“I want your life!!”
People tell us this a lot – and I get it…we do live a pretty ‘unconventional’ life and we have a LOT of fun.
So where are we at right now and how did we get there?
Life’s definitely good right now.
‘Home’ is both our beach house in Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast in Australia AND the pristine Mornington Peninsula, an hour south of Melbourne. We share our time between the two places in the Australian summer.
Last year we sold the multi 7-figure tour company we started just over a decade ago.
We’ve spent that time travelling and living in our ‘third’ adopted home – Ibiza, Spain – a place we’ve started spending a heap of time over the last few years and the place from which I’m writing this post.
Since we sold our business, our two young ones have been having a blast.
They’ve ridden camels and caught their first waves in the Canary islands, they’ve gone on elephant safari in Sri Lanka, they’ve seen nesting leather back turtles on the beaches of Costa Rica, caught their first fish in the Greek Islands and learnt Spanish in Ibiza. It’s been a pretty awesome year.
The freedom to live like this didn’t come AFTER selling our business. We had already created it.
It’s really been the last 5 or 6 years that we’ve been living the kind of life that we set out to create.
In that time we’ve spent 4-6 months a year, every year in places like…Ibiza, Barcelona, Mexico, Greece, LA, Costa Rica, Italy, The Maldives, Fiji, Bali, The Canary Islands.
We’ve been working remotely, having adventures and starting a family while we watched our business thrive and grow
We also decided on a sea change 5 or 6 years ago – moving an hour away from our hometown of Melbourne, Australia and away from our office and our staff to the Mornington Peninsula, working from home and making only a couple of weekly trips into the office to work with the team.
But, when we started out back in 2007 it was a very different story.
We had no business experience, no tourism industry experience and were pretty much clueless.
We had ambition and a great work ethic…but that was about it.
Between the two of us, when we started out, we were tour guides, bookkeepers, marketers, reservations, sales and operations . We were responsible for business development, design, vehicle maintenance..the list goes on
We were still working our teaching jobs part time to pay the bills
We had no idea who our customer was – we just hoped they would find us..whoever they were …and like the look of our tours.
In that first year we made $20k before tax. Two of us…working 60 hours a week.
It was brutal.
But then we got going.
By 2010 we were making 750k in revenue, by 2012 we hit $1 million. By 2014 this was 1.7 million and we passed $2 million in revenue in 2016. It took us 10 years to get there.
BUT we started with nothing and the thing is – I know that if we could go back to 2007 and do it all again armed with what we know now, we could do it in LESS THAN HALF THE TIME.
12 months ago we sold our business. Why?
There were a few reasons.
We got a great price and it made the decision easy.
We felt that ten years doing anything was enough.
Most importantly, the timing felt right.
Sometimes you just need to be bold and trust yourself. Knowing when to ‘get out’ is a skill in itself and for us it felt like the right time.
Sometimes you just need to trust your gut.
BUT we also got some great advice many years ago that we never forgot and that advice re-shaped the way we looked at our business. ‘Always remember that you’re building an asset – something of value – and something that won’t miss a beat if you’re not ‘in it’’
Here are some of the critical things we did to create the life we now lead and that we are so grateful for.
-Get crystal clear on what you want your life to look like. What exactly does your business and your life look like in 2 years from now and in 5 years from now. Break it down and give details.
We use the following categories: Your Health/Friends/Family/Personal Growth/Fun and Leisure/Career/Home Environment/Money and Investments
Spend the time to think and write about each of these and then look back at them every month. Revise them if you need to (that’s natural as your life evolves) but never deviate from what you want if you know for certain that you want it.
What’s your WHY?
How can create a product and build a business that allows you a dream lifestyle, if you don’t know WHY you’re doing it?
What’s the lifestyle you actually want? Write it down. For example, years ago I wrote down what my perfect morning looked like, then I wrote down what my perfect day looked like. It didn’t always go according to plan (hello babies) but I kept going back to this very detailed description of my dream day and eventually it became a reality. Some of the key themes for me were – time spent creating (involving mornings with solitude and a great coffee), time spent in the sunshine, the outdoors, with my kids or on the beach, time exercising.
Why are you choosing this way of life?
Why do you want to find more time? Is it to spend time with your kids?
Is it to pursue a passion other than your business?
Or is it to turn your passion into your business?
To work on personal development?
WHY are you starting a business? Why THIS business? Why THIS idea?
Are you REALLY passionate about this industry, this product, about being in business, the people you will meet, the lives you plan to change or enrich?
Or do you wish you could find more time to work on the parts you ARE passionate about and delegate the rest. Go back time and time again to your WHY.
Outsource. When you start making sales and you realise that people actually want to buy what you you’ve got to sell – great – you’ve got a business! Then you need to be really careful. Initially you’re probably going to have do it all yourself: Bookkeeping, reservations,IT, web design, marketing, vehicle detailing, possibly even vehicle maintenance, operations, HR, content creation…the list goes on.
These early days are tough. You’re doing a heap of things on the fly and you’re probably not great at most of them.
Soon you reach a tipping point. When you do, suck it up, take a risk and…outsource. You can turn the tap off at any point without the issues associated with hiring staff – the last thing you want is a wage bill in the early days. Focus on the things you love and the things you’re good at and outsource the rest. It’s a couple of steps backwards to take ten forwards.
BUT you’ve got to be across everything. You need to have a working knowledge of every part of your business:
bookkeeping, marketing, SEO, accounts, design….the list goes on.
You MUST hold people accountable.
Don’t assume it’s in the hands of the experts and therefore under control.
Nobody will ever know your business and your customer like you do – especially if you make the decision to outsource offshore.
Keep people accountable with quarterly reviews.
Provide tangible performance indicators upfront and then make sure you are 100% on track and if you’re not, find out why.
The key is, get to a place quickly where you find out what it is you love doing in your business and what you are great at – then start working very quickly to get to a point where you start outsourcing the other stuff.
You’re going to freak about often about the costs, however the FASTEST road to success is to roll your sleeves up and get your teeth into the stuff you love, the stuff you’re great at.
Not the stuff that bogs you down and sucks your time and productivity. Get someone else who’s great at it to do that stuff.
Once you’re sure that your decision to outsource parts of your business is working – its paying for itself and freeing you up to focus on growing your business, you then need to:
Grow your team.
For us, our first full time hire was an ‘office assistant’.
We knew we had waaaay too much to do between the two of us and that we needed help. But what did this new role look like?
Was it full time? Part time? We simply wrote a list of every single task in our business that was done over a two week period and exactly how long we were spending on those tasks.
Then I wrote a list of all the things we :
Weren’t doing that we should be doing and how much time was needed to do them. (for example interstate sales calls to key agents/developing new tours)
Were doing but needed to do more of (for example 8 hours per week of hotel concierge visits rather than 4 hours/ more personalised follow up with past guests for tour reviews)
By doing so we could literally calculate to the hour exactly how much help we needed from our new Office Assistant and write a position description with detailed roles and responsibilities and estimated times that these took each week. Our calculations told us that we needed a 4 day per week Office Assistant to free us up so that we could start to step out and grow our business. A simple template that we used to create these three new position descriptions was as such:
We have got it wrong plenty of times when it comes to hiring and we have learned a lot from our mistakes.
However, when it comes to hiring, the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in ten years: you can’t teach attitude.
By getting your roles and responsibilities crystal clear and by knowing exactly what your business needs and, literally how much time will be expected to be spent weekly on each task, it will help you to prepare a great position description.
My advice: whatever you do, focus on candidates with whom you have chemistry, who impress you with their can-do attitude, their ‘glass half full’ outlook, their desire to shoulder responsibility and step up, not just accept that it will be required from time to time.
Focus on candidates who talk passionately about their desire to work in an environment that requires people to ‘chip in’ and help out with something even if they can’t see it in their position description.
Candidates who display empathy and kindness, who can be your rock under pressure and do everything and more with a smile and an air of calmness.
These are the people that you want in your business.
They may not always be the most qualified but I will always lean towards them.
The culture in your little office is critical for a small tour operator and you need people in your team that have your back and can make sure that everybody in your business loves coming to work.
You can teach these people skills they don’t currently have – that’s the easy part
Finally, grow your team based on what the business needs and what is holding it back.
You’ll always find a way to pay people.
Find the best and pay them more than you can afford.
Penny pinching for ‘just ok’ will set you back years. Find the BEST – take a risk. Great people build great businesses and allow you to live the life you visualise whilst your business thrives, rather than getting bogged down holding the hands of mediocre staff while you try to save 20k a year on wages.
Trust your gut, be bold and keep improving
It was 2009. We were feeling pretty good about things.
We’d just had a peak season that had exceeded all expectations and for the first time since we had started out, we really thought deep down that we were going to make this business work.
There was one thing…the biggest reason we had embarked on this journey was our love of travel and experiences and since the day we started out we hadn’t left the country. We were desperate for some travel and some adventure.
So we decided that we were heading to Spain (Mallorca to be precise) and that for three months we would run our business remotely.
It was both an exhilarating and a terrifying thought. What the hell were we doing? Were we nuts? We still kind of felt like imposters as it was and that we had no business being in business – now we were going to try and do it from the other side of the world.
We had plenty of tour guides by that time , but we had no team, no office staff. Nobody to step in and pick up the slack. Everything rested on our shoulders.
So what did we do?
For the month before we left we got busy writing systems, processes and procedures that we hoped would stand up. Did they stand up? A lot of the time yes, some of the time no. Was that winter of 2009 a success? Relatively speaking, yes.
Was I stressed, anxious and exhausted a lot of the time due to the regular calls that I was taking throughout the night? Absolutely!
Was it worth it? Without a doubt.
We got a look at what our life could be like running our business remotely. After that three months, we went home and started ironing out all of problems that we had encountered, making those systems better, improving our business processes, growing our team and surrounding ourselves with a team that understood our vision for our business and for our lifestyle, a team that valued the chance to step up and shoulder responsibility when we weren’t around.
Know that if you want to challenge yourselves, there are going to be hurdles. Things will happen that are going to throw you and make you think that you shouldn’t have been so bold. Trust yourself. Know what you want and just keep improving until you get there.