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Ep. 145: How this content marketer balances work, adventure and family life while living in St. Croix with Sara Zuckerman

In this week’s episode, I speak with Sara who is a location independent content marketer living in the Caribbean with her family and the founder of Uncommonmama.com. 

In her site, she shares how she has been able to make living in the Caribbean more sustainable by maintaining social media and marketing campaigns for hospitality brands. 

Listen on to find out how Sara is able to successfully balance work, adventure, and family life on the beautiful island of St. Croix. 

Listen Below:

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Transcription :

Debbie:

Hey everyone, thank you so much for joining us. I am so excited about this interview because I’m actually on location in St. Croix because Sara invited to meet me here. It’s so exciting. It was such a crazy and awesome trip to be here. And we also just saw a double rainbow this morning. So those really awesome, right?

Sara:

We cued it on just for you.

Debbie:

Exactly. When we were having breakfast – it happened. We were talking about, “A double rainbow is here, Sara.” And then all of a sudden it just happened.

Sara:

Perfectly cute.

Debbie:

So you have a really interesting story because you’re also a digital nomad and you have chosen St. Croix to be your place, right? Your place to stay in. You have a family here. Your husband is actually originally from here. Can you tell us a little bit more about you and how you got to where you are right now living on this beautiful island?

Sara:

Sure. I live on St. Croix. I’ve actually lived here, moved away, come back. But it seems to be home for me and actually a number of other people. Once you have St. Croix in your veins or in your spirit, you seem to always wind up coming back here.

So I met my husband in the Peace Corps on our way to an island in the South Pacific. We served in the Peace Corps in Western Samoa and he always talked about his Island, his Island, his Island, want to see my Island. And I was like, “But we’re living on this beautiful island.” So when we finally left Peace Corps and tried to settle back in the States after traveling for a number of months, neither of us were really comfortable back in the U.S. So we went to go visit his mom here on St. Croix and in the middle of carnival I was like, “We could stay.”

And he looked at me, he goes, “It’s not like this all the time.” I’m like, “Well, good. That’s a little too wild for me.” So we wound up staying. The first time we were here for eight years and then we moved to the States for five and we’ve been back about two. So my son was born here, my mother-in-law is here. But we came back after the two major hurricanes: Irma and Maria. ‘Cause my husband is in construction so he came back to help rebuild his island. And I just love the sense of community here and being part of that rebuild has been amazing.

Debbie:

There has been a lot of new things happening in St. Croix, especially like you said, after all of the different natural disasters that have happened and you see a lot more people coming here since then. Do you see more changes coming up and has it been a really great one for the island?

Sara:

In some ways, yes, in some ways, maybe not as much. I think St. Croix survived a couple of other major hurricanes. So after this storm, there were houses, I think, that were built better than some of the other storms that fared through some major storms as well. I think the digital world has really changed. We have a good strong internet connection here.

And I’ve been working digitally and remotely for a while, but it’s really neat to see that community grow here. Like I have friends that are day traders, I have friends that are software developers, I have friends that do real estate in the States, I have a ton of content marketer friends. So it’s neat to see we live in this beautiful place but we also balance our work and don’t have to go into a brick and mortar building to go to our office. But we don’t always hang out on the beach.

Debbie:

Like what most people would think you do because of all of the Instagram photos with the laptop on the beach. But what you said is really interesting to me because I have gone to a lot of different small islands and usually the internet is horrendous. And I was really pleasantly surprised when I came here because throughout the whole entire time I’ve had really great internet.

So I definitely think this is a huge digital nomad spot that not many people will think of when they think about going somewhere to just chill and relax and be on an island and also have internet if you want to work. So I think St. Croix is the place to be.

Sara:

Yeah, I agree. We’re sitting in a brand new cafe, not sponsored, but we are in this beautiful space with wonderful coffee and a nice communal table in the back and the WiFi is open and I haven’t had any trouble with it, have you?

Debbie:

Me either. And even with my own phone, like without any WiFi, I was getting internet – no problem. I was getting text messages, I was getting all of these things from it. So I’ve had no issues. Now let’s talk about how you actually became a digital nomad here in St. Croix, Sara, because it would be, for a lot of people, like how do you actually sustain this lifestyle? And with you, it’s with social media marketing and content marketing and content creation. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how you were able to make this a remote lifestyle and business for you?

Sara:

So, when I first came to the island straight out of the Peace Corps, I actually wound up working for a small website design company, which was really strange ’cause I’d been living basically off the grid for two years. And this is the early 2000s – I’m a little bit older than your usual content marketer.

I have a business background. So, I started working for this website design company and I was like, “Interesting.” I was learning all about this new thing ’cause I hadn’t done it before. And then I slowly realized, “Well, my heart was more on nonprofit.” So I went to go work for an organization and help run their events. And then they said, “We have no marketing budget.” So I learned how to do email marketing. And then I learned how to market through my own personal network on, at the time it was just Facebook.

So I kind of organically taught myself how to market for nonprofits with a very little budget. And then that sort of grew into bigger events, bigger social media networks, bigger email marketing campaigns. And then I got picked up by these DC companies here – Economic Development Companies, to do the stateside marketing. So I was working remotely for them for a little while – that wasn’t my thing.

So, I just kind of evolved into doing content marketing. When I moved to the States, I went to go work for another website design company and I was doing SEM and marketing for them. And my clients were kind of, I don’t want to say, I guess, boring: a tax attorney and a chimney sweep. And I was like, “Oh, I’d like to go back into hospitality,” ’cause my original focus, pre-Peace Corps, was a restaurant and I’ve loved doing events and I like the engagement you get – I wasn’t getting that at SEM.

CONTENT MARKETER

I was just kinda talking through some of the things that I had to do and I really liked the engagement and how social media works as a two-way street, not just like talking outward. So I started working with a friend that I knew from down here on hotel marketing and I was like, “Ooh, this is perfect!” I actually grew up in my parents’ hotels when I was a kid and my parents had restaurants and I worked at Disney World, so hospitality is in my blood. So to do hotel social media and content was kind of a perfect fit. I’ve done some other ones; I’ve done e-commerce and some other pieces, but I really like working with hotels and their content and showcasing the destination, not just the hotel.

So I also love walking into, we were just talking about this with photography as well as when you walk in with tourist’s eyes, you have a very different perspective than if you’re on the property all the time looking at the same thing over and over. You were saying you had friends that would come visit you and take these fabulous photos of things that you pass all the time. So I currently have a mix of off-island and on-island clients. I’m all hotels right now. So, and I like to do work for events still here and there, mainly nonprofit events.

Debbie:

It’s a really interesting industry to be in. And you also have these really interesting clients. One of them right now has hosted me in sponsoring this Hotel Caravelle and it’s such a quirky and cute little hotel that you have and it’s right by the ocean. It’s close to everything and you were able to help them market it and really get it on the map for St. Croix. Can you tell us a little bit more about them? Because they’re really gorgeous and really cute hotels.

Sara:

Yeah. Hotel Caravelle and Casino is right on the boardwalk in downtown Christiansted, it’s walking distance to everyone. We’ve like kind of dubbed it sort of the urban Caribbean experience ’cause you don’t really need a car. You can walk to restaurants, there’s nightlife, everything sort of, or you can hop a boat right from there over to Buck Island or National Park or to The beach at a hotel on the Key.

So everything is sort of walking distance. The hotel has just gone under its second major renovation. This one was after the storms. So they’ve redone all the rooms. They actually used to have these sliding glass doors that went nowhere so they got rid of those and put in windows. And the pool has been redone. So it’s a modern hotel, but it’s in this sort of historic, I mean you said it was so cute when you drove through, it’s like old Danish architecture.

This is where Alexander Hamilton actually lived as a child. So, and Caravelle has done a great job in, sort of, revitalizing Christiansted. They do concerts for the whole city, like free concerts. And they’re just really involved. They actually redid all the boardwalk lights, it’s just a community service project. So it fits in line with some of the community projects that I like to do to have an on Island client too that, sort of, works with the community. It also, like we were talking about getting out of the house a little bit too.

Debbie:

Well, the thing about that hotel is that it is so close to everything. I mean this morning I literally went out the door and just walked around, not even a three or five-minute walk and I was in the middle of everything and there was so much to see. And I think when you go to these little islands, sometimes you move your car to see anything. And over here there’s everything and it’s not also very commercialized.

Like there’s no Starbucks, no Target. It’s all very home-grown. And a lot of locals who have built their properties and businesses here, which is great. And I also love to tell people, especially because there has been a lot of natural disasters happening in the Caribbean, is to definitely come down here and visit. Because I have been doing so much work to all of the different tourist destinations that this is the time to go.

And if there’s so much to see and right now like, “Oh my God, thank goodness I’m here rather than in New York because the weather’s in the ’80s and it’s beautiful.” And also I have to point out that here is so friendly. It’s like when they say to you, “Island people are really nice, sometimes you’d go to an Island and it’s not like that.” But St. Croix is definitely like that. Everyone always has a smile on their face. They honked their horn to say “hello” to you. It’s been a really great experience being here.

Sara:

Yeah. Oh, I’m glad to hear that because it is. We talked about it when you first came in, when you walk into the location, if you say, “good morning”, “good afternoon”, whatever time of day it is, “even good night” – it’s a greeting here, it’s not a “goodbye”. And you always say that before you start your conversation and you’ll walk into a bank and you say, “good afternoon”, everyone turns around and says “good afternoon”. People wave at you in your car, people will also stop. It’s rude to beep at them to say, “Hey, get going. I got to go.”

Debbie:

Yeah.

Sara:

Because they’ll go, they just gotta, relay a message and then they’ll move on, Island time. And there are lots of independent businesses – it’s amazing. Both people that come from the States to open businesses and locals that open businesses. We’ve got a lot of fabulous restaurants. I can’t wait to take you to dinner tonight.

Debbie:

The food is also really good. Also, I been talking to some of the people here that really became Islanders, right? Because they used to be in mainland in the U.S., in the 50 States and they came here to settle and everyone has so many interesting stories. And I was telling Sara that they could start their own podcast just by talking to people and what their journey is. Sara, get them on your podcast because I was just talking to them for a minute or two and I was already getting all of these really interesting journeys from people. How they got here and how they came here.

Sara:

Yeah. The Hotel Caravelle has a sister hotel, the Company House Hotel and we do a monthly social series there where I interview one local business person. It’s called In Good Company, it’s on Company Street, it’s the Company House Hotel. So it kind of ties in with that and everybody loves it. It’s become such a popular little after-work social hour. One of my friends had said, “I love stopping by because you interview someone that I wanted to know a little bit more about.” And we’ve done artists and business owners but those are the type of people that yeah, it would be kind of cool to get them on the podcast.

Debbie:

I think so too because it’s all really fascinating and everyone’s journey is so different from everybody else’s and I can’t wait to meet more people and to really listen to how they got here too. Now, what about your journey as an entrepreneur, because you are transitioning right now to do more of your own thing. What has been the biggest setback for you becoming a remote entrepreneur and how do you usually handle those setbacks, especially since you are in this kind of remote Island?

Sara:

Well, when we moved back this last time, I told my husband, I said, “So we can move back, but I’m going to have to go visit clients,” and I kind of want to go visit clients because there’s this thing called rock fever. Like after a certain amount of time you’re like, “Okay, I gotta get off this Island here.” And by having clients elsewhere, it gives me that chance to just go explore. It gets my travel bug out, whether it’s with my family, without my family, with girlfriends or alone even.

I think that’s a really important thing to keep healthy no matter where you live, whether you live in New York City or you live on an Island, you kind of have to get out of your surroundings every once in a while to appreciate what you do have.

For me, living in the States for five years was a way that I actually appreciated my Island life that much more. I think my transition into a sort of running my own blog and managing my own brand is that I’m so used to doing it for other people that it’s been a really hard start trying to get it going for myself. I listened to a number of your podcasts, I got some great ideas on some resources to help me get going.

I still love doing the content for other people and I will continue to do that. But, after living in the States, I’ve been up there for five years, I have a lot of people that want to follow and figure out. They know me personally and they want to know what’s going on. There is a network of Island bloggers and I’m excited to sort of be that as my own and not just on behalf of my clients as well.

Debbie:

Now, you touched upon this a little bit because when you do work remotely, even if you are on a beautiful island like this, you do tend to stay at home sometimes and you’re in your own little world. And we talked a little bit about this, it’s like, “What’s the point of moving to this beautiful Island and being able to work remotely if you also don’t leave your house.”

Sara:

Right.

Debbie:

How are you able to push yourself to go out there and meet new people when you first moved here or when you started working remotely so that you don’t have cabin fever or don’t see the sun at all? Like I do before coming here.

Sara:

Good thing you’re here. I think that that’s that balance that I think everybody has, whether you work remotely for yourself or in an office, is figuring out where you want to spend your time and what’s most important. ‘Cause I feel like when I first got here, I was work, work, work, work, working, and I took a step back and said, “Okay, I’ve got work to do.” It takes a little bit more to run your household here because things are a little bit further away, they’re a little bit slower.

So I took a step back and sort of looked at my priorities. And I think everyone has to do that at some point is where are your priorities? How much do you want to work? Like where is the balance between making enough money or having enough time? So that was something that I don’t think I did it when I first moved back, it took me pretty much a year. I think I was a hermit, I don’t think I went out. People are like, “Hey, you’re back.” And I’m like, “Oh, I’ve been back a year.” They’re like, “Oh, I haven’t seen you.”

Debbie:

It’s definitely a huge balance between them both because you do want to make your business successful. You do want to make sure that you’re doing everything that you need to. That’s why I think having a community and also finding really great cafes like this that we’re at right now really helps with that balance. Because you are still able to leave your house, you’re still able to work and not stuck at home and see people.

Sara:

Yup. And sometimes you might not be as productive ’cause you don’t have your double screen up and you’re not like totally uber focused on the tasks you’re working on. But it’s good for creativity. In our industry, everybody is so collaborative too. It’s not like a cutthroat like, “It’s my contract. I don’t want to talk to anybody else.” But like talking about this cafe as a great thing for my hotel client because people that see it, the hotel should know about that so we’ll post about it. And I think that if we keep that collaborative nature and we sit at these big communal tables and get to meet our neighbors or visitors, then it keeps that creativity just strong.

Debbie:

Yeah. When I’m at home I tend to get more distracted because there’s a lot of things like going to the fridge or watching Netflix. But I always notice that when I work at a cafe, I become more productive ’cause there’s no Netflix.

Sara:

And no fridge.

Debbie:

Yes. I mean order stuff but like you have to pay more and work. You do that, so you have to stop yourself, right? But it’s also, I feel like the noise actually gives me energy.

Sara:

It’s like that white noise.

Debbie:

Yeah. So it’s so great. I think it’s amazing that there are so many of these cafes that are popping up that really is geared towards remote workers and digital nomads because we definitely need it.

Sara:

Yeah. And everyone deserves it. Travel just opens your horizon. This is a very culturally rich Island and if we’re stuck our little bubble at home, then we don’t get to experience all that. We’re going to take you tonight to Jump Up, which is this big street festival. We’re going to try a whole bunch of local food and you’re going to get to see Moko Jumbies and hey, we’re right here working too.

Debbie:

Exactly. And that’s part of work which is incredible. That’s really what I love about traveling and working at the same time. I think there has to be a balance between the two because I think sometimes we get so caught up with working, sometimes we don’t actually get to see anything or vice versa. We don’t get to work because we’re so busy just seeing everything. And just finding that balance is always good to do.

Now with your job, a lot of people would be really interested in your job, right? Because you have a really awesome thing that you’re doing. You create content for people and you take photos, you write your blogs, and then you also help others do this, typically hotels. Now, do you have any great resources where people can also figure out how to do this as well?

Sara:

I think some of the tools we use are so important. We shared a couple earlier because you’ve got some interesting tools and I think that’s that collaborative thing that happens at these communal tables. But I love my scheduling tools – Sprout Social is one I use.

The things that make your life a little bit easier is in being able to keep the work flowing while you’re out exploring or adventuring and knowing that the posts are going to go up and that you can engage on the fly, but you don’t have to actually create the content. I’m always on the fly.

With hotel clients, which is mostly what I’m dealing with right now. It’s more of a curated feed rather than “in the moment, this is what’s happening at the front desk”. So it gives me that flexibility to make sure everything’s scheduled and we’re moving forward. I love bringing in influencers to our properties because I think that is just such a great niche marketing.

If you go look for a hotel right now, you’re usually directed to Expedia or Bookings.com, some of the big OTAs to book your rooms. And it’s the little independent hotels that have sort of that funky, interesting, adventure traveler or explorer. And that’s what I look for when I travel. I think that’s what St. Croix drives people to come here. It’s off the beaten track so it’s not a big club net, it’s not a Marriott-like.

So it’s got this location-specific, it’s got some sort of drive that’s bringing you here. So when we bring in influencers or different types of visitors that showcase it to their audience, I find that those are the type of travelers we want to attract.

Debbie:

Yeah. And there’s definitely a different feeling to St. Croix because it has everything that Island life has but there’s a little bit more to it. I think it’s the people, it’s also the way of the feel of it. I think it’s really interesting and it’s really funny ’cause when I was taking a walk super early this morning, I was just looking at it because when I arrived here it was at night and I do really get to see the streets and what it really looked like.

And then I looked to my left and I looked to my right; to my left puts the ocean, to my right, was the mountains, and then right in the middle is just as colorful city. So, the streets were incredible and I was like, “Wow, this is a really special Island and then people are so friendly.” And then I thought to myself after I met all the people you introduced me to, this is the reason why people stay here – there’s just a really amazing atmosphere. And then the background on top of that – it’s amazing.

Sara:

Yeah. Our Department of Tourism just came out with a new ad campaign and talks about the St. Croix vibe and it really is, it’s a vibe. It has this vibe that sort of draws you in and holds onto your spirit, whether you’re here or not. And we see so many people that leave and come back.

We talk about like when, Ethan, my husband, came back the first time, it was like the reverse brain drain because when you live on an Island you have to go get experience and educate. Like you go to college and then this Island tends to draw those people back.

It’s amazing how many people continue to come back, whether it’s on vacation or whether it’s for good. There’s a new trend here where Croixians, people that are from here who can’t live here for whatever reason it is, will send their children back to stay with their auntie or their grandmother for the summer and go to summer camp here. ‘Cause then they get to learn that culture and that experience and they get to have the beach and they get to do all the things that their parents did when they were kids. But the parents can stay home and continue to work and support the family.

Debbie:

As how it usually is. At least their children can experience this beautiful island. So that’s awesome. Now, Sara, let’s look to about 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy do you want to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?

Sara:

Hmm, that’s a big question. I love connecting people and I love creating groups. If we go back to sort of that collaborative table, I’m always sort of trying to find ways to connect people. I don’t even think this has to do with my career, but I love being able to like connect people – it’s like the matchmaker. Like I find the perfect business partner for you or your next spouse or it just being able to connect people.

Debbie:

You’re like a matchmaker.

Sara:

I guess so.

Debbie:

Everything, whether job or romance.

Sara:

I love connecting people. And I think living on an island, you don’t realize how everybody’s connected. So it becomes kind of fun to sorta connect to people. I love helping new people when they get to Island ’cause I feel like when you get to Island there’s this chance that it’s not going to be for you.

Sara:

But with the right friend and the right guidance, it could be the right place for you. So, if you’re like, “Hey, I don’t want to…” That person, I’m not sure they’re going to make it or not on the Island. Like, give them a hand, help him out and help them navigate that first year cause anywhere you move, the first year is always a roller coaster.

So I love seeing good people stay here and help the Island. I joined a board of the St. Croix Environmental Association. The environment is really important, especially when you’re on an Island and we’ve got reefs and national parks and three different types of turtles that come nest here.

CONTENT MARKETER

I took a long time figuring out which nonprofit I wanted to be part of as a board member but I’m very proud to be part of the St. Croix Environmental Association. So, I feel like I’ve got my hands on a lot of different things but I think that’s what’s really cool about living in a small place is that you can have a bigger impact.

Debbie:

Yeah. And like you said, everybody kind of knows everyone. It’s always great ’cause it’s like neighborly, you help each other out. And especially when you have things that are realities like natural disasters, it’s kind of what you do for each other. You just lend a helping hand when it’s needed or when it’s wanted either way.

Sara:

Right. And someday, I should have added this when my 30-year piece is, I would love to have like a couple of AirBnBs here so we could travel a little bit more. I have a young child right now, when we’re empty nesters, I’d love to be able to come and go and see other locations. ‘Cause I think there’s something about being able to stay when you travel. I’ve been a tourist and I’ve been a traveler and I’ve lived in other locations. And when you get to know a culture, I think that’s where you really get to spend some time and know the people and understand. It makes you a better person to know that not everybody is exactly like you.

Debbie:

Yeah. I think that’s the most important thing about traveling thing. We sometimes when we start, it’s just to lookup places but we stay or stay longer because of what we get and also because of the people that are there and the culture that we understand. So are you working on anything currently that’s really exciting to you?

Sara:

Yes, I’m working on my own blog. I’ve blogged a number of times in my life. I blogged through Peace Corps and I blogged as we traveled around the world but I kind of stopped as I took up content management for my clients and I’ve neglected my own brand for a while. So I’m really excited to relaunch Uncommon Mama, my blog, my Instagram and focus a little bit on what it’s like to live on an Island – work remotely. We’re about to build a house here.

Debbie:

Congratulations.

Sara:

Thank you. We’re currently living in a multi-generational home that has its ups and downs. And we actually have a small Cabot Outback that my husband built for us. So, eventually having our own space is going to be fabulous.

Debbie:

So that’s really exciting and everything is happening. So a lot of stuff in this swallow Island that’s happening for you. If our listeners want to know more about you or how they can get to St. Croix and learn more about this amazing Island, where should they go?

Sara:

I think a great place to start is my Instagram currently until my website goes up, so that’s instagram.com/uncommonmama. If you want to learn more about just staying here for a shorter vacation, HotelCaravelle.com is a great place to learn about staying right in the middle of it all and Christiansted. If you message me directly, I’m happy to recommend whatever else you are looking for on St. Croix.

Debbie:

Perfect. Thank you so much, Sara, for being here today and for telling us all of the different amazing things that you can see in St. Croix. I really appreciate you welcoming me here as well.

Sara:

Thank you so much for being here.

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Show Credits:

Audio Engineer: Ben Smith


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