By Rebecca Savransky
The Miami Herald.
When Michelle Villalobos, a personal branding expert from Coral Gables, realized last year she wasn’t happy, she decided to make a change.
“I had the aha moment,” she said. “I was helping everyone else and not helping myself.”
So she took her business virtual and now is getting ready to hit the road.
Her new adventure: a yearlong road-trip that starts Friday.
Villalobos, 40, graduated from Dartmouth College and got her MBA from the University of Miami. In her business, MiVista Consulting, she works as a professional speaker and personal brand launcher. She helps businesses with sales, marketing strategies and strategic planning. She also founded the Women’s Success Summit in 2010, a conference for entrepreneurial women.
She said when she decided to go virtual in preparation for her trip, all of her clients got on board.
But the transition took work.
“I changed my entire model of how I worked,” she said.
In the past, she said she’d always done in-person meetings, but that is all going to change over the next year. Villalobos brought on two new full-time employees, and started making use of different computer programs so her clients could easily communicate with her.
“A big piece of it is finding the right team and then creating a really good system for that team to communicate via online tools,” she said.
She said she’s using programs such as Google Docs, Evernote and Skype to do her business. All of these tools have different functions and help to collaborate and keep organized.
During the trip, she’ll work three days a week — Tuesday through Thursday — and will explore and do more creative work during the rest of her time.
“We’ve gotten to this place where we believe we have to have a five-day work week,” she said, “and I say no. … My goal is to balance work and play.”
She said she plans to stop in different cities along the way and speak at conventions, all while doing normal business with her clients in South Florida.
“I love to drive. I love to ski. I made a commitment to do yoga every day … and just explore, and be in the cities that I go to, hang out, meet people,” she said. “Do the stuff that I love to do with the majority of my time.”
Taking your business on the road is becoming more and more common, said Linda Claire Puig, who helps entrepreneurs develop portable businesses. Puig founded the Portable Profits Club, which gives people guidance on how to make a business profitable from anywhere in the world through mentoring sessions and training. She has also hosted a webcast for the past two years called, “On The Road and Making Money.”
“So far, coming through that program, we’ve had close to 10,000 people,” she said, “which is a bit of indication for the level of interest.”
During the webcast, people who have gone on the road with their business talk about their expertise and give advice.
Puig also launched a website called Swap My Office, a home-exchange site for entrepreneurs. The website, which has more than 600 members, will also have people speak to members about the concept.
“We have a long list of speakers who are just perfect for a traveling entrepreneurs audience,” she said.
She said taking your business virtual is even easier now with all the technology available, so people are even more inclined to try it.
Warren and Betsy Talbot have been on the road with their business for the past several years. The couple decided they wanted to travel after two people close to them had a “health crisis.”
“We realized life could be short, and we wanted to make the most of it,” Warren Talbot said in an email. “Everything after that — including our business — flowed from this lifestyle decision.”
The Talbots write and publish books and host a weekly podcast. They spend half the year in Spain, where they own a house, and the other half traveling.
Their typical day involves working until about 2 p.m. and then spending the rest of the day reading, cooking and enjoying the area. They said they do often have to schedule nighttime interviews because of the time differences when they are in Spain. But they also go completely offline for a “full digital detox” some weeks to go hiking or exploring — as long as they make sure to bulk up on work ahead of time so they’re prepared.
“Not many people have jobs that allow that,” Warren Talbot said.
They said it’s well worth it, but going portable with your business doesn’t come without its challenges.
“Everything is a learning opportunity, and if you go at it with that attitude, you’ll constantly improve overall even when you fail at certain points,” Warren Talbot said.
For people who want to hit the road, Puig has four main recommendations: have solid business principles; try it first with a smaller trip to work out kinks; have a cloud-based and earth-based backup, and go before you feel like you’ve “made it.”
“People have a lot of excuses for why they can’t go right now,” Puig said, “But honestly, building your business in another location can be some of the most inspiring work that you’ll ever do.”
And most importantly, “if it speaks to you in any fashion, go out and do it,” she said.
Villalobos said she was inspired to take the plunge and go completely virtual after talking with a prospect, who said it would be too crazy if he pursued one of his dreams. Later, she was talking to a mentor about how she wished she could travel and do speaking engagements all year round. So her mentor suggested she do it.
“I literally go, ‘Well, I can’t do that, that’s too crazy,’ and I realized that’s exactly what that prospect said to me earlier,” she said. “I ended up staying up all night and coming up with this idea. I decided I wanted to be on the road and wanted to go follow my passion and my dreams.”
During the trip, she said she will continue doing the best work she can for her clients and discover new clients from across the country.
She’s planning to make stops in cities including Austin, Texas; Telluride, Colorado; San Diego, Chicago and various places in New England. Along the way, she said, she’ll be exploring different cities.
To find living accommodations, she said she’s been using Airbnb and will be renting a room in each place she goes.
When she gets to Colorado, her “inner circle” clients, or private clients that she advises one-on-one on a weekly basis, will be traveling to visit with her.
“They’re part of my highest level of client and so I told them that I was going to be in Colorado and if they wanted to come, I’d work with them in person for those days,” she said. “They all said yes.”
Villalobos said she’s looking forward to her trip. Going virtual will actually help her to conserve time, she said. And she’ll be able to do what she loves.
“A year is a good amount of time,” she said, “and when the year is done, I’ll figure out.”