Introducing Benoît R. BALET, a Swiss polyglot and senior communications consultant. As a location independent consultant, Ben juggles seven clients in Switzerland with focused zen time on the beaches of Bali.
42 year old Ben is a communications consultant working for Switzerland-based corporate clients. He specialises in communication and digital marketing strategy, content marketing, social media and community management, and SEO.
Ben opened his consultancy ASK BEN in 2018. He became a business owner after growing tired of his high stress job as a senior communications manager.
“I had a team of five people, and was doing well, but I wasn’t happy” he said. “I wanted much more autonomy and freedom. Plus, I always wanted to travel more. Travel is one of those things in life that costs you, but makes you richer. So I decided to set up my business in a way that allowed me to travel whilst I worked.”
How Ben runs his communications consultancy
Ben’s business is registered in Zurich, and he spends around six months of the year servicing clients from Switzerland. The rest of the time he travels and undertakes consultancy work remotely.
“We have four different languages – French, German, Italian and Rumantsch – and four different cultures. I have to be able to know and understand the main three.”
“I also need to understand the different cultural contexts for online community management, too. If I’m posting content, it has to be topical and culturally relevant.”
And when I’m translating a communications article to another language, a literal translation is not good enough. The cultural context must be considered as well. The end result is a very high quality article created by a communications expert, rather than a translator. And I can charge more for that.
“It’s this contextual knowledge and attention to detail which makes me different to other professionals. But it also means I need to return to Switzerland. I need to stay in touch with the news and media sectors, and what’s going on there.”
Maintaining focus and productivity as a digital nomad consultant
As a marketing communications consultant myself, I can see that Ben’s work is quite complex. He juggles many different consultancy tasks across seven different clients. He does this whilst operating in three cultures and speaking four languages. I asked him how he’s able to focus on these divergent tasks.
“It is a challenge. I used to poke fun at people who wrote things in their calendars, but now I’ve become a time blocking zealot”, he jokes. “Being organised is essential. When I’m in Switzerland, I’m jumping around from meeting to meeting. One of them could be in the French region, one in the Italian and one in the German. It’s very hard to focus.
“That’s why I like to escape abroad to actually do the work. Although I’m not into meditation, I enjoy going to places like Thailand and Bali. There’s something about the atmosphere in Buddhist and Hindu countries that enables me to switch off and at the same time, focus.”
We agree that it’s somehow easier to focus in SE Asia, where everyone goes to bed early and gets up early.
“Yes, I’m at my desk, working from 7am,” says Ben. I work 8 to 9 hours a day, with breaks in between. And I go to bed early.”
“Even though plenty of people think I’m on holiday all the time, I don’t go out partying or spending hours at the beach. I’m here to work.”
Freedom and certainty through location independence
During his first year, Ben maintained his home in Zurich. But after a few months of working in this way, he figured that it didn’t make sense to have a fixed base there.
“I was paying double as soon as I went abroad” he explains. “The crunch point came about eight months into the business when I had cashflow problems. There were delays in client payments and at the same time, I had some big bills come in relating to my home in Zurich and insurances for my company.
At that point I decided I needed to sell my apartment and everything in it. So, in May 2019, I sold everything. Now I can sleep where I want, when I want. I have much more freedom, and financial certainty too.
Maintaining the size of his location independent business
I asked Ben what his objectives were around income growth, spending and saving.
“I’m not looking to grow the business by much more,” he says. “I sometimes take on extra work which is not in my area of expertise, but important for the customer. I outsource to trusted partners. But they have to manage the relationship with the client – it’s their baby”.
“I made this move to have a better quality of life. I don’t want to create a big communications agency now I’m on the road.”
“Regarding the business expenditure, I keep 20% aside for taxes & insurances, and 15% for software and communications tools. And I pay myself a salary of around 60%.”
“Yes, it’s cheaper to live in places like SE Asia, but the flights bump the cost up. In the end, it evens out to be around the same as living in hotels in Switzerland. It’s a comfortable existence.”
The obstacles Ben faces as a location independent consultant
I ask Ben what obstacles he has faced in this new lifestyle.
“It’s not an obstacle, as such, but what makes this new life more challenging is the amount of planning required. For example, at the moment I’m in Switzerland. Last Sunday I spent two hours planning my next two weeks. Where I will sleep, and how I will get from place to place.
“The other challenge is the quality of the internet connection when I’m travelling. Sometimes it can be poor. That can be embarrassing if you’re trying to do a video call with a client who is sceptical about remote working.”
“That’s why it’s so important to choose good hotels where you know you have a stable wifi connection. And sometimes that means I keep going back to the same place.”
“For example, the beach bungalow that I stay in near Canggu, Bali, has the best bed I have ever slept on in my life. Plus the internet connection is actually better than the one I had in my home in Zurich. So I always return there.”
Tips for other would-be digital nomad consultants
What tips does Ben have for other 40+ would be digital nomad consultants, who want to make the jump to a nomad life?
“The most important thing for other digital nomad consultants to consider is cashflow. It will become a problem at some point. So, you need to have savings to absorb the highs and lows.”
“It’s better if you don’t have any financial commitments in your base country too. This will also help your cashflow situation.”
“Of course, you have to be able to work hard and to focus whilst in beautiful locations, too. Many people can’t do that. But if you can, just do it, because it’s the best thing you can do.”
Ben’s plans for the future
I wrap the interview up by asking Ben what his plans are for the next year.
“I’ll be travelling 150,000 kilometres over the next year. I’m visiting 16 countries in total. These include Poland, Estonia, Thailand, Norway, Singapore, New Zealand, France, Germany, Argentina, Columbia, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, USA, Cuba and Mexico.”
Ben and I have been trying to make our paths cross for months but haven’t managed it due to differing itineraries. He playfully asks me when we’re going to get to share a glass of wine together.
“Nomads are like ships in the night,” he laughs. “You have to make a concerted effort to make those ships sail into the port at the same time, otherwise it doesn’t happen!”
Further information on Ben, the digital nomad consultant:
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