101. How this former accountant quit his job to make money on the road with Brendan Lee
This week I speak with Brendan who is a former Accountant from New Zealand.
In 2011, he left the corporate world for a trip around the world that still hasn’t ended.
He now travels and writes full time, sharing stories from his journey on his blog, brenontheroad.com.
Listen on to find out how Brendan quit his job to make money on the road.
Hey everyone. I am here with Brendon. Hey Brandon, how are you?
I’m good. How are you?
Can you tell us a little bit more about you and why you live an offbeat life?
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Well, I guess the relevant part of my stories is during university I studied accounting. It was kind of the easiest subject for me. I finished my degree without too many problems and I got an accounting job at a reasonably well-known firm in New Zealand and I was working that job for three and a half, almost four years.
And it was a job that wasn’t right for me. I was showing up to work every day and I just knew that it was not the right job for me. So once my contract was finished and I just felt like there was something else that I wanted to do, I decided to take some time off to go traveling.
My first trip was to Tanzania because I just wanted to go somewhere that was different from anything I knew. I just wanted to get as far away from the sort of the life that I’d been living as possible.
So I spent a couple of months in Tanzania volunteering there at a preschool in the north of Tanzania. And an experience like that obviously changes a lot of your perspectives on life. And I just decided at that time that I wanted to spend more of my time or dedicate a larger portion of my life to traveling the world and learning about the world.
So after Tanzania, I went to South America and I took a backpacking trip through a few different countries in South America for a few months.
And by this time it had been about five or six months since I’d left my job. And I just knew that this was something that I’m going to be doing for a long time. And it has been so long since I had found something that I’d enjoyed so much.
I think a lot of longterm travelers have the same story. After you start traveling for a few months and then it gets on to six months and then before you know what you’ve been traveling for a few years because it’s just something about it that lights you on fire, I suppose you could say. It’s something so different to anything else you would experience in everyday life.
How to prepare for life on the road.
Brendan, how did you prepare before you left? Because you did have a steady income in the beginning and you left that, you left your nine to five. How did you prepare for traveling? Did you have an idea that you were going to be traveling full-time?
No, I didn’t know it at the time. I didn’t think that it was going to be something that would last this long. This was 2011 that I quit my job and I never expected it to be something like that, but I always did know that I wasn’t going to work in that job forever because it was unfulfilling and it wasn’t satisfying.
To be working so hard and not enjoying it is the worst feeling. It’s fine to be working hard for something if you believe in it and you really enjoy it. But to be working so hard for something that wasn’t really in your heart, you kind of rot in that office. And so I knew that’s not where I was going to stay.
I was saving my paychecks for pretty much the entire time that I was working there and I wasn’t too sure what it was going to be for, but I just knew that I needed to be saving because I knew that I wasn’t going to be working there forever and I want it to be prepared for whatever came next.
New Speaker: So when I took that first trip, in the back of my mind I thought that there was a very real possibility that I was going to go back to maybe not that particular job, but maybe the industry in some way or another. Maybe overseas or maybe to visit a different area of finance. But obviously, it didn’t work out that way.
I think most things happen like that actually, I don’t think anyone says, well, I’m going to leave and travel the world for 10 years now.
It’s more of a discovery process for you. When you finally realized that this is what you wanted to do and you’ve been traveling for quite some time and then you started running out of money, what did you do to create income so that you can keep traveling?
That was the end of 2013. I’d been just over two years on the road. I wasn’t really out of money, but I could see that I was running out of money and I knew I had to do something quick before I get into an interesting situation.
I honestly just went on Google and tried to find out how to make money. I think I searched how to make money while you’re traveling or how to make money on the internet or something like that. And there were so many things that you could do. And I was kind of blown away that I hadn’t discovered this before.
I hadn’t heard anyone talk about this yet. There was making Youtube videos and there were freelancing and programming and graphic design and photography and all these things that people were doing, making money on the Internet. And so I went into freelancing.
That was the thing that made the most sense to me. I had a degree, most people would have considered me a reasonably well-educated person. I didn’t know anything about making websites or anything like that, but freelancing is basically just working, but remotely.
I went into writing, the writing seemed like something that was easy to get started and obviously I had a finance background, so that allowed me to carve my own niche in the freelancing space.
And so there was, at the time there was a website called Elance, it’s been bought by a bigger company called Upwork. I went on there and I was just searching for different jobs and I found a few writing jobs. And so my whole freelancing career started with writing articles.
I think it was like 25 bucks a pop. I was writing about accounting and I was writing blog posts for an accounting blog. And I wrote an article for them and they were like, oh yeah, that was really good. We’d like you to keep writing for us.
They paid me 250 bucks to write 10 articles for them. And I just kept going, I just started applying for every job that I could find on Elance. For that next few months, I was just on my laptop about 18 hours a day.
It’s also really interesting, Brendan because you ended up using your degree and the knowledge that you had, not necessarily as an accountant again, but as a writer who writes about finance and money.
If you went to a university and you feel like you’ve wasted all of that money. It’s not the case because you could use all of the skills that you’ve learned in school and use it into the real world, which was a really great transition for you to start making money online doing that.
Yeah, absolutely. I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were talking about the importance of everything that you do.
Whatever you do, just do it the best that you can because you never know how that’s going to come and serve you somewhere down the line. Because no one can see the future.
If you’re doing something today, even if you’re just a waitress, you should do that job to the best of your ability cause you never know down the line. Maybe you own your own restaurant and now suddenly you know things that you didn’t think you would need to know.
And it teaches you a lot of patience and customer service. There are so many things that you can learn in waitressing every single day. That’s why I’m always really excited when I meet people who are absolutely passionate about what they’re doing, even though it’s something that they don’t necessarily want to do.
But it’s just the process and the work and learning that is really exciting. So when you were doing this, I’m sure there was a lot of trial and error, has there been a huge setback that you encountered and how did you handle that?
The biggest set back you’ll encounter as a remote worker.
Nothing enormous. I probably sent out maybe 20 proposals before I even got my first writing job and I know for some people that can be very defeating, but for me, I knew I had to make this work.
I sent out maybe 15 to 20 proposals on Elance and I started noticing that there was so much competition from other countries like India where they’ve got guys that have MBA’s with crazy credentials and they’re willing to work for so much less than you are.
Because obviously, it costs a lot less to live in India than it does in New Zealand or Australia. So they were willing to write articles for $5 an hour. And it meant that I had to take a different approach to how I was going to land jobs because these guys are more qualified than you and they’re probably smarter than you and they’re willing to work for less money than you.
So how do you beat them? And so I actually wrote a big article on my blog about how I had to try and brand myself differently. And that was how I was able to get that first job.
But I’m sure that so many people that have tried freelancing have given up after that first 15 rejections. Because it takes so much time to write out proposals and maybe they asked for a sample and you put that together and then you just don’t hear back and after five or six times you’re just going to be like, Oh man, what am I even doing? What’s the point?
I think that’s the interesting thing about freelancing and being an entrepreneur is that you’re going to be facing a lot of setbacks. And for a lot of people, it depends on how you look at it because if you’re not persistent, you’re getting give up after a few tries, then it will not go well for you.
I mean, personally, I’ve sent out hundreds of emails and have only gotten back a handful of replies. So if you’re going to give up after the 20th or 30th email, then this is definitely not for you. But if you’re going to keep going, it pays off. And will learn how to send out those pitches. How to brand yourself and it can give you this amazing lifestyle because you didn’t give up, which is incredible.
The advantages of appreciating the process and the work.
I think so much has to be said about really loving that process as well of like learning how this works and not really minding putting in 10 hours and not necessarily earning anything because you’re learning how this industry works.
Whereas if it’s something that you’re not going to enjoy then it’s going to be very hard for you to have any kind of longevity in it.
When it came to blogging, it was exactly the same process all over again. You spend hours on this blog post and no one reads it? And it’s like, what’s the point of writing it?
If no one reads it, but you love the process of doing it. And then eventually after your 10th or 20th blog post a hundred people read it. It has to excite that a hundred people read your blog posts and even if you don’t earn a single dollar from it, just that process of that little win.
You have to love it. There has to be something that excites you because otherwise it just becomes a job. And we know what happens when it just becomes a job. It just becomes something that you’re not interested in then you’re not going last.
And you may as well have stayed at your nine to five if you’re going to be hating what you do.
We work so much harder on a blog then we ever did on a nine to five. I haven’t met a blogger yet that’s like, you know at five o’clock I just finish.
You usually go to sleep at 1:00 AM and then you wake up at 7:00 AM and you don’t even have breakfast. You go straight back on your laptop.
And it’s 24/7 and more than a full-time job, right?
Yeah. You’re never going to last if you don’t love it. So I think one thing that needs to be said is this really is not for everyone because not everyone can do that. Not everyone wants to do that.
It’s really true what you said there, Brendon because if you just want to create income while you’re traveling, then there are a lot of companies out there that will allow you to work remotely and you could still have a full-time job.
But if you’re the type of person who is into creating a life for yourself and freelancing and being an entrepreneur and being responsible for your own income and schedule and all of these things, then this is for you.
Absolutely. And I do actually meet quite a lot of people who are working remotely full time. It’s becoming more common now.
Actually, it’s pretty cool because there are people like you, Brendon who are entrepreneurs and who do work remotely and hire people. That’s why there are so many more companies like this popping up is because of someone like you who are hiring people to do work for them as well. And it’s really exciting.
You talked about creating income when you first started this lifestyle by saving and then by writing for other companies.
How do you continue to create income today?
How to create income on the road.
Freelancing has fallen out of my schedule now. It’s just something I don’t have time for. I’m fortunate enough that my blog makes a nice income. It still doesn’t make as much as I made as an accountant, but it makes an income that is enough for me to live modestly.
I have a couple of niche websites that make a small income and I’ve been working on another blog at the moment, which is more based around finance and investment, which is something that I’ve still spend a lot of time reading about and staying educated on.
But most of my income comes through my travel blog and my income is mostly made through affiliate marketing, and some advertising.
I have an Ebook for sale on my blog, which sells a few copies every month. But it’s mostly through content marketing based, affiliates, which basically mean that you recommend various products and services on your website and you earn money for the referrals.
Those are generally the three main ways that I make money on my blog. There are a few other little things, but it’s mostly affiliate marketing, advertising, and product sales.
For somebody who wants to start this same lifestyle or something similar as you, it obviously doesn’t make money overnight, it takes a little bit of time to gain the audience and enough click-throughs for you to make affiliate marketing worthwhile. What would be your best advice for someone who is just starting out and wants to do this as well?
What to do when you are just starting out as a blogger.
If they want to go to the blogging route, my advice would be to get started today. I’ve met a lot of people that say, I don’t know what to call my blog and I don’t know how to design it.
Just start it today. You can start writing right now because all that other stuff comes later. When it comes to being a blogger, it’s just about pumping out content, showing the world who you are, building an audience.
All the monetization stuff comes almost naturally later on. Once you’ve got people reading your stuff then the money comes. Thinking about money before you have the audience is kind of like running before you can walk. You can’t monetize an audience if you don’t have an audience.
The first question every single person ask me when I told them that I blogged for a living is- how do I make money with a blog? You’re asking the wrong question. That’s the absolute wrong question. The question should be how do you get people to read your blog?
Cause then once you get people to read your blog, you can start to monetize the audience, but there’s no way you’re making any money yet. No one wants to hear what you have to say.
So I would say start writing today. Write about something that you’re interested in, something that you’re passionate about. Something that you could see yourself writing about for the next 20 years.
Once you go down the blogging rabbit hole, trust me, you’ll figure it out.
And also people will tell you exactly what it is that they want from you. And that’s when you start realizing what types of things you can start monetizing.
Once you figure out how to create an audience, the money will come.
Yeah, absolutely. So always start small. I’ve never met a blogger that makes a living from their blog that started out saying, I’m going to build a blog that’s going to make me a lot of money so I can live off it.
Pretty much every single one was like, I just started blogging and then people started reading my stuff and then I figured out that I could make money from it.
It happens very organically. And I think that’s proof that blogs that are written for the right reasons are the ones that succeed. And building a blog just to make money is never, in my opinion, the right reason to start a blog because you’re just never going to last that long.
I mean, you can work a hundred, two hundred, three hours on your blog and not make a single dollar from it. And that’s quite normal actually.
You should have a lot of passion for it because you won’t make money for a long time. The only thing that’s going to keep you going is your passion and your drive for what it is that you’re doing.
Yep. 100%. If it’s not a labor of love, it’s not gonna last very long. You would make far more money working at KFC than your blog.
Brendan, let’s fast forward to 30 years from now and you’re looking back at your life. What legacy would you like to leave and what do you want to be remembered for?
I would hope that people would say that I was someone who was honest. I was someone who was generous and someone who took chances, someone that wasn’t afraid to do something scary, do something risky.
I remember when I was in Amsterdam last year and I was in this hostel. I just remember lying there one day and I was thinking, man, am I really still like sleeping in a dorm room?
Am I still that guy sleeping in a bunk bed at 32? And I felt okay about it. I’m still having a good time and I’m still enjoying it. But I started thinking, it’s going to get a little bit weird soon. Surely you can’t be 40 and sleeping in a dorm room.
I don’t know how many years I’ve got left of doing this, but I have to be honest, I have been thinking a lot more in the last, say one or two years about, whether I will have a family and what place I will settle down and if I do where I would end up settling down.
But yeah, I’d hope that people would remember me as someone that wasn’t afraid of adventure and someone who spoke honestly and tried to try to stay as, as honest as possible when sharing the nomad life.
Well, you’re definitely doing that now. You’re very adventurous and you’re doing something outside of the box. So it starting Brendan, it’s starting.
If our listeners want to know more about you, where can they find you?
My blog is Brenontheroad.com. That’s B-R-E-N on the road.com. Bren on the road pretty much on every social media – on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.
Thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
No problem. Thank you for having me.
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