Quick question…What’s the threshold for something to count as ‘popular demand’?
Does it count as ‘by popular demand’ if a couple of people say, “you should write a blog about taking your business on the road”?
While you come to a decision about that, I’m going to carry on anyway. Fulfilling a low-key ambition I had when I was a teenager and read ‘On The Road’, I am going to satisfy the masses by writing a bit about my travels and operating Mary Elizabeth Flowers away from the comfort of home. Although, for clarity, I do know full-well that Jack Kerouac I am not.
Taking a backwards step for a moment for the sake of coherence, I will start more or less at the beginning…
Deciding to Work from ‘The Road’
My boyfriend and I are ‘between homes’ (or ‘homeless’, if you must), having sold our house and not yet found somewhere we’d like to buy. Our plan is to rent until we find the right place, but for a little while we’re taking the opportunity to freewheel and have some adventures.
We both run our own businesses and decided we wanted to do what we needed to do in order to keep them running while we do a bit of travelling.
My partner is a software designer so for him it’s not far-off ‘have laptop, will travel’. For me, it’s more like ‘have dried flower stock, materials, tools, equipment, packaging materials, camera, tripod, photo backdrops and laptop, will travel’. Not so catchy.
But not to let a thing like failing to fit into a 1950s western title stop me, we bought a roof box, filled the car to the brim with stock, kit, dried flowers, and our laptops and set off.
I won’t go into great detail about my itinerary because only my mum is really interested in where I’ve been. And even the strength of her feelings on the matter can sometimes be cast into doubt.
Our first destination was Scotland, where my partner is from. Week one was with his mum who we hadn’t seen in the flesh for a year because of the ‘rona. This was a gentle start to the trip where we had all the modern comforts like broadband, a dining table to work at and good local knowledge of post office locations and opening times.
After that we headed further north, making the beautiful drive along the edge of Loch Lomond, through Glencoe, on the Corran Ferry across Loch Linnnhe to Ardnamurchan. (Which, for the unsure, is a peninsula on the west coast of Scotland.)
Then we went as far north as it’s possible to go on the UK mainland, up to the very north coast of Scotland. Driving along Loch Ness to Inverness, then swinging North and stopping in at John O’Groats – largely for the ‘gram, also to add to our Christmas bauble collection.
We ended up in a beautiful place called Tongue, apparently a well-used stop for journeyers on the North Coast 500 route. Peace and quiet, stunning views, beautiful beaches, evening visits from highland deer, daylight until 11pm and no land between us and the north pole.
From there it was back south to the Scottish central belt before heading towards Yorkshire where I have family. And the journey continues…!
How I’m Keeping My Business Going On The Road
When we were considering whether or not it would be feasible to do this working from the road lark, I asked myself what are the barriers to doing it and is it possible to remove them?
So barrier one – how will I keep up with orders if I’m not in my workshop?
Solution – any dining table can become a workshop. Buy a roof box, fill the car with stock and make products wherever there’s a suitable surface.
Barrier two – I won’t be able to keep as much stock as I can in my workroom.
Solution – My wonderful flower and materials suppliers all deliver nationally so I can keep a small amount of stock topped up by having more sent to wherever I am when I need it.
Barrier three – what about posting orders from way out yonder?
Solution – One of the absolute wonders we take for granted is that the postal service connects every corner of our country so I’m never very far from a post box or a post office. (Plus, a side-bonus is that all the post offices in remote villages we’ve stayed in also couple as the village shop and often the fuel station, making it hard not to be overcome by the part of my mind that senses holiday time and come out with an ice cream…)
I did have to remind myself that, although it undoubtedly feels like it sometimes, it’s not very often one has a life-threatening need for a dried flower wreath. So, no one will be too badly harmed if I have to limit my express delivery option for a while, which is what I did for a couple of weeks when we were in the very far North.
Light & Shade
Having painted a very breezy picture of life working on the road – pottering back from the post office, caramel Magnum in hand; the car filled with the scent of dried lavender as we journey along lochs and through mountains etc. – I feel obliged to offer up the downsides I have experienced so as to avoid accusations of hiding behind an ‘insta-life’.
Downside one – I got a tick bite while walking in the highlands.
Downside two – I am a bit of a paradoxical creature in that I love to travel but am also something of a homebody. As such, I have not felt unmixedly at my ease knowing that this trip away does not end with coming back home but rather the open-ended question of where will home be. Having a tendency towards anxiety and this having been particularly stirred up by the intricacies of a viral pandemic, I have also found the possibility of being ill far away from, and indeed without a home, rather disquieting.
On balance and taking the long view however, stepping into this discomfort and outside the comfortable safety net of my homey nest is a good thing for me to do sometimes. In the way where ‘good’ doesn’t mean ‘not-scary’ or ‘undaunting’ or ‘simple’.
Downside three (definitely a first-world problem, this) – finding a good work-holiday balance is even trickier than finding a work-life balance.
The pull towards putting on the dishwasher between work tasks if you work from home is bad enough. When you can see the beach from your desk (particularly if your desk for the day happens to be a picnic bench outside in the sunshine), the feeling of being split in two by the devil wearing flip-flops and sunglasses on one shoulder and an angel with laptop and notebook on the other is greatly inflated.
Wanting to enjoy the time in new and beautiful places vs wanting and needing to work has been a tricky balance at times and generates nagging feelings from both sides.
Between me and my partner both working on our different businesses, there have been days when at least one of us has been busy and had to work all day, days when we’ve had half a day of working and half a day to explore and some days when we’ve managed to sync up a full day off for adventuring.
Taking the Rough with the Smooth
Something I’ve been thinking about a bit in relation to our decision to go for an adventure while running our businesses, is the maxim ‘You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth’.
I’ve come to feel there’s something a bit inaccurate about that notion. It invokes the idea that taking the rough is somehow optional. But in actual fact, the rough will come upon you unbidden and you have no choice in dealing with it. The smooth on the other hand sometimes has to be sought out and grasped – not allowed to slip through your fingers. It can be more ethereal, less obvious, less of a blunt object, harder to spot.
I have experienced plenty of rough (personal and professional) since starting my business, not least because it coincided with the Coronavirus pandemic, and on reflection, there was little I could do about much of it except cope with it as it came. The bad times often don’t leave until you do something about them. The good times, agreeable and courteous as they are, can pass meekly by, unnoticed unless you make a point to savour them.
Theoretically, one of the good things about running your own business, is freedom. There are plenty of difficult bits – uncertainty, lack of security, responsibility. We cope with those, in part, because of the idea of the potential freedom we have away from the image of some corporate machine. But if that idea is only ever a theoretical idea, is it a big enough pay-off to counter the bad bits?
I’m reminded of a scene in When Harry Met Sally where Meg Ryan explains to Billy Crystal that all the things she and her ex theoretically loved about their relationship they never actually took advantage of, which only actually left the bad and neutral bits and so they broke up. “The thing is Joe, we never do fly off to Rome at a moment’s notice.” “And the kitchen floor?” “Not once. It’s a very cold, hard Mexican ceramic tile.” (If you know, you know).
So, allow me to apologetically finish with this proposition my trip has brought me to muse upon, which is that if you don’t make the effort to make the theoretical ‘smooths’ of your life a reality, you’re left with the roughs, because they don’t ask first, they just come.
Exhibit A: Rough – viral pandemic descends uninvited and forces lots of us to work remotely. Smooth – it turns out, lots of us can work remotely. Verdict – Let’s grab that beaut of a smooth and make the most of it because if we don’t it’ll just hover there, benignly being a nice thought. Pack up your laptop and get out there!
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