What does it take to start a location independent business?

Do you dream of a life without a boss, or a workday without the commute? The story of Betsy and Pete Wuebker shows you that it’s never too late to change your life. They are baby boomers who sold everything to become location independent. It wasn’t an overnight success, but over the years they have built a business with multiple sources of income.

Their goal is to visit all 7 continents. Although they are Midwesterners from Minnesota, Betsy and Pete spend much of their time traveling to Europe, Hawaii, and other fun locations.

In the following interview you will get an insight into their journey. You will find out what made them decide on the location independent lifestyle, the challenges they had to conquer, and the rewards. You will also learn how they make money.

Success Harbor: Who is Betsy and Pete Wuebker, what are your backgrounds?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We’re baby boomers with a wide variety of professional experience spanning over the past several decades. Pete’s career was spent in marketing and advertising, both as an agency representative and owner, and most recently for 15 years as Director of Marketing for a wildlife conservation non-profit. Betsy started out in fashion merchandising, went to outside industrial sales and then residential real estate sales, and then started a B2B gourmet gift company which affiliated with an international franchise. This led her to a position as acting Director of Communications and Franchise Development, which she transitioned into a freelance consulting relationship.

Success Harbor: At what point in your life did you start to consider a location independent lifestyle?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: Who didn’t read The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss when it came out? We were newly married, and very fatigued by the traditional location-based work we were doing. Even though Betsy had a lot of autonomy as an entrepreneur, her business was inventory-dependent. Meanwhile, Pete’s career had plateaued within the organization he was working for, and it appeared that only lateral moves were available should he initiate a job search. With concessions in benefits and time off to consider, this option would have brought less freedom, not more.

Even though Pete had a very generous amount of vacation (6 weeks), there were still limitations on how long and frequently he could be away so that we could travel. We realized that these circumstances would continue to keep us from exerting a sufficient amount of control over our lives.

Something had to change so that we wouldn’t feel so trapped.

We began to consider a plan B: make money online in a variety of “side hustles” in the hopes that these new revenue streams would at first supplement, and then replace our traditional sources of income.

Success Harbor: In what ways did your location independent lifestyle surprise you?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: The immediate sense of relief was accompanied by exhilaration and fear. We quickly fell into a good routine. We’re both early risers and actually found ourselves working longer hours. The difference was our commute no longer existed, and we loved and were excited by our work.

We were not prepared for the level of critical pushback and predictions of failure from people we had thought would be more supportive.

There were quite a few who took issue with or mis-characterized our move as retirement or slacking off. Some appeared to be committed to misunderstanding what we were doing no matter how much we explained. We found it best to distance ourselves from these negative influences and continue on our way.

Success Harbor: How much time did it take from making the decision to become location independent to actually making it happen?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We laid it all out in a post called Timeline to Freedom. We had fallen into the whole online print-on-demand (POD) store thing by accident in 2008. Pete made a political bumper sticker just for fun and it started to sell. A lot. It was even more fun to wake up in the morning and see how much money we made while we were sleeping. What would happen, we wondered, if we started to take this a little more seriously and actually devote some effort to it?

For the next three years, Pete moonlighted. It grew to be essentially the equivalent of a second job: building inventory in our online stores, educating himself on product creation and photography skills, creating marketing satellites, etc. We had already decided that PassingThru would be the hub of our online business activities.

Betsy sold her brick and mortar business within about six months, keeping an independent consulting arrangement with the international franchise. At this time, she began to write regularly about our travels, efforts to simplify, and the pathway to greater independence.

Pete quit his job in 2011 a couple months after we downsized into a townhouse, and we spent that summer road-tripping in an attempt to find out whether an increased amount of travel would meld with our new work activities. We’d long been proponents of work-life integration (as opposed to work-life balance), and we were thrilled when it turned out to be a successful approach.

Success Harbor: What were the biggest challenges during your transition to location independence?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: The biggest challenges initially had to do with personal downsizing. As luck would have it, we were married on the cusp of the U.S. real estate crash, each with a house to sell. The house we put on the market first took over a year to sell; definitely not what we’d planned! Paying two mortgages created a domino effect on our finances. By the time we downsized out of the remaining house, we realized we did not want to be owners of real estate any longer. This move to simplify extended to our possessions.

We knew all our “stuff” was responsible for a significant impact on the budget, and we re-prioritized. Getting rid of your stuff isn’t easy; we all have emotional attachments to keepsakes and things we’re familiar with. But once you do it a few times, it feels good to be out from under clutter’s heavy energy.

Then, newly back home in Minnesota from a winter vacation in Hawaii, we looked at each other and said, “This is madness. We’re moving to Kaua’i.” We spent the remainder of the lease we’d just signed on our Minnesota townhouse getting rid of most of our possessions. By Super Bowl Sunday, we’d left Minnesota for paradise. This was the height of our crazy up to that point, but there was more on the horizon!

Success Harbor: What made you decide that income diversity was important to you and how did you accomplish it?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We began to understand that the so-called “security” of having a traditional job and relying upon that one source of income wasn’t a safe way to live at all.

You serve at the pleasure or whim of your employer.

We’d seen relatives and friends laid off, some repetitively and for extended periods of time without landing a job. Talk about stress! At the same time, we saw that “walking the Lifestyle Treadmill” makes you an indentured servant. You have to wake up in your house and go to work in your car to pay for the house and the car, and buy yourself toys, clothes and entertainment to fill the emptiness. It doesn’t take long to get stuck.

We hated feeling trapped like this. Then we realized that, just as a financial advisor would recommend diversity in investments, income diversity could insulate from loss as well as minimize or eliminate dependency on an employer. Now we draw income from a variety of sources that we’ve built over the last seven years.

Some of the things we tried were successful, others were complete fails.

You gotta do more of what works and be ready to let go of what doesn’t. This is definitely not a short-term strategy, and a lot of people wouldn’t devote the kind of time or amount of energy necessary. But time is going to pass anyway, and if you don’t do something about it, you’ll still be stuck in the same, unhappy place you are now without even having tried.

Success Harbor: Please describe your online businesses and the reason you have decided on these specific business. How do you make money now?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: 

  • Print-on-demand: As per above, we sort of fell into the print-on-demand online store model by accident with that first bumper sticker. Now we have just under 100,000 products in several different stores, with several print-on-demand partners (Zazzle, Redbubble, CafePress, etc.). The relationship is great because they market and provide the space online. The merchandise is only produced when it is sold, eliminating the hassles of traditional inventory-based businesses. They handle all the shipping and customer service issues. And they send us money every month in the form of commissions and royalties.
  • Self-publishing: It’s a common strategy to sell what you know online. We have half a dozen e-book titles in niche how-to and self-help categories that bring in monthly income. The self-help titles are also available for sale on Amazon. This revenue stream is relatively passive in nature once the work is done and your marketing strategy can be set to automate.
  • Consulting: Sometimes selling what you know is helping others learn how to do what you do, using what they have and know. We’ve helped a variety of small-business clients with POD strategies, integrated online marketing, social media management, email newsletter production, and strategic planning. We bill this work on an hourly basis or by project, depending on the situation. It’s fun when people see how their particular circumstances can be improved and enriched.
  • Affiliate sales: We recommend resources that are of interest or assistance to those who are active in travel and online small business niches. These recommendations pay commissions when readers purchase.
  • Niche promotional sites: We supplement our POD stores with specific niche websites that feature our own product and products designed by others from which we earn referral fees upon sale. The two most lucrative sites feature custom special occasion postage and mailing supplies, and smartphone cases.

Success Harbor: What are the most effective ways to market your blog and your business?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: After an extended trip to Europe and the Winter Olympics in Russia last year, we returned home to Kaua’i and decided to kick location independence up a notch by becoming completely nomadic. This, we realized, was a great opportunity to do a visual refresh and a focused rebrand of the blog. We enlisted our longtime web designer who came up with the look you see now, and we committed to positioning ourselves more strongly as lifestyle travelers.

This decision to rebrand meant starting from scratch in many ways. We became active in travel-centric social media communities, took on educational coursework, and will be attending travel blogging conferences and expos to network with travel destinations as well as fellow writers and photographers. We were fortunate to have been awarded our first press trip with airline and public relations partners.

In social media, Facebook and Google+ have been challenging for us, so we decided to diversify (finally taking our own advice!). We’ve had gratifying results in just under a year: Twitter (over 8,000 followers combined), Instagram (we’re closing in on 10,000 followers), and Pinterest (we’re at about 7,000). Compared with other travel blogs, we’ve got a ways to go, however.

Marketing the other businesses has required specific tactics. When you partner with a POD, you’re subject to their internal and external marketing models, which can change. It’s important to supplement the positive effects you get from the POD with product visibility strategies. For us, success has come from promoting our niche sites, e-newsletters with affiliate content, personal relationships and referrals which lead to consulting work, and to a lesser extent social media broadcasting and advertising.

We’ve also learned to say “no” to opportunities which aren’t a good fit for whatever reason.

Success Harbor: How do you keep yourself disciplined to stay on target and meet your goals?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We’ve treated the business as a business from Day 1. To us that meant incorporating as an umbrella LLC, being in tax and legal compliance, and proper bookkeeping of costs and expenses against revenues. It also requires a corporate shareholder annual meeting. We hold it with all two of our shareholders (Betsy and Pete). The advantage to this kind of discipline is we can do a formal annual review. From there we discuss and finalize a detailed strategic plan which follows for the coming year.

Our strategy takes a simple outline format: goal —> objective —> tactic.

Additionally, we each work on our own stuff. While occasionally we may criticize or offer inputs, for the most part the blog is Betsy’s and the POD merchandise production and marketing is Peter’s. We collaborate on the consulting, individually write to publish products, and research and promote the appropriate affiliate resources in our respective areas of expertise. So while we work together, sometimes in the same room, we work separately as well.

Success Harbor: How many hours do you work a day, and what do you do?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We each work on and off throughout the day, at least eight hours, sometimes more. The difference is we’re free to put those hours in any combination within a 24 hour period, or take time off to sight-see, research, or do nothing. as we see fit. It’s nice to be able to jump in the pool at your Airbnb in the middle of the afternoon, or take a quick snooze before lunch if you’ve been up early. If we need to go to the store, we don’t have to wait. We do often need to be reminded what day of the week it is.

The work itself is done on the computer or iPad and consists of creation (product, consulting output or blog post), promotion (social media and niche sitework), and communication (responsive and broadcast to email lists).

Success Harbor: What advice do you have for those who want to build a location independent lifestyle?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: The best time to start working on location independence is now. If the idea intrigues you and scares you at the same time, remind yourself that you wouldn’t feel this way if your circumstances were serving you well. Depending upon where you are in life, the transition will be easier or more difficult. If you’re younger, you probably haven’t the amount of assets and possessions to dispense with that an older person will have, and it may be a simple matter to live on less, too.

Know who you are and what you like, and be realistic.

Quitting your job without a plan, although it has been done ad infinitum, probably isn’t your best move. Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen if you made a change?

If location independence includes travel, what kind of travel are you comfortable with? Fast or slow? Would you want to keep a home base or would you be okay with becoming “deliberately homeless?” Do you mind a communal element like you’d get with a homestay or hostel? Are you a 3, 4, or 5 star traveler? How independent are you when it comes to making arrangements, orienting yourself in a new place and getting yourself out of a jam? Are you disciplined and flexible enough to adapt to changes in location without a significant effect on your output? What kind of financial resources do you have to fall back on? How dependent are you upon the approval of others (parents, children, relatives, friends, colleagues) who may not understand or support your decision? Who are the others who are dependent upon you and will be impacted?

Success Harbor: Are there any questions that I did not ask, but you wish that I did?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: Not sure about the question to this answer: We’ve seen people run out of time without doing the things they’ve always wanted to do. It’s the saddest thing in the world to be at someone’s side at the end of life and hear their regrets. It’s natural to think we can always do whatever we’ve been putting off sometime in the future, but we all know eventually the clock runs out. When you get to be our age, there’s a renewed sense of urgency. Realistically, we’ll be lucky if we have twenty more good years. That’s not a lot when you think about it.

Seize the moment and live in the now.

Success Harbor: How can people find out more about you or get in contact with you?

Betsy and Pete Wuebker: We’d love you to visit PassingThru. There’s a contact form there and we personally answer every inquiry or greeting. Join our email list for updates and additional unique content not on the blog. If social media is your thing, let’s connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

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George Meszaros is the editor and co-founder of Success Harbor where entrepreneurs learn about building successful companies. Success Harbor is dedicated to document the entrepreneurial journey through interviews, original research, and unique content. George Meszaros is also co-founder of Webene, a web design and digital marketing agency.