Back in April, during a visit to San Francisco, I met up with Thomas Holmes, who works on his freelance business creating online stores for clients on the Shopify platform. We enjoyed some great Mexican food together and talked about ecommerce and working remotely.
Apart from working on client projects, Thomas is also the author of Shopify & You, an easy-to-use, step-by-step ebook that covers everything from designing, to setting up and running an online store with Shopify.
Originally from Dublin, Ireland, these days he spends most of his time on a small island in Greece, while running his freelance business that allows him to work with clients all over the world.
Hi Thomas, thank you for your time! It’s a pleasure to have you here. Could you tell us more about your background? What was your life like before going remote?
Thanks Raúl! So I grew up in the suburbs of Dublin in Ireland. While studying maths at university, I learnt about the Internet and immediately fell in love. With some friends, we founded an Internet Society for the university, and started publishing an online magazine with reviews of films, gigs, books, etc. That was back in 1994/5. I started working for one of Ireland’s well-known web agencies in 1997 and I’ve been working on the web in one form or another ever since. Along the way: I returned to college to study fine art; set up an ecommerce business that turned over nearly 1.5 million euros; travelled quite a lot, lived in the South of France and now on a beautiful island in Greece.
It was in 2005 that I had my revelation about remote working. I met a very sweet Chilean girl over Skype. After a few months of chatting, I moved to Chile but wasn’t able to get any work over there, which made things difficult, and unfortunately the relationship did not work out. I decided at that point that I wanted to be able to work over the Internet, from wherever in the world.
You are currently running a freelance business where you help merchants get setup on Shopify. Could you tell us more about your business?
Today, I am fully focused on the Shopify platform. It’s an easy-to-use, beautifully designed service for running a store, whether you sell online, in store, or even out of the back of your car. Back in 2012, I first wrote and published an ebook called Shopify & You on how to set up an online store with Shopify. Then I started getting requests from people who wanted help setting up their stores. I also got listed in a directory of Shopify Experts, which sends me a lot of leads too. I work at home and use Skype to communicate with clients. The ability to share the screen on Skype is very useful for teaching and for figuring out problems clients are having.
You are originally from Ireland, moved to France and now Greece. You are currently running your freelance business from Greece. How did you discover Greece and what made you stick around?
My parents fell in love with Greece before I was even born. Fifty years ago, when my eldest brother was born, the doctor recommended that my mother spend some time in a warm climate to recover. My brother’s first months were spent in Crete living among the Greeks. And then as a child, I was so lucky to have holidays in Greece, it was so exotic and warm. I learnt to swim in the beautiful crystal-clear waters of the Ionian sea. So naturally, I had incredible memories of Greece. Then a few years ago we made a new friend who was living on an island called Paros in Greece. It stirred up all those memories and I decided I wanted to come back!
Today, we spend our time between France and Paros. It’s quieter than a lot of the surrounding islands, the nearby tourist destinations of Mykonos and Santorini. Here, it’s only really busy in July and August, which suits us very well. We have one of those beautiful white Greek houses and live just a few minutes from the beach. We have tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, watermelons growing in the garden and of course a cat and a kitten, a given in Greece!
Any new destinations in mind?
Not at all. So happy where we are. Though we will likely spend some time in India this winter.
What would you say is your favorite part of the digital nomad lifestyle?
Being able to live wherever I want. Not to say that I don’t enjoy my work, but I do find it a bit of a pain having to earn money, so being able to optimise where I do that is really nice.
What would you say is the most important skill a digital nomad must work on in order to run a successful freelance business?
Self motivation and discipline. You have to be able to get up in the morning and get to work for the day. And you have to be able to resist a reasonable amount of the temptations that will distract you from your work. Of course, on the other hand, it’s important to enjoy the advantages of being a digital nomad. And in the right balance, that can make you more productive in your work.
What is a typical workday like for you and how do you take advantage of the remote lifestyle on a day-to-day basis?
During the week, I am at my desk at home every day. I spend quite a lot of time answering emails. I am frequently on Skype too with clients and potential clients.
I have a swim in the sea once or twice a day. I spend time in the garden too. Also, because I’m my own boss, if I’m having a sub-optimal day, I can always take some time off, go for a coffee, a long lunch or a trip around the island. Some days, it’s just not worth working!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone looking to start working remotely?
Perhaps try it out one or two days a week to start. You have to see if it suits you. A lot of people miss the hustle, bustle, and structure of the office.