The dropshipping nomad – the ultimate side hustle lifestyle?

As you jet off on your next adventure, dropshipping can be the ideal nomad business venture to fund your travels. Here's how to hack it.

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As you dig your feet deep into the white beach sands of some paradise-like destination, you’ll need some funds in the bank to keep the cocktails flowing. As a digital nomad, you can potentially live off a side hustle that can fund your thirst for adventure – and dropshipping can be an ideal business model for this kind of lifestyle.

With the right ecommerce store, a reliable dropshipping supplier, and a bit of patience, dropshipping could become an extra source of revenue that will keep you on the road. To get you started, we’ve broken down the benefits, challenges, and step-by-step to becoming a dropshipping digital nomad.

Bali or the Caribbean are beckoning. With your MacBook by your side, and the know-how of this article in mind, you can prepare to launch your next business venture before hitting the sand.

What is a dropshipping nomad?

A dropshipping nomad is someone who runs a dropshipping business while travelling the world. They use ecommerce sites and marketplaces to sell products from suppliers and have them shipped directly to their customers, without ever having to handle inventory themselves. That latter point is key for digital nomads, given they’re potentially thousands of miles away and won’t be able to handle storage and inventory directly.

In other words, you could be sipping a cold margarita overlooking the crystalline waters of the Caribbean, and be shipping your line of kitchenware to customers through your supplier in the UK.

The idea of being a dropshipping nomad is that you get some extra bucks with the freedom of flexible working. For the most successful dropshippers, the business can be the only income stream they need.

For many others though, it tends to be a welcome extra boost on top of another salary, or, in the case of a dropshipping nomad, a vital topup for travelling funds.

Running a dropshipping business as a digital nomad

As idyllic as this set up sounds, there’s still some fine print to understand in order to get the right expectations.

  • Not a stable income → although there are plenty of impressive dropshipping success stories on the internet, the harsh truth is that dropshipping is not a replacement for a full-time job. Your sales heavily depend on consumer trends, how quickly you can jump on them, and how you weigh up against the competition. You can eventually work your way into having more consistent paychecks, but keep in mind, dropshipping takes commitment and hard work.
  • Customer expectations are high → don’t forget, the customer doesn’t know (or likely care) that you’re a dropshipper. Their standards will be as high for you as they would with any online purchase. As with many ecommerce setups, customers will expect you to respond quickly to their queries if they have a complaint or a question about their purchase. For a digital nomad, this can be tricky to navigate if you’re trailing up to see Machu Picchu – you may have no signal, and even if you do, you’d rather be using your phone to capture that perfect photo. To make it work, you’ll need to find the right tools or people to help you out to ensure someone is keeping an eye on your business as you’re out and about chasing adventure.
  • Handling returns can be a pain → this point applies to both dropshipping nomads and regular dropshippers running things in their own country. Since you’re not handling your inventory, and need a third party to deliver the product, reimbursing the customer and getting the product back to your supplier can be difficult. We’ll give you tips and tricks later in this article to help you navigate this aspect.
  • Local visa and taxation requirements still apply → remember that as a digital nomad you’re not 100% on vacation. Before jetting off to your next tropical office, you’ll need to check what taxation requirements apply to you and the visa you’ll need in each country you’re planning to be in so you don’t run into any bureaucratic complications as a UK citizen working abroad.

The benefits of being a dropshipping nomad

What could be better than working from home? How about working from a home-away-from home in some picturesque vacation spot?

These are some of the benefits to put in your pros list, as you decide if being a dropshipping nomad is for you:

  • Freedom: you don’t have to be tied down to your desk in rainy and gloomy Britain. You can work from any corner of the world as long as you have a valid digital nomad visa (some countries even have specialist arrangement visa schemes for this) and access to a stable and reliable internet connection.
  • Flexibility: since you’re your own boss, you can pick and choose your hours and work whenever you want. The other great part is that you don’t have to manage your own inventory, which doesn’t tie you down to a specific location or having to check in on your warehouse operations.
  • Low overhead costs: dropshipping is a great option for those who want to bootstrap their own business venture and don’t want to be pulled down by hefty initial costs. With dropshipping, you don’t need to rent a warehouse or hire employees. All you need is an ecommerce platform, a supplier, a solid marketing strategy and a keen eye for consumer trends.
  • Scalability: the great part about having a supplier and not managing your own inventory is that it’s really easy to grow your business – if you’re savvy enough. As long as you can spot market trends early, beat the competition, and know where and how to sell, you can quickly start growing your dropshipping site.

The challenges of being a dropshipping nomad

No business setup is perfect, and that’s certainly the case with dropshipping. Before you begin your travels as a dropshipping nomad, here are some setbacks you might encounter along the way:

  • Finding reliable suppliers: you have no shortage of options for suppliers you could partner with. But, the issue is finding one that will ship your products quickly and reliably. Having said that, our in-depth research crowned DSers, Modalyst and AliExpress as the best dropshipping suppliers, so you can check out our full guide to find out which one might be best suited for your dropshipping business. If you’re on the fence between two, you can do a trial product-run with both, and find out which provides the best service and quality.
  • Managing customer service: if you’re scuba-diving with sharks, or biking in the middle of forest trails, you won’t always be ready to answer customer emails or calls. This could potentially upset new or returning customers who have pressing queries they want to have resolved promptly. To tackle this issue, you might want to think of integrating some intelligent chatbot extension into your ecommerce website so there is at least someone (read: something) always attending to customer needs.
  • Staying organised: dropshipping is not a business that runs itself. You need to stay on top of your orders, make sure customers are happy with their purchase and customer service, and always keep an eye out for changing consumer trends. Even if you’re not in a traditional office setting, you’ll still need to be pretty disciplined if you want your dropshipping venture to take off.
  • Handling returns and complaints: returns can be a headache for dropshippers. That’s because you don’t handle your own inventory, so you can’t simply accept the return and restock the item. To make sure this doesn’t turn into a business migraine, you’ll need to clearly outline your returns policy and ensure you keep open channels of communication with customers and suppliers to quickly resolve complaints.

How to get started as a dropshipping nomad

You’ve weighed out the pros and cons and have decided that becoming a dropshipping nomad is your next business move. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Choose a niche and find a supplier: after analysing market trends and doing your competitor research, you’ll need to choose your niche and the products you want to sell. Whatever your choice is, keep in mind it should be a data driver and reflective of product trends. If you’re unsure, you can check on DSers: look up a product and check out the order volume it’s been getting, to understand how much demand there is for it. Once you’ve chosen your product, do a bit of window-shopping with other dropshipping suppliers and compare them based on their product quality, profitability, reliability, and return policy.
  2. Set up your online store: you’ll need to build an ecommerce store to sell your products. It’s like a digital storefront, so you’ll want to make it look nice and polished. Your ecommerce site will run the purchase of transactions and help you gather customer data for analytics. Based on our first-hand user testing, our favourite ecommerce website builder for dropshipping is Shopify.
  3. Market your products: it’s time to get selling! From social media to paid advertising, you have a wealth of resources within your reach to get more people to visit your dropshipping store. Alternatively, you can also think about influencer marketing, particularly because people tend to trust influencers and their recommendations. Whatever marketing avenue you choose, just make sure it fits within your budget and that you’re tracking performance to optimise your approach.
  4. Fulfil orders: now that you’ve caught the attention of customers and have started receiving orders, make sure you’re following up with your supplier and checking all orders are being fulfilled and delivered. Keep a close eye on each step of the fulfilment process to spot if there’s any gaps that need addressing to ensure your customers are happy.
  5. Manage your business: whether dropshipping proves to be a flat or steep learning curve for you, make sure to track your purchases, customer data, and most importantly, product trends. This will give you all the data-backed insights you need to stay up-to-date with the trends that are driving consumers and to keep your dropshipping business profitable.

How to deal with returns as a dropshipping nomad

One of the challenges of running a dropshipping business is dealing with returns. Since you don’t have any physical inventory, you can’t simply accept the return by post and restock the item.

Instead of handling things yourself, you will need to contact your supplier and arrange for the item to be returned to them. This can be even more challenging when you’re in a different country to the customer and the supplier.

This is perhaps one of the most challenging parts of dropshipping because if a customer doesn’t get their money back, or can’t send back a product, they’ll likely put you on their black list. Here’s a couple of tips to avoid that:

  • Set a clear and concise return policy – this will set realistic expectations for the customer and won’t leave you in a limbo when trying to explain why a certain return can’t be fulfilled.
  • Make it easy for customers to initiate the return – set out clear instructions, make sure the process is user friendly and ensure customers are receiving return receipts.
  • Respond to return requests promptly – although it might not be realistic to respond within moments if you’re out adventuring as a digital nomad, reply at least within 24 hours to signal to the customer you care and that you want to help them out.
  • Work with your supplier to arrange for the return – have clear and open lines of communication with your supplier so you can arrange for the return as quickly as possible.

If you’re not sure what tools to equip yourself with to make returns a breeze, we recommend you use a cloud-based returns management system. This will make it easy to access from your devices and will give you the customer data you need to arrange for the return in one place.

Tips for running a successful dropshipping business as a digital nomad

  • Choose a niche that you're passionate about
  • Find reliable suppliers to upkeep quality and speed of deliver
  • Set up your online store carefully. Make sure your website is easy to navigate and that your products are well-presented.
  • Market your products effectively. Use social media, paid advertising, and other marketing channels to reach potential customers.
  • Provide excellent customer service and respond to complaints and queries as quickly as your adventure-filled schedule permits.
  • Stay organised and on top of your business. Use project management tools and to-do list apps to keep track of your tasks and deadlines.
  • ….don’t forget to enjoy your travels!

Conclusion

Whether you’re pushing your way through a jungle tour in Costa Rica or plopping yourself in front of an infinity pool somewhere in Southeast Asia, setting up dropshipping businesses as a digital nomad can be a viable way of having a profitable side hustle.

As long as you do the research to make data-driven decisions, stay organised, and ensure you’re doing your best to keep customers happy, dropshipping could be your revenue stream to fund your foreign adventure.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Can you do UK dropshipping from another country?
    Yes you can! You’ll just have to make sure that you’re still meeting your tax obligations depending on your visa requirements and the country you’re in.
  • Do you need a visa to work as a digital nomad?
    If you’re settling abroad for several months or longer, then yes you do. You’ll have to check each country’s individual requirements before embarking on your workcation. However, if you’re passing through a country and simply keeping an eye on your online business occasionally, you’ll not likely need a specialist visa.
  • How do you fulfil orders as a dropshipping nomad?
    To fulfil orders as a dropshipping nomad, you’ll need to ensure you’re well connected with your supplier. Once a customer places an order, you’ll have to let the supplier know so they can pick, pack and ship the order. After this, you’ll pay the supplier and follow up to make sure the order was delivered to the customer.
  • Do you have to handle returns yourself as a dropshipper?
    The return process will consist of five steps. A customer contacts you to request a return; you then request a return reference number from your supplier; the customer mails the merchandise back to the supplier using the number; the supplier refunds your account, and then you refund the customer. In short, you don’t have to do too much yourself other than keep the customer and the supplier in the loop.
Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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