How to Run a Small Business While Traveling the World

by QuickBooks

3 min read

Betsy and Warren Talbot (pictured) wanted to travel the world for five years. In order to live their dream, they got rid of most of their possessions, including their house, and saved more than $50,000 over two years. They left Seattle in October 2010, after packing everything they still owned into two 65-pound backpacks. They took Warren’s small business, a newly created website-development firm called MWL Development, with them, too.

Fifteen months later, the Talbots have decided to stay on the road indefinitely. Here’s how they are making money and running their small businesses while traveling overseas.

Sharing Their Journey

Before they started their adventure, Betsy and Warren both worked full-time jobs. After 20 years in the medical transcription industry, Betsy had launched a consulting firm, Delegate Now, and Warren worked for Microsoft analyzing potential investments and developing strategic business plans. In 2008, the Talbots figured out that they wanted to travel the world. The couple launched a website called Married with Luggage, so that friends, family, former co-workers, and others could see how they prepared for the trip and then travel with them vicariously. Warren also started his web-development company as part of the transition.

On the blog, the Talbots share tips about how to reduce debt, save money, overcome fear, and plan for the life of one’s dreams. The Talbots also offer a running tally of the money they’ve spent — and the lessons they’ve learned — on a website called RTW Expenses. Warren says that working on the road is pretty easy, thanks to a laptop and PayPal, which gives him online access to invoicing and payment-tracking. The Talbots also maintain an account at a major bank, in case they need emergency operating funds.

Betsy working on the shipGetting Online

Running virtually any operation remotely requires internet access and, fortunately, the Talbots haven’t had trouble staying connected. “Whether we were in an Andean village with just 86 residents or sailing across the Atlantic, we always found available — though not always fast — internet,” he says. “It hasn’t really been an issue.”

Initially, Warren took on one or two web-development projects a month, communicating primarily via email while the duo traveled. In addition, he built websites for clients on the road in exchange for free lodging and tours. Meanwhile, Betsy wrote the Married with Luggage blog and helped clients with content or marketing help. In June 2011, the Talbots shifted focus, based on conversations with Married with Luggage’s 12,500 monthly visitors.

Trying Something New

“We began writing our first book, and in August 2011, we developed the concept of ‘Live the Good Life,’” Warren says. “Now our business focuses on the creation of books, webinars, and speaking engagements to promote our message ‘Life is short. Live your Dream.’” The Talbots launched the book, Dream Save Do, a week after landing in Thailand. They market it through their website, Twitter, Facebook, and word of mouth.

“We were overwhelmed by the response,” Warren says. “The sales have shown we have a message that is interesting and one people are willing to pay to hear. And it is proof we can turn this into a profitable business.”

The bulk of their revenue now comes from book sales, but their strategy also includes advertising sales from their websites. In 2012, they plan to grow their newsletter Try Something New into a product line, Warren says. They also plan to release a new book, When Fear Blinks, which will address the fears people have when trying to live their dreams.

“At this point, this does not seem like work, but pursuing a passion that fits with our dream life of traveling the world,” Warren says.

Thinking of taking your business on the road? The Talbots offer these tips:

  • Start building your business and contacts before you leave the U.S. It is far easier to establish yourself through a network of people you know and then transition the business overseas.
  • Gather testimonials and have existing clients spread the word about you, which becomes even more important after you leave town.
  • From day one, build the business to be remote. Do not take face-to-face meetings, if possible. Treat your business as if you were living in Buenos Aires or Rome, because that is the ultimate goal.
  • Remember, the same rules of owning a business apply when you leave U.S. borders. You still have to put in the time, effort, and planning — and pay the tax man. You just get to do it while wearing flip-flops in paradise instead of a suit in an office.

Have you every thought about taking your business on the road? What’s holding you back? Share your comments or tips below.

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