For nine years, Jess Leondiou has been doing what many people aspire to do: living the dream and working her passion.
Jess has a free-range global career, living and working in multiple countries in Australia, Europe, and Asia.
She is the driving force behind The Butter Collective - leading a dynamic team of independent creative designers around the world.
Jess shared insights into her career, which is becoming a more available option for people in our digitally connected world, in an episode on The Learning Capacity Podcast.
She describes the freedom it provides her, and also the challenges, including how to find a WIFI signal on Mt Annapurna in the Himalayas.
Listen to the podcast:
- Career options enabled by digital communications
- Benefits & challenges of a “free-range global career”
- The laptop lifestyle & the gig economy
- A day in the life of a global free-range career
- Personality strengths needed for a global free-range career
People & organisations mentioned
- Mt Annapurna in Nepal
- Berlin, Germany
If you would like to read the complete podcast transcript, here it is:
Episode 90 of The Learning Capacity Podcast
A Free-Range Global Career: Jess Leondiou Explains How & Why
Peter Barnes: Today’s guest is Jess Leondiou. She's what I would call a global free range worker. She's got a career where she has no base. She's worked in multiple countries over the last few years, and I want to talk to Jess today about what she does, how she does it, why she does it. Is this a clue to how work might evolve in the future in our digital connected age. Welcome, Jess.
Jess Leondiou: Hi Peter, thanks for having me.
Peter: Tell me, you run a design business called Butter Collective. You don't run it from any single place in the world, is that right?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, that's correct. Basically I've had Butter Collective for the about the last nine years, and in those nine years, like I've sort of varied between having Butter sort of somewhat centrally located for a couple of months, to sort of just having it anywhere around the globe. There's a bunch of different people that I work with, and each of those people is also typically also a free roaming person. We all collaborate and work around the time zones, and yeah, we sort of make things happen without needing to be in the same room together.
Peter: Wow, so what countries, I mean where are these people and where ... you said in our preliminary chat before we started to record this that you've worked in 11 countries recently, yes?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, the last couple of years have been a bit busy. I didn't really intend to go through so many countries, but yeah this year I've been in I think six or seven, and then the year prior to that was 11, and then the year before that was also 11. It's been a bit busy, but yeah, the countries that I've sort of predominantly worked from is Berlin and then Australia. Most of the people that I work with are in one of those two countries, so luckily I'm not juggling too many different time zones. But yeah, essentially as long as you can get the times right then it's possible to sort of work with anyone anywhere.
Communications technology makes it possible
Peter: Right, so the technology, communications and technology, has enabled you to do this.
Jess Leondiou: Yes, definitely. Without Skype and without email then it just wouldn't be possible. Yeah, there's no way that it, yeah, yeah, that you'd be able to do something like this otherwise. I mean, sometimes the technology can let you down. For example, I was up in Nepal climbing Annapurna and I needed to send an email, and I wasn't able to get WIFI so I had to drag my partner up to the next leg of the walk basically so I could get that email sent.
Peter: You went higher up the Himalayas to find a signal, is that what you did?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, exactly, because we had to send the email. Sometimes technology lets you down, but generally yeah, it wouldn't be possible without it.
Peter: Butter Collective, you're a design business. What's that mean?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, so we do branding and brand strategy. Basically what we'll do is we'll look at a business holistically and we'll sort of consider things like not just what their logo and what the aesthetics of their business looks like, but we'll consider how they want to position themselves in the market. What's going to be their like sort of core messaging around what they do, what's their value system, and how to best present that to get their clients hooked and develop a long term relationship. We do, yeah, strategic branding.
The learning & education for a global free-range career
Peter: Tell me, what education did you have, what learning took place to get you to start a business like this?
Jess Leondiou: Well, I did design college, so that was, and I actually completed some of that during grade 11 and 12. Then, I was also a bit of a nerd, so I was the head of the student council, the head of, like, I had the council, so I did a lot of these kind of extracurricular activities, which involved sort of communicating with different people. I think sort of through those different experiences it just got me more excited about having my own team, and that's how it sort of flourished from there.
Peter: The communication piece of it you're learning. It seems like that wasn't sort of part of the curriculum, it wasn't a deliberate subject you studied, it was just something you learned along the way. Is that right?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, that's probably right, yeah. I've always been interested in people and chatting to other people and getting to know about their stories. Yeah, I really like to work collaboratively, so yeah, that side of things sort of, that sort of just came about on its own, but yeah what I actually learnt was just graphic design.
Peter: What inspired you to go global, to start a free range career, rather than just sitting in your normal environment.
Jess Leondiou: I get itchy feet. I think, well yeah, I think I just get like itchy feet and then I want to go and explore, so I kind of had to find a way to make it possible. Luckily I think that probably the thing that's worked the most in my favor is I've got a really good relationship with each of my clients.
Once I've sort of met them and talked to them in person, whether it be in Australia or Berlin, typically that relationship can still flourish over Skype. I think that it's a little bit more difficult if you're meeting clients for the first time on Skype, like it's still possible, but the best case is you've met that person and they've gotten to know you in person, and then you've continued that relationship over the course of years.
I think that my strongest clients and yeah, that sort of, the way that those relationships are developed is best done in person, but it can also work via Skype.
Peter: This is not something most people would choose to do I imagine, because I mean there's an element of risk in what you're doing. In if like, you know, you're going to earn enough income, you're going to find clients, all of that. You must have a high tolerance for uncertainty, do you?
Jess Leondiou: I think to a degree because I do, like I do agree, like I've got a lot of friends who've sort of given it a go in different formats, and it can get frustrating at times. As you said, like with a bit of the uncertainty, and also not having a very strict routine.
It's a bit difficult to stick to things like exercise routines, or maybe that's my excuse, but things like that are a tad hard to stick to in this sort of moving all over the place. But yeah, I think it's worth it for the benefits that it's given me.
Peter: Well, it's really interesting what you're doing, because I'm thinking there's probably going to be more people like you, working like you in the future. Just thanks to the ability to do it through the digital connections.
The laptop lifestyle & the gig economy
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, there does seem to be a trend, like ... oh, sorry, along those lines. For example, I keep seeing ads popping up on YouTube advertising the laptop lifestyle. The one thing I did want to mention is, it's being painted as a very, very glamorous sort of opportunity at the moment.
I saw one girl the other day who was on her laptop in a pool, and she was advertising living a laptop lifestyle. I was like, it's not quite that glamorous. I know for one you shouldn't have your laptop at the pool, but also I think, yeah, like as you said, there are sort of, yeah, there is a bit of uncertainty, and it can get a tad lonely too if you don't have anyone to creatively bounce off of and that type of thing.
Peter: Are you part of the gig-economy, or is what you're doing something a little bit different?
Jess Leondiou: What's the gig-economy? You'll have to forgive me for not knowing that term.
Peter: The gig-economy is when people are doing part time jobs, maybe multiple jobs. Like, for example, someone who's delivering Uber Eats, and maybe working as a landscape project person at the same time.
Jess Leondiou: Oh, okay. No.
Peter: No. No?
Jess Leondiou: No, no, no, no. I've got a couple of my clients are long term clients, so they've got work that they get done each week, so they're quite consistent. Then, the other sort of businesses that I provide services for they come until the brand's complete, and then potentially there will be on-flowing things.
But, most of the clients are, yeah, there's not like a long-term contract or something with them. A couple of them will take me full time to see a long term project, but yeah typically no, there's no other gigs, just consistent clients.
Peter: Okay, all right. How do you collect, the word collective in Butter Collective, and you described it before that you've got a group of people that you work with, but you're not employing them are you? They're not employees, they're co-workers, or how does that work?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, it's interesting. There's a few of us that sort of head up the strategy. Yeah, there's a couple of different strategic heads and then we've also then contract out to freelancers.
For example, there's a project that I'm completing at the moment in Germany with one of my partners, Rene. He's doing the project management and he's doing some strategic marketing for that, and then we've also got some contractors working with us on that project as well.
We're both sort of manning it as the primary points of client contact, and then we've got people that are also doing the UX and the design and working in those sorts of functions as well. They're people that we're employing, and we're both sort of managing that project together.
Peter: Right, and are you all working in English or do you work in German or other languages?
Jess Leondiou: Yes, fortunately for me everybody works in English, because my German is rather terrible. My pronunciations not great, but yeah everyone like, that is the lucky thing about English is everyone's usually very comfortable working in it.
A day in the life of a global free-range career
Peter: Can you, for people who are perhaps ending up in their education at high school, or thinking of moving onto tertiary education in some form and wondering what they're going to do in the future, can you describe what a day or a week in your free range career, global free range career life looks like?
Jess Leondiou: Well, it depends on the year actually. Like, this year I'm trying to settle down a tiny bit more, so I've just hired a space to work from, just so I've got a bit more consistency. I'll be here for a couple of months, but in previous years it was, I don't know, it was wherever sort of I woke up, and then typically I'll go through my to-do list and then, I don't know, sort of try and execute those things.
I mean, I've got to be pretty careful with my calendar because that's the thing that can really unravel with the time zones. But yeah, I think it's pretty much, it's usually just me with my computer and working out what needs to get achieved in each day.
Then, yeah, talking to the other sort of strategic heads that I've got when it's possible. Yeah, I think it's pretty similar to any other freelancers role, it's just been across different countries.
Freedom is the best thing and also the hardest to manage
Peter: What's the best thing about how you work?
Jess Leondiou: Oh, the freedom. Definitely the freedom to decide when you want to work and when you don't want to work, but that's also the hardest thing, because then you've also sort of got to have these conversations with yourself when you don't want to do something but you have to do something.
Or, I'm my own boss so I negotiate with myself sometimes about why I'd rather have the day off verse why I should be working, or things like that, but yeah typically I'll tend to do batch work.
I'll work very hard for a certain number of days and then if I'm traveling or something, then that will give me the opportunity to have like three or four days off to explore the country. Then, I'll work, yeah, very tightly for a next period, and I sort of try and handle it like that.
What personality strengths are needed?
Peter: What's your advice for young people who might be attracted to the glamour of a life like yours. What sort of personality strengths or attributes do they need to make it a success?
Jess Leondiou: I think if you're just outgoing and you just sort of give everything a go. Like, when I first, because in Germany I was working as the art director at a company while doing Butter, so that actually was I suppose kind of a gig situation, but that just came about because I was actually lost.
Then, I met somebody on a train and then I had a chat and then I showed them my portfolio, and I was willing to go on and work like a little bit cheaper, just from the start for like a couple of weeks until they got to know me. Then, from their the relationship flourished, and then I've still worked with those guys, so they're still providing working for me now, even though I'm back in Australia. I still manage their clients now.
Basically, just being willing to work and willing to sort of put in a bit I suppose of your own time to prove that you're worth hiring. Always go the extra mile, and then people will remember you and then they'll keep coming back.
Peter: Just, looking forward from now, have you got all the technology you need to do what you do? Is it easy? Are there any technology changes coming down that you're aware of that would make it easier, or is there stuff that you'd like that you haven't got.
Jess Leondiou: I would like better wifi.
Peter: I think we would all, wouldn't we all.
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, wifi would be great. No, in general I think I've got everything. I mean, the only thing that I really miss is I get lonely when there's not other people around to creatively bounce ideas off. It is good on Skype, but I think there is a different dynamic when you actually have the opportunity to sit down with a client and be in their presence.
That's probably the only thing that I think is sometimes lacking, but technology wise no, I think everything's really covered.
Peter: Okay. Do you see a time when you will want to stop roaming and just settle down in one spot.
Jess Leondiou: Yeah. I'm getting a bit more like that now. Like, probably my dream would be to spend half the year living in Berlin, and then have the year living Australia. Then, maybe put Asia in between, because it's a long flight.
So I'd probably like to be doing, yeah, so six months in Germany and then ... well, six months probably in Australia, or maybe take one of those months and pop it in Asia. Something like that would be my dream set up.
Peter: Right, so it sounds to me like that wish to be a little bit more settled is probably a function of age. Because, you're only in your 20s, aren't you?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, I've just turned, I turned 28 in July, yup.
Peter: Yeah, okay, so in 10 years time if you're still roaming around the world, maybe not as attractive as when you're in your 20s?
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, it's starting to get less convenient, like I'm starting to get a bit more, like I miss my yoga, and I miss my comforts and things like that. I think, yeah, when I was younger I was a bit, I just wasn't as fussed by those things, but now I quite like having a habit and a routine.
I think you are just far more productive when you can have that consistency of getting up at the same time and not rushing about to airports, and on public ... I mean, you can for example do work on an airplane. I've tried that. It does work, but it's a lot nicer to do work in your office.
Peter: Well, what you're doing really sounds very appealing. It's an example I think of how some people in the future will work, and your advice to youngsters who may be contemplating doing something like this sounds very helpful.
Just to wrap up you probably need, and this is a question, you probably need some sort of creative skill to do what you're doing. I mean, if you were a process sort of person, it would be hard to find work like yours?
Jess Leondiou: Well, what I've started to find is there has actually been an interesting trend in diversifying of different careers that are available for traveling around. At the moment there's unusual things, like you can virtual assistants. If you're somebody who is for example very organized and they're able to keep on top of emails, you can actually find a role as a virtual assistant to somebody and you can be located anywhere.
There's also a lot of different platforms like Upwork, and different platforms like that where if you're a freelancer you can sort of pretty much post what services you can provide, and then people like myself can also advertise with jobs that they've got.
Yeah, you can also find work like that. If I was someone and I didn't have a specific type of training that I was necessarily directly wanting to get employed under, check out some of those different ... I can give you a few of them afterwards, like Upwork and a few different other platforms.
Just advertise what it is that your skillset is, because there's even things like data entry and virtual assistants and copywriting. There's all sorts of bits and bobs that are starting to pop up as people sort of come down this path.
Peter: So, school leavers or people leaving after tertiary education, if they wanted to just experiment and have a taste of how, there's more options than I imagined by the sounds of it.
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, it's not actually impossible. Like, I think there is always sort of a fight to keep clients, because there's a lot of other people going down these avenues, but as I said if you do good work and you keep the clients happy there's no reason they'll go and look elsewhere.
Like, when try and employ people it's more a pain to go and look for new people, so if you're good, there's no reason why they won't keep you.
Peter: Well, Jess, look that's very, very interesting and thank you for time today. Very inspiring for people who may have a mindset to go and give this a go. Thank you very much.
Jess Leondiou: Yeah, thank you too Peter, it was great talking to you.