Until next time…

Now that the moment’s upon us, I’m not quite sure what to say, or how to say it.

For six months now, Dana and I have awaited this hour, the time when we’d return to Ecuador to breathe new life into a very different future.

In 24 hours we’ll drive 70 miles to Memphis International Airport, take a quick flight to Steve and DanaAtlanta, then on 5,000 miles south to Quito, then Manta, grab a rental car there, and drive an hour further south to Puerto Cayo where our new home is finished and where we’ll set up shop for a new family of marketing-related businesses. Latitude 1 South. We’ve been laying the groundwork there for almost a year.

And quite a year it’s been.

My 71-year-old dad died in January, and for me it created a profound moment, when for the first time, I’d truly assess life’s “vaporish” quality. I began writing my first series of books focusing on redemption. Three months after dad’s passing we made an exploratory trip to Ecuador, purchased a 1/3 acre lot by the beach and began building second home. We joined a new church that helped us better understand our roles as “every-day missionaries,” and just more than 60 days ago the human resource director at the company where I worked called me into his office to say “the owners have decided to go in a different direction, (and you’re not going along for the ride).”

In six months, we've gone from this...

In six months, we’ve gone from this…

Enter Plan B.

Fortunately, the wheels in my head had been turning just enough to assess the possibilities for one last entrepreneurial adventure, this time in a “foreign” land. The moment we first laid eyes on Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, I told Dana it was soon to be something very special and you could see opportunities everywhere. So there’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for lesson in there somewhere.

Now, we’re headed for a 99-day follow-up trip to see where it might further lead.

A read of Bob Buford‘s Halftime earlier in the year reshaped a part of the way I now think.

... to this...

… to this…

His book’s subtitle is, “Moving from Success to Significance.” What we’re about to do, Buford would say, is  a “seismic test,” a low-to-moderate risk to assess the bigger possibilities for the greater good. And so, our seismic test now begins.

It all means several things for Dana and me, including but not limited to:

  • A willingness to “unlearn” many of the cultural biases that are almost instinctive. We must leave behind the notions that the way we do most things is the correct manner in which to do them. That’s not necessarily true in a very big world.
  • We must exercise patience, and listen a lot more than we talk.
  • That even if this venture fails by our standards, it’s not the end of the world because you never, never, never quit, and God has a plan even when you don’t.
  • A greater understanding that life is a balancing act, and your best is all you can do.
  • Finding new ways to help others understand that redemption, in whatever form it may present itself, is a wonderful and powerful thing.
...to a view like this.

…to a view like this.

My wife saves everything. She’s not a hoarder, but somehow uses her skills to organize our chaotic life. Last night she showed me a few “fortunes” she’d saved from the cookies we’d broken over the last year during visits to some of our favorite Asian restaurants. Yes, she saved the fortune cookie fortunes. A few fortunes read:

  • “You discover treasures where others see nothing unusual.”
  • “Ideas you believe are absurd, ultimately lead to success.”
  • “Others take notice of your radiance. Share your happiness.”
  • “Every production of genius, must first be the product of enthusiasm.”
  • “God looks after you, especially.”

Amazing…

We’ve said our goodbyes to family and friends. And now we go.

To all the readers for whom I’m so very thankful, my next post, and all those that follow for the succeeding 99 days, will be from a new base in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. We’ll share stories of our new adventure, grab photos of this beautiful land and invite you to enjoy it all with us.

Until then, thanks for coming along. If you’ve come this far, maybe you’re willing to come a little further.

Vaya con Dios for now.

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Arkansas to Ecuador: When God Said ‘Yes’ to Our Most Laughable Dream

Dana and me back in the days of suits, cocktail parties, benefit art auctions and big business.

Dana and me back in the days of suits, cocktail parties, benefit art auctions and big business.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ~ Proverbs 29:18

It’s been quite a year.

My dad died in January. Dana and I explored Ecuador in April, bought a piece of land and began building a house. I started writing a couple of books, and considered the world of self-employment once again. Two months ago, my corporate day job was eliminated, forcing the issue of previously considered self-employment. We paid off 90 percent of our debts. And we’re now eight days away from getting on a plane to Quito (December 21 – the day the Mayans claim the world will end, I might add) and driving into Puerto Cayo where our house should be finished and our new venture into the world of global marketing will begin.

Each night before bed, I expect to wake up the next morning in a dream, but it hasn’t happened yet.

***

October 31, 2009, is a day I’ll never forget.

Nine months prior I’d cashed out well over six figures (everything I had) to launch a new publishing business that I believed was destined for success. I hired the finest people, (many of whom were good friends) bought the best equipment and leased the most advanced facilities I could imagine to put it all in. We were hi-tech, and we looked good.

On the World Poker Tour they would have said I was “all-in.”

But the world had an ace in the hole.

By July I began seeing signs of something I’d never seen before. Getting money was tougher. Selling advertising, even to my closest of business associates, wasn’t like it was before. Businesses were holding back. I had no idea what it was.

It was then, that I understood what recession meant.

Our revenues dried up. Overhead costs were screaming every day, creditors started calling, and for the first time in my life, I couldn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat.

On the week leading up to October 31, I fired my entire staff of eight and liquidated all our physical assets. Even then, I was $100k in debt, well beyond broke, and for the first time in my life, had NO vision. Not for tomorrow or next week, and certainly not for the next year or five years.

Things went dark very quickly. Very dark. I thought I’d never return the communications business I loved so much. I thought I’d never write again. And for two years, I didn’t.

***

And when daddy died, it all had to come out. So I created a blog and the world changed.

This blog site became a place of healing. Beyond the steadfast support of my wife, Dana, it was the only such source I ever found. I could write about my failures, my anger, and be transparent about it all because I never really had to look anyone in the eye.

Readers came. Comments rolled in, and slowly and gradually, I started thinking again, and a journey began to finding my former self – one blog post at a time.

After dad died in January, I took a good assessment of life’s brevity. It grew into a desire to explore, and do things I’d never before done. It guided Dana and me to an exploratory trip to Ecuador where there was a defining moment  I’ll never forget.

Dana and me, back in business, but a lot more relaxed, less stress and learning to enjoy life and savor the moment.

Dana and me, back in business, but a lot more relaxed, less stress and learning to enjoy life and savor the moment.

After a nine-hour drive from Guayaquil, we finally arrived on an elevated hill just south of Puerto Cayo, and as I looked at the small fishing village with pristine, uninhabited beach as far as the eye could see, I knew something special would happen there soon, with, or without me.

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. My first view.

Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. My first view.

So we bought a piece of land and started building a house, and managed it all via electronic communication from 6,000 miles away. During that time, we’ve laid the ground work for a family of mass communication marketing companies in a part of the world I like to think of as the New West. Opportunity everywhere. It must have been how Lewis and Clark felt each day as they passed through and explored the Louisiana Purchase en route to the Pacific. A new opportunity around every corner.

They too, must have thought they’d wake up in a dream.

I never thought I’d write again. God got a big laugh out of that one.

“Oh yes you will,” he said. “Just never as you’ve before imagined, my son.”

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A Biblical Business Model: And I’m Not a Religious Wack-Job

“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” ~ Tom Brokaw 

I know of nothing more exciting than launching a new business. Taking it from absolutely nothing – to something.

There’s also nothing more challenging. I’m in the midst of my third go-around in a new business launch and among all things, it’s a time-consuming, moving target that brings out the best and worst in me.

***

About a year ago, and during a time when I was fully invested in finding a literary agent (a notion I’ve long since abandoned for the brave new world of self publishing), I came across a candidate with whom I felt a kinship connection.

He was the first and only agent who shared a tangible method for writing abook of ezekiel and effective business models successful book, and his counsel came from the Bible‘s book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, otherwise known as the parable of the Valley of the Dry Bones.

Read Chapter 37’s conclusion:

“So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.  And I looked, and behold, sinews were on them, and flesh grew and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on the slain, that they may come to life.'” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.”

And no, I’m not a religious wack-job as one former colleague once mis-characterized me.

I’m a businessman who happens to believe there’s a spiritual element to sometimes successful entrepreneurship.business model for PRO ecuador marketing

The agent’s lesson was this: One way to write a great book is to: assemble the bones (academically formalize your ideas); put flesh on the bones (tell great stories that support your ideas); and breathe life into the bones (give the reader added-value to help him/her understand their own application moving forward after they’ve read your book.)

I adopted the theory immediately in book writing, and almost everything I’ve done since.

***

Today, Dana and I are 35 days out from wheels down in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador, where we’ll launch a new marketing agency and an expatriate guide service for adventurers exploring the Ecuadorian Pacific coast. You can see our new business cards in the right sidebar.

And we started at ground-zero.

***

Here’s what we had to do to:

GATHERING THE BONES

OUR VISION:
Connecting Ecuador to the WORLD through honest business practices, mutually beneficial relationships, and alliances that collectively benefit from an ever-increasing awareness of all that Ecuador has to offer.
connecting ecuador to the world
  • Create Mission, Vision and Purpose statements to better understand our business culture and self-understanding of what we’d do, how we’d do it and how it would be designed to make a difference for the greater good.
  • And primarily, in developing a business framework, we identified effective, affordable resources that would maximize our time, money and productivity to create excellent client services and products. Among them, but, but not exclusive of them are:
  1. http://www.godaddy.com for domain research and support
  2. http://www.wix.com for website development
  3. Obviously, I’m a big fan/supporter of http://www.wordpress.com for communication
  4. http://www.mailchimp.com for email marketing campaigns and newsletter templates
  5. http://www.internationallivingmagazine for research and relationship building
  6. http://www.consumerbase.com for target market email addresses and email distribution
  7. http://www.pageturnerpro.com for creating virtual, online magazines.
  8. And a plethora of relationships we’ve developed with fellow bloggers and expatriates around the world.

PUTTING FLESH ON THE BONES

  • Hands-on conceptualizing and execution for an effective social media platform
  • Hands-on branding (graphic design, logos, message, theme, consistency, etc.)
  • Hands-on content marketing development
  • Hands-on web design
  • Hands-on social media marketing and researching what’s free and what’s not
  • Hands on partnership and relationship building ( a dying art)
  • BTW – This is a pretty “hands-on” ordeal.

BREATHING LIFE INTO THE BONES

  • Launching new blogs, websites and other methods of communication. Timing is EVERYTHING
  • Creating real and tangible added value in our services
  • Interacting (as a real person, not a voice mail or text message) with potential clients
  • Bouncing ideas off those who have been there, done that
  • Creating the proper expression to clients, and everyone else how truly passionate and excited we are about what we’re about to dobest business practices

Bones.

Flesh.

Breath.

Ezekiel got it right.

The model’s working, and for that, we give thanks.

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Unexpectedly Self Employed: 10 Pros – 10 Cons

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” ~ Truman Capote

I’m 46 years old, and for the third time in 24 years I find myself in the wide-open world of self employment. Though it’d been on the radar screen for 18 months or so, it didn’t come about exactly as I’d planned, but it’s all good because my subconscious was mentally preparing for life’s next exciting move anyway. It’s all because the owners at my previous place of employment “…decided to make a change in direction.”

i.e., “Your fired.”

Again, it’s all good.

This go-around will be the decider. In the previous two immersions into the world of the self employed my record is one and one.  This time’s for the championship, and each morning I wake up early, adrenaline flowing, ready to get back in the game.

For those of you who blog, I’m happy to share this important reality: During the last 10 months, I’ve spent 3 to 4 hours a day blogging in my spare time. If it hadn’t been for that, I’m not sure I’d be in a position to take on a brave new world in the communications market. Blogging’s opened up countless partnerships, alliances, relationships and learning experiences that are simply invaluable. In the beginning, I had no idea where it was all going, but the blogosphere’s definitely led to something more significant and meaningful in my life.

e.g.- One of the most surprising, and rewarding opportunties came from a sister blog I set up some time ago – one designed for personal reasons only – that chronicled an adventure Dana and I set out on last April. Over the months, it’s connected us to dozens of others in the expat world, and now I’ve been given the opportunity to write for International Living magazine on a regular basis. See www.internationallivingmagazine.com. It’s a huge blessing and thrilling opportunity.

Steve and Dana Watkins, owners of PRO Ecuador Marketing and Ecuador Guided ToursOn January 2, Dana and I will launch two new businesses abroad in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. The web had already opened up an opportunity to freelance some social media management gigs, and now we’re ready to formalize it all into a more focused umbrella of targeted opportunities. I’m now thrilled to focus 100 percent of our efforts toward the work we most love.

professional marketing agencies in Ecuador

PRO Ecuador Marketing is a comprehensive marketing company that will manage ad campaigns (new and traditional media) for tourism-related industries along the emerging Ecuadorian coast. Its website is currently under development.

Ecuador Guided Tours www.ecuadorguidedtours.com is a full expat service assisting travelers and potential expat explorers looking for new opportunities along the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast. It’s an idea we had almost immediately after we spent two weeks exploring Ecuador on our own, and found no formal services to guide us in a way that would make the most of our time and money.

Full expat service agency for travelers and expats looking for real estate in Ecuador.

It’s an exciting thing to get back into the world of self employment. I’ve been thinking about all the pros and cons, and these are my thoughts so far:

CONS

1. Aside from the work itself, there’s a lot to learn, especially when you own a business that operates both from the U.S., and a foreign country. Different rules apply in both places, and it’s easy to see how a business owner could make serious, consequential mistakes in the complexity of it all. A legal, yet advantageous tax strategy is foremost on the list.

2. In the past, I’ve had the luxury of hiring really smart co-workers who compliment one another’s skills and talents. At least for now, it’s just Dana and me, and I’ll miss the synergy that comes from a small group of really smart people.

3. Also missing from the group dynamic is the luxury of specialization. Previously, I’ve been able to pass on the more technical work to people MUCH smarter than me, but now I’m required to be more tech-savvy than I ever imagined because I simply can’t afford (at this point) to hire highly specialized co-workers.

4. Because the business world is radically different than it was just three years ago, and because technology changes at the speed of light on any given day, there’s a ton of prelimary work that must be managed to properly launch a new business. There are business cards to print, websites to develop, social media distribution tools to create and link together, ad campaign strategies and much more. Our situation is all the more challenging because our communication methods must be effective in two very distinct cultures. I’d be totally lying if I didn’t say it’s all a lot of fun though.

5. It’s a given that income will fluctuate from month to month. That requires a lot of thought with regard to current debt obligations and the cost of necessary future investments.

6. Balance is critical. I’m old enough now to know my strengths and weakness. One weakness is the tendency to immerse myself in work, but experience tells me that’s a double-edged sword. I’m working hard to learn proper self-scheduling. It’s just not possible to monitor email 24 hours a day.

7. In our “spare time,”  Dana and I must become fluent in Latin American Spanish. Those six years of college Spanish were a long time ago, and today, I’m a gringo defined.

8. Today, we’re 38 days out from wheels up to from Memphis to Atlanta-Quito-Manta-Puerto Cayo. The checklist for things to do moves two steps ahead of us every time we take a single step forward.

9. I’ve always enjoyed responding to other bloggers’ requests for coaching or critique. It’s sort of my way of giving back. Now, I’m required to be much more selective in who I can help and whether it will be free or not.

10. There are rare moments when I’m scared. I never want anyone to see it, so there’s a mask to put on from time to time.

“A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” ~ my banker

PROS

1. It gives me the opportunity to thank God for second and third chances. I’ve been praying the Prayer of Jabez for three weeks now, and it often brings a tear to my eye, because I believe those prayers have been answered in such an overwhelmingly unexpected way.

2. I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you it’s the most exciting time in my life.

3. The perks! Unlimited vacation, knocking off at 3 p.m., coming in late. Ha! I know I’ll never really do those things.

4. Never again (I pray) will I be subject to the whims of a pre-maturely elevated, 30-something whipper-snapper who thinks he’s got the world by the tail and has it all figured out.

5. For those us who have certain personality types … I’m a High D, ENFJ, there’s no substitute for sailing your own ship.

6. Pursuing a vision (whatever it may be) is the most fulfilling thing I know.

7. Technology makes the global business world smaller and smaller every day. Dana and I love the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with people in other cultures. A few months ago, I met a Peruvian lawyer and French-trained chef. His name was Caesar. When he first introduced himself, he said, “I’m a citizen of the world,” and it sent chills up my spine.

8. At 46, I’ve made a TON of mistakes in both my business and personal life. Lessons learned the hard way, yet invaluable. With a little luck, I’ll see those issues looming ahead this time, and take the appropriate detours.

9. Four years ago, I had a “great idea” for a business where I intended to be the sole proprietor – all me – and I went to visit several banker friends soliciting a loan to get the business going for a year or so. On my last visit to my last resort, this is what one banker told me: “A little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing.” He wanted me to solicit investors – to go out and sell others on my idea, and rather than take on the full risk of investment and the potential full rewards – to share both the risk and those rewards. I ignored his advice and the idea flopped in three months. Sidebar – I didn’t get the loan…  This time, that’s my philosophy going in because it’s quite true: A LITTLE BIT OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING.

10. Honestly, I’ve never been more alive.

What Pro/Con experiences have you enjoyed in the world of self employment, or what advice would you have for others considering a new adventure?

(Steve Watkins is a professional journalist and blogger, and a contributor to International Living Magazine. For more information, see his “about me” page @ http://wp.me/P2bjEC-7:  or contact him at stevewatkins71@yahoo.com.)

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