Who are you and what business did you start?
I started Walkabout Saga, which is a blogging platform with four major pillars: Aging Vibrantly, Diversity in the Outdoors, Fitness After Fifty and Adventure Travel. The idea evolved out of my own journey to turn myself into an athlete at the age of sixty when I committed to climb Kilimanjaro. I’d been obese at 34, dropped 85 lbs and have kept it off for 34 years by now. I wanted to get people off the couch and moving around, and since I was willing to kayak the Arctic Ocean or ride horses across the Kazakhstan, I figured that I could at least motivate someone to start moving around the room to find their socks.
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I’ve got a long, long career in Fortune 100-500, consulting, training and speaking professionally. Starting with a five-year stint in the military, I developed a lot of physical discipline, even though I got heavy, the discipline is where I leaned to get fit and lean again. After years of working in supply chain helping small business learn to sell to America’s largest corporations, I wrote a triple prize-winning book at 58. That was such a slog that I decided to give myself a treat:return to adventure travel. That rewrote my life. When I committed to climbing Kilimanjaro that was all she wrote. That was in 2013. I realized that a late in life Big Hairy Ass Goal has a way of completely retooling lives, and being a motivational speaker, this was a perfect segue into my next career.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The very first thing I did was invest my education in this brand new world. For this specific industry, adventure travel, you do not get hired for writing assignments if you don’t have solid experience. So I had to pay my way until I had extensive gear knowledge, I got trained in different sports like kayaking. I was already an equestrienne. Bottom line, this is just like going to college all over again. Nobody was going to pay for my education. So I made the investment.
Second: on each and every trip I made friends and contacts. Both safari operators I went out with in 2000 and then in 2013 are still friends; one is now my client. From the latter who is a client I am constantly being introduced to more. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of networking first, last and always.
I effectively launched around 2015, by which time I had enough adventures as well as enough experience in this world to claim authority.
I starting writing for Medium.com in 2018, which really helped me gain traction with my international clients. I published stories about my experiences on line, and those clients wanted more that focused exclusively on their products. Each time I published a story about a travel client I could show a new potential client what I had done. That has also made me more attractive to other publications. The more pubs I reach, the more clients want me to write for them.
These days I trade my writing skills for extreme experiences, and use those experiences to blog about how to take on life’s toughest challenges (like aging, for example) with enthusiasm and verve. I have joined organizations such as the Outdoor Writers Association of America as well as use my networking skills to develop clients all over the world who specifically can use someone my age (I represent the cohort that has time and dime to travel) and who has the solid, extensive background in adventure travel to talk about gear, how -tos and all the aspects of travel that they need. I am an extremely good horseback rider AND I can kayak and raft and climb. That balance of skill sets at this age, combined with consulting and writing skills, and a wicked sense of humor have made me a very valuable asset to my clients who need a unique voice to write about their adventures from the stand point of an older woman. This is how we differentiate ourselves.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The single most important strategies I use are to network, connect people who could benefit by knowing each other (constantly add value), and work hard to promote my clients with excellent journalism and stories that get in front of the right eyeballs. For example, two recent stories I wrote about the Ol Pejeta Conservatory in Central Kenya got Ol Pejeta clients almost right away. Now Ol Pejeta actually wants me to move to Kenya. While I won’t do that, the point is that where I demonstrate real value, those clients want more of me. Those are relationships I have built over time, and with that dedication they see the value of working with me. I am in the habit of supporting and helping FIRST. That attitude gets me a lot of friends. The other key component of my success is that I am an excellent writer, very funny, and that has gotten me a passionate following on Medium. Those are the people who read what I write about fitness. When they share their stories with me, I highlight and elevate their stories on line, which not only acts as motivation for my readers but endears me to those whose stories I share. I am in the good news, not the outrage business, and people are hungry not only to see good news, but good news about themselves and others like them celebrated online by an author they like and trust. This is also the cohort that is most likely to want to try out some of those adventures, or tamer versions of same, that I do myself.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I just finished a five-week trip to East Africa. There I expanded my relationships with multiple operators, secured more work and expanded work with existing and new clients. For me, that is all good news. I just reached out to re-establish a custom trip back to Mongolia, where operators have been starving for clients. THAT NEED is where I have agency to help. I am very good at writing about what it now takes to travel in the Covid world, how to do it safely. My willingness to do what others don’t is what makes me an expert in my field. So my future looks terrific. It is driven largely by my willingness to risk, to go where others won’t, and to come back and write about it with humor and enthusiasm. It’s my job to take risks, take the lumps and bumps, laugh at them, and make it safer for others. I am facing seventy in just over a year, and I am planning to hike Kilimanjaro again. This time I was invited to do it my my original client on that trip, but he wants me to do a podcast. He knows that nobody else my age has done that going up the mountain. My TV background makes me perfect for that job. And I have plenty of time to train. Who else is doing this at my age? Even more so, what women are doing this at my age? That is what makes this a good story. People need role models. My mentor died at 91, and she was a lifetime athlete. She passed me the torch when I was 63. Now it’s my job.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Most importantly, be willing to do the work to gain your credentials. In my world I am constantly asked how I “get” to do what I do, as though there is some desk where you proffer a resume. Any of us in this world will tell you that the road to agency in adventure travel is to earn it. We have to get strong and fit, we have to pay for our own trips until we are good at our craft, and we have to learn to sell, sell, sell, sell. There is no shortcut, hack or Staples Easy Button. Period. Second, relationships are everything. In a world where people are constantly trying to out-do one another on line, those who show up wanting to be of service and networking like mad to create value are the ones who earn trust. When the focus is on helping our clients be successful and look good, we get hired. That has ever been the case, and it’s not changing any time soon. This was true when I found work- as a one-woman firm- with twenty-one of the Fortune 100. That’s almost un-heard of. But I did it because I carved out a niche, differentiated myself from the masses of other suppliers, and was able to consistently deliver results. If you look like, sound like, and sell like thousands of others, you are not special. If all you and I do is scream about how special we are without proving it, we also sound like everyone else. Linked In is FULL of so-called “thought leaders, ninjas, unicorns” and the like. It’s meaningless, and those of us who hire, and I have, know it. When your work and your photos speak for themselves you and I do not need to claim how special we are. The proof is already there. That is what gets us the work. I also cannot possibly emphasize enough that making claims that you are X, that you can do X, when you cannot is the single fastest way to torpedo yourself. The temptation to mislead is there. Some 84% of us lie on resumes, online dating it’s 81% who mislead in some way. I guarantee you this is the case across the board with entrepreneurs. You and I cannot afford to over-promise and under-deliver. It’s how we get blacklisted. So integrity is of the utmost importance. Do NOT claim skills you don’t have. Above all, learn to network. Networking is not selling. Networking is connecting, adding value and creating collaborative relationships. Selling is another whole skill set. If you can’t sell, you cannot, cannot, cannot survive. If you fall back on the claim, for example, that “I’m a speaker, I don’t do sales,” which I have heard for years, my advice is to keep your day job. For those of us who have run or still run a speaking business, about 95% of our time is marketing. The other 5% we get to do what we love, which is present on stage. Learn to sell, or the mailroom is hiring.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Ghost, for now, for my website. As a writer, I use Headline Studio for my articles. Medium.com for many of my articles. Google Photos for hundreds of thousands of trip photos. Believe it or not, Netflix. Why? Because I have found that regular movie quotes and clips from YouTube make my articles come alive and make them relevant to broader audiences.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I read constantly, so the book list would be endless. I read other’s writing on Medium every day, which allows me to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s important and trending. I read anything and everything by Dr. Carl Safina whose work informs my passion and gives me lyrical quotes relevant to the natural world.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Be willing to fail. I could say that a thousand times over. BE WILLING TO FAIL. Learn to network. Learn to sell. Figure out where there is a problem or a challenge ONLY you can fix. That is how you make yourself valuable. Remember that you are in business to serve or solve a problem. Lose sight of that you lose your way, and you lose to another entrepreneur who has his head on straight. Be willing to do the hard work to get trained, capable and competent. DO NOT claim skills you don’t have.
Where can we go to learn more?