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Lis Dingjan is the founder of The Identity – a creation, hustle and design studio.
What do you say when someone asks you what you do?
I take a big, deep breath and then say one hundred things at once! I’m a multi-passionate kind of gal so I’ve always got a lot going on. Generally my one liner is that I’m a business brander and website designer/developer with a few fun side projects, a dash of legal consulting, financial analysis and a dollop of international development thrown in.
What activities are currently making most of your income?
Website design, development and branding is currently making up the bulk of my income. This is slowly diversifying through side projects and some legal contracting work, and hopefully in the future will be further expanded through the addition of products, courses, speaking engagements and workshops.
There’s no roof to making money when you’re in business for yourself so there’s a million things you can do.
When and why did you become location independent? What were you doing previously?
I’ve always wanted to be location independent so I could schedule my own life, I just didn’t know how. I worked for several years in the corporate world and was constantly in the office working far too many hours, dreaming of exotic cultures, promptly quitting and taking off into the unknown only to do it all again. Over and over just skipping between continents. On a trip to Cambodia early 2012, after I had quit yet another job, a friend suggested I set up a blog rather than write my usual behemoth emails to keep everyone updated. I discovered people actually earned money outside of the office (woah!) and the rest has been one huge learning curve full of tear your hair out moments, celebratory raw peanut butter and chocolate tarts and a lot of fun.
What makes a great coffee shop to work from?
I’m a little alternative so I love, love, love kooky cafes. With music from the 70s and 80s beating melodically in the background. I’m also a sucker for recycled furniture mixed with eclectic, vintage and retro, clashed with some modern clean lines. Bonus points if the café stocks fruity tea. You won’t be able to get rid of me. Of course fast wifi is a must and a comfy chair and lounge would be lovely. Sometimes I steal the pillows to build up the comfort levels. Very sad, I know.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give your former self at the point of leaving the 9-5?
Stop stressing about money. I’m a doer when I kick down the doubt so I just jumped, but that first year was filled with anxiety and stress about finances (I have an accounting background so I hate when it’s not under control). I would tell myself to loosen up and go with it, and that hustling and determination will eventually get you there. I would also tell myself to have a few more days off and enjoy the ride. At one point I went about 6 months without a day off. That’s not the best way to breathe fresh air, move your muscles and remember there’s a world out there waiting to be explored!
What are the tools or resources you just couldn’t live without for your biz?
Oooh so many. Bufferapp to schedule all my social media posts. Wunderlist to keep track of the one million items on my to-do list. Filezilla as the best FTP application ever. My life wouldn’t be complete without Photoshop. Dropbox to store all my files. Skype for client meetings. Camtasia to chop and edit videos. Mailchimp for mailing lists (you just can’t beat the delicious user interface they’re rocking). Self Control App to ban me from getting on anything other than strictly what I’m coding at that very moment!
The best and/or worst bit about running your business from your laptop is?
The best: I get to control my own life. I’m in charge of my time and although I work my butt off, nobody says I have to be in an office for 50 hours a week to work for a company conflicting with most of my morals. I wake up every day knowing I can jump into something I love and shape my own life. If I need a yoga session at 3pm I can do that. If I need Wednesday off, it’s done. If I want to work at 11pm and see my friends new baby during the day, it’s a-ok. If I have a great idea, I can just start on it. Plus I get to take my work with me wherever I go so I’m no longer tied to any place.
The worst: It can get freaking lonely. The one thing I miss most about the corporate world is the ‘water cooler chats’. The fun we’d try and infuse amongst the grey petitions and artificial lights (my 3pm karaoke rocked…badly!). Some days I go a little stir crazy so I’m incredibly thankful co-working spaces and beautiful, independent cafes are popping up all over the world! Switching off from work, because it’s always there and there’s always more to do, is incredibly difficult unlike leaving an office every evening too.
What does your average day look like (where in the world you may be from morning to night)?
I jam pack my life in and even though I imagine relaxing on the beach, I wouldn’t have it any other way (though Bora Bora does look inviting). My days change all the time depending on where I am but I usually get up at around 5.30 in the morning, get dressed and pretend to play nice with my hair. I’ll likely sit with the laptop for a couple of hours either at home or at a cafe. Depending on what city I’m in I’ll have a few catch up’s with friends during the day and in between I’ll work. Often I’ll go for a walk in the afternoon to stretch my legs and find some sun. I’ve been horrendous with the exercise of late but I’d normally try to hit the gym a few times a week or add in some latin dancing or spin. When I’m in Cambodia I’ll spend mornings at charity projects, exercise during lunch and then work the rest of the day before catching up with friends in the late evening.
One of your funniest travel stories / dramas is?
I’ve travelled through over 50 countries so I’ve got so many and apparently I tend to only remember the good things about travelling and block the bad! Join me on a trip and you’ll wonder how I’m still alive (though I’m oblivious). I got detained in Vietnam once which was fun…on hindsight (I laughed for quite a long time before I realised they were deadly serious). It was made all the funnier because it’s the only country I’ve ever gone out of my way for to obtain a visa through the embassy which was an effort in itself because I was in New York at the time during the UN Assembly.
I’ve also walked with lions in Zimbabwe and upon reflecting on the photos noticed that I was wearing flip flops through the mud next to the beautiful (but um, mane shaking, teeth baring) beasts. What was I thinking?! In the same continent, I trekked the mountains in Uganda (the impenetrable forest no less) for a good 10 hours whilst falling haplessly into stinging nettle, sinking in mud and sliding all over the place with my zero balancing skills (believe me you never want to see my skiing either). I was very grateful to have a friend who helped me, who I’m sure never wants to hold my hand again after I nearly squeezed off every finger and ended up resembling far too closely our ancestral apes.
I once turned up at the airport to fly to Ukraine only to discover that my Dutch passport had expired and I wouldn’t be able to fly there on my Australian one without a visa. I looked up at the flight board and quickly changed course to Poland! Ahh the benefits of having two passports (plus Poland was incredible!).
There was also once a now infamous 17 hour public bus ride from Nairobi, Kenya to Dar es Salam, Tanzania…I could write a whole book on travel bizarreness!
If you had all the money and time in the world (with all your ingenious ideas) what would you start on right now?
Oh gosh I’m one of those people that have 1,307 ideas (approximately) at any given time. Right now I would set up an organisation to revolutionize the education system around the developed world. I would do up the orphanages in every developing country so they become brighter, happier places full of play equipment and educational materials. I would campaign for better, compassionate and more humane asylum seeker policies in Australia. I would set up a team to action against the abuse of workers in developing countries and initiate the enhancement of their work environment. Build a company to create bubble bath retreat rooms all over major cities in the world so you can soak that aching body for 20 minutes during the day (yeah, this one might be just for me!). Figure out the best way (or rather, hire someone smarter) to spend millions on saving endangered species and blocking businesses from destroying environments. Create a team to make every page on the internet far prettier and functional. Deploy the best EU Law policies around the world. Solve the homelessness problem with the best moral, ethical and economical outcome. Oh did I not get super powers too?! Oh and I would try and get somebody to put me in contact with Leonard Cohen. I beg of you!
Learn the 6 principle for becoming location independent here.