One of the most popular questions in the She Hit Refresh group is about how to transition into remote work. For anyone who is ready to leave their office job and take things online, digital marketing it a practical field to get into. You don’t need a degree to get started, you just need to be able to teach yourself the right skills!
This interview with digital marketing expert, Kari DePhillips, owner of The Content Factory and Workationing tackles this topic. Kari shares her journey from freelancing to building a thriving digital agency, her transition to becoming a digital nomad, how you can start a career in online marketing, and much much more! To learn more about Kari and get even more tips and tricks check our recent podcast interview!
Tell us a little about yourself
I’m the owner of The Content Factory (TCF), a digital marketing agency that represents brands ranging from ASTROGLIDE to Fairtrade America to enterprise-level SaaS companies. My particular area of expertise is in SEO – I started TCF back in 2010 at the age of 27 with $500 that I put toward our website. Somehow, almost nine years later I’m still only 27 😉
TCF has always been a digital agency without a traditional office – originally I set it up this way to save on overhead, but as the years went by and the agency grew I saw no need to cubicle up. The time advantage of working from home, particularly for women, is astounding. I tallied it all up, and I save over 500 hours per year on “getting ready” for a job I’m already ready to do and commuting to/from the office.
I wrote a thought piece on this for TCF’s blog, which is still one of my favorite pieces of content I’ve ever written. In my opinion, remote work is a significant part of the feminist revolution. It prevents or solves all kinds of problems, from sexual harassment in the workplace to the glass ceiling.
I was a digital nomad before I knew the term even existed, traveling around while working but always in the US. I had a home base, but would dip out for a week or two at a time to go visit friends or “workation” in various places (usually with a beach).
In 2017 I became a full-time, internationally-traveling digital nomad with Kelly Chase (33), my colleague and best friend. We started the Workationing podcast as we decided to make the leap to digital nomadry, and the podcast covers everything from our pre-departure panic attacks and crying jags to traveling around the world while knocking items off of our bucket lists.
How did you and Kelly meet?
Funny story: I used to work for Kelly’s ex-fiancee at a startup, where I was hired to build out their content department. This is where we met, and although my stint at the startup was short-lived (I started TCF the day after I left the company), Kelly and I had made a bond that would last…even longer than her relationship with dude.
You’ve built a successful company, how did you turn freelancing into a full-fledged business?
Prior to working at Kelly’s ex-fiancee’s startup, I’d been a freelance SEO writer. I kept several of my freelance clients while I was working at the startup, and when I left I had a cushion of work to keep me busy and keep the money coming in.
Once I started the business and got the website up and running, I treated TCF as if the company was a client. I built out our social channels and used HARO to get featured in a ton of media outlets. I blogged like crazy, and wrote some of the most definitive guides for digital marketing on the internet. The posts drew a ton of high quality backlinks, and I kept blogging. Rinse and repeat, for years.
Now, TCF is one of the top SEO agencies in the US, and our website generates around $1 million worth of organic traffic a year (meaning, I’d have to spend that much via AdWords to generate the same amount of traffic we get for free via organic search). We rank #1 for everything from “web content writers” to “cost of social media marketing” to “press release distribution” – as a result, our clients find us and I don’t need a sales team.
While I was waiting for our SEO to do its thing, I sourced all of our first clients via Craigslist. I developed a pretty hardcore strategy for this, which is highly replicable – this video outlines the process I used, which is still applicable today. If you’re looking for remote work, check it out – the application and email tracking is totally worth stealing.
When did you first start thinking about taking your work on the road and around the world?
I’d always flirted with the idea. Back when I was married and a freelance writer, I’d travel with my husband on his business trips and work along the way. Traveling full-time as a digital nomad was always appealing to me, but I didn’t want to do it alone.
It took me about three years from the time I decided to workation around the world to actually take the leap. After my divorce I’d done a few one-month stints in various locations, and a two-month tour of Europe with friends – this was the proof of concept I needed to know I could actually do it full time (I actually got work done, and my employee and client relationships didn’t suffer).
I needed somebody to do it with, though. Most of my friends could use their vacation time and travel with me for a week or two, but nobody could do it as a lifestyle – until Kelly came onboard. Once she was in, I knew it was a go.
I’m a superfan of your podcast Workationing and discovered it around the time I scored my first remote job. While I had done a lot of solo travel already, your podcast gave me the boost of confidence I needed to try out workationing. For 5 weeks I traveled through Europe with my new gig (thank you!). So how did the idea of the podcast even start?
Kelly and I had gone on a few shorter workationing trips in the past, again proving the concept that we could actually do this without sacrificing the quality or quantity of our work. We were sitting on a beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, eating fish tacos as the sun set and we sort of looked at each other and said, why can’t it always be this way?
Sixish months later, I got serious about it and gave her a call on Skype. I was in New Hampshire, she was in Ohio, and I said something along the lines of…so, this is kind of weird but I’m going to ask you anyway…want to travel the world with me? It sort of felt like we were burning our lives to the ground and building something fresh, and it felt SUBSTANTIAL. At least, it was to us.
Kelly co-hosted a podcast before, and we decided to record our initial conversations and document the process of untethering our lives so we could actually work from anywhere. This ranged from rehoming cats to breaking up with boyfriends to putting our stuff in 10×10 storage lockers.
We weren’t sure if we were going to do anything with it, but once we made it to our first stop in Puerto Rico we figured, what the hell? Maybe somebody will find this interesting or inspiring, because the only road map I’d seen laid out was by Tim Ferriss…and he was pretty much pitching dropshipping, which is a tough row to hoe.
Where were all the ladies in the space? Where were the non-scammy people to light the path to digital nomadry? We were here, we just weren’t being as vocal about it. So, we raised our voices and started publishing the podcast.
The podcast grew faster than we expected, partially due to the fact that we treated Workationing like it was a TCF client. It worked for TCF, so I figured it’d work for Workationing too. Soon we were featured in Fast Company, Glamour, Women’s Health, etc. and our listenership exploded. Turns out, some people actually cared about our adventure – and we got a lot of positive feedback, which motivated us to keep going.
(Side note: I had no idea the podcast inspired you so much! So happy to hear that – we’re huge fans of the She Hit Refresh group/community that you’ve built, and the fan girl-age is mutual!)
You’ve hunkered down in Amsterdam for awhile, is it your new home base? Will you be taking it to the road again?
We picked Amsterdam as a home base for 2018 for a variety of reasons, mostly business-wise but also because the city is incredible. We started a Dutch company and jumped through some hoops to get visas, which means we can stay in the Schengen region for as long as we want instead of being capped at 90 days out of 180. That cap really cramped our style, so establishing a “home base” in Amsterdam actually gave us more freedom than we’d had before.
I’m typing this from a coffee shop in Antalya, Turkey right now – and I’m heading to Taiwan next month, so travel is still definitely on the table. Kelly’s in the U.S. visiting family (I don’t really have much family to visit), so travel is definitely still a huge part of our lives and in a way we’re still on the road now.
How many hours a week do you work? How do you juggle work, travel, and making time for friends, family, and dating?
Don’t ask questions you don’t want to know the answers to, haha! The truth is I work a lot – but I’ve got a lot of responsibilities. TCF has a dozen employees, and now I have Workationing set up as a Dutch company. So, two businesses, plus employees and bunch of clients works out to quite a bit of management…especially considering the fact that I’m not just trying to maintain these businesses, but grow them.
If I had to put a number on it, I probably work 60-70 hours per week. Most of it doesn’t feel like work, though – I mean, a significant portion of that time is “working” on Facebook or writing content for Workationing or TCF.
Slow traveling makes a huge difference – I don’t go anywhere for less than two weeks, and I prefer to stay for at least a month. This way, I don’t feel the pressure to shove work aside to go out and experience the sights and whatnot that each location has to offer.
Investing time hanging out with (and making!) friends is something I’ve had to consciously make an effort at over the last year, and it’s paying dividends. That was definitely an area I needed improvement on – it’s easy to trap myself into a work hole and spend time with the same three people all the time. Expanding my social circle has been one of the best decisions I’ve made over the last year.
Being +6 hours ahead of my team and clients also helps a lot, surprisingly. It gives me more time to dedicate to my personal relationships and pursuits, including dating.
What would you tell your 21-year-old self?
Girl, you’ve got this! I know your life looks a little trainwrecky right now and your mom is dying, but you’re gonna correct course in a major way and adult you will make her proud.
What’s a big scary goal you have for 2019?
I’m going to 10x my passive revenue generation this year – as Shep from Southern Charm calls it, “mailbox money.” Creating a passive revenue stream in the first place was a giant hurdle, one that I’ve been trying to clear since 2016. Almost got there in 2017, and finally in 2018 things started happening.
This stuff is HARD, and I’m a digital marketing expert. I mention this because too many digital nomad “gurus” or whatever make it seem like generating the passive income required to travel the world is easy, if only you follow these 5 simple steps. The steps aren’t simple, and I want to slap the people who con others into thinking it is.
How to break into online marketing
Digital marketing is a popular field for people looking to untether their lives. What are some of the best fields within digital marketing to get into?
SEO is a huge, wide open field right now – and will be for years, in my opinion. There is a TON of work in SEO, if you can learn how to write content that provides value to the reader and is structured properly for search engine crawlers. The work is consistent, it pays well, and if you can learn SEO you can apply it to your own projects (this is how I made TCF a success, and I’m following the same process for Workationing).
If design is more your bag, you can make a lot of money in chunks by developing websites for people – but again, you’ll be able to charge more if you can bake SEO into your website design.
Social media marketing is also an option, but aside from running ads the ROI for clients tends to be low and slow – it’s shiny, but I wouldn’t recommend jumping into SMM unless you truly know what you’re doing, because it can be a long hard slog. Digital PR is also an option, but those tools are expensive and create a significant barrier to entry.
Personally, I started out with SEO – but in order to get really good at SEO, you also need to become skilled in digital PR and social media marketing.
For someone coming in green, who doesn’t have any marketing or social media skills, what is the best way for them to start learning?
First, don’t go to college for it – from what I’ve seen, they’re not teaching it correctly (I say this as somebody who regularly interviews people with digital marketing degrees). There are a ton of great courses and guides that will teach you the latest, most effective techniques for effectively doing the job.
I’ve developed several courses and guides based on TCF’s employee training manuals, which teach people how to manage digital marketing for themselves and for clients the same way that we do. If you want to learn SEO, I’ve got you covered. (Also, all of our video training courses and guides come with a 100% money-back satisfaction guarantee.)
When starting out what are some of the best ways and best places to find work?
Hands down, Craigslist is the place to go – it’s good for more than apartment hunting and finding great deals on used couches. Like many things, finding remote work is largely a numbers game – don’t think that if you send out five applications an offer will roll in. Send out 50, and then you’ll probably get at least three.
Also, check out this list of 17 resources for finding remote work. I’m passionate about helping people find their path to digital nomadry. Getting “out here” has been the best gift I’ve ever given myself, and I want to help others make it as well.
The most important thing to note is this: solidify your remote income before you go to Chiang Mai or wherever to “figure it out” when you get there. If you can’t make it work from the comfort of your current home, where you have a support network and stability, it’s not likely you’ll be able to make it happen in another location where you have no safety net.
I see cry threads on Reddit and in Facebook groups too often, where people make this mistake and then royally screw themselves. Don’t be that person – be smart about making the jump, and be sure that your income and job are stable before you book the flight.
What are your must have tools?
- SEMrush (this affiliate link will get you a week for free to check it out)
- Google Analytics
For Digital PR:
- HARO (it’s free, and can get you major media coverage)
- Cision or Meltwater (I flip back and forth – these tools are super expensive but give you the media monitoring and reporter databases you need to do the job right)
For Social Media:
- BuzzSumo (this tool is awesome, and will do everything but make you breakfast in the morning)
What are the challenges of working in digital marketing?
Differentiating yourself from the competition and showing ROI. There are a lot of charlatans in the field, and many clients have been burned in the past.
For anyone looking to break into the field, what’s your #1 pro-tip to becoming a rockstar digital marketer?
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACH. If you’re claiming to be a social media marketing expert, you better have some impressive social channels of your own. If you say you’re killer copywriter but your own website doesn’t have much copy, or the copy doesn’t rank or isn’t compelling, people won’t believe your claims and it’ll be difficult to sell potential clients on signing the contract.
Where can we find you?
The Workationing Facebook group
The Content Factory’s Website
The Workationing podcast on iTunes and Spotify (we’re also on Google Play, Stitcher, SoundCloud and just about anywhere else you catch podcasts).
If you’re ready to build your digital marketing skills Kari’s online courses* have got you covered!
She Hit Refresh members get 20% off with our special promo code: HitRefresh
⭐ The Remote Work Starter Kit Video Training Series
Perfect for college students, recent grads, or anyone who is looking to escape the 9-to-5 grind, this training course teaches you everything you need to know to start working from home (or anywhere)!
⭐ Zero to Digital Nomad Video Training Series
This training program contains everything that’s included in The Remote Work Starter Kit, plus everything that you need to grow and scale a remote business. From legal advice on setting up and protecting your business to landing major media coverage.
⭐ SEO 101 Video Training Series
This comprehensive training program will take you from the basics of SEO and keyword research all the way through advanced SEO techniques to teach you step-by-step how to use your website to bring in highly targeted leads (and sales!).
⭐ Keyword Research 101 Video Training Series
This is a shorter version of their SEO 101 training course, which just focuses on keyword research. No matter how good your SEO strategy is, if you’re not targeting the right keywords, it will never pay off in tangible ROI. In this course you’ll do a deep dive into how to choose keywords that don’t just drive traffic to your site, but actually convert into sales.
⭐ Advanced Twitter Marketing for Business
When it comes to expanding your brand reach, engaging with influencers, and landing major media placements for your business, there is no better tool than Twitter — but you have to know how to use it. This course will teach you everything you need to know to stop Tweeting into the void and start driving real results.
⭐ Advanced Twitter Marketing for Business [Ebook Only]
Get the complete ebook included in our Advanced Twitter Marketing for Business video training series as a stand alone and save!
⭐ The SEO Pro Training Manual
This easy-to-follow guide outlines the exact SEO strategy that The Content Factory uses to create crazy case studies for our portfolio of clients ranging from tech startups to major national brands. It’s so good, Kari uses it to train her team.
⭐ The SMM Pro Training Manual
Just like The SEO Pro Training Manual, this ebook contains The Content Factory’s complete strategy for social media management including the tools we use and how to use them.
*Disclosure: Please note that the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, She Hit Refresh will receive a commission if you decide to purchase the online course after clicking through the link. Please understand that She Hit Refresh recommends this product because we feel it is helpful and useful to our audience, not because of the small commission we make if you decide to buy something through the link. Please do not spend any money on a course unless you feel you need it or that it will help you achieve your goals.
She Hit Refresh is an online community that connects like-minded women age 30 and older who want to break free from routine and start a life of travel…and for those who have already done so!