Alan Seabright leaves his business – a walking tour company – for months at a time. Hazel Theocharous moved countries keeping her virtual assistant business intact. Lily Starling runs her massage spa via an online scheduler which allows her to travel.
More SME owners are finding it’s possible to fulfill their dreams of travelling the world while running their business. And it’s not just graphic designers, copywriters and computer programmers – whose work can all be sent over the internet – even traditional bricks and mortar businesses, and those with a physical product, can find a way to make their business run without having to be in the same place.
Marianne Cantwell has made a living by inspiring people to break free from career constraints. She wrote a book, Free Range Humans, about how it is possible to earn a living away from the nine-to-five grind. “If you’re selling products that are handmade or furniture, there’s a lot more logistics to being location independent,” she says. “Break down what needs to be done. Is it that someone needs to package your product and put it in the mail? If so, are your margins big enough to support that? There’s always someone around who would like a bit of part-time work. I think there’s more potential than people realise for being able to move around and run the core of your business while travelling.”
Hiring the right people
Location independent businesses stress that having a team you can rely on is essential. Seabright says his staff are the integral factor that holds it all together. “My ‘virtual office’ staff and tour guides are all fantastic people that I know well. Running a business while travelling without this would be more of a challenge.” Starling says that hiring and training are essential steps in enabling her to travel away from her spa. “When I hire and train my staff, I let them know that I trust them to offer a solution to the clients if anything comes up,” she says. “I do not want to receive a call in another timezone about an upset client. I make sure to hire people who don’t need handholding and explicitly tell them that they will never get in trouble for doing their best to make the situation right if I am not available.”
Natalie Sissons is evangelical about travelling whilst being a business owner. Her company the Suitcase Entrepreneur advises businesses on how they can become location independent, like she is. She says that hiring staff is key if the nature of your business keeps you physically tied down. “I know people who have literally hired themselves out of a job by bringing in more people and becoming the strategic person who isn’t in the office day-to-day,” she says. “You need to increase your revenues, but it’s actually a lot more cost effective than you think. Often when you hire people you increase your profits because it allows you to focus on your business rather than being in it.”
Broadband, smartphones and online file storage have made it much easier to run a business while travelling. Theocharous’ virtual assistant business was already run remotely, so it was relatively easy for her to move from Australia to the UK, keeping most of her clients and attracting new ones from her new base. Starling uses an online scheduler which allows her clients to manage their own appointments. Seabright uses Vonage to take his business’ landline with him wherever he goes. “I think that there is more opportunity than ever to live life on your own terms,” says Sissons.
It doesn’t have to be all or nothing
Cantwell advises her coaching clients that if they want to travel the world while running their business, they don’t need to just set off with a backpack on a round-the-world trip. “Ask yourself, how do I take my business on the road for three weeks? And try that,” she says. “Then you come back and iron out the kinks.”
Don’t stop taking holidays
She adds that it’s important to redefine travelling as different from being location independent. “I still go and travel vacation style,” she says. “Last week I was on safari and I wasn’t working. When you start having that separation you’ll find your life gets a lot easier and you’ll be able to commit to things a lot better.”
Advantages of a location-independent business
A spirit of adventure is mainly what has driven Seabright, Theocharous and Starling to travel. “The obvious advantage is that you get to see the world while working,” says Seabright. “I understand that this type of digital nomad lifestyle might not appeal to everyone, but it does to me (and luckily, my partner), at least at this point in our lives.” Theocharous moved countries with due to a family decision and Starling appreciates that her flexible schedule allows her to spend more time with her boyfriend. “I can work my time and location around my boyfriend’s more fixed schedule and location,” she says. “It always makes me sad to see couples who can only manage to schedule one week per year off work together.”
But apart from freedom and the opportunity to see the world, location-independent business owners say that running a company this way can also be good for profits. Theocharous has said she’s seen her business grow since moving around the world. “A new perspective grows when you meet new people,” she says. “Sometimes re-discovering yourself personally allows you to discover what it is you want most out of your business.”