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Our Back Story: Bryan and Dena Haines

Posted in: Living in Ecuador, My Life in Ecuador, Our Perspective

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…

gringos-abroad

 

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.

bryan and dena haines ecuador

 

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.

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Meet the Author

Bryan Haines is co-editor of GringosAbroad - Ecuador's largest blog for expats and travelers. He is a travel blogger and content marketer. He is also co-founder of ClickLikeThis (GoPro tutorial blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for travel brands). Work with GringosAbroad.

9 comments… add one
  • Laurence Apr 11, 2013, 3:07 pm

    Hi Bryan,

    Fellow Canadians (my wife and I) here.

    We’re looking at doing what you have done, but are completely lost as to how to go about living down there full time in regards to visas/length of stay/work visa, etc. Have not found any definitive answers from anyone up here, so would love to know how you went about it so easily.

    Great site, and we’ll be returning often!

    L

    • Bryan Haines Apr 16, 2013, 7:04 pm

      Hi Laurence,

      It is best to speak with immigration lawyers. The rules have changed since we got our residency visa. We used Grace and Nelson here in Cuenca – but the rules are the same for the whole country.

      If you work online, you don’t need any special visa here. But to get a job here is a different situation.

  • Greg Apr 4, 2013, 6:15 am

    Hi what a great story you have, i run a website Holiday scotland also a travel blog, i recently monatised but still not earning much money…..definatly not enough to buy my dream cottage in the Scottish Highlands. i have takedn some ideas from your posts and hope they work, i will continue to read your blog for further advice, or if you can offer any help please contact me.www.holidayscotland.org

    • Bryan Haines Apr 5, 2013, 7:41 am

      Thanks Greg. We’ll be covering specific techniques and case studies over the coming months.

  • Richard Breakell Apr 3, 2013, 4:26 pm

    Hello:
    I just read the above history of you and your wife and was completely fascinated. I am now living in Cuenca (1month) and would very much like to meet you both in person. I am a senior, semi retired businessman from Canada via Dallas. I would love to have a coffee or lunch or dinner with you and your wife.
    I am on Magic Jack at 972 953 7006.
    Hope to meet you soon.
    R.C. (Dick) Breakell

    • Bryan Haines Apr 4, 2013, 5:38 pm

      Thanks Richard. I hope things are going well for you and I’m sure we’ll run into each other downtown.

      Bryan

  • Nicole Feb 9, 2013, 7:44 am

    Hi Bryan, I came across your site through a Google search (attesting to your success as an online businessperson) and found it informative. The story of your failures and ultimate successes are inspiring and thought provoking. My partner Murray and I are active early 50 year olds, prepping to cart our back packs to Ecuador later this week. The initial touch down is Guayquil to Playas where we will stay for 5 days and then head to Vilcabamba for some hiking. Our trip to Vilcabamba is not yet booked and we are open to suggestion and options. Our flight back to Canada is Feb 24 from Guayaquil. We are ‘off the beaten path’ types, completely nerdy with our curiosities into culture and nature. Let me know if you have some little insights and recommendations. Great to hear your story of living abroad. I have also experienced expatriate life outside of Canada and ponder dipping into those ‘seas’ once again.

    Most sincerely,
    Nicole

    • Bryan Feb 9, 2013, 12:11 pm

      Thanks Nicole – you’ll have a fantastic trip. Ecuador is a beautiful country to explore. I hope you keep sharing your adventures here and on GringosAbroad.

      Bryan

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