Natalie Sisson, ‘The Suitcase Entrepreneur,’ discusses her take on starting a personal travel brand today.
7 min read
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If you long to travel the world and run an online empire while you do it, this article is for you — even if you think the laptop lifestyle blogs have been done to death and it's too late for you.
Related: 6 Steps to Becoming an Influencer
Natalie Sisson — who you might know know as "The Suitcase Entrepreneur" is a founder, bestselling author, sought-after TEDx speaker and, according to Thinkific, one of 50 Must-Follow Women Entrepreneurs of 2017. After eight years in the corporate world, Sisson left her high-paying job in business development to join the entrepreneurial world as a co-founder of a technology startup in Canada.
Desiring more freedom and flexibility, she started her blog and business, The Suitcase Entrepreneur, in April 2010. In a few short years, she turned it into a thriving multiple six-figure education and lifestyle business she ran from her laptop and her smartphone, while traveling to over 70 countries. Now, Sisson teaches thousands of entrepreneurs around the world to fast-track their own business success and design a lifestyle they love at nataliesisson.com.
But, she started eight years ago, right? So I asked her for her take on what to do if you're starting your personal travel brand today.
Get clear on your vision.
"I think you just have to have a really clear vision of where you want to head," Sisson began. You don't have to have all the answers to get started, but dig deeper than wanting to be a lifestyle brand or travel blogger. Realize that a "lifestyle" business is about your life and how you life, which requires a different plan than creating a product or service.
"A personal brand requires so much of you, and your love, and your passion. A product or service that's not related just to you and is something you can build a team and could be sold, is completely different," she explained. Loving to travel does not a business make. Do you love taking photos, writing every single day, responding to comments, editing your website, creating behind the scenes videos, etc.?
"Get really clear about your skill set and your capability, and what you love doing. Then finding the right business to fit that."
Find your unique angle.
If you are sure you're up for the challenge of building a personal travel brand, you'll need to find a way to stand out. It's tempting to look at the most popular travel vloggers or Instagram celebrities and try to emulate what they're doing, but Sisson says that's a mistake.
"Honestly, I know it gets bandied about, you have to be authentic. You can't be anyone else. You can't try to copycat anybody else. Yes, their techniques and strategies maybe, but you've got to unleash the biggest, wildest version of who you are. Even if you're an introvert, you don't have to be the loudest person or the funniest person, but you just have to be you. You really have to play up to that."
She went on to explain that when she started showing more of her silly side online, engagement instantly increased.
"People were like, 'Oh, she's a real person. Now I can resonate.' People buy into you. They may not like you, but if they do, then they buy into who you are."
Think about your own personality and circumstances and skill sets, and your style of creating content, and then niche down within the travel space. Are you discussing travel for people who have disabilities? Are you writing to the over 50, retirement market? Are you reaching out to solo female travelers in their 30s? If you can really zero in on who the demographic is and what their priorities are, Sisson says, that's where you are going to be able to stand out.
Create a brand.
Sisson had an a-ha moment when a fellow conference attendee told her she was a suitcase entrepreneur. She immediately bought the domain and started building that brand. Should you create a brand that is something other than your name? Sisson explained her choice.
"I don't know if I would be ready to be 'Natalie Sisson' just by myself back then. Because it's quite big stepping out into your own brand and saying, 'Here I am. I'm a thought leader.' I didn't feel like I was a thought leader back then because I was experimenting and figuring stuff out."
Personally, I named my entrepreneurial talk show The Pursuit for the same reason, and I believe it served me well for the first three years because no one knew who I was. Now, both Sisson and I have transitioned to using our own names as our brands have evolved and our goals have changed. Your branding decisions should serve your goal. Are you trying to build a community or movement beyond yourself, or are you trying to build a more personal coaching practice where clients work with you directly?
Focus on building a community …
But, how did she start making money from her blog? "Great question. I didn't."
She explained that all she focused on was building her community with free content and free resources while consulting projects paid the bills. Eventually she started making money by taking a popular series of 12 in-depth blog articles and turning them into an ebook.
"Then from there," Sisson went on, "I built that out into a program. Just really hustled. Listening to my audience. What do they need? Researching it, experimenting with it, producing it. Being skilled in it, and putting out an offering."
If you're just starting out, Sisson advises that you spend a lot of time digging into whom you most want to help and focus on building your community.
… and solving their problems.
Before you start dreaming up an online course, ask yourself how to best serve your community. "It's actually been proven that only 3 percent of people will ever complete the course. I don't want people spending money on my stuff if they're not going to implement," she shared. Instead, she asked herself, What's the best way to get in front of them and make it so valuable that they absolutely love it? She went on to create experiences and workshops that helped people learn and implement right away.
"Get back to basics — to caring about your community and your customers and asking them all the time, 'What matters to you? What's important?' And then [work backwards and create a solution] for them."
If you are going to make a course as part of your business strategy, she says, make it really unique and make sure that people are truly getting value from it.
Personal brands evolve as people evolve. Now Sisson has put down roots with her partner in New Zealand — complete with a farm and dogs and chickens to look after. No longer living out of her suitcase but experiencing what she calls a new kind of personal freedom. Her brand has pivoted to showing all entrepreneurs, not just aspiring travelers, how to achieve their own version of personal and professional freedom.
"It's such an exciting time. I've been passionate about freedom and that's been the underlying value for me throughout my entire life in business."