Join us as marketing guru and Etsy expert Sharon Tseung spills the beans on her time traveling around the world as a digital nomad, as well as how she funded her adventures through a series of passive income streams!

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INTRO: [00:00:00] Hello. And welcome to the Young Scrappy Money podcast. I’m your host, Michelle Waymire. And each week, I’ll be bringing you tips and tricks to help you take control of your finances as well as interviews with people who made big financial changes in their own lives. So join us. And we’ll help you get your financial s**t together.

MICHELLE: Hey, everybody. Welcome, welcome. This is another episode of the Young Scrappy Money podcast. It’s gonna be fun. I am feeling creative. I hope you’re feeling creative. 

I hope you’re having a good, creative Friday, where all your brain juices are just like flowing right the way that they should. I hope you’re feeling good about stuff. I hope you’re feeling good about your money. If you’re not, and you’re looking for a little extra money, then you might really like this episode.

I’m pretty pumped about it because with me today I have Sharon Tseung. She is a blogger and YouTuber as well as the founder of DigitalNomadQuest. So her goal, her number one jam, is to teach folks how to make passive income so that they can create financial freedom or, if so desired, location independent lifestyle— so talking about that good old digital nomad life that so many of us millennials aspire to nowadays. She’s really passionate about inspiring folks to design their lives and pursue their dreams. So welcome, Sharon. I am excited to pick your brain.

SHARON: Hey. How’s it going? Thanks for having me.

MICHELLE: Good. So you— you spent time as a digital nomad. So I mean DigitalNomadQuest, the— it’s kind of all in there. And I know that’s not exactly where you’re at now. But I’m hoping that you can just start, like kick it off, by telling us about your story. 

SHARON: Yeah, definitely. So back in 2016, I basically quit my job. I was working as a marketing professional. And I quit my job, traveled the world for about two years as a digital nomad, and ended up building passive income to about 4K a month, and was able to sort of increase my net worth, even though— despite, you know, travel expenses. People always think travel costs a ton of money.

But, yeah, I was able to save money and build these income streams. And it’s still going today. I’ve moved back to the Bay Area now, working in marketing again. But kind of building up my brand now, I’m trying to teach people how to build passive income and design their lives and still going with that mission. So, yeah.  

MICHELLE: That’s awesome. So I have to ask. Like where— where did you travel when you were a digital nomad? 

SHARON: Yeah. So I started off— I bought a one-way ticket to Stockholm first. And then I moved to Athens, Greece, just went all over Europe. But I did like a month at each place. And then I moved on to Asia for about six months. 

And then basically after a year, I came back for a little bit, traveled within the US and Canada, and then went back out to Asia again and spent a lot more time in like Chiang Mai, Thailand. Really liked it there, so about three or four months there. So I was basically all over the place. 

MICHELLE: That’s— that’s f**king amazing. I am— I am insanely jealous, first of all. Because that— that sounds awesome. What was your favorite place that you went to?

SHARON: It’s hard to say. But I— I always kind of say like Portugal was really awesome. Thailand was awesome. But I think every place has, you know, its pros and cons. And especially when you’re living at these places for a longer period of time, like a month at each time, it’s kind of like— it’s not really like a vacation. 

It’s like a workacation, where you’re kind of going to cafes, having like a schedule where you work on your— you know, your businesses and stuff like that. So it wasn’t really like a vacation, right? So it’s like you end up kind of living in these different places as if it’s like your home. And, yeah, it’s definitely an interesting experience.

MICHELLE: Yeah, for sure. How did you— how did you decide where you wanted to go? Was it completely on like whatever city sounded cool next? Or did you have kind of a plan going into it? 

SHARON: Yeah, I definitely had a plan. So actually, before I left, basically I booked like six months of accommodations and flights already. So I kind of was playing it pretty safe. Like I already knew where I was going. I knew I wouldn’t run out of funds. 

I also— uh, I checked like nomadlist.com. It’s a pretty good resource for checking the costs of different places and the safety and the fun of different locations. There’s also like numbeo— N-U-M-B-E-O— .com, where you can check expenses as well.

So a lot of it was like I wanted to make sure I wasn’t gonna go to the most expensive places and, um, also like kind of look at where other nomads are going so that I could find my community every time I went to a new place. So, yeah, it wasn’t totally random. I was carefully kind of selecting the different places I went to.

[00:05:03] MICHELLE: Oh, man. That’s sweet.

SHARON: Yeah.

MICHELLE: And I— and I kind of wanna hear— I wanted to hear more about your travel experiences, specifically because I think, for a lot of us, we have maybe a stereotype of what a digital nomad looks like. And I think especially in the United States, there’s been more of a push recently towards like van life, or getting the RV, or like doing the camper thing, which is totally awesome and just a different experience than— than kind of what you went through. So I think it’s kind of neat to start out with a good understand of what, you know, digital nomad meant to you specifically. 

SHARON: Yeah. So I guess they kind of say digital nomads can work online, location independently, wherever. So I was just bringing my little MacBook and going to cafes, working on, you know, my passive income streams. And it was basically, yeah, just kind of living day to day like normal life. 

People have this vision that everyone’s just working on the beach and stuff like that, which can be true. I was able to do that occasionally. But it’s not always like that. And it’s, uh— there’s glamorous parts. And there’s not-so-glamorous parts, like, you know, sometimes you can get lonely. 

But other times, you find other nomads who are in the community. And you’re able to kind of bond with them and actually find your place as well. So it’s interesting kind of meeting these people that are similar-minded and stuff like that. So it can be lonely, but also it can be pretty awesome. You can find your people if you look for these people.

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s neat. And, you know, to your point about not everything can be glamorous, I mean, honestly, when I hear working from a beach, I’m like, that sounds like a very good opportunity to get sand all up in the keyboard of my laptop. 

SHARON: It’s true. 

MICHELLE: Gotta be careful there. Gotta take it easy with the sand. So before we kind of get into a little bit more information about passive income, I just kind of have one more question about your story, which is, you know, when you decided that you wanted to do this, kind of what was your decision-making process? And then besides— you know, you mentioned booking the six months of airfare and lodging and all of that. But how did you prepare for this financially? 

SHARON: Yeah. So I guess first of all, I kind of read books like Rich Dad Poor Dad and 4-Hour Workweek. And, you know, everyone talks about those books. And they kind of sparked my journey as well as I took a month-long Europe trip in 2014, a solo Europe trip. And it kind of opened my eyes to like all these people living their lives really passionately, just having a good time.

And it made me feel like there’s more out there. And I was— I was spending— it was like four or five years in the office, where I was still in the Bay Area. I hadn’t lived elsewhere, so I wanted to see what else was out there, outside of the cubicle. So that kind of sparked my decision to leave.
And I think I started studying tons of books, and like maybe over 20 books, blogs, a bunch of resources, trying to learn more about passive income and the digital nomad lifestyle. And then, um, I also kind of took some part-time jobs actually as like a transition towards the digital nomad life. So I think I took two other part-time jobs. I was actually— after I quit my job, they asked me to work part-time remotely there as well. So I was able to kind of smoothly transition to passive income.

And when I took those part-time jobs, I was able to kind of build my nest egg even faster. So, you know, like I bought the ticket six months beforehand, so I knew that there was like this deadline for leaving and doing all this stuff. So I was just like scrambling, learning a bunch of stuff about passive income, and building up my nest egg. So that’s kind of how I prepared. 

MICHELLE: OK. Awesome. So I think that’s a great segue into actually talking about maybe some of the logistics here for folks who are interested in taking the leap themselves. And so, again, I kinda want to start at the beginning. Because we’ve mentioned the phrase passive income quite a bit. But I’m hoping you could start by just kind of defining it for us and talking to us about what passive income looks like. 

SHARON: Yeah. So I think normally people trade time for money when they work at a job. And what passive income looks like, it’s kind of the reverse. Like money kind of works for you, where you’re building up these income streams that essentially, uh, start making you money passively, where you can— you don’t have to like go work for it.

[00:10:02] You might get sales from ebook sales or basically affiliate marketing or FBA sales. Like it’s just— it’s just sales coming in that you don’t need to do work for. So it’s all passive. And there’s still work that you might need to do to maintain that. But a lot of it is passive, so you don’t have to trade your time for money essentially.

MICHELLE: Yeah. I love that explanation because I think a lot of us kind of feel bogged down by the time and money relationship— that, if you want more money, the only way to make that happen is to work more hours. And for— you know, for some folks, luckily that’s not the case. That’s where the stuff gets good.

SHARON: Mm-hmm, yeah. 

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MICHELLE: So what were all of your various passive income streams as you were making this transition?

SHARON: Yeah. So I tested so many different income streams. I started with Etsy. And that ended up being a really good one for me. So I did, I think, Etsy, Kindle Books. And then I moved on to Amazon FBA, Merch by Amazon, affiliate marketing. And what I found was all of these different income streams actually work. And they all ended up making me good money.

So kind of my plan was to dive into all these different streams and then report about it on my blog. So I would teach people how to do it and document my progress. So, yeah, what I find with passive income is it’s just all about really like, what are your strengths? What are your passions? And working solely on one focus kind of and then moving on when you’ve kind of mastered that first one, so.

MICHELLE: So what— talk to me then about kind of what you saw as your strengths and your passions. And then how did you choose? Because the first one you mentioned was Etsy. And I know you have a course coming out on that, which we’ll get to a little bit later on. But how did you kind of decide that that was going to be your starting point?

SHARON: Yeah. So I guess I have kind of like a graphic design background. Like I’ve— well, because I’ve done marketing, and I’m into a lot of creative stuff, I know how to use Photoshop and things like that. And I don’t know how exactly I came across it. But there’s this concept of selling digital downloads on Etsy, which translates into passive income essentially. Because what you’re doing is you’re putting up digital files on the Etsy marketplace. 

And when people purchase from it, you make money essentially. So, you know, once you list that, you don’t really have to fulfill orders or do anything like that. It’s just automatic. So, yeah, I don’t— I don’t know exactly how I stumbled upon it. But I knew that my strengths and my interests kind of align with that. So I decided to start with that. 

MICHELLE: What kind of things were you selling on Etsy? Like was it templates or—  

SHARON: Yeah, I was selling— yeah, exactly. I was doing Photoshop templates and Microsoft Word templates. So a lot of it was, you know, maybe like wedding invitations or photography marketing boards, like a lot of these different templates where people can buy them and then edit them within Photoshop to put in, you know, their names or whatever to just basically use that design template and then use it for themselves. 

MICHELLE: OK. And then you mentioned a couple of other passive income streams. I’m wondering if you can— if you can walk me through some of those and what those look like.

SHARON: Yeah. So I think the main ones that worked out for me were Amazon FBA, so it’s Fulfillment by Amazon. So what happens is usually you work with like a manufacturer. And you kind of work to get some product private labeled. So what that means is maybe you find an item you want to create. And you work with a manufacturer to get that created and then shipped over to the Amazon warehouse.

And basically with Amazon FBA, they will actually fulfill your orders every time you get sales. So once you find that it starts working on the Amazon marketplace, you can just, you know, work with the manufacturer, get items shipped over. And then it’s pretty passive in that way. You can just order it, and then it— you know, Amazon fulfills the orders every time you get sales.

Another one is affiliate marketing, so when you promote products that you kind of recommend, and you’re passionate about. For example, on my blog, right? If I find there’s a tool that really helped with building passive income, I’m gonna promote it to my readers because it might help them.

[00:15:04] But also, it’s like a win-win because, if they purchase the product that I recommend, if they use my link, I get a commission. And they benefit as well because they can get value out of it. So that’s another way to sort of make passive income. You’re just building up a blog or building up a YouTube or something like that and recommending products that you use as well.

There’s also Merch by Amazon, where basically it’s Amazon fulfills orders again. So what happens is people can sell like shirts and sweatshirts and things like that. And people upload a design. And they can put that on the shirts and things like that. And basically, Amazon will print and fulfill the order every time you get a sale. So all you have to do is upload a design, and Amazon will put that on your apparel and stuff like that. So they will fulfill the orders.

So there’s a lot of different routes to making passive income. Like these are just a few that I ended up choosing. But there’s so many out there. Um, yeah, so I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there online. And I just want to share that and like teach people how to do that as well.

MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s awesome. Because I feel like too, you know, kind of getting again back to the time and money, normally when we think about even like product-oriented businesses, we think about it in terms of maybe you’re selling this product. But then there’s also, well, I have to drop-ship stuff. Or I have to, you know, print labels and go to the post office or whatever. I always associate, you know, the usual product-based activities with that type of work. And so what you’re saying is there are even options, if you’re selling a product, that you can kind of come up with the product without having to necessarily do all of the legwork on the back end in order to get it manufactured, and shipped, and tracked, and all of the hard stuff.

SHARON: Yeah. So a lot of companies now do that fulfillment and the— you know, the shipping of all the products. So there’s just so much opportunity now because these companies exist. So they’ve opened up this new world where you can, um, kind of just create that initial product. And then after that, it’s all good basically. They’ll handle the rest.

MICHELLE: So it sounds to me like this is the right type of strategy for somebody who’s pretty creative. I mean, it takes at least some sort of creation or design or writing chops on the front end in order to make this type of work happen.

SHARON: I mean, I think— I think there’s different ones. Like so for Etsy, you know, with digital downloads, you think that you need to have a design background. But I see people selling like invoice templates, budgeting templates, and things like that that they created on Excel or maybe like guides to the niche that they’re— they know best. So like maybe they sell ebooks or something like that or like 10-page guides where they teach something. And people can buy that.

So it’s— it’s actually— it expands a wide range of things. So you don’t have to have a design background. But I do feel like I’m pretty passionate about creating things. And it just aligns with me because I like creating new products. I like doing that type of stuff. But I don’t believe that you need to have that design background.

MICHELLE: Yeah. So maybe— maybe creative is more of like a blanket term here in terms of, you should have a skill and a passion, but not necessarily a graphic design skill or a graphic design passion, in order to make that happen.

SHARON: Yeah. There are— I mean, there’s so many things you can brainstorm, if you just kind of figure out what you— what kind of skills you have and what you know, there’s probably a lot of opportunity based on what you know, to create some product that can benefit other people. You know, maybe you have a passion in, uh— I don’t know— like engineering. And you want to create guides on how to— how to code. 

And you can just put that up on Etsy. Or, you know, you can even build your own website about it and do affiliate marketing that way. There’s just a lot of opportunity like that.

MICHELLE: Yeah. That’s super neat. So I love that you just mentioned the example of engineering. Because I personally would not have considered that. I mean, a guide on learning to code is kind of different than, you know, the typical passive income things that we expect to find on a site like Etsy. And so I’m wondering, are there any other ideas like that that you have, or streams of passive income, that maybe you don’t necessarily have a ton of firsthand experience in, but you’ve heard good things about or might be suitable for somebody who doesn’t necessarily consider themself a creative?

[00:19:58] SHARON: Yeah. So kind of— I mean, going back to the coding example, you can use that in any niche, right? So it’s like you can create a website and create a course and create ebooks around a topic that you are passionate about. And you just work on ranking that website in order to start getting those sales. So essentially, anything can be monetizable, right?

But aside from that, you know, when you’re mentioning things I haven’t totally tried yet, there’s— I guess like you can build an app. And you can sell those, sell apps. And you can also get passive income from ads as well on the app and things like that. You could hire someone to code that app if you don’t know how to do that.

And, yeah, there’s also selling stock photography. I’m not a photographer, so I don’t have background in that. But, you know, that’s another way you could do it. There’s a lot of websites that you can put up your photography on and hope to get sales. So there’s a lot of different ways.

But, you know, going back to the website idea, like it can be like the most random thing. And you can just talk about it, kind of how you are— if you’re super passionate about it, there must be a lot of things you can write about it, right? So you can write about it.

You can make YouTube videos on it. And then you can start ranking and then selling products around that. So I think there’s just tons of opportunity out there. And anything’s monetizable.

MICHELLE: Yeah. So speaking of monetizable, you have a course coming out. And it’s on passive income through Etsy. Is that correct?

SHARON: Yes. So I am teaching how to make passive income through selling digital downloads on Etsy. Specifically, I kind of reached around a grand a month in passive income on the marketplace. So what I did was I basically put down like all my knowledge into this course. So if you basically go through it all and take action on it, you should be able to kind of achieve my results. So, um, yeah, I put down all my information on how to make passive income through selling digital downloads.

MICHELLE: Oh, that’s cool. Because I feel like a lot of folks might have an idea or might have a concept for something. And then I know I personally have definitely run into this, where I assume that it’s just gonna be a huge pain in the ass. So I think of my like, quote, “million dollar idea.” 

And I’m like, well, I hope somebody does this. Because it sounds like a good one. So this is kind of allowing folks to take those ideas and actually give them a process to make those things come to life.

SHARON: Yeah. I think like nowadays, it makes it so much easier to make money online. You don’t need to create some crazy product that requires tons of investment and a huge team. You can sell things on these marketplaces and start making money. 

Like for example, on Etsy, it’s like free to create your shop. There’s just like fees of maybe $0.20 a listing and a commission that they take per sale. But it’s really cheap to get started. So it’s so much easier now to make money online. 

MICHELLE: Yeah. Heck yeah. Make that monies.

SHARON: Yes.

MICHELLE: Anything else that folks should know about being a digital nomad, or getting sweet passive dollars, or Etsy, or anything else that’s kind of been on your financial mind recently?

SHARON: Yeah. I mean, in terms of passive income, I think just figure out your strengths, figure out your passions, and see where that merges. And then think of the passive income ideas that can align with that. And, yeah, just really go for it. You just have to kind of work hard. And over time, it’ll— you’ll see results.

It might not come right away. But that’s what passive income kind of is. You build something, and then it takes time. But then afterwards, you can reap the benefits. So, you know, just work hard, and it’ll work. So, yeah.

MICHELLE: Nice. So if folks want to get in touch with you, if they want to find your course, find your work, I know we’ve got digitalnomadquest.com. But how else can folks find you online? 

SHARON: Yeah. So you can go to my social media on Instagram and on YouTube. So I’m building up a YouTube channel now. You can go to Sharon Tseung. So last name is T-S-E-U-N-G. So you can find me there on Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and everything. And you can also find my course on my website, digitalnomadquest.com. 

[00:24:40] MICHELLE: Sweet. And folks, if you’re listening, and you find the show notes— so on my website, youngandscrappy.com, if that’s where you’re checking out this podcast, I’ll definitely make sure to link out to all of the resources that have been discussed. I’ll make sure to link out to all of Sharon’s awesome work. So you can find her online. You can give her some love. You can learn all about Etsy and generally get you— get you the sweet dollars. Bust that time and money continuum right on open.

END CREDITS: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Young Scrappy Money podcast. If you want to read about my work as a financial advisor and financial coach, you can do so at www.youngandscrappy.com. That’s www.youngandscrappy.com. Thanks again for listening.

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