3-5 minute read. Note: We are currently in southern France, house-sitting through April this year. //
Good morning to everyone! You may have been wondering where we’ve been, why posts have been somewhat quiet and when your inbox will be confronted with another long post about tea. Well, fear not, for an explanation approaches…
Since November, we have been housesitting in southern France and workingworkingworkingworking on two e-commerce businesses. We have also been recuperating from the 7.5 months of travel, with 15 countries visited just prior to this sit (brilliant and memorable) but obviously few places where we could fully unpack and settle in. Our housesit here has given us the opportunity to FOCUS on NEW things for what feels like the first time in four years (not only maintenance of existing businesses or life stuff). Plus get outside more to walk the two black labs. The air is clean, the wind is fresh, the lake is sparkly, and now the grass has moved on from British Racing green to a glistening emerald. We have briefly enjoyed being chilly after the year and a half in humid climes, and are now enjoying the surge of spring that started a few weeks ago. Plum, apple and cherry blossoms abound, and wild daffodils are everywhere, even in the middle of tilled fields and farm tracks.
[Caption: Lovely spring blossoms - what fruit will they become?!]
We are still enjoying needing to cook three meals a day, which I’m well aware sounds like something a snooty socialite might say during a visit to her country pile. But in my defence, street food still counts as not having to cook, and costs £0.40 per meal, so ‘eating out’ tends to be cheaper than cooking across southeast Asia. Correction: it’s ALWAYS cheaper than cooking. In France eating out is most certainly not the cheap option, as well as the fact our location is about as far from any restaurant as you can triangulate. Due to this, and the disheartening cost of any non-French ingredient, our quiche and tart game is now strong and we have even learned how to make fondant potatoes. Yes, true fondant potatoes, the bane of every Masterchef contestant. What Lady who Lunches actually cooks? I’m in the clear.
Where’s the work in all this, I hear you cry, aggrievedly. This sounds a lot like a holiday, minus the muddy dogs! Well, in-between the fire-tending, cooking and tea-drinking, we have been building and expanding the following:
Radiant.Travel: A photography home décor and art prints business using Vientiene’s gorgeous images and printing them onto throw cushions, tote bags, mugs and art prints. We set it up on Etsy, due to the ease and existing marketplace, though it has its quirks… Our main sellers have been the animal prints although recently our most popular items have been the Gilet Jaunes range, with a surprising number of Americans purchasing them to show their support (for the anti-elitist movement here in France). The next stage is to launch our wholesale arm, where we provide our products to shops and other retailers so they can wow their customers with unique tote bags and gifts. I have learnt several days’ worth of advanced InDesign techniques and our catalogues are looking mighty fine…now to start approaching businesses.
We have also completely, utterly and miserably failed at mastering Facebook Ads. Instead of bringing in instant, glorious Return On Investment (ROI) as they show your product to millions of willing buyers, we’ve found them to be expensive and basically private. After reading dozens of tutorials and blog posts, the last campaign I created spent precisely $0 out of our budget and reached 0 people. (Still, better than my first campaign which spent $40 and reached 200 people.) I’m now just impressed with myself that I created a campaign so bad that Facebook refused to spend our money. Next step: hire an expert. The Instagram side has gone better, reaching almost 1000 followers in 4 months with very little money. So hopefully with time we’ll build up a nice free following (without the ads) who are happy to see a product occasionally, but mostly will enjoy the photography (IG: @radiant_travel for the ‘Grammers out there).
[Caption: Our Gilet Jaunes products that Americans rightly love]
MatchaAlternatives.com: A (primarily) herbal tea company that offers alternatives to expensive, bitter matcha tea, while keeping the antioxidants and other bits of goodness.
We have been chipping away at this for a year and half, with a lot of debate and hemming and hawing and not spending enough time on it. We are now in the soft launch phase, ensuring that everything is ready for us to start advertising as although there is a loooong list of site improvements, it’s always best to learn while conducting business rather than never launch.
We are thrilled, though, with our tea selection and antsy to start adding more teas. We have a wide range of sleep teas which are tried and tested through our own struggles with racing minds at night; moringa powder which is a direct replacement for matcha and a true superfood; and even Kenyan purple tea which is a rare new variety of tea that is a cross between green and black tea, but with even more antioxidants. You learn about all of them here.
The site has been 99% complete since January, but these final niggling bits are agonisingly slow to complete. Still, we have purchased our own teas through our site and they look (and taste) good! Our hope is to expand beyond the American market once we are fully established, but for now we’re happy that we can offer free shipping to the 48 contiguous states. Baby steps and all that. The challenge has been the final few bits on the website: what app can offer the discounts we want without taking all our customers’ data? How on Earth can we make the About Us and About Our Teas pages look semi-decent, given the restrictive template? (Answer: hire a Shopify coder which we’re putting off.) Why should people follow us on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest? What value can we provide? These issues have not been completely resolved, but we’re working on it.
If you do visit our site, please do let us know your brutal, unvarnished feedback (privately!) – we want to improve. And if you do write a review after purchasing our teas, make it the most stunningly positive piece imaginable (publicly!). ;-)
[Caption: Some of our herbal teas: yerba mate and moringa powder. We have a really cool collection, she said modestly.]
Separate to these businesses, we have been planning future additions to our small business portfolio. The long-term goal is to have a network of businesses that strengthen each other with complementary services and products. So, for example, this blog (travelling + tea + photography) fits in with Radiant Travel (travel photography, including on mugs) and Matcha Alternatives (tea + travel mugs, made by Radiant Travel). In the future, we are considering spinning out our website design service we provide (via our business development consultancy Radiant Black) by turning it into a productised-service. This leverages our our IT and design knowledge into something whose revenues are not solely based on our own hours worked.
The more we travel and work nomadically, the more we learn about other location-independent entrepreneurs and their approaches. We are excited to try out different ideas – bear with us! The complication is friends and family who, when we start one project, think ‘okay that’s what they are doing now instead of …’ whereas in reality we are attempting several things at once and we’ll see what sticks. Hopefully all of them! One of our favourite nomad+entrepreneur podcasts, ‘Tropical MBA’, recently said they have launched 85 ideas in the last ten years and one worked. That gives us a nice benchmark to work against…
The next seven weeks, with luck, will see plenty of horseback riding, lovely spring walks and us eating a lot of duck due to a recent visit to a factory sale at the nearby duck farm. These weeks will pass too quickly and we are already feeling sad about leaving. The scenery and horses and dogs and light and blossoms and space are a near-impossible combination to re-create; my heart feels full pondering it. The smell of fresh-cut grass will also become prominent as the grass is growing faster than we’d like, so we will also be mowing the lawns on a never-ending basis, and savouring these precious days before we hit the road once again.
[Caption: Look at that grass growing!]
What this poignancy makes us do is spend more time considering where and how we might re-create this country life. In our pondering, our minds are always drawn back to Spain for the culture and friends, fun and food, language and sun. Like with everything we attempt, our question is how can we do it differently, without the expenditure usually associated with buying your dream home? Or waiting decades until retirement? One possible answer: buy a wreck in Spain, a country with a massive oversupply of housing and so low prices, and renovate it ourselves. Yet another project to start planning…
P.S. The next long tea post is actually a two-parter, all about Hong Kong. 95% written, and in need of some trimming. Brace yourselves.
For those who are interested in housesitting, if you use this code (RAF215015) you will receive 25% off your membership at Trustedhousesitters.com, the marketplace that allowed us to find this incredible opportunity. Worth investigating, whether you want to housesit or have pets but want to travel. :-)
[Caption: Sunset on the homestead, with a doggo admirer]