Let me tell you, there was nothing in any of my marketing, journalism, or finance classes that prepared me for the bumpy road that is entrepreneurship. That is, until I took my business on the road with me.
I quickly realized that many of the things I learned while traveling the world, were exactly what prepared me for those day-to-day tasks of working with customers and running a successful business. Here are a few of the lessons.
To listen more than I speak
When you’re in a strange country where you don’t speak the language, suave conversation isn’t going to get you out of a bind. But slowing down and listening to a kind local (and using a lot of crazy hand gestures) might. It’s basic customer service: you won’t understand what your customer is trying to sell you if you just keep steam rolling them with your elevator pitch or USP. The only way to effectively segment audiences and provide value is to simply listen to what they are telling you. It’s only after you close your mouth and open your eyes and ears that you’ll start to learn about the little nuances that make each place and person unique.
That the only way to know is to go
There is a lot of bad news coverage out there about places all around the world. If you listened to all of it, you’d never leave your front doorstep. The only way to know how a place is or how something really works is by listening to others, doing a little research and finally just taking that leap. The same goes for business: Marketing plans and business theories are great (and often necessary), but they don’t do much if you never take action. You can’t learn about your business from a textbook.
That it’s OK to ask for directions – as long as they’ve been where you’re going
There’s nothing better than asking for directions from someone who knows the ropes. But there is some trial and error in learning who actually knows what they are talking about, and who just thinks they know best. That’s why I’m a huge believer in mentorship and co-working spaces. The people you’ll meet at these places have been where you’ve been or are on a similar path, and understand where you want to go. Just like having a translator at your side, the right professional network will help point you down the trail and will translate all the road signs. You can collaborate, share stories, or just work in the presence of each other, but no matter what, you’re bound to learn something new.
To automate everything
Life is messy and stuff happens - like arriving to your hostel during a very busy week to realize that the ‘awesome Wi-Fi’ you paid extra for is really a spotty 15-minutes at a time connection that only works in the back stairwell. My saving grace? The fact that my social media, blog posts, emails and lead generation processes were scheduled in advance. Knowing my business would continue without me was a lifesaver and has helped me avoid some really awkward phone calls about missed deadlines. Not only did it save me in a situation like this, but it also gives me the freedom to step away from time to time and just enjoy life. Which brings me to my final point:
That balance is key
I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve missed out on the joys of more than one destination because I allowed myself to be tied to a desk for too long. I’ve had moments that I looked up to realize 48 hours had passed and I hadn’t even left my hotel room. That was my only memory of Bratislava, and it will always remind me that it is pointless to travel to new place if you aren’t going to give yourself the time to enjoy it. I realized that I wasn’t only working too much on the road, but when I got home, too. Once I started prioritizing ‘offline time,’ I noticed that I didn’t feel lazy and unproductive (like I thought), but rather more inspired and efficient. When I left my computer in the hotel room, I started having organic interactions with people from all around the world, sand boarded down a desert dune, roadtripped to unexpected places, road a bicycle through the Mexican jungle and even got a couple more contracts signed in the process.
Averi Melcher is planning a cycling trip from Alaska to Argentina to spread happiness. Last year, she ran her business remotely from all over Europe and the US. She is currently based in San Diego and focusing on weekend 'microadventures' in preparation for a coastal tour in May from San Fran to San Diego (including a stop at Outsite Santa Cruz!).