Our history- not quite in a nutshell

I recently read a great post by the chaps over at Making it Anywhere. The result was twofold. First I thought ‘wow, how well are they doing?!’ And a short space of time later ‘shit, why aren’t we doing that well?!

My usual reaction would be go into a minor tailspin about all the things we have failed to accomplish but to be honest, I don’t have time for that degree of self flagellation these days. With the precious couple of hours I have in the evening to cram in the entire contents of a pre-baby day I decided to do something more positive than that. I decided to write, like Mish and Rob, but just to see how it would look. I didn’t write it as a blog, so it won’t have as much useful detail as theirs (I’m happy to fill in any gaps in the comments) but as a personal exercise in creating an alternate perspective i.e. I might feel I could’ve done better, but how might it look from the outside? Here we go…


The beginning


First stop on our 8 month trip, Koh Samui in Thailand.

In 2004 Chris and I got married and took a year long round the world honeymoon. We justified to sceptics that we thought it was a great way to start a marriage. Realistically, why would you only take 2 weeks away when it was possible to take 34?! Starting in Thailand, through Malaysia, Oz, Fiji and the US we ended the trip driving across Canada. Awesome. In between mountain-view campsites and castaway beaches we had plenty of time to re-evaluate. Returning to the life we left behind was no longer a good enough option. We wanted to work together (didn’t know how) and to be able to travel when we liked (really couldn’t see how). But where there is a will, there is a way, right?


Freelancing and full-time work


On our return to the UK I quit the well-paid job which had been patiently waiting (with a salary raise) for my return. We moved in with Chris’ long suffering parents and Chris found an IT job in Bristol. I decided to establish myself as a freelance Occupational Psychologist. I dabbled with coaching, failed in most of my marketing endeavours but did manage to land a couple of big projects to deliver promotional assessments for the Fire Service. Luckily Chris was earning the rent, while my ‘business’ floundered and soared with limited predictability but luckily, bursts of decent income.

By 2007 we had saved enough of a deposit to move from our rented home in Bristol to buy a flat in Bournemouth. Chris changed job and found himself with a two hour commute. The day we moved, standing amongst packing cases and bubble wrap I received an out of the blue phone call asking if I ever provided any career help to fire-fighters looking for promotion. My answer, of course, was that I was working on that service and would let him know when it was ready. So the idea for our first website was born.


The first on-line business


Our first website was just 1 sales page!

The rest of 2007 was spent with me writing content and designing products, Chris learning how to build a website and us both attending evangelical three day internet marketing conferences to learn everything we needed to know to get our first on-line store off the ground. Just under a year after that phone call we sold our first product. The next month we sold a couple more. Progress was slow but by March 2008 with a steady trickle of sales we started to feel the flutter of excitement about the possibilities. Chris working two jobs, his actual career and his ‘off duty’ work on our website, was unsustainable. Even though the website was still in its infancy, I still had enough freelance work to nudge us gently towards the game changing decision- Chris quitting his 9-5 and started working on our business full time. We incorporated under my trading name, Vallance Coaching and Assessment Ltd and finally had the manpower to start to grow it properly. So we did what most dedicated entrepreneurs would do in that situation. We went to France for three weeks. And when the business didn’t cave in around us due to our sojourn in a sun dappled gite we tested the limits even further and relocated ourselves, our laptops and our burgeoning sense of limitless possibilities to Central America for three months.


Time away works


That time in Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico was really instrumental to shaping how we now live and work because even with flaky internet, regular illnesses and a fair amount of time off work, projects were completed, the website grew and clients were happy. Most of them didn’t even consider we weren’t just a few miles down the road. Our experiment had worked.


Busy isn’t always the best way


By late 2009 www.frsdevelopment.com was paying our mortgage with some cash to spare. We ran a few courses which were very well received but a nightmare to fill. VCAltd.co.uk was online and open for consultancy business (yet still awaiting SEO and a proper site design even now!) Following a meeting in Scotland we landed a big (for us!) contract to run regular assessment processes with the Fire Service north of the border. It was time to grow our team. My sister had been helping me with my books right from the beginning so it made sense, when her career situation allowed, to develop her role. The three of us spent weeks holed up in hotels running complex assessments and then weeks after writing lengthy reports. We took on another team member, Sarah to help with admin and customer support. We also spent over £10k on a business mentor, someone to personally guide us through our business and marketing decisions.

Boracay in the Philippines was the perfect retreat to take stock of our business

We spent a month in the Philippines at the end of the year to take stock. We realised we were working ‘in’ the business way more than working ‘on’ it. We needed some time to strategise and develop, so when the projects quietened down we sketched out a plan for more time away which we knew would inspire new bursts of creativity and business growth.


New approach to travel- house swapping


In 2010 we went a little crazy, the freedom still being new enough that we felt like we had to make the most of it before it was snatched away. Before spring we had been snowboarding in Switzerland, tobogganing in Norway and spent Chris’s 30th birthday in Iceland- gazing cold-cheeked at the northern lights, then narrowly avoiding an erupting volcano. Having spent a lot of money on rentals whilst maintaining our UK home we decided to give house swapping a try and spent the summer in a beautiful forest flanked home as a base to explore Quebec. We’d noticed that our FRS Development site was attracting a lot of general traffic to one particular page so whilst there we designed and put online a new product on a single sales page micro site. It was the beginning of our career advice and support site which has only recently, finally blossomed into www.passyour.com. Within three months of returning from Canada we were heading out on our second batch of home exchanges and an escape from the UK winter. For three months we worked on project, consultancy and website work from beach houses and high rise apartments in Australia, via Hong Kong.


Taking a credit crunch battering


Towards the end of the year it became clear that the economic downturn had had a disastrous effect on our consultancy business. The big contract which had funded much of the previous years travel and savings dried up and we were left, for the first time, almost solely reliant on our websites for income.

Our turnover since 2004

We needed a new approach and much of 2011 was spent building relationships, hosting networking events and designing products for a new venture we decided to try, an assessment exercise subscription service. Our year of business mentoring, which we had spread over nearly two years came to an end and we were left with plenty to implement, but not much money coming in. However, our hard work and heavy sales focus paid off and by 2012/13 we had four corporate subscribers to our scheme.


Hanging out with our people


While in Australia we had begun, with a few tentative blogs and a lot of excitement a brand new site, Love Play work.com. In August 2012 we decided to head out to find the other people we were beginning to realise worked and travelled a lot like us- our fellow digital nomads. Via Dubai we arrived in Thailand for three months of tropical beach life. We spent days in the sun and nights on our private pool terrace with a steady stream of location independent entrepreneurs, who we met initially through twitter, and gradually through word of mouth.

We aren’t the only ones who live like this!

For the first time realised we were not alone and it was unimaginably liberating to not be out of step with everyone we knew. We designed a programme to share everything we’d learnt and ran the first intake of ‘180 days to your office on the beach‘ from a pool-side villa in Thailand. From there we impulsively decided to head to Bali, another Mecca for nomadic entrepreneurs. We were inspired by the freedom taken for granted by the travellers and entrepreneurs we shared ideas with, and delighted to take a further hiatus from apologising for our lifestyle.


Snow, sea and another RTW trip


We returned in 2012 for the snowboarding season, and even squeezed in two last minute home exchanges to the ski resorts of Salt Lake City, leaving just days after returning from the French Alps. On our return in March 2012 it was time for another long look at where we were. Our consultancy work was still slow, and although the subscription service had earned us a decent amount we hadn’t been able to build on this with further sign ups. Love play work was doing ok, but since coming back from Asia and the US we weren’t sure what direction it needed to take .

The next challenge came in the form of a random idea as we were braving a wintery beach walk. We already had a home exchange lined up for the summer in Oregon, and just recently had received an offer for a luxury condo in Puerto Vallarta that we were having trouble turning down. Then the thought occurred, what if we took those two offers, but instead of returning home we followed the summer round the globe, a ‘round the world trip in home exchanges’? Chris pitched the idea to the biggest house swap site, homeexchange.com and got us a sponsorship deal.

From an idea to reality..

For the rest of 2012, over eight months we stayed in 17 home exchanges in the USA, Mexico, French Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia. We finally built www.passyour.com into a proper site. We quit working on a site for train drivers which wasn’t coming together but started to work on a new site for cabin crew, our first partnership venture. We also started www.luxuryandboutiquehotels.com and developed our skill at pitching for sponsored day trips, events and overnight stays which we reviewed for our sites.


Everything on hold, for the best reason


Financially, things started to look up in 2012, despite spending most of the year travelling. It continues to improve, even though throughout 2013 everything went on hold as we geared ourselves up for the arrival of our daughter. Unlike the naturally tardy inclination of both her parents, baby Eve was early, and the rest of the year was spent helping her catch up from her premature start. Despite our focus being elsewhere, the consultancy work picked up and the websites continued to tick over.


The immediate future


As we get into the swing of parenting, in 2014 we’re ready to get on the road again. Before summer we’ll spend two months in northern Italy and a week in Greece reviewing hotels. Work-wise our cabin crew site is coming on in leaps and bounds and monthly training courses are filling up nicely. We receive fairly regular offers to do hotel reviews for www.luxuryandboutiquehotels.com, so many so that we now have a team of reviewers staying in amazing places on our behalf!

Our first book!

The book we wrote about home exchanging and our round the world trip is available via this page or on Amazon UK and Amazon USA, with the additional weight of www.homeexchange.com behind it, contributing to sales and membership commissions.


The guiding ethos


So have we always prioritised making money? No. Do we have the lifestyle that we want. Yes! How many people get to say that? We are very lucky. Just as none of the last 10 years have been particularly planned, we don’t know what’s coming up next. We talk about relocating for longer and buying property overseas, but who knows what will transpire. What we do know is that by embracing unexpected opportunities our path will meander magnificently, and that’s how we love our life to be.

Reading back, this piece has served its purpose. I’m very happy with where we are, what we’ve done, the things we’ve bounced back from and what we’ve achieved. And my goodness, we do travel a lot!!


If you wrote your story, what do you think might be right about it? Is there anything you would change?


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2 Responses to “Our history- not quite in a nutshell”

  1. I’m glad you did this exercise and can see just how successful you are! Since we’ve met I look to you guys as someone who has figured it out, continues to evolve, and tries the most interesting stuff. As we continue to flounder to find out way we can only hope to be as successful as the two of you!
    Gillian recently posted..Where Will We Stay While Cycle Touring Europe?

  2. I’m honoured that we prompted you to write this post…and very glad we did, because it made for a great read! I’d picked up bits and pieces of your story from reading your blog, but had never known the full chronology before reading it here.

    Posts like this are super-valuable because it shows how much hard work, uncertainty, setbacks, freaking out and repositioning is behind all those hammock-on-the-beach photos! You glimpsed your ideal lifestyle, then did whatever it took to make it a reality. That’s an inspiring example for anyone, even if their personal ideal lifestyle has nothing to do with travelling or running a business.

    Enjoy getting back on the road!
    Rob @ Making It Anywhere recently posted..Monthly report: March


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