Janet Brent (janetbrent.com) has lived and traveled abroad since January 2010. After years of running her location independent graphic design business, she’s now based near Portland Oregon, as a work-at-home mom. Over the years her life and her business have evolved; she is now a soulful marketing strategist and digital storyteller. Her next phase of business is writing her first book, a memoir, and launching a self-publishing company to house it.
Janet’s Financial Case Study was originally published in 2015 when she was still a graphic designer. So I asked her to give us an update on her career and lifestyle, since so many things have changed!
This is the beauty of lifestyle design; you can design – and redesign – it as you wish. Check it out!
This post was originally published in 2015 and republished in 2019. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.
How long have you been living/working on the road, and where have you traveled to?
2015: Lived in the Philippines three years. Within those three years, I lived in Cebu, Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Manila, and Bacolod City. I also traveled to Taiwan for one month. Germany for three months. Thailand for one month. Bali for 2 weeks. NY for 3 weeks.
UPDATE: As soon as I got featured in a digital nomad article on the Guardian and on Nora Dunn’s blog of the same year, my digital nomad life actually settled down and now I’m a first time mama to a 13 month old! I was still single when the article published and very soon after that, started dating my soon-to-be hubby, manifested an all-expense paid trip to Mexico to attend an Indian wedding (sadly my only “international” trip since the article), and then had our daughter a year ago at only 28 weeks pregnant. 1 lb. 9 oz. and 102 days in the NICU! It was a tough year but now I’m bouncing back. I think I’ve been to Canada and Charlotte, NC domestically since then as well but I am itching for more travel.
The wanderlust has not died down and our next move, before the end of year, we’re thinking of either living in a tiny house for a small home base that can allow us to travel more, or RV/skoolie lifestyle (camper van seems a bit too crowded and maybe TOO millennial for me, though I know it’s been done with a baby!) and hit the road.
Please describe what you do for income.
2015: I’m a graphic/web designer by trade and specialize in ebook design. I help people grow their businesses through designing and launching ebooks, e-course worksheets, e-zines, etc.
UPDATE: I still do graphic/web design but as my business and life has evolved, I’m discovering it’s not the sustainable model I want to ultimately focus on, because I don’t want to freelance forever and don’t want to scale into an agency either. It’s served me well as a trainer business, and originally, I did want to work for myself as a designer, but now my soul is calling for something greater.
I’m shifting into a soulful marketing strategist and looking at the coach/mentor business model for scaling (group programs, 1:1, and eventually in person retreats). I’m future writing a bit here as I still primarily make my money through graphic/web design. Anything from book design, book editing, websites, copywriting, sales pages/funnels, slide deck designs for webinars … I do it all!
I AM collaborating with a colleague who is bringing me and 11 other coaches into her year-long group program where I will teach on soulful business building, so there’s a start!
With all my skills, it’s a wonder I don’t just scale into the agency model but I don’t feel it’s my calling. However, I do think a self-publishing business is still within my calling which seems contradictory… but that could still be a hybrid business model of agency/coaching. I guess I want it all.
How many hours per week do you work on average?
2015: 20-30 hours!
UPDATE: Still part time, about 20 hours but full-time pay 😉
How much money do you make?
2015: I’ve been averaging around $2000/month so far this year. When I first started with zero business skills in 2011, I only made $3,000 for the full year. But since I lived in the Philippines, that’s enough for local wage income to make it work, though it’s definitely not an expat lifestyle!
At this point I only have one income stream which is client work. I want to grow my income streams into self-published books…goal is to make rent money in passive income. Last year I made $20,000 which was my best year so far but this year I feel like I want to at least be able to double. I have six months to go and still very possible!
UPDATE: It’s honestly been up and down. In 2015, I did manage to double my income in the last half of the year to move out of my mom’s and lived with roommates until I started cohabiting with my boyfriend. Then last year, we had to move back into my mom’s because the NICU was such a tough financial period for us, not sustainable with just one income because we were used to being a dual-income household. That was a wake-up call for me to get my act together.
Now, literally this month, I can say that I am finally bouncing back after slowly building back my biz after my hiatus (aka lack of maternity leave – I wasn’t getting paid!) with slow months – under $2,000 – while my boyfriend drove Uber full time.
As of this month (August), he is now a stay-at-home dad while I continue to build my business. It’s back to where I had it pre-pregnancy… $4-5k/month but I am VERY focused in shattering my own glass ceilings and scaling to $10-15k before the end of the year so we can move out (again) and comfortably be on single income (though at the very least, I could do it with $6k/mo). It’s still very possible.
Do you make enough money to support your lifestyle?
2015: I’m finding it challenging to balance my debt but for me, I somehow make just ‘enough’ to be able to at least stabilize and neutralize each month. My finances are honestly a mess right now so I don’t feel like the best example of this lifestyle.
UPDATE: Yes, I make enough… I have always seemed to make “bare minimum” but slowly inching towards a more comfortable lifestyle. Of course, my lifestyle is also a bit modest compared to some, especially with our goal to live ‘tiny’.
I can afford baby formula as I’m now starting to wean – ha! That’s all I care about… Since I get the good stuff from Europe, that adds up.
What is your vision for the future of your lifestyle on the road?
2015: I am making changes and redefining what I feel digital nomad means for me. I know that I definitely want a more long-term home base. I can’t be a perpetual traveler just living out of my suitcase. I want to be able to travel and have a place to come back to, and the idea of building a community that you wouldn’t get if you’re a short-term resident/visitor.
That being said, I still love to travel and want to keep that in my life! I love the idea of being multi-rooted. That I could have my ‘home’ but own property or have other places around the world that I can come stay in as like my 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) home.
Ideally, if I had my way, I would live in a tiny house or some sort of minimalist space where I can live rent free because I would outright own it. Be able to AirBnb or rent out while I’m traveling and do my slow travel in other parts of the world.
I would host writing/creativity workshops and retreats around the world. I would travel to help communities, while building my own.
UPDATE: Yes, all of that still stands and we are moving towards the tiny home(!!). It seems like the perfect home-base to be multi-rooted and travel around the world. Of course, since I now have a daughter, I’ve always wanted to worldschool/unschool and/or homeschool her. I want to be a family that slow travels internationally.
I love the idea of homeschooling so she is less indoctrinated. The school system is still pretty outdated. We are still living in old school economy in many ways while already shifting to new school economy (freelancers, small businesses, digital nomads, buying local, zero waste movement etc.). The future will see more of this, and old models continue to crumble. We are just paving the way and I’m interested in teaching my daughter the new paths, which public school hasn’t caught on to.
I do think a more stable primary home base is best though, and I could be down with Waldorf school too, if I could swing that. Or (I’m just dreaming) green school in Bali!! Ok, I just looked it up and they apparently have a New Zealand location now as well and I’ve always wanted to live in New Zealand too! That aligns best with my boyfriend since he unfortunately hates tropical weather, and has mentioned NZ as a potential place to live. I’ll say New Zealand green school is in my future lifestyle vision (and I’ve always loved my New Zealand/Aussie clients too). ?
Any advice for the aspiring traveler about living and working on the road and managing finances?
2015: You honestly don’t need to make much to ‘afford’ this lifestyle. I would say maintaining status-quo house/car/job is a much more expensive lifestyle. That being said, I’ve also acquired some debt from this lifestyle by living beyond my means and/or investing in my business and not seeing real ROI fast enough. It’s possible to live and work from anywhere with $20/30k year if you live a minimalist lifestyle which also means minimal bills/debt etc
UPDATE: I still stand by my advice that you definitely can live with LESS on this lifestyle. Status-quo is MORE expensive IMHO.
If you have skills that can translate to an online business, it creates so much freedom to choose to be a work-at-home mom, location independent digital nomad, or anything in between. Being a Virtual Assistant is pretty entry level as far as online jobs go, so that could be a good place to start.
You don’t need a degree for any of this! Coaching is an unregulated field and certifications will just slow you down. Tech skills, design – it can all be learned and self-taught. This is the best time in history to work for yourself because we are literally creating a new economy. How we work is evolving so there is no time like the present.
There are so many apps to help you, that you can literally run a business on your phone. Acorns is my favorite app to help you save. Schwab is the best bank for living abroad because there are no ATM fees (or it’s refunded back to your account anyway, can’t remember exactly). Easy peasy.
8 thoughts on “Financial Case Study UPDATE: Janet Brent, Graphic Designer turned Digital Storyteller”
Hi Janet (and Nora),
Thanks for this case study. It’s extremely refreshing to hear from people who are working towards something and don’t necessarily have it all figured out. I feel like my finances are a mess right now too (for the first time in my life) because I am actually trying to create a life that I like, instead of being miserable and financially secure.
The idea of creating a tiny rentable space has been on my mind lately too. I just need to find the right spot and the money to do it!
Good luck creating a passive stream of income with a rentable space. You’ve got the right idea! In regards to finding a stream of income that supports you and feeds your passion, it’s definitely possible – it just takes some patience, persistence, and imagination!
Yesss! It’s all a journey. For the first time in my life I finally got a bookkeeper and tax agency to set me up for success this year and next. Major win from me. It’s all possible!
As a graphic designer it is very interesting to hear trael related and digital nomad related stories from others. All the best with your goals.
Hey, Thanks for sharing your story. I think it is important for more people to go after what they are passionate about, even if it is out of the norm.
How do you get new clients? Do current clients refer you, or do you actively seek out new business?
I get clients mostly through word of mouth from current or past clients or friends. I’m trying to be more active in my marketing to seek out more business though. Thanks for asking!
Thanks for responding!