go into right now that, like you said, networking is really important. And also asking for referrals is something that we underestimate because we may get shy or we may not know how to ask. But remember the people that you’ve been working with and love what you’re doing are the best people to actually give you that word of mouth type of referrals for other people to use your services as well. So that’s a really great tip that you gave us, Susan.

Susan:      

Yeah, absolutely. I think people shy away from that when for one thing it makes your client feel good because you’re saying, hey, you’re my ideal client. I trust you to refer somebody else. They feel good about, they want to help you out.

Debbie:           

So let’s look at what your life is right now. It’s so different from what it was before because you are not in just one place and you also do solo travel. Can you tell us a little bit about what your average day looks like?

Susan:            

Well, it’s always changing I guess, but I try to keep a pattern. I try to keep a schedule for my clients but I notice I like working in the mornings or else in the evening and having my know midday to go out and explore and do stuff.

And that’s one of the main things I wanted to do, with switching to the nomadic life was get out and enjoy nature more, do more hiking, kayaking, canoeing, that type of thing. So usually I get up and do yoga. That’s been a habit of mine for over 15 years now. Start my day with Yoga, Cup of tea and then get on the Internet and start working a couple of hours and then take a break for lunch, go out and explore wherever I am.

I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee right now. So there’s some good hiking around here, good kayaking. And then in the evening I feel compelled to try the local restaurants and wine bars, although it depends on your budget. I’d try to keep my spending in line and in the evenings I’ll come back and do some blogging because I have my travel blog or do more bookkeeping.

Debbie:           

Yeah, that sounds like an ideal day because you are able to create your own schedule and you get to go out and do fun things and you’re not stuck in a cubicle. If you were a typical bookkeeper you would be set in one location

Susan:             

Yeah. And I would not be getting the window office like I always do now.

remote bookkeeper

Debbie:           

I’m sure you have gone through a lot since you have become a digital nomad. Has there been a big setback that you have encountered in this lifestyle and how did you handle it?

Susan:             

So last year I had a major setback because I had one of my top clients, actually three clients altogether, but one of them was over 25% of my income, which is a bit of a mistake. So three of them left for cheaper options. These are client that I had for seven, eight years and it makes sense for them to look for a cheaper option.

So that took a huge chunk of my income away and well, how I handled it, as I decided to enjoy spending more time outdoors, it was springtime and I was headed up to Yellowstone and Glacier national parks then up to Calgary for the summer to help out my dad and visit family.

So I’ve kinda shifted in the last few months, more and more into my blogging. I decided to get more into the travel blogging side of things and I’m still making an average income, like 50 to 60 grand from my bookkeeping, but working fewer hours. And I’m finding I’m enjoying that. I’ve adjusted my lifestyle and tried to reduce my expenses to make it work.

Debbie:

That is such a great attitude when you are facing these different setbacks because if you just start wallowing and having self-pity, you won’t realize that it actually gives you other things in life that you can do and appreciate, aside from just working now you’re able to enjoy your life and also start travel blogging, which makes a lot of sense, especially since you travel so much.

Susan:     

Yeah, I love the writing and I’m really getting back into it. So now I’m spending probably 80% of my time on blogging, 20% on the bookkeeping, but I make more than 80% of my income from the bookkeeping. So it’s interesting. We’ll see if I can increase the passive income on the travel blogging side of things in the next year or so, that’s the main goal for now.

Debbie:           

When you are a freelancer and you’re an entrepreneur and you are definitely the only person who’s in charge of everything that’s coming into your pocket.

Susan:             

Yeah, right. You’ve got to keep the goals and reach big. Think big.

Debbie:           

We’re also going to be talking about how to budget while you’re on the road for our extended interview. I’m really excited to talk more about that with you, Susan. Now let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Susan:

I guess Susan lived life to the fullest, took chances and went on adventures. That’s enough for me and I’ll have an awful lot of good friends and I’m meeting so many different people along the way, sharing my travels. I got so many great memories.

Debbie:           

Since you have been traveling the last few years, have you had any surprising moments since you have become a digital nomad that you didn’t think you were going to be able to do or experience before?

Susan:             

Oh yeah. You know, I took piano lessons in Lafayette, Louisiana I never would have dreamed of doing. I wound up having these two incredible roommates that I’ve found through airbnb and both of them musicians. One of them happened to be a piano teacher, so I thought, hey, why not? I’ll take piano lessons. So that was fun. That was interesting.

Debbie:           

I’m sure you’re always continuously learning something.

Susan:             

Oh yeah. Continuous improvement is one of my main beliefs in life. I’m a lifelong learner, a lifelong student.

Debbie:           

Do you use any specific tools to help you become more productive with your lifestyle?

remote bookkeeper

Susan:             

So the tools I’m using mainly are Microsoft remote desktop connection. So I can connect with clients directly onto their computer. You gotta have good security and spam program. There’s McAfee or Kaspersky are a couple of programs that come to mind. An external hard drive so I can back up my whole laptop, as well as flash drives. And then I also save on the cloud as well. You need to have multiple backups because what if one of those drives just crashes and you’re left with nothing.

Debbie:           

I’m sure you get a lot of questions about your lifestyle right now cause you could be anywhere and you can work from anywhere. So that is a really interesting and exciting thing for most people to hear about.

Susan:             

Yeah. I meet people on the road, they’ll say, you’re living the dream. But you know, there’s pros and cons to everything. There are also other people I meet who say, Oh man, I would need a home base. I could not stand, moving all the time. But I’ve got it down to an art form, you know, pack everything I own fits into my car. So it’s easy to move around.

Debbie:           

And for somebody who is able to travel in a minimalistic way, that’s the perfect set up and you don’t have to bring all of these different types of furniture and luggage. So it’s always good. You’re always ready to go.

Susan:             

Yeah. You got to cut down on the wardrobe and the shoes though, you’re limited in what you get to bring every place you go, but every new place you go to the people there haven’t seen you before. So it’s all new.

Debbie:           

That’s a good way of looking at it.

Susan:             

I’d say the one main drawback of this lifestyle is trying to create a community in each new place because every time I leave, after spending a month, I kind of started to set some roots and then I have to pull up those roots and off I go someplace else. So it’s bittersweet. I’m excited to go to the new place, but I’m sad to leave my new found friends and the love of the most recent place I’ve stayed in.

Debbie:           

How do you find a community when you are going into a new place and make friendships every time you go into a new location?

Susan:             

That is the struggle. And one thing I’ve changed in the last year or so in order to help create community is oftentimes I’ll stay at shared Airbnb. So then I automatically know some people and they can be your local travel guide and tell you all the local stuff. Another thing is I stay in smaller towns because people are more willing to talk to strangers or have a conversation with you while you’re in the grocery store line versus big cities where everyone’s focused on their own thing.

You want to feel like you are in an actual community rather than just I’m a stranger in a new place, which some people would like that too actually. Yeah, both sides of it are enjoyable. To be unknown you can do whatever you want. In small towns, people will know what’s going on. But in the bigger cities, you can do meet ups and that sort of thing. There always seems to be stuff going on. Or you can sign up for a class like a cooking class or go to yoga, you’ll meet people that way.

Debbie:           

What are you currently working on that’s really exciting to you?

Susan:             

The main thing now is blogging, the travel blog. I’m excited because the traffic started to get a lot more. There are so many places I’ve been to that I can really see that as a viable way of earning an income as well.

Debbie:           

That’s really exciting Susan, and I’m sure it’s going to keep getting more and more traffic to it as you keep going in your blog.

Debbie:           

If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?

Susan:             

Solo trips and tips.com for the travel blog and as well on Facebook. Twitter and Instagram at Solo trips and the bookkeeping business Moore balanced books. That’s Moorebalance books.com. So kind of a play on words with my last name, Moore.

Debbie:           

Thank you so much, Susan, for joining us today. I really appreciate it.

Susan: Thank you, Debbie. I enjoyed it.

Listen to the extended interview with Susan where she shares how to budget and save while you’re on the road. 


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