Escape Artist #5: Jana from Zettist

Say hello to Jana, the small town girl who never really fit in growing up, and who dreamed about travelling the world (her dream destination being Bucharest, Romania!). Fast forward a few years, and you have a grown woman, owner of Zettist, an awesome content marketing business, that allows her to be wherever she wants to be and still earn money. Her current dream home is Antigua, Guatemala, where she lives with her boyfriend and two dogs. And this summer, she’ll finally get to visit Bucharest. If you get the feeling this is not a boring average woman, you’re right. Let’s get to know her story with her own words…

I always had dreams of seeing the world. I would cut out pictures of maps and cities and hang them all over my walls. It seemed so out of reach…

Jana chilling on the sidewalks in Antigua
Jana now living the nomad dream!

How do you make money as a digital nomad? What kind of projects are you typically involved with?

I own a marketing agency called Zettist. At Zettist, we work with the fitness industry, helping them create relevant and relatable content for their audiences. We create for gyms, lifestyle brands, influencers and so on. Our agency directs most of it’s efforts to content and social media marketing, but we also have SEO services, since we believe a good understanding of how SEO works with content is super important!  SEO should compliment content, not the other way around 🙂

How do you find paid work?

I was lucky to start my journey off as a freelancer for the company that I worked for in the States. After four months of really steady growth and proving that communication would not be an issue, they decided to take us on as their agency. Now, I am being contacted by people through my website, peers, and online communities that I am involved in. If you specialize in a certain niche, a great way to find clients is to join a Slack community or Facebook group and begin to help people with their problems!

Dia de los muertos in Antigua
Dia de los muertos in Antigua, which is the new home base for Jana.

What’s your story? How did you end up where you are today? What motivated you to live this lifestyle?

I grew up in a small town in Ohio and never really fit in. I always had dreams of seeing the world. I would cut out pictures of maps and cities (mainly Bucharest, Romania) and hang them all over my walls. It seemed so out of reach. Most people in my home town fall in love young and start families, but I was never planning on laying my roots down there. So, I ended up moving to Missouri for seven years and then California five years ago where I finally felt at home.

In California, I got a job as the admin assistant for a fitness company, and slowly worked my way up the ranks into marketing. I had traveled SE Asia, Guatemala and Mexico in the past, and it bred in me a need to explore the world! So, after not getting the promotion that I had wanted for a few years, I set out to do just that! I fell in love with Guatemala when I traveled here in 2014, so my boyfriend and I decided to grab our dogs and make Antigua our home base.

From here, we are able to travel to Latin America and Europe much more cheaply than if we were buying tickets from California! Plus, this summer, I will finally get to see Romania!

I thought, “I will move to Antigua, learn coding and build a website that does X service and then own a global conglomerate”, but that wasn’t realistic.

Antigua street market and ruin
Antigua street market and ruin

What are the best sides of living a digital nomad lifestyle?

I have a freedom that I have never had before. As someone who has always worked for a corporation in the United States, we generally get about a week of paid vacation for the first few years at a job, and then it bumps up to two. You are expected to be the first person in the office and the last person out. Now, I wake up early in the morning and immediately start work, when it’s done, I’m done. I am able to move on without the fear of having to stay late, or get called in. When I travel around, as long as I have a connection to WiFi, I am able to do the same. This doesn’t mean I don’t have extremely long days. There have been days where I have worked 14 hours without stopping, but then others where I have finished in four and explored this new city for the rest. For me, I love to work and learning more about marketing is a passion of mine, but to have the balance with travel is something I have always missed out on.

And the less glamorous ones?

It is hard to get companies to trust that you will be reachable as a digital nomad. It definitely stalls businesses from signing on. So, I generally offer my work at a discounted rate for the first few months until trust is gained.

It can also be quite lonely. I will be visiting same city for two years, while taking off to travel almost every month, but most of the people that come to Antigua are only here for a week or so at a time. It makes it hard to find people to build valuable friendships with. I am lucky that I have my boyfriend and dogs here with me to keep me company!

Jana's two dogs
Two loyal friends!

What’s your top tips for people that want to earn place independent income?

When I first had this idea to start my own company, I thought, “I will move to Antigua, learn coding and build a website that does X service and then own a global conglomerate”, but that wasn’t realistic.

What I am good at is marketing and making brands seem more human and less some man with deep pockets behind a screen. Work at what you are good at and make a living off of it. Gain some experience first, and don’t expect to make 6-figures right out of the gate. More than likely, you will start off with odd jobs, accepting much less than you’re worth. But remember, it’s all an opportunity, and once your resume is built you can start to increase your cost. After all, no one needs to know how much you were making to begin with.

I love this quote by author Cheryl Strayed that says, “You don’t have a right to the cards you believe you should have been dealt. You have an obligation to play the hell out of the ones you’re holding.” I hope that with Zettist, I am doing just that.

If you are a nomad who is a spectacular story-teller with a humorous tone, please visit my website and say hi!

You mentioned that you listen to podcasts and read interviews to stay motivated. What are your top sources for inspiration? Do you have any other resources (books, blogs etc) for apsirping digital nomads?

I don’t listen to any digital nomad podcasts; what I do listen to are podcasts that help me in my professional life or that motivate me to be a great business owner. Here is a list of some of my favorites (warning, I am a nerd):

PNR’s This Old Marketing: This podcast keeps me updated on everything content marketing and is about an hour long.

Content, Inc. with Joe Pulizzi: This is a 5 minute podcast with helpful tips to make you a better marketer.

Marketing Over Coffee: This marketing podcast interviews some of the best marketers in the world and is about 20 mins long.

Startup by Gimlet Media: This series generally tells a story that follows a new company on their journey to starting a business. It helps to know that everyone struggles.

This Week in Startups by Jason Calacanis: If you want to stay up on the booming industry in San Francisco and all things tech and angel investments, this is the perfect podcast. It is about an hour long.

As for books, it is kind of the same. I promised myself I would read 2 books per month. One fiction book to get my mind off of all things work, and another that has to do with my business in some sort of way. Books that have been super helpful for me in my journey are:

4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss:  Great tips on how to make your current job a remote job, or start your own business.

The Startup Playbook by David S Kidder – While I am not a part of the startup world, I am fascinated by the industry and found incredibly useful information and motivation in this book.

Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi – If you are a writer or content marketer this is a must read.

Content, Inc by Joe Pulizzi – Again, I love Joe Pulizzi and the CMI, so this is another must read.

Tikal ruins
Tikal ruins

Please mention some amazing places you’ve discovered lately that you definitely want to go back to.

Guatemala is a wonderful country and not enough people really take time to explore it, which is probably part of it’s charm. Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful places in the world. It is the deepest lake in Central America surrounded by lush greenery and volcanoes. To get from city to city at the lake, you hop on a speedboat and pay about $2 USD. It is the perfect place to relax, or have a great adventure. There is no shortage of hiking trails, boat rentals, kayaks, paddleboards, and SCUBA gear to take advantage of. I’ve even heard that there is a hotel deep in the lake with running water, and if you dive it, you can wash your hand in the sink! We plan to go back many times before we leave the country.

Other than that, this country boasts so many amazing places. Stay and relax at Earth Lodge or Hobbitenango near Antigua, hike one of the many volcanoes, explore Mayan ruins in Tikal, find surf and sun in the beaches of El Paredon, go and relax in Semuc Champey and revel in it’s splendor, or visit Rio Dulce and take a few days to visit Livingston. You really can’t go wrong in this spectacular country!

Beautiful lake Atitlan
Beautiful lake Atitlan

Do you think this type of work and lifestyle is possible in the long run? How would you balance it with starting a family?

This is definitely something that I plan on doing long-term. My boyfriend, dogs and I will probably move permanently to the States within the next 5 years, but keep our lifestyle out on the road. I am not looking to build a family so frequent travel is not an issue. However, I see people do it all of the time, and I think that it is the most wonderful way to raise a child!

Portrait of Jana

Do you want more people to follow you? If so, how would be the best way to do that?

To follow me on my journeys you can follow my personal Instagram: @janajaynuh, or for relatable business/marketing jokes and inspiration, you can follow my team: @zettist.

If you are a nomad who is a spectacular story-teller with a humorous tone, please visit my website and say hi, I am always looking for help on projects.


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