INTRO: Hello everybody and welcome to the Success Harbor Podcast with George Meszaros, where it’s all about making success happen for you.
Success Harbor: Hi everyone this is George Meszaros with Success Harbor and I have Natalie Sisson with me. Natalie is the founder of the Suitcase Entrepreneur. Natalie is a writer, author, speaker, blogger and fun loving down to earth entrepreneur. Natalie travels the world as she runs her business from her laptop. I’m excited to have her with us today, welcome.
Natalie Sisson: Thank you, thank you for having me.
Success Harbor: Thank you for being here. I’ve been reading your blog for years and watched your videos and been following you for a long time so it’s a real honor to have you on my podcast.
Natalie Sisson: Oh, thank you I didn’t actually know that, that’s very cool.
Success Harbor: Since 2006 when you left your hometown in New Zealand, you had a life of freedom. You’ve been living out of your suitcase, how do you manage the perfect life or how did you imagine the perfect life back in 2006 and is the life you live now, what you had in mind back then?
Natalie Sisson: Actually 2006 is when I left New Zealand and headed off to London England to find a job and also do more travel but since then, is it the life that I was expecting? No not really but I definitely wanted to travel more and I wanted more freedom in my life and I think it’s better than I could’ve ever expected or imagined in my own mind. It was really 2010 when I started living out of my suitcase, which kind of came about just through me wanting more freedom and wanting to do what I wanted; when I wanted from where I wanted so it’s been a pretty amazing journey and I’m very happy with how it’s going.
Success Harbor: And I read on your blog I believe, that in 2009 you started a cool tech business, what was that business?
Natalie Sisson: Yeah, it was late 2008. It’s called ‘Fund Raiser’ it’s the Facebook application; it’s actually a fund-raising application, the #1 on Facebook and the company is called ‘Connection Points’ so we started as a tech company to build an application that would allow people to make easy online payments and fees, etc. etc. and really it was just a complete, for me, dive into the entrepreneurial deep end and try and figure out everything like how to create an app, how to work with Facebook with changes overtime, how to deal with payment applications, how to build a customer base from scratch, how to build a team of developers, get customers, use social media, it’s a really great learning experience for me in my first foray into entrepreneurship.
Success Harbor: Is that business still online or running?
Natalie Sisson: Yes it’s definitely still running. They’re into year 4 or 5 and they’re profitable now and they have over a million users with the app so I’m really, really proud of the team.
Success Harbor: Wow that’s pretty cool. Now in December of 2010, you have rebranded the suitcase entrepreneur to focus both on man and woman. Initially you only focused on female entrepreneurs, what caused the pivot?
Natalie Sisson: The reason I initially focused on female entrepreneurs is, in the tech sector it’s just heavily male-dominated and it still is, so for me I wanted to interview and talk to and learn from women entrepreneurs, founders, CEO’s etc. who’s done really well and what caused the shift is that I realized as I became more of the suitcase entrepreneur and living this kind of designer lifestyle or location independence, there were a lot more men who were capable or able to do this and often younger men who’d be traveling the world with their laptops doing that more so than women who will often be with a partner or maybe not wanting to travel quite the same way. Now I think that’s changing but it’s still, I guess in some ways, more prominent that guys would be doing that and I just found more men entering my community and so really I was always writing to anybody who was interested in entrepreneurship and specifically doing it from anywhere but I just found I was getting more and more attention and feedback from guys so I made it more relatable to anybody who wanted to pack up their business and travel the world.
Success Harbor: And when you started the suitcase entrepreneur what were your goals? What did the suitcase entrepreneur look like in your dream or the perfect world; what were your goals back then?
Natalie Sisson: I don’t know if I had a really clear cut plan but the minute I realized that I’d run a workshop in Vancouver, Canada that I could turn that physical workshop into an online program and the minute I made a few sales and recognized wow, I could actually make money online by packaging great knowledge and information that people actually want, then that’s when I kind of settled it in my mind to, “Wow, I could actually live somewhere else”, so I flew off to Buenos Aires, Argentina and also I guess I can do it here where they speak Spanish and the internet’s not that great then, maybe I can do this from anywhere and maybe I don’t have to have a base ever so I think from there it became clear to me what was possible. And it was actually in January last year when I put together my painted picture, which is my vision for my business in life for the next three years as if it’s already happened, that’s when I got really, really clear on what’s possible, the impact I wanted to make, how many entrepreneurs I wanted to help to create freedom of business and adventure in life so it wasn’t like clear cut from the beginning at all.
Success Harbor: So how important is it for everybody you think, to come up with that clear vision of what is their goal and how often do you think people actually do that?
Natalie Sisson: I think it’s ridiculously important and unfortunately George, I don’t think they do it enough at all so it’s actually something that I take all my clients through now. My coaching clients, customers in my program, I’ve got a pilot program coming out and it’s going to feature really heavily because I think the #1 reason people aren’t doing what they want is because they actually don’t know what they want to be doing. So for me, it was really important that I always had a pretty clear vision of where I wanted to head but by putting that out there publicly online saying here’s where I think I’d love to be in three years as if it’s already happening, like with the best-selling book and all the stuff that I wrote in it and it was just incredible for me because by the end of the year 60% of that has come true and that just shows you how powerful it is when you get clear and you write it down and you put it out there, what you will actually do to make that happen and come true.
Success Harbor: And so how did you initially create awareness about the suitcase entrepreneur?
Natalie Sisson: How did I create a way that initially. . .
Success Harbor: Yeah, like how did you market it, how did you build a following? I mean, it’s one of the most important aspects of any business so how did you do it?
Natalie Sisson: A lot of hard work and hustle initially, offline and online, I would go to a lot of networking events, I would talk about the kind of work I was doing online; I was learning everything I could about blogging, out of writing really great headlines, creating great content. I started dabbling with podcasting myself, I started putting out videos, I was guest posting, I was commenting on other peoples post, I was introducing myself to influencers and I was just really working hard to understand and learn exactly what it takes to market online; in addition to what I’ve learnt at Fund Raiser because really we built that business online through social media, so I took all that stuff that I’d learnt, I took my eight years in the corporate world of doing marketing and branding and business development. And then I took my online learning and just really up scaling myself and taking courses or programs or going to events where ever I could to just make myself known, to become visible and to start to make, kind of waves in the online community so there was a lot of combinations or factors there really.
Success Harbor: So how long did it take you to get your 1st customer, your first paying customer?
Natalie Sisson: Actually it was in the first year, in the first 4 or 5 months, right about the time I was coming down to having zero money. I picked up a consulting client who needed help with their start-up with leveraging social media. So I didn’t really want to go the client-consulting route but it was good money, it was an area that I felt I could add a lot of value to and then not long after that client and understanding what they needed from me and their pain points and their questions around social media and developing a business start-up through it, is when I did my workshops and so I actually ran three sell out workshops in a row and Vancouver made about $15,000 and was like “Ok, now I’m off and running”, and from that came my first digital online program, so it was 6 months of earning nothing.
Success Harbor: So let’s talk about that 6 months because I think a lot of people quit when that happens right so what kept you going? Were you disappointed? Were you just, you know say, “Yea, this might take me 2 years, this might take me a year”, were you ok with that? What were your thought processes back then and how did you feel about your business before you got your first paying clients or your first few paying clients?
Natalie Sisson: I wasn’t disappointed because this was my first real attempt at running my own business outside of being a co-founder. I thought it was probably one of the scariest and most exciting things at the same time but I was really determined. Like, there was no way I was going back into the corporate world, I could take a job at any time and probably get paid really well but that to me just felt like a cop-out and an excuse. Perfect time and opportunity to prove to myself that I was capable of doing my own thing but I wouldn’t say necessarily that I thought of myself as an entrepreneur or a business woman for those 6 to 9, 12 months; just because I was just trying to learn everything and figure it out and often I think in that first 6 to 12 months you feel like you don’t know anything. You doubt all the things that you think you do know and yeah, it was definitely the most defining and toughest months. So I think I was really lucky at that time, I actually took on a mentor; became part of a, sort of a mentoring program because having somebody to talk to and kind of go “Oh my God I’m not going crazy”, was really useful for me.
Success Harbor: Was that a formal mentoring process or was it just someone that you reached out to and periodically talk to or email back and forth?
Natalie Sisson: It was a formal mentoring process that I did when I was still working at Fund Raiser through the Women Entrepreneurs Foundation, but then I always kept in touch with that mentor and also just all the people that I’ve met in my time in Vancouver. I was just quite strategic about reaching out to a couple who I thought were really supportive and just asking them if I could meet up once a month or every couple of months for coffee and just talk about a specific area that I was challenged by. And then I started meeting more entrepreneurs who I made an effort to hang out with and meet up with often just to share our experiences.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is more important initially for you to feel some level of success? Revenue or recognition or let’s say if you were trying to guest post and getting accepted to other blogs and websites, what do you think is a good early win for somebody?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a really good question. I mean obviously revenue means that you have a legitimate business. If you’ve got revenues flowing in the door, that’s a good thing and you’ve got to be proud of that, but I think for me it was probably more recognition and if anything, it was external recognition and then my own internal recognition that “You know what Natalie, you’ve done this on your own, you’ve managed to achieve this so that’s awesome, now can we take it to the next step?” Think it’s a combination of things, obviously to be recognized by your peers or other people to say “Hey, this girl knows what she’s doing”, or getting customers on board who actually trust you and support you is a pretty incredible feeling but I think it really has to come from within.
Success Harbor: So being a woman who’s trying to build a business do you think you had more challenges? What are some of the challenges that you had, you think, because you’re a woman as opposed to being a man in the business world?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a great question you know, not enough people ask that. Yes I think there’s a ton of challenges. I still feel, in the business world in particular, it’s heavily now dominated across so many industries and women in general have to fight harder and sometimes we’re our own worst enemies and there were a ton of supportive guys in my community and my world who were excellent, smart, strategic business men, same for woman, but I do think we do have to fight harder in general. Sometimes that’s because we doubt ourselves more, we don’t take as many risks initially or we don’t necessarily, what I found often, is charge enough or promote ourselves enough. Men are excellent at networking and they’re really good at promoting themselves and standing up for what they believe in and saying here’s what I’m really good at. Women are more thinking about community, other people etc. and wanting to help. So yeah, I think I’ve written so many articles on this because I find it a fascinating topic but in general yeah, I’d love to have some more, I guess, a few more leg ups and a few more wins for women really because often in the media world as well, men are often promoted far more heavily and when you look at online influences or even offline influences it’s often the proliferation of men and I think there needs to be more women seen there because there are so many doing incredible work.
Success Harbor: There are a lot of influencers out there and they are both men and women but I think there are a lot more men so, if you are a woman and you’re trying to start a business, want to become an entrepreneur, do you think it’s better to get advice from a female entrepreneur, somebody that has been there and done that?
Natalie Sisson: I would actually say both. I feel like men and women have a different perspective. I think from a support perspective, from really understanding what challenges they faced, it’s great to have a woman there but ultimately, the best support and mentoring you can get, is from somebody who’s in the industry of the business that you are in or going into that has done and achieved what you want to achieve because they’re going to be able to fast-track you there. So I think it really comes down to the right person for the job that has–, that you admire and has done what you want to do.
Success Harbor: So I’m very, very interested in the first one year of being in business in general because so many businesses fail and I think the first 12 months is so crucial, everything from trying to generate revenue, getting customers and structuring your business the right way. What do you think are some of the greatest challenges businesses face during the first 12 months or maybe what do you think they should be focusing on in the first 12 months?
Natalie Sisson: Great question, so many things.
Success Harbor: There are probably a million different things, just maybe a few that comes to mind.
Natalie Sisson: Actually I think it comes back to that vision thing, so I think a lot of people when they start out, it’s so busy just trying to learn all the ins and outs of running a business, you know? You’re the CEO, you’re wearing every single hat possible and you barely have time to look at the business, let alone work on it, you’re just involved in it. So I would suggest that, that is the definitive year of which you actually do need to step back and have a look at what you really want to achieve because you’ll get there a lot faster. It always seems like, “No, no I don’t have time, I’ve got to work on all these things”, but if you actually gave yourself a weekend to really go, “What do I want for this business, what in my wildest dreams would be amazing success or how would I feel so proud if I achieved this?”, I think you’d get there a lot faster in that first year. The trouble is, you often don’t have that vision yet, you’re just trying to make ends meet or you’re just starting out and you’re excited but I really do feel in hind sight, which is a great thing to have, that’s actually the best year for you to go ahead and create some really serious plans and right focus on what you do want to achieve and also start surrounding yourself with the right people who are going to help you achieve it.
Success Harbor: Today, according to your website, you have 9 sources of revenue, which is very impressive and makes perfect sense to me or anyone, I think. Tell me what were some of the early challenges of generating revenue with your business and you described that this was kind of an organic development for your business but how did you come up with all these different ideas? What do you think is the most effective? Do you think it’s necessary to have 9 different or multiple revenue sources?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a lot of questions.
Success Harbor: Yeah, sorry. I was going in a circle and I had to stop.
Natalie Sisson: In a nutshell, yes, they were organic revenue streams and my advice to people is obviously to pick the ones that are initially the easiest to implement and that will bring you the immediate form of revenue because most people in the first year, that’s what they need. So for me…
Success Harbor: So what were those for you?
Natalie Sisson: Generally it’s a service based thing, so consulting, coaching, teaching, whatever it is that you can do right now and offer as a service through your skills, your knowledge, your products, your service, whatever it is and being able to get that out to market most quickly so in my instance it was coaching. For other people that may be web designing, a nutritional consultancy, personal training, whatever it may be. And then from there, I think it’s really smart to go about creating packages, products or offerings that don’t necessarily need you as actively involved so you can scale yourself. That might be group coaching, it might be an online program related to what you do. It could be a product, physical or digital. So the things whereby you can set it up, you can market it, you can put in the work. You can launch it, which is a huge amount work in itself but once it’s there, it’s really a matter of continuing to promote and having it sort of on auto pilot depending on what you’ve created and that just allows you to have a bit more residual revenue, whereby you’re not always having to push or get new clients or take on new work in order to actually have revenue. And from there for me, I really just looked at well, what are these other things that I’m doing that would relate? So affiliate marketing became important when I realized that I had credibility, people trusted in me and that I was already recommending products and services that I used and I could do that and actually earn a commission. So, that was something that I learned and wasn’t taking very seriously but now it’s a pretty lucrative part of my business. I started getting sponsorships when I had a bit more of an audience and not even a huge audience but I started realizing my key skill was networking with companies and businesses that I really liked working with and that they would actually come on and support a brand and a personal brand there because I had a good audience and I had the right kind of skill set or I had the right way of going about promoting it in an ethical way. And then speaking and my book and retreats and workshops kind of came just as I grew in confidence with my businesses. I understood my audiences. I realized who I wanted to work with and how I wanted to work with them. Even though I travel all the time, I still love to meet people in person. I do some of my best work one to one or in groups or live and so it’s really important for me to have that mix of lives and active revenue streams as well as residual and passive revenue streams. So yeah, I think you work with what you’ve got and 9 may sound like a lot to people but not all of them have prominence throughout the year. I don’t priorities all of them and several of them become important depending on what I’m doing at whatever time. Some of them kind of just run in the background really well.
Success Harbor: Yeah I love businesses with multiple revenue streams too. It makes perfect sense. Can you talk a little bit about reaching out to sponsors and potential advertisers? How do you do it? What advice do you have for others? How should we approach it and also, you mentioned that initially you didn’t have that much traffic. How much traffic was that because I think sometimes people think I need to have 10,000 visitors a day before I can even consider getting advertisers and all that so, if you can share anything about that, that would be good.
Natalie Sisson: Well that would be nice, 10,000 a day; I don’t even have that now. When, at the time, I honestly think I had maybe 500-1000 people on my mailing list and maybe a couple thousand visitors a month but that point was I didn’t sell them on how big my community was. I sold them on the type of community I built and how engaged they were. So even though it was small, it was growing and it was the exact audience that they wanted to get in front of and I didn’t lie about my stats, I said it’s small and growing and it’s highly engaged, which it was, and they’re your exact ideal audience because of this business and I wasn’t asking for huge sums of money initially, I think I was asking for $150-$200 to be part of a tools book that I put together. I singled out the exact people I wanted to work with and once you could say “I have one or two on board”, the rest seem pretty keen to come on board and a couple of hundred dollars to a big company is nothing. So that was my first experimentation in paying for the complete design and kind of creation of this digital guide that I went on to sell for many years. And then when it came to my book that was easier because I did have more of a community but ultimately I just built great relationships with people. So for me sponsorships have often come from personally reaching out to people and connecting with and saying look, here is what I think would be a good fit but it doesn’t require as much of an audience as you think, it just requires you to really be able to visualize and see why it would be a good fit for them and pitching them in the way that makes most sense to them.
Success Harbor: So what do you think is the best method or what’s the best method for you to stay engaged with your audience and kind of keep the conversation going and to keep them excited about what you’re doing?
Natalie Sisson: I’d say care. So many people seem to just be building up a business or a community for the sake of making more money and they don’t actually care about the people in it so I cared deeply. I want to get results in my community. I want to share with them everything that I’m learning, whether it’s for free or paid. I give away 90% of everything I do. So recently I had my website–, just was screwed, it got taken down by a contractor, everything went wrong that could have and I turned around and wrote a mega post on every single step that other people could take to avoid having that done. And you know, I had so many emails from my community just saying “That’s so lovely of you to do, I can’t believe you had to go through that, thank you so much for sharing this because, I’ve gone and backed up my site now, I’ve gone and got CloudFlare, I’ve gone and done this, I’ve gone and got security measures”, and people really appreciate that. Turn up, do the work, provide tons of value and show people that you care and that you’re human.
Success Harbor: Is it through blog comments or is it through email, what do you think–?
Natalie Sisson: Everything really. I mean, I’m on social media, it’s a huge business tool for me, customer service marketing [line breaks 22:23-24] … answer all my emails from my community, not every single email that comes to me but from people who personally reach out and also I’m just available, not to the point of being at the top but I’m accessible and I’m down to earth so I will answer all my comments on my blog, I will answer them on social media, I will engage where my audience are at and I think they really appreciate that.
Success Harbor: And what are some of the best things that you can do for your website to date in this year 2014, to drive traffic to your site? What is working for you?
Natalie Sisson: You know, for me it’s 4 years of building up a reputation and continuing to show up and to do the work and I post my podcast on a Monday, my video on a Thursday, every Friday my email goes out so, I think for me, it’s about reliability, people really appreciate somebody who’s always there. There a lot of people who come and go, they put in the effort then they go away then they’re suddenly back. And you know what, people want that person to know, that they’re there and they can reach out and that they’re going to be there in 1 year or 2 years. So, I’d like to say that there’s a quick fix but I would say, turn up, be real, show value and put in the work, like be there on a daily basis, that honestly is how you build a community and I think a lot of people think it’s a quick win or a quick fix, you can’t buy people. You can buy likes and you can buy followers but you won’t be buying any loyalty or any equality so I always think it’s good to just turn up and do the work.
Success Harbor: Ok. What do you think is the biggest time-waster for entrepreneurs?
Natalie Sisson: Ironically, I think it was probably social media. So, a lot of people jump on it and they get caught up in reading tons of feeds and different messages and videos and photos rather than going on and thinking, “Ok, today I’m going to connect with these 5 people, I’m going to answer questions in these 3 groups and I’m going to spend 5-10 minutes just connecting with my friends and then I’m going to get off it again and do some real work. So I think when used properly, it’s a great personal tool and it’s a great business tool but unfortunately people, I think, use it as an excuse for procrastination and not getting work done and I’ve definitely done that myself.
Success Harbor: So, let’s say a friend came to you or maybe somebody in your family that has a job now but wants to be an entrepreneur, maybe not a suitcase entrepreneur but an entrepreneur that has freedom or whatever it takes to make it. What would be the first thing you would teach that person?
Natalie Sisson: What they need to do to make it?
Success Harbor: Yeah. I mean, what do you think is the one quality that is a must have?
Natalie Sisson: Well, I think the best thing is to self-believe. I’ve talked about that before but for the first year at least, I really didn’t probably consider myself an entrepreneur. I didn’t really believe that I had what it took and I probably–, I was going to use the word [inaudible 25:13] which not everybody knows. I kind of probably played around quite a lot and building up lots of nice communities but not necessarily doing the work and thinking about “What’s my sales funnel and how am I going to make money and where do I want to be in year 2 and year 3?” So a lot of that came from just literally learning the ropes and not necessarily believing I had all the right credentials. I think a lot of entrepreneurs I spoke to in that first year feel like a fake or they feel like well, who am I to charge for this or do I really know much? How am I going to stay in business? So for me, self-belief was critical and how I got that was through actually doing some personal development work. I would read avidly, I would watch the right videos where I’d be learning from experts, I invested in myself through courses or programs I thought were great quality and then I actually went ahead and took action on those and one of the best books that I probably read in the first 2 years in business is ‘Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield’ because I remember reading that a couple years ago and just going “Oh yeah, I actually have to step up and turn pro.” There’s a point at which you need to stop telling yourself all the wrong stories and just say “You know what, from now on in, I’m going to turn pro and everything I do is going to be to the best of my ability with the best quality investment and I’m going to make this amazing.”
Success Harbor: So you’ve been travelling for years now and you’ve been running your business while travelling, living out of your suitcase. When I’m on vacation, as soon as I leave town, I’m not interested in business, I hardly even check my email so how do you–, what’s your secret? How do you stay focused on your to-do list and your tasks, and how do you get things done and not get totally distracted by all the different things you could be doing?
Natalie Sisson: It’s taken quite a few years of figuring that out and actually I think the secret is discipline. So just being disciplined with my time and knowing how much I appreciate it and what I want to be working on. I write about this in my book, actually I have a 6-step daily success plan, which I won’t go through right now but it’s actually just really knowing where you want to put your time and what you want to get out of your day, having a very clear sense of what that day looks like. Predominantly, I tend to do my best work in the morning; I will get up, I will do exercise and then I’ll focus for 1-2 or 3 hours on network then I’ll go out and explore and have fun and adventure and be a tourist and then I’ll come back in the late afternoon, early evening do some more and then take time off again. So that’s something that I’ve found works well for me depending on where I’m at. If I’m going to be launching something or doing a big piece of work then I would definitely try to be in one place for a couple of weeks or more. I’ll try and get myself an apartment or rent something or a hotel room that makes sense with great Wi-Fi and then it gets to come back to like really figuring out what my year looks like, like when am I taking off more time, when do I want some down time, when do I want to be focused on our work, when do I just want to be traveling and working and enjoying so it’s really just been trial and experimentation but I have a very clear sense of freedom and how that looks to me so I just make sure that I continue to balance myself [inaudible 28:21] but balance my activities and make sure that I’m having fun.
Success Harbor: And what was the best advice that you have ever received either personal or business advice?
Natalie Sisson: That’s a good question. I think my favorite quote is probably the best advice that I ever give to myself from Yoda, which is “Do or do not, there is no try”
, which I love because whenever I’ve been procrastinating or becoming unfocused or doubting something or just not really doing the stuff that I want to do I just come back to that so I’m a massive action taker. I implement everything and I think it’s–, can turn a lot to Yoda and just remembering his wise words and he makes me smile.
Success Harbor: So I want to ask you what advice do you have for me, for my blog? I just wanted to ask, I tend to ask this one question close to the end of the interview. I’ve been interviewing probably about 60 different entrepreneurs from very small start-ups to business like 50 million in size. How can I make my site to stand out, what would be your one advice for me?
Natalie Sisson: Well I think I gave you some advice when we first emailed, but I would say just probably injecting more of yourself into your blog and your site so apparently when you come to your site and look at the podcast etc. I think there’s a lack of ‘George’ in it, in your photo and also on the write-ups for the podcasts, I think you could have more feeling and emotion in there so they’re quite short right now and I think it would be great to give more insight into the person you’ve interviewed, all the things that you’re going to get out of it, why you enjoy the interview because people will like that. I always put in a personal touch in mine, I’m like, “Here’s what you’ll learn when you’re listening to this interview but here’s particularly what might relate to you or you might find the best to look at.” So just really bring in more of a sense of you into this.
Success Harbor: That’s good advice Natalie. How can people connect with you?
Natalie Sisson: I’m all over social media but the best place to come I guess is ‘suitcaseentrepreneur.com’ and say hello or my social media sites are featured there, I’m also on twitter @NatalieSisson, same on Instagram, same on Facebook but I would love for you just to come across and say hello.
Success Harbor: Well Natalie, thank you and as I mentioned earlier I’ve been reading your blog for years, I really enjoy it and I think you have an awesome lifestyle and I really, really appreciate you coming on and I wish you much luck with the Suitcase Entrepreneur going forward.
Natalie Sisson: Thank You so much.
Success Harbor: Bye.