Tales of a Suitcase Entrepreneur

Natalie Sisson’s bio reads like an adventure of a person who knows no limits. She has traveled to more places in the last 12 months than the average Aussie in their lifetime. All while building a business that is truly remarkable and amassing a legion of raving fans from all corners of the earth.

Natalie is not your typical entrepreneur. She does not work in a traditional office nor hold meetings in corporate boardrooms with people in grey suits. Instead, her days are spent accumulating experiences: cycling for a good cause across Africa, getting drenched in Niagara Falls, soaking up the exciting atmosphere at the Gay Pride parade in Amsterdam, riding on elephants in Thailand and so much more it would take over this whole interview. In between all that she even managed to score a date with bestselling author Seth Godin in NYC and launch the $100 Change Program aimed at kickstarting people’s passions. Keeping up with this woman is simply hard work. And all that took place last year.

Did I mention that this is part of her “job”? And that she is making money doing the things she loves? You see, Natalie is part of the new rich- the nomadic rich. They work out of cafes and co-working spaces (or anywhere there’s an internet connection) with their laptops and tech gadgets. Often, they are marketing or business consultants, bloggers, copywriters, freelance graphic artists, web designers, software developers and basically anyone who is able to turn their product or service into one that can be delivered online. People like Natalie are savvy entrepreneurs who have chosen to build a business based around their dream lifestyle. Not the other way around. They usually live a minimalistic lifestyle, live out of their suitcases and rely on social media, apps, tech gadgets and clever outsourcing to run an efficient business they can take anywhere, anytime. And Natalie is at the forefront of it all.

Just take a look at her journey so far:

  • 2012: In March to May, cycled from Nairobi to Cape Town and over 6,000 km while raising over $12,600 for Women Win the process. Find out about this journey here!

If you’ve read everything above, then you know Natalie is also a Kiwi.

Before embarking on your great adventure in 2008, you had a fantastic career. Tell us about that and most importantly, the big question: why did you walk away from it all?

I’d had around 9 years experience in the corporate world in some fantastic roles that I loved. I was one of those hustlers that managed to jump up a level in each role I took on by selling the person on the fact that I could do it.

I worked in FMCG, education, safe gaming, healthcare and professional services for a range of organizations. I went from entry level marketing coordination to communications, product and brand management through to business development and heading up an entire department on new propositions.

I had some great managers and in every role I felt I had a lot of flexibility to shape the role and lead from the front, but there were always limitations on budget, resources or corporate rules that you had to play within, plus office politics that I was never keen on.

Actually my final role was what pushed me over the edge.  On paper it looked amazing, great pay, head of a new department, the ability to build a new team and working on turning doctors into business people. Yet internally it was a bureaucratic old boys club, steeped in tradition, politics and narrow-mindedness.

I was brought in to change things up and felt I got blocked at every road, and that’s what made me realise enough was enough. I could no longer squander my time and talent trying to convince people of better ways to run their business, when I could be running my own.

Tell us all about The Suitcase Entrepreneur. How did it start and what was the inspiration?

I’d love to tell you it was a straight path to building my business but honestly, it was built out of a desire to talk about my entrepreneurial journey, learn from others and write about it on a blog.

The blog was my baby. I loved it and it was a cathartic experience when I was a cofounder for a cool tech startup in Canada. It was my way to deal with understanding the entire spectrum of being involved in a startup. It was also a platform to reach out to women entrepreneurs (of which there were few and far between in the tech world).

I soon realised that my blog was becoming more of a passion than my startup company. With my business partner’s blessing, I left to pursue my `own thing’. I had no idea what that was.

I kept on blogging under WomanzWorld and building a community and my credibility.  At the same time, I was racking my brain as to how to bring in revenue. It’s been very much learning by trial and error, and organically growing my business.

Did you need much capital to get started? If so how did you source it?

Literally nothing. I went for six months without any income and one month, I almost couldn’t pay my rent. Right about the time I was getting seriously worried that I’d have to give in and get a job, I launched my first social media program and made my first few thousand dollars.

Up to that point, I’d not spent a ton apart from hosting and some design work on my website (seriously, you can start an online business for less than $100).  However, there was the opportunity cost of not receiving a salary for six months to get this thing off the ground.

Was it worth it? Hell yeah. Was it scary? Every day. I really had to work through my fear at every point: am I good enough, what the heck am I doing, I don’t know what I’m doing, who am I to think I can start a business or be an expert in this area. Daily battles of doubt I tell you.

Can you explain what it means to be “location independent”?

You can run your business from anywhere. So you are not tied to anyone place. All you need is a laptop or smartphone and an internet connection. In real terms to me, it means the freedom to do what you want, when you want from where you want.

Lots of people preach about being location independent but I don’t really think they are. They go and live in Bali or Costa Rica, set up a house and work just as hard as they did back home. It’s just that they feel more independent  because they’re in a different location.

Whereas I have no home, live nowhere and wherever my suitcase is, that’s where I am for that period of time. Be it a day, a few days, week or sometimes up to a few months.

What are the perks of running a mobile business? Any downsides?

Perks are numerous, as I said freedom is my highest value and I love waking up when I want, working on what I want and doing what I love. Not everyone who has a mobile business can achieve that, but they can choose where to work from – cafes, airport, trains, co-working spaces or their home (anywhere that’s not an office with a cubicle!).

I personally think, the upsides of the location independence lifestyle ss the connections you make when you’re on the move (especially if you’re traveling a lot), the experiences you have by constantly changing location and the skills you learn to adapt to ever-changing environments.

The downsides are few and far between in my mind. This includes not having reliable internet when you need it most, technology issues, not having access to infrastructure like printers, phones and a place to meet physically with your team at a moment’s notice.

Sometimes it gets tiring traveling and always packing up, but my lifestyle of constant travel is a little different than most. But I would say, people with their own mobile businesses can suffer from loneliness unless they go out and network, co-work or surround themselves with fellow entrepreneurs because of the fact that most work is done online.

Give us a quick run down of your travel itinerary last year.

Oh man it was crazy! I travelled to 20 different countries, some several times and took 37 flights, plus cycled across Africa for almost 2 months! I was in New Zealand for my sister’s wedding, Australia for the Tennis Open, Africa for the ride of my life, then in Europe for spring, North America for summer and a summit, back to Europe for frisbee, travel and work, on to the US and Caribbean for a retreat I ran and then back to Europe.

What would be a typical day for you? Or is there such a thing?

I used to work on all sorts of things and do love the variety of my work. But over the years I’ve become a lot more focused on working on my business growth and carving out time to create content for my blog and others, podcast interviews, videos and  joint ventures.

Then other days are related to systems optimisation, marketing tactics and working with coaching clients, or working on product creation.

Depending on where I am in the world, I now take much more time out to discover and explore where I am. So currently being in Malaysia, I tend to work on projects first thing in the morning (including writing my book!) and in the late evening, and then head out during the day to explore.

Other times I’ll ensure I settle for a week to get serious work done during the day and enjoy the evenings. On days I’m traveling, I get a lot done. I’m lucky I can work in cars, buses and planes and usually as there’s no Wi-Fi, I have distraction-free writing time.

Ultimately, I set 3 key tasks to achieve each day, the night before. Once they’re done I can work on what I want that’s in line with my business goals.

And yes I have days on which I’m not productive and just hang on social media and have no structure. We’re human and we need to recognise that from time to time, we need a break.

You have quite a few claims to fame? Tell us some of it.

I guess I do, it ties in with my motto of `freedom in business and adventure in life’. So I’ve broken a world record dragon boating across the English Channel with the Sisterhood, won a Regional Bodysculpting competition in 2004, played World Championship Ultimate Frisbee in Australia, Canada and Czech Republic representing my club or country and biked 6,500km across Africa. You know, fun and somewhat crazy things like that.

I think it’s good to push yourself and take on challenges that scare or excite you and extend your mind and body.

Last year, you did Tour d’Afrique. Tell us about that.

That was the experience of a lifetime. I am not a cyclist really, aside from commuting in London and Vancouver, so why I decided that cycling from Nairobi to Cape Town was a good idea is beyond me. It just sounded like an amazing and epic adventure put on by a group tour company out of Canada.

2 months later I’d cycled on average 120km plus a day, camped almost every night, become a better cyclist, visited 8 countries, made firm friends, seen elephants crossing the road in front of me, had a hyena by my tent, seen a giraffe by our campsite, bungee jumped over Victoria Falls, taken a helicopter ride, white water rafted in the Zambezi river and been on two safaris.

This blog post explains it in more detail with photos too, and how I managed, along with my community, to raise $12,500 for Women Win – an organisation that help young girls get into sport and improve their life as a result.

What’s next for you and Suitcase Entrepreneur?

Where to begin. This is an exciting year. More travel, and finally writing the Suitcase Entrepreneur book, launching my flagship BYOB (build your online business) Club and potentially even settling for three months in one city! I have big growth plans for my business and now have a small virtual team who I love and are making this possible.

About Natalie Sisson

Natalie Sisson is a Suitcase Entrepreneur and adventurer who’s on a mission to ensure you create freedom in business and adventure in life. Check out how she breaks down how to build an online business you love from anywhere, using online tools, social media and outsourcing so you can live life on your own terms.

Connect with Natalie at:

Website: http://www.suitcaseentrepreneur.com
Twitter: @suitcasepreneur
Facebook: suitcaseentrepreneur
Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/nataliesisson


Robelen Bajar

  • Fantastic article. A friend referred me to Natalie just in recent weeks. I am reading her book and listening to her podcasts whenever I have the opportunity. I love Natalie’s fresh and intelligent outlook and find her story plus the ones mentoined in her book/podcasts so inspiring. I see success must eventuate when you believe in yourself and also have the technology/systems to enable portability, exposure and engagement with your audience.

    We live in exciting times!

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