Here is the short story: Dena and I got married in June 1999 and our daughter was born 18 months later. We started and sold a couple of businesses, then our home and all of our stuff to move to South America. To read more about what we’ve been up to since then, you can read our expat blog Gringos Abroad – which details the struggles and successes of living abroad.
If you are interested, you’ll find our detailed story below the image…
Our [Longer] Back Story
Dena and I are both Canadian citizens, born-and-raised in a small Atlantic-Canadian province (Nova Scotia). All of our family still lives there.
In July 2009, we moved to Cuenca, Ecuador. It was an active decision to design our lifestyle. Moving to a foreign country allowed us to create just the lifestyle we wanted. Because of a lower cost-of-living we both had to work less and felt less pressure when we were working.
We live in the kind of place that we dreamed of visiting and our daughter is now living in a culture distinctly different from the one we grew up with. We always wanted her to be able to speak a second language fluently (not at a high-school language level) which she now does – it’s amazing really.
Shortly after we got married, we were planning to relocate to the Dominican Republic. And then we learned that we were going to be parents.
It was the best news we have ever received!
Because of having a new baby girl, we decided to wait a number of years before we would make a move abroad. Over the following years, we discovered that being parents had changed our criteria for our new country. Things like climate, disease, and safety had became a lot more important to us. After countless hours of sifting online we settled on Venezuela (Margarita Island). We visited and then quickly crossed it off our list. Back home, the searching continued until we settled on Ecuador. We moved without visiting and have been here ever since.
What About Income?
When we moved, we had some savings (but we weren’t rich, or even wealthy). In fact, we would run out within three years and have to return home and start over. We didn’t have any work or income (aside from a modest royalty from the sale of our business). Every month we were cutting into our savings. This was our motivation for finding work abroad.
A Professional What!?
I can’t say that I grew up dreaming to be a professional blogger. I did, however, grow up thinking of ways to make money. When I was 15-years-old I took a sales job selling huge 10-14 foot wide satellite dishes. I canvassed door-to-door and did phone sales. When other kids rushed home after school to play video games or watch tv, I was cold-calling leads in the phone book (starting at “A”) and setting up sales meetings.
At 17, I started my first ad agency as a project in my high school entrepreneurship class. This grew into a sizable company, which I eventually sold to my salesman. Later on, we started a second agency that went on to generate millions of dollars in sales. We sold it the month before we moved to Ecuador.
When we arrived in South America in 2009, we had an idea for an online business that was a sure thing. We did market research, we tested it, we had all the technology in place, and when we launched it: it completely flopped! We didn’t get a single customer! Despite completed surveys with a healthy percentage stating they would buy our service, no one did. It was, in fact, our most spectacular business fail to date. It was what we planned on funding our new life in Ecuador with, but it fell flat on its face and it wasn’t going get up again.
So while being professional bloggers wasn’t our long time dream, living abroad as a family was. And we have learned that blogging is the best way, at least for us, to do that. We wanted our daughter to experience different cultures and a different part of the world. Now she is completely fluent in Spanish – she even “sings Spanish” as Cuencanas (women from Cuenca, Ecuador) are famous for.
So, How Will We Make Our Living Abroad?
We had effectively cut off our income with the sale of our advertising agency.
We even had the foresight to sign a five-year non-compete agreement ensuring that we wouldn’t even be tempted to dip our feet back in Canadian advertising waters.
How We Planned on Making Money Abroad
When we first moved to South America in 2009 we had lots of ideas about how to make money. Here are a few of them:
We’ll Be Travel Writers!
We always thought that we could do some travel writing or contract writing. It was something we figured we could learn how to do – we weren’t writers but it should be easy to learn, especially because of living in Ecuador surrounded by great content.
As it turns out travel writing doesn’t pay very much – it’s actually fairly hard to find good writing assignments. So after a handful of $75 writing assignments (that took a horrendous amount of back-and-forth time) we decided that wasn’t going to work.
We’ll Teach English in Ecuador
I thought maybe I can teach English. I am, after all, a native English speaker. How hard could it be? Turns out, it’s not that easy. Maybe if we were still back in Canada or the States it wouldn’t have been so hard to find work.
Living here in Ecuador presented some interesting challenges, such as poor Internet speed and unreliable telephones. (Both of these hurdles have since disappeared with improved internet and phone lines – a number of our expat friends now teach English online).
Also, to teach English there is a requirement to know a second-language – which is obvious, but something I never thought about until I applied for the job. And when we first arrived in Ecuador I didn’t have a second language.
Stock Photography – That’ll Be Easy…
We thought maybe stock photography would be an option. I love photography and I had an entry-level DSLR camera. We had amazing landscapes and people we could shoot here in Ecuador. Now, it wasn’t that this wouldn’t work – but it takes time to build up a portfolio and time wasn’t something we had much of. We needed to begin making money fairly quickly.
This wasn’t a complete flop as we have in the past three years almost earned $100 total. 🙂 But this was obviously far from paying our grocery bill or our rent no matter how inexpensive either of them were. Sometimes doing what we love doesn’t always equate to making a living.
Then again sometimes it does…
Maybe Contract Writing?
We found many contract-writing gigs online.
The problem was that almost all of them paid a percentage of earned-ad-revenue on your specific pages. What this means, is that writers were responsible to drive traffic to their articles. If readers clicked on the display ads, then writers received a percentage of the revenue. Some of the writers boasted monthly earnings of $40-75 – as if this was boast-worthy. One had made just $8 for his 20+ articles! The idea was that they were investing now to get a pay-off later – when they had published hundreds of articles, then they could really start raking in the dough. These content farms only benefit the site owners while the writers never got (properly) paid for their work. With some of the more recent Google updates, a number of these sites have disappeared.
While considering and sifting through these contract-writing jobs I came across About.com. Their site stated that the average guide made $2000/month and some were making as much as $6000. They have a number of incentives to increase monthly compensation: affiliate earnings and site-growth. At the time About.com was paying a basic monthly stipend of $675. But with the performance incentives there was real potential. While $2000/month isn’t luxury living, it would certainly pay the bills here in Ecuador. As a family, we had a target budget of just $1000 / month in order to stay in Ecuador without cutting into our savings. Yes, the cost of living in Ecuador is pretty low.
Hired! To Cover Online Business
So in December 2009 (five months after arriving in Ecuador) I applied for their advertising position. Advertising is my background – I started in advertising when I was just 17. Advertising was really the only thing that I had experience in. About.com’s format is simple: hire experts in a topic and teach them to write well.
Just for fun, I also applied for their online business position. And it’s a good thing I did – because they never called me about the advertising position. In the end, I was hired to cover their online business section. Now, it’s not that I didn’t have experience in online business – it was just an element of my advertising agency. After almost 4 months of interviews, training and paperwork, my site went live in April 2010.
Well, almost 3 years later, I’m still covering online business for About.com and I have gotten to know the topic very well. I’ve met some very interesting and famous people. People like Chris Guillibeau, Jim Kukral, Jeff Hazlett (Celebrity CMO) and, Fabio Rosati (CEO of Elance). CEOs of large companies, best-selling authors and small business owners.
Along with these interviews I’ve been able to test a huge range of software, hardware and training materials. In the past two and a half years I’ve read more than 60 books and listened to more than one hundred hours of training. As I took this training, I applied it to GringosAbroad – our travel / expat website. It quickly grew from obscurity to the most popular English-language travel website in Ecuador. Profitable travel blogs are not very common. Recently, GringosAbroad passed 1 million page-views since we founded it just over two years ago. This is a significant feat for an extremely niche travel/expat blog.
So there you have it.
This is the long version of how-we-got to where-we-are.
Blogging has become a daily routine for our family. Dena and I run two blogs: this one and Gringos Abroad. I write on About.com and we all write on the Red Mangrove Galapagos blog.