Episode #014 Life as an Occasional Digital Nomad by Bookkeeper Robyn Flynn
The freedom of a Bookkeeping Digital Nomad
Amy talks to Robyn Flynn about being a digital nomad, success in business, and building your business to support the life YOU want.
The real message of this story is: “Don’t chase other people’s dreams! Build a business model that works for you and your life.”
Host: Amy Hooke
Guest speaker: Robyn Flynn
Topic: Freedom, Success and Building the Life You Want
Amy: Good morning everybody. Happy Friday and thank you so much for coming back to join me again and today I have a special guest with me, Robyn Flynn, and Robyn Flynn runs a bookkeeping business down in Somerville, in Victoria. She has a very, very interesting story, so I met Robyn a couple of years ago at a workshop and since then I've just seen her posts online and I had noticed that Robyn had post photos of herself on various locations and things like that. But I hadn't actually clicked about her very interesting business model.
Amy: So, what Robyn's going to talk to us today is about being a digital nomad, and yeah, I think you're going to love it. Thank you for joining me, Robyn.
Robyn: Thank you. Thanks for having me, Amy.
Amy: No worries. Yeah, so I was very happy when I think I just sent you a message on Facebook saying, “You should come along for a podcast” because I know that you help bookkeepers set up their Asana, so I thought, “Oh, you're interested in helping the bookkeeping community” so I thought, “Oh maybe you've got topics that you like to talk about.” Just for the listeners, Robyn sent me a lovely email saying, “My thing is about being a digital nomad” and shared about how yeah, you shared about how you've purposely set up your business in quite a different way, and so that's why Robyn's come along today to share about that.
Amy: Yeah, do you want to just tell us a little bit about what is, firstly, what is a digital nomad for those who don't know? Probably a good place to start.
Robyn: A digital nomad, and I think, I love to think that I'm a digital nomad, but I'm probably more of an occasional digital nomad. Because a digital nomad is somebody who doesn't really have a fixed address. They just travel the world and they work. They're not on holiday, and I think that's the distinction that I want to make is that I don't work as a bookkeeper and then have lots of holidays. I work as a bookkeeper and we go away and I keep working. I structure everything so that I'm still working while I'm traveling and I'm still bringing in money, and I love it.
Amy: It's amazing.
Robyn: Being a digital nomad is.
I do know other bookkeepers who, because the work ebbs and flows with bookkeeping with the bus BAS times, and then you get a bit of a lull, I do know bookkeepers who like to work really had for two months and then take a bit of downtime for a month, but your business is definitely very different to that, and yeah, I love it. I think you said something that really stood out to me, which is, “I'm bucking the trend to grow my business and positioning myself to live the life that I dreamed of.”
Robyn: That's right.
I don't know if you realise how inspiring that is. For me reading that, I was like, “Oh wow, that's a whole different level to what you think about.” We always think about how do we set up our business so it can fund our life? As opposed to actually, I think a lot of us don't think too much further than what those funds will allow us to do. I love that you've figured that out. It's very-
I think, and I've said this before, it might have actually been what prompted you to say, “Let's do this,” was that it's really easy to take other people's dreams.
Amy: I love that, yep.
I mean, that happens to me. I see other bookkeepers doing things and I think, “I could do that.” You just have to really think about there's a difference between “I could” and “That's actually what I want to do.” I really, and I still do, things come up and I think, “I could do that.” I take a step back and go, “Okay, but that's not going to get me what I want, and I will end up living somebody else's dream if I keep doing that.” I did sit down and think about what I wanted from my life and yeah, I worked towards that.
I love it. Now, obviously, I mean I say obviously, it might not be the case, but I'm assuming that when you sit down and think about what you want in your life, it's not like you suddenly just do that. I'm guessing there's a story leading up to it, so would you like to share what led you to firstly come up with that philosophy of not chasing other people's dreams? Do you want to share a little bit about your, a background in bookkeeping and how you evolved into this new way of doing business?
Yeah. Look, I guess one of the things that makes a difference for me is that my husband's a teacher. He does have lots of time off. One of the problems that I came up against was that he would have time off and he'd want to do things and I was working.
Yeah. I started doing things like I'd start work at 7:00 a.m. and I'd work and then we'd go out somewhere, have a long lunch and then I'd work later in the afternoon. I realised that I'm not bound by hours. I can work whenever I want. We started having much better quality time together, and then of course, that moved into traveling as well. We started doing that quite a few years ago, but I guess I'm fortunate in that perspective as though traveling with my husband, because he does have the time off.
As far as sorting out what I wanted to do, I have, and I know I've spoken to you about this, I have a passion planner which is very different. Because I love everything digital, but I also like writing. I like actually putting it down on paper, so I have a passion planner and that helps you work out what you want for your life plan and 10 years and five years and three years, and being able to work out, to plan that out and it helps me work out when I see things that come up, I don't need to jump on them. Because I know that's not in my plan, that's going to stop me from actually achieving what I want to do.
Robyn: Again, in a way, because I've already worked out what I really want, and I can still add things in there, of course.
Amy: Of course, yeah.
Robyn: But I know what I want my life to look like, and one of those things, and I think I mentioned this to you, was to live overseas for three months.
Amy: Yes, in Paris, you said. Maybe Paris.
That'd be nice. We'll see. But yeah, I have a plan for my life and so I don't feel like I'm chasing things like mad right now, because I know I've got them scheduled in. I'll get to that, yeah.
Yeah, that's right. I think it really pays to be able to sit down and schedule things in, 'cause this is not exactly similar, but I had this experience with my kids. I have two very young children, so I've got a one year old and a three year old, and I don't know, I just have this picture in my mind. I don't know where there's pictures come from, I guess they just come from society and the messages that we see, and stuff people post on Facebook, but things that other people do, but I had in my mind that as a family, you're meant to go to the snow, and you're meant to go to the zoo, and you're meant to go to Puffing Billy and all that sort of thing.
I remember sitting down one day and I thought, “I'm not going to take a one year old to the snow.” I'm putting all this pressure on myself and I thought to myself, “You know what? I'm going to plot these things out.” What I did was I plotted out on a little calendar, when I thought, “Okay, what's a good age where two kids would love the snow? They wouldn't be overwhelmed by the cold, they'll remember the experience.” I thought, “Okay, I think when the youngest one's maybe about five years old. That could be good.”
So then I thought, “Great, I don't have to stress about that anymore. I can put it into five years' time from now,” so I scheduled it then and stopped feeling bad about it. I thought, “Okay, well, whereas Puffing Billy, that's something we could do, let's say in about a year after I've recovered from having a brand new baby and all that sort of thing.”
It really does, yeah, I find when you can actually schedule things out even years in advance. Not saying that you have to necessarily schedule everything ahead like that, but sometimes if you've got things on your mind, thinking, “I need to do this and other people are doing that, and everybody's doing that,” you can see it and go, “Okay, well do we need to do that? If so, when's an appropriate time or good time to do that?” It takes the pressure off.
Exactly. That's exactly what I do. I hadn't thought of putting it in that perspective of the family, but yes, that's exactly what I do. Even places that I want to travel to, I go, there's those places, like the Inside Passage, I'd like to do a cruise down the Inside Passage, but I think, “You know, I can do that when I'm much older so let's not rush up and do that now. Let's-
Amy: We'll wait.
Robyn: Yeah. We're traveling and it's a bit harder, bit trickier. Let's do that now, and it seems crazy to plan that far ahead, but I know that I'll get to that one day, so yeah, no need to jump on it now.
Yeah. It's so true, because it's like, well I guess if you're planning to go to a place and you like particular weather, maybe you might schedule it in the right season, and I guess everything, I guess I feel that the message that's coming through from what you're saying is that there's a season for everything and we don't have to try and do everything yesterday, which it feels like sometimes. Because there is a lot of pressure, but it's great that you've been able to escape from that. Sorry, just to give the listeners a little bit of an idea of, because yeah, you've been to lots of different places. You sent me a bit of a list of some things that you've done just last year. I won't give away the secret, I'll let you share some of those, but you had to prepare some of the places you went just last year.
Robyn: Yep. Well actually, I've just come back from Hamilton Island.
Amy: I know. I know. I saw your photos the other day. I thought, “Yes, she's doing research for the podcast.”
Robyn: And we did do a cruise around New Zealand. We did two weeks around New Zealand in January, so that was beautiful. But last year I was in Hawaii. We did Hamilton Island again, we just took my parents back this weekend 'cause we loved it so much.
Amy: Yeah. I was thinking I'd seen Hamilton Island more than once.
Robyn: We did the Queen Mary, we went on the Queen Mary. Merimbula, which is our family holiday. We go there every year. Hobart and Launceston.
Amy: Oh nice.
Robyn: Yeah, we went to a few places last year.
Amy: That's a lot. I'm thinking some people might not have been to that many places in their whole life.
Robyn: It's like I said, I work while I'm traveling.
Robyn: I can do it. I just have to make sure there's that internet connection.
Amy: That's right.
Robyn: That everybody panics about. I mean, that could cripple us.
Amy: Yeah. There's internet on the cruise, cruises?
There is. I pay for it. I pay for the internet on the cruise. I actually choose to avoid using … I worry about security, so I avoid using it but I do pay for it so that I've got it in an emergency situation. But I find that if I can use my phone, and just talk to my phone, then that's a much better option.
Obviously I have security, like I have a VPN and I have antivirus and I have a few other things setup as well.
Amy: Yeah, that's good.
To make me feel confident. But yeah, for instance, the New Zealand cruise, what I did was as soon as we docked in a new place, we were stopping each day, and docked, I had internet access with my phone. That's when I would be straight on, doing my work, and I would work in the morning and then I mean, it changed every place we went to. But I'd work in the morning and then in the late mornings, we would then hop off the ship which was really easy because everybody had all been bustling to get off first thing as soon as we docked.
So we would get off easily, and then we would go and do whatever it was that we wanted to do, have lunch and that sort of thing. Then, we'd come back to the ship, and then I'd work until we were leaving. So, yeah, I just scheduled my time and made sure that I could do everything that I needed to do and the same, like Hawaii, that's easy. I can get internet over there and the hotel that we've stayed in gives me … Not unlimited. I think it's an hour of telephone calls, international telephone calls or-
Amy: Oh, wow.
Yeah. That's pretty good. I find that working at night is really good there, 'cause then I can do whatever I want during the day and I don't feel like I'm missing out, and then I come back to my room and work in the evenings. I wouldn't say that I do … I certainly don't do eight hours a day, like I do when I'm at home. But I do as much work as I can do, so that I'm not stressing before I leave and then stressing to catch up when I get back. Most of the time nobody ever knows I'm gone.
Yeah, that's right. Because I guess it's sort of like you were saying before. You're not going on holiday. I guess some people feel like maybe when you go on a holiday, you feel like you just don't do any work while you're away and then you come back to this huge pile of things that added up while you're away, and sometimes as you're getting towards the end of your holiday, you can start to feel like you're maybe not enjoying yourself as much as you wanted to, because you know that you're coming back to a big pile of work. It's good that you've been able to structure that. Do you ever go away during BAS time, or you're always at home during BAS time?
No, look I've gone away at the end of it. I've got everything done. I am careful about when I book our trips, so that I don't put extra pressure on myself. At one stage, I did have payrolls that I actually needed to be in the office for, and so I would, and that was fortnightly, so I'd schedule my trip-
Robyn: … to be in that time frame. But now I don't even have that anymore, and I think that's part of what I was getting at when I said I plan, I think I said I plan on positioning myself so that I can do this life that I want to. Part of that is just making sure that I choose the right clients, and that-
Yes, yes. That's so important isn't it? I was going to say, do your clients know that you travel? ‘Cause you said before that sometimes they don't even know that you've gone, but have you shared your, I guess your journey with them, or your, the way that you run your business? Or is it just, yeah, like what's the interaction with the clients about that?
Yeah look, some of them I do. I actually still have some that I visit and so, since I've got a real estate agent that I visit weekly. They know that I travel, and if I'm going away for a couple of weeks, then I set up their payroll ahead of time if I can. I guess it depends on where I'm going to. If I'm a bit concerned that I'm not going to be able to do it, I set the payroll up so that there's no risk that people aren't going to get paid.
But apart from that, I would say it depends on where I'm going, what I'm doing, and what I'm doing for them. Most clients don't even realise that I've gone. If I'm worried that there's something that I might need to contact them about, I might just let them know that I'll be away, don't necessarily say where I'm going to. Just let them know that I'll be out of phone … If I'm on a cruise, and I might be out of range for a day, I might let them know that I'll be out of range for a day, but I'm still available.
Amy: Yeah, great.
Robyn: Yeah. I work with whatever it is, wherever I'm going and whatever clients might need from me, I just let them know if I need to.
Amy: Yeah, that's great. You did say, you mentioned choosing your clients carefully. I mean, what kind of clients do you love to work with?
I guess I'm probably steering away from clients that I need to visit now. I don't feel like I'm a remote only… I think that's because I feel like I'm quite a part of each of my clients' businesses. We talk on the phone, we email quite a lot, and yeah, I still feel like I'm quite strongly connected to them. That works really well for me, having fewer really strong clients. I do have a few clients that do a lot of their own work, and then just rely on me for support. But having a few strong clients that I work with, high touch clients normally we refer to them, I feel like I'm really across all of their work.
So, it's less brain drain on me, and I can yeah, it's easy to stay across everything rather than considering 100 different clients, where are they up to and what's going on with them? ‘Cause you're only involved with them sporadically.
Amy: Yeah, that's right. Is it just you at the moment, or do you have any, do you have staff?
It's just me. I do have an admin assistant who comes in and does some shredding for me, that sort of thing. Just bits and pieces. But I like it just being me. I know that most bookkeeping businesses, they want to grow. I'm not against that. I did have a business for 10 years that I ran with my husband, which was a music school. We had 27 teachers, we had…
Robyn: Yeah, so it's not that I'm nervous or I don't know how to do it or anything like that. This is a choice that I've made and I'm really happy with it.
I love it. Yeah, I love the actual words that you said to me, you said, “Bucking the trend to grow my business.” Because I think, I guess maybe that's another thing, that there is a lot of pressure on bookkeepers to do. Not just bookkeepers even, even the broader business community. The message, “Grow your business” is out there, is very strong.
Yeah, that's true. I think it's hard. People feel like maybe you're not successful if you don't have staff, or if you don't have a shopfront, that sort of thing. I appreciate that, but I'll appreciate that from Hamilton Island.
Yeah, that's right. That's right. Yeah, 'cause when you said people think if you don't have a shopfront and things like that, I was remembering a blog post by, I won't mention who it was, but it was an accountant did a blog post about how if you didn't have, he said if you weren't registered for GST or if you only had a mobile phone number, he was giving all of these reasons why-
Robyn: Oh, I remember that one.
Amy: … and how a client can tell if a bookkeeper's professional or not. I thought, “Wow, this guy's really out of touch.” I think it was 2018 at the time, and I thought, “Wow, he's really behind the times.” I think there was the comment about watching Jerry Springer and putting out loads of washing in between clients or something.
That's right. Yes, he did. He did. I think that's just getting back again to living the life that you want, and I know everybody's got different ideas.
Amy: Different goals.
Robyn: Yeah, what's going to be best for them. Some people do want to grow their business-
Amy: That's right.
… and I think that's great. Like I said, I had a business that did have staff or did have a shopfront, and that was great, we loved that at the time. But that's not what I want now, and my kids are older. My kids are 20 and 22, so yeah, we traveled with them when we were little. Or, when they were little, sorry, but now we get to go away and do our thing by ourselves, and a dog.
Yeah, that's right. It's actually funny, so with one of … I definitely had a dream to travel a lot, and part of the vision when I first started the business was that my husband and I could be not tied to a location so that we could travel, but what happens is when you have little kids, things change a lot and obviously we weren't prepared for that. We'd started setting up the business model so we weren't tied to that location and then we discovered that yeah, you can't … When you're young, you can just pick up and go, like all the time, you can just pick up with a backpack and go.
Whereas, when you have little kids, there's all this stuff you need to take with you, like bottles, like sterilizers, and copious amounts of nappies and all that sort of thing. We actually ended up, I guess our traveling model at the moment, what that looks like is so we go to Airbnbs that are within 30 minutes of our home. That's our little holiday, so we'll rent a nice place with a swimming pool or just a change of scenery.
So, going away, we probably only do it a couple of times a year, just to duck out to a different location because then what we do is we go there, and we settle the kids and then my husband will make a little trek home and pick up some groceries and things like that. That's the extent of our holidaying at the moment. But yeah, I guess it's quite funny, thinking … I mean, there's probably listeners that are listening in now who are potentially thinking, maybe they're thinking about chasing your dream, maybe they might be [inaudible 00:23:25] and going, “Oh, I'd love to do that” but I guess it's really going to be about what's the bigger picture.
Because I've seen people even look at what you're doing and go, “Oh, I'd love to be able to do that,” but is that realistically what you really want?
Yeah. You do have to think about whether or not that's what you want to do. I think to be honest, the trips that I really enjoy are the short ones.
Amy: The short ones.
Like the Hamilton Island, and even short cruises where I take a long weekend. I still work, I actually don't work on the weekends. I don't work on the weekends, but then I take the Monday and the Tuesday as well, and I'll work while we're away, but it's easy. Yeah, so it's not packing up for a couple of weeks away somewhere. So, if you're wanting to do it, then it's definitely worth considering making it a long weekend, taking a Monday and a Tuesday off, or a Friday and a Monday, something like that, and working on those days that you need to work, and having the weekend off as well and just getting away.
You can do that quite regularly. Still keep working, still keep bringing in money, but get away to a few different places.
That's great. That was actually going to be my next question. I was going to say, “What advice would you have for someone who's listened to your story and thought, ‘Oh, I'd love to at least try it?'” That's good, you already answered that question. I guess the other curious question that I had is what are the challenges with that type of lifestyle? Obviously it sounds like you've mastered how to make it work for you, but is there anything about that style of running the business that way that you find difficult, or?
Amy: No. I love it.
Robyn: It's just good.
I guess you could just get the hang of it. For me, planning itineraries and organizing flights and hotels and that kind of thing, that just makes my brain go, “Argh.” But I guess you get used to it.
Yeah. Well, look, I'm a planner. I love planning. So, this recent cruise that we did around New Zealand, I had already jumped onto my calendar. I had put in all of the ports that we were going to be in, what time we were going to be there, what time we were going to leave, so I could organize my work-
Amy: That's great.
Robyn: … for those times that we're in port, and I know it sounds like, listeners will probably be thinking, “Oh, but you're missing out on all the phone if that's what you're doing” but I'm not, and I certainly make time to do the things that we wanted to do while we're in port. But yeah, I am working. I'm working while I'm traveling, so this isn't so much a holiday.
Do you ever meet other people who are doing similar things? Like, have you had a … Or, is everyone just on holidays when you're?
Robyn: No. Look, most people are on holidays but it's funny that you say that, because we were on a catamaran on Hamilton Island, we were doing a sunset cruise. We're sitting there, out in the water, on a catamaran, having a nice glass of wine. It was beautiful, and we were talking to some people and obviously it comes up, “What do you do?” One of the ladies said, “Oh, I'm a bookkeeper.” I said, “Oh. So am I.” I said, “Do you travel while you-
Robyn: … work?” She said, “Yeah. That's what I do.” I said, “Oh.”
Amy: There you go.
Yeah. I hadn't actually come across somebody else that was doing the same thing, but yeah, she was. so, people out there that are taking advantage of the cloud and being able to travel.
Robyn: Yeah, and I think what you were saying about one of the problems that you've come up against, I think internet is the biggest-
Amy: Internet is life.
Robyn: That's the fear, the biggest fear. We did-
Amy: Every single thing we do relies on the internet now pretty much.
Robyn: It does.
Amy: Except like maybe Excel.
Yep. It is the one thing, and that's why I prefer to have, to use my phone and to rely on myself and not yeah, let somebody else supplying the internet for me to use, and also security reasons. But yeah, that's the biggest problem, is just making sure that you've got internet access.
Yeah, definitely. Great. So, I guess just to finish up, what would you say to someone, to any of our listeners, if there's someone thinking, “I might try this” or, “Should I try it?” What would you say to the listeners?
Robyn: I would say to yeah, try a long weekend.
Amy: Try a long weekend, yeah.
Do a long weekend, and I mean, I don't necessarily book all of the places that I want to go to. I generally, deals come up on Facebook, I get emails from Jetstar, and I just take advantage of whatever it is that is going for cheap. When we did the campervan around New Zealand, and that was a Jetstar deal that was flying, fly there for free. Sorry, fly there, and fly home for free, so I booked it, and then went, “Okay, so what are we doing in New Zealand?” And looked around, and found that we could get a campervan. That's how we decided that that's where we were going to go.
Amy: You're just going the flow a little bit as well. Obviously you like planning, but you're also being spontaneous with that as well.
Robyn: Yeah. I do like planning, but I wait until I've got something organized. Hawaii was the same. They had $200 flights.
Amy: Oh, wow.
So I booked a flight and then checked where would be a good place to stay, and what do you do in Hawaii? Then went from there, so though it sounds like I spend a lot of money traveling, I don't spend a lot. I look for the good deals and that's what dictates where I'm going to. We book it.
Also, yeah 'cause I guess depending on where you go, as to whether, I guess if you go somewhere where you're on a ship or you're in a resort, then potentially the food costs are very expensive, but I guess if you're only going for a few days it's probably okay. Whereas if you're in a city like Sydney or Merimbula, you can just go to the local shops and buy groceries.
Yeah. Look, on cruises all of the meals are included, so cruises are good for that reason, that everything is included. But yeah, you're right. It depends on, like you were saying about Airbnb, at least you can-
Amy: Duck home, duck to the supermarket.
Yeah, cook your own meals and that sort of thing. Yeah, look, that all comes into it when I'm planning it. I'm not going without money. Like I was saying, it's not a holiday-
Amy: No, that's right.
Robyn: … where you're not getting any income. I am, I'm still making money while I'm traveling.
Amy: Yeah, just factor that into budget as well. Where are you off to next?
Our next trip, we're going to … This is going to be a bit tricker, a bit more planning. We're going to Italy, so we're going to fly into Rome and stay for a few days in Rome, and then we're doing a cruise around the Greek Islands.
Amy: Oh, wow.
Yeah. We're going down to Mykonos, Santorini, and we also stop in at Malta and Naples, so yeah, that's going to be lovely, but again, cruises are lovely because it's so easy to get to so many different places. But I do find that there is a bit more planning in that so that I have, you know…
Amy: ‘Cause that's obviously a longer trip, you're not going to go for a long weekend to Europe. How long are you going for?
Robyn: Yeah. No, so it'll be a few weeks.
Couple of weeks, great. I'll be on the lookout for the photos on Facebook. Oh, that's lovely. Thank you so much for coming to share your very interesting journey and yeah, your business model. I guess I can call it that, but it's really a lifestyle model isn't it?
Robyn: Yeah, it is.
Amy: Great. All right, well thank you again for your time and thank you to all our listeners for listening in again, and I will look forward to seeing you next week.