by Scott Summers
When I struck out on my own as a freelance writer, I knew that the long hours trapped behind a computer came with the territory.
This career path was a hard transition away from my previous roles in tech and sales, which required lengthy commutes and long hours for the sake of shareholder profits. The freedom that comes with being your own boss and working for yourself is one of the big motivators for a lot of entrepreneurs — but our mileage often varies after we hang up our corporate lanyard and ride off into the sunset.
It took me a while to realize that my trajectory as a freelancer and small business owner was actually pretty common. About 70% of entrepreneurs in the US start their business at home (check), one-third started with less than $5,000 (check), and 65% weren’t fully confident they had enough money to start (check).
When I started taking on clients, I came across startups who had hit the ground running with a big loan, an office/coworking space, or a small and scrappy team — but I never met another solopreneur who followed a traditional path to self-employment until I met Katie Solove.
A brand built on accidental mileage
Katie is the founder and sole operator of Live Run Travel (LRT), a tour company which specializes in customized vacation tours for runners.
A self-described digital nomad, Katie left an eight-year career in broadcast journalism after a rough couple of years as a local news anchor. Between the demanding schedule and the always-on mentality, she found herself looking for more opportunities to pursue the things she enjoyed off the clock.
“I had to be at work at 4 AM,” Katie said, “but that’s not the schedule that I hated. I hated having to work holidays and having only 10 vacation days per year. I wanted to travel more, and I was constantly trying to manipulate vacation days to go where I wanted to go.”
But when Katie left her broadcast career behind, she didn’t strike out boldly on her own with the dream to scratch out a niche in travel and tourism. She left with the intention to become a travel blogger as a means of funding her adventures throughout Europe. While searching for unique blogging angles, she hit upon something that resonated deeply with her.
“I thought, ‘What could I really write about?’” she explained. “I really love traveling to different marathons and races.”
It was a unique type of content that she didn’t see on any other blogs, something Katie thought she could use to establish her own niche.
A visit to TravelCon changed all of that. There, Katie attended a talk by Wandering Earl, a solo entrepreneur who successfully turned his travel blog into a small group tour service. She’d been living in Europe at this point and had successfully attended a half-dozen races throughout the continent, and she’d learned something very important along the way: She had no desire to be a travel blogger.
“He [Earl] was saying, ‘If you have a following, listen to what people are saying,’ and Instagram was going really well for me at the time,” Katie said. “I was getting lots of messages from people saying that the races looked fun or asking for my next itinerary. So I started to wonder if I could get people to go to races with me.”
Since that conference, Katie has made strides in the travel community and worked to build her brand around a niche in active travel. She ran her first successful group tour to the Lisbon Half Marathon this spring and has hosted a number of successful events since then.
Still figuring it out
By the numbers, Katie’s switch to a tour-based business model is one of the smartest business maneuvers she could have made. With an estimated 4.4 million blog posts published each day, you can’t grow a brand without a few unique elements or you’ll just get lost in all the noise.
On top of that, writing and blogging get competitive and the number of freelancers in the economy already booming. From Uber drivers to bloggers and beyond, nearly 36% of US workers currently participate in the gig economy. Had Katie decided to run her blog or generate content as a writer while growing her brand, it would have been an uphill battle.
For Katie, building a niche in the travel space hasn’t been the hard part. LRT has been well-received by the travel community, and several digital nomads and travel brands have helped to push her in the right direction.
Like many entrepreneurs (myself included) Katie’s foray into the small business world hasn’t been a walk in the park. She’s spent hours and weeks trying to figure out creative solutions to unique challenges. Since every business is different, there is no roadmap. The map is built piece by piece.
However, Katie said she couldn’t have done it any other way. If she hadn’t started with the ideas about a blog, she wouldn’t have gained a following or got those people to sign up for her trips. Katie points out that if those components had never come together, her inroads in the travel community may not have led her to the opportunities she’s seen thus far.
It hasn’t been easy. Despite Katie’s far-flung trajectory toward entrepreneurial success, she’s still learning to adapt to the challenges and struggles that come with being your own boss.
“I think my biggest stumbling block is time management, especially coming from working in news with tight deadlines,” Katie told me. “I’ve learned that I’m someone who does survive on routine. I wanted to get away from that when I left and live with more freedom, but after trying that, I realized that I need more of a regimented schedule to stay on track.”
Like many small business owners, Katie finds fulfillment in scheduling her own time — as long as she’s the one who dictates how that time is spent. This is a challenge that many entrepreneurs struggle with, down to the number of hours worked and the overwhelming challenges that business owners sometimes often experience.
Katie has also found a challenge in defining her business in her space and ensuring that potential customers understand that she’s not selling elite running trips or trainer courses.
Like many entrepreneurs, Katie’s business experience is limited. She’s learning on the fly about everything from digital marketing all the way to cash flow management — and she’s doing it while living out of a suitcase.
In a broad sense, Katie and I have a lot in common. We’re both runners, and we both got into it in our early-to-mid twenties. We’re both small business owners operating in remote environments. We’re both one of the estimated 8.7 million non-military American citizens living abroad, and we both left jobs we were unhappy with for greener pastures.
One of the reasons that I find her story so interesting is that I got my start as a travel writer before switching to business and copywriting. Had I attended a travel conference and worked to monetize a social media following, it’s not impossible to imagine myself in a line of work similar to hers.
But, in the end, we pivoted in different directions. For Katie, the turn away from blogging and writing was an essential step to finding and sharing her passion with the world.
“I think that running and travel and new experiences and really pushing yourself kind of go hand in hand, in a way,” she said. “Just being able to help other people experience that and being there when they cross the finish line is all I want to do.”
But my passion has always been about stories and about people overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of something greater than themselves. As a writer, an offramp was never in the cards. I just had to lean into it and hope for the best.