Our home office sits in our basement and is set up so that Pete and I face each other. We occupy equal sized white desks set up between us, anchored by a large bookcase on my left and Pete’s right. It is the first time since we sold it all to travel that we’ve had any sort of proper setup from which to work. Proud of the space, Pete scrawled our logo on a silver board he hung on the wall behind his desk. It mostly works well for us, although we do have a tendency to interrupt each other too often with random thoughts and questions. On days when I need some peace in order to write, I use a drop-in pass to the local co-working space in order to provide some focus.
This is quite a change from what we are used to. We’re much more accustomed to being cramped up on a hotel room bed, or at uncomfortable kitchen chairs in an apartment rental somewhere foreign. But what is most different, overall, is that this space is ours.
Just like our businesses, which we have been running now for years. They are ours too — in all of their good, bad, and ugly. Fortunately for us, business has mostly been good, and it is improving.
Earlier this month we crossed our seven year blogaversary, which makes us fairly ancient by blogging standards. Everyday an unfathomable number of new blogs begin (I read somewhere that a new blog is created every half second), and the amount of content produced is equally astounding (another I-read-somewhere-stat: over two million blog posts are produced each day). The truth though is that for all of those that are created, few last more than a couple of years. People often perceive blogging as a get-rich-quick scheme, or for travel bloggers specifically, an easy way to jet around the world for free. Many find out quickly that it is neither of those things.
This blog provided us with 10% of our income in our last year, and on its own, it wouldn’t be enough to sustain us. The most significant amount of our revenue comes from sponsored partnerships with travel brands that we choose very carefully. The rest comes from photo sales, ebook sales, and speaking engagements. We could be doing much more here by taking on sponsored content (we say no to 95% of the offers we receive), upping our affiliate income game (which is virtually non-existent), and/or adding on-site advertising. We choose to do none of those things for a variety of reasons, but most emphatically because that is not what we want our site to be.
For that little slice of income, I would estimate that the blog still takes up almost half of my working effort (but much less for Pete). I could be making more money by focusing my efforts elsewhere, but there are many other intrinsic values tied into this blog, such as the cathartic release of sharing our story, building amazing connections and a supportive community, and showing our other business partners what we are truly all about. None of these can possibly carry a monetary value, but they are all very significant.
The bulk of our income comes from our primary hustle: HMI. Almost four years ago, when we acknowledged and accepted that our blog wasn’t going to be what kept us afloat, we decided to launch this other business and realized quickly that it was exactly what we wanted and needed. With our business degrees, corporate backgrounds, and love for all things travel and media, the progression was a natural fit. And as we begin this year, HMI has finally arrived at a place where we feel really good about it. We broke a revenue record last year and expect to do so again in 2018.
Like any start-up, it’s had its vicious swings up and down. We’ve had clients come and go, staff come and go, new business dangled in front of us only to be snatched away. Very tough decisions have had to be made. But in the last 18 months it has all evened out; we have solid and steady income streams and great relationships with some top people in our industry. While a good chunk of our revenue still comes from influencer marketing, we made the decision to diversify into social media management as well, which has paid off. When a client believes so much in our abilities that they pull all of their Google ads to redirect to our social media budget, we know we’re doing something right. When another client signs up for their 20th month of influencer recruitment management, again, we know we’re doing something right.
And we’re growing. Being based back in Alberta has opened up several opportunities for us, and given that they’ve come at a time when we’ve needed the support most, it feels like one giant bear hug and welcome home — From endearing spots in the local media (here), to executing several influencer marketing campaigns this last summer in our own backyard (with the potential for more), to even being approached about joining not one, but two boards of directors within the local industry. In all the personal shit that has befallen us in the past year – work has been a very bright spot.
We have four people working for us and for the most part, they handle the day-to-day for HMI. We are doing our best to remain servant leaders and exist to support their work. Beyond that, Pete and I divide our responsibilities according to our strengths: Pete controls all finances (his former career was as an accountant, did you know that?) and pursuit of new business. I am general overseer of client projects, and, well, everything else. When Pete and I started this venture four years ago and tentatively broached the subject of who should be the ultimate boss, he immediately deferred to me. For the most part, this continues to works well (*I asked directly if he agreed with this statement and he said yes.*)
Of course we each have our weaknesses, which routinely cause tension. Pete can be easily distracted and struggles with prioritizing. I have a tendency to assume that everyone knows exactly what I am thinking (why is that so much to ask for? ? ) and I can become fixated on what is my way even if it is not the best way.
Like any relationship, marriage, partnership, and business – we are a constant work-in-progress.
People often make the assumption that because we are not dressing up every morning, packing a lunch box, and heading off to clock in 9-5 somewhere everyday, then we aren’t actually working. We don’t hear the “but your life is a vacation!” comment as frequently as we used to, but it still pops up every once in awhile. Our response is always an invitation to join us for awhile in order to see what it is really like.
Traveling is usually a very exhausting venture. When in a destination, especially when working with a tourism partner, our days are typically jammed with activities. Whether scheduled by the partners or planned on our own (we always love when our itineraries are self-driven), the days are long and the hours are full with the intent of experiencing a location as fully as possible. Not to mention that any scheduled “downtime” is ill-titled – those moments are filled with photo and video processing, social media post crafting, email answering, and tending to anything that crops up.
When we’re not on the road, we are in our home office for at least some time every day, although the day usually begins before either of us are even out of bed. With some of our staff living overseas and multiple hours ahead of us, we always check our messages while still under the covers, just in case something is needed of us before their work day ends. And unless something else is pressing for our time, we can then be a bit more leisurely with our morning routine. Pete does Spanish lessons and if I am feeling able, I’ll do some yoga before making my way downstairs.
Our life is never constrained to a nine-to-five schedule – I work best in the mornings and into early afternoon; Pete likes to work in the evenings. We pay strict heed to our corporate dress code of sloppy sweats, which has in turn inspired our second corporate policy of avoiding video calls whenever possible. Weekends are often not our own, but then there are also stretches of days when we only need to check in on our phones.
The uncertainty of the entrepreneur’s life can be too much for some to take, but the rewards are plenty, and for us, it is the flexibility that we treasure. In this recent and most difficult year of my life, it has allowed Pete to be with me when I’ve needed him the most. It has also allowed me to work when I can – I would consider myself to be at about 70% my normal capacity on a good day – and we are able to make adjustments to workload and/or staff hours in order to keep up.
We didn’t build these businesses with the expectation that we’d be propping our laptops up in hospital rooms – instead our visions were of a continuous string of quirky cafes around the globe. But at least that can and will still happen to some degree.
That’s life. And that’s business. (Thankfully.)
P.S. Thanks for reading to the end on this post about Work Life! Want to read about our new Home Life? Click here.