3 Business Lessons You Can Use
from a Globetrotting Entrepreneur

Image of Vintage Map of Thailand

When we last traveled together, we learned a few things about business from Mongol warriors, Belgian chefs, and postmasters in Antarctica.

You picked up a few valuable “souvenirs” for your website — like properly welcoming your customers, managing expectations, and limiting your expertise.

On today’s tour, we’ll be visiting Thai food markets, Chinese dumpling shops, and ancient Peruvian ruins to learn three important business lessons.

For those of you new to our tour, my name is Betsy Talbot, and in 2010 my husband Warren and I left the US for an open-ended trip around the world. As we’ve simultaneously traveled and managed our business these past two years, we’ve learned entrepreneurial skills and tactics from some very unlikely sources. Today we’re sharing a few more of those with you.

Slather on your sunscreen and put on your hats, because today’s three destinations (and lessons) are sunny, useful, and bright.

Let’s get started …

1. Start. Right now.

The markets in Thailand are bustling every single night with pedestrians and motorbikes jamming the roadway. Locals and tourists alike flock to their neighborhood markets for a selection of delicious Thai foods, from spicy curries and soups to noodles and stir-fried dishes.

These food vendors all start with a burner, a wok, and some fresh ingredients. Not every cook even has a cart, some start with just a small grill and a stool to sell roasted corn or kebabs. Others have expanded to have small tables and chairs next to their carts for the steady stream of business they’ve amassed over the years. Yet others strap their carts to a motorbike and travel around to the bars at night, to serve people who need to soak up the alcohol they’ve consumed with some good food.

These entrepreneurs simply get started, using the basic ingredients to run a business and then adjust as they go, working into new markets or adding specialties as the need arises.

Too often we get caught up in making our business “perfect” before we announce it to the world, working out every possible scenario or problem so we can be prepared when it happens. Most entrepreneurs will agree that business looks a lot different 1, 2 or 3 years in than it did in the planning stages. Trying to think everything through before you start is simply wasted energy.

Overthinking is a death blow to action, and action is what drives revenue.

Done is better than perfect.

An expertly-prepared jungle curry soup from a simple food cart in a market can start the revenue and customer base to eventually open up a full-blown Asian restaurant.

  • Projects require deadlines. If you aren’t pushing yourself to launch by a certain date, you definitely won’t.
  • Avoid scope creep. If your project continues to grow, you are never going to finish. Treat your project like professionals do and finish what you started. The ideas that blossom along the way should go into a list of options to add later … when you have a finished product on your hands.
  • Alter your mindset. Instead of thinking of all the reasons you can’t start now, flip the argument and list all the reasons you should start now. When you change your perspective, you change your motivation to get things done.

Case Study: Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live recently talked with Alec Baldwin on his Here’s the Thing podcast. He says being “ready” is a state of mind, one you can condition yourself to overcome with regular deadlines. “I say it every week, we don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”

2. Develop a catalog

When you think of Peru, the first thing to pop in your mind is probably Machu Picchu. In the 100 years since its (re)discovery, it has become one of the most popular destinations in South America, topping the bucket lists of people all over the world.

Visitors expect a magnificent experience, a spiritual connection, and a sense of being in a sacred historical space. What visitors don’t always expect are the 5000 other visitors in their hiking boots and zip-off pants looking for the exact same thing.

Peru has another grand historical highlight: a pre-Incan fortress in the north called Kuelap, only recently rediscovered in the 1980s. It is an enormous site, soaring high above the surrounding valleys with a bird’s eye view. The building style is ingenious, with a gate that gradually narrows to fit only a single person — making defense of an attack almost child’s play.

The government of Peru is working hard to excavate the rest of this site and encourage tourism. There are currently about 50 visitors per day, and these lucky souls get to watch an active excavation as well as practically have the site to themselves to explore.

It does not rival Machu Picchu in visits or revenue yet, but in time it will. The tourism department of Peru knows they will attract more tourists and generate more revenue per tourist if they have other magnificent ancient sites to offer adventurous travelers, so they are hard at work making it happen.

Your product or service may be as awe-inspiring as Machu Picchu, but if it is your only offer, you will only get one sale per customer. A happy customer has nothing else to buy from you, even if they are standing there with credit card in hand. When you have a few offerings relating to your core specialty, that thing you rock like no one else, customers have more options to work with you, further cementing your relationship and building your revenue.

  • Use questions and suggestions from buyers of your main product to create supporting products and services. Fill the knowledge or service gaps pointed out by your audience.
  • Mine your blog content for ideas on new products and services. Dig through your blog archives to find posts with the most traffic or greatest number of comments. Expand on the topic in a new product or service using the article as a launch pad.
  • Interview your best customers to find out how you can serve them better within your specialty. Listen closely to the language they use and develop products and services using that language.

Case Study: Speaker and publicist Nancy Juetten of Main Street Media Savvy took her premium service of helping local businesses gain more press for themselves and spawned classes, webinars, ebooks, and teleseminars for those who wanted a less-expensive, DIY solution. She’s exploded her business by giving a wider range of potential customers more ways to do business with her.

3. Get personal

Jinghong, China is at the southern end of the country on the Mekong River, just up the road from Laos. While not a major city by Chinese standards, it still boasts a population of about half a million people.

We were traveling with a new Chinese friend, and after a day of sightseeing we asked if we could find a dumpling shop for a snack. He scouted out a little hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall where a woman was busily making fresh dumplings at a large table.

She seemed very excited to see us, and we thought it was because we were the only customers. Turns out, she had just opened her restaurant and thought it lucky for her new business to have international travelers arrive in the first week. (There are not very many Western tourists in China in general, and especially in these more rural regions like Jinghong.)

She invited us, through our friend’s translation, to come back for a special dinner that evening after closing with her and her grown son.

We returned and enjoyed a long evening of drinking rice wine — the homebrew version from her personal stash, not the store-bought version we brought as a gift — trying new foods, and sharing life stories and plenty of laughter. We told her how to attract more foreign travelers to her shop — namely by putting up a sign in English that said “Dumpling Shop.” She taught us how to properly toast in China.

We ate hundreds of meals during our months in China, but her little dumpling shop still stands out as our favorite. We’ve recommended The Northeast Fat Mother Dumpling Shop to every traveler we meet going to southern China. (And yes, that’s the real name!)

When you keep yourself hidden behind your website, never revealing exactly who you are or more than what someone could find on a resume, people have a hard time connecting. We all prefer to do business with people we know, like, and trust. Even when you can’t personally get to know them all, you can let your customers get to know a little bit more about you.

  • Share a candid snapshot of yourself or your team on your About page, one with some personality or showing you participating in an activity you like.
  • Reveal something personal and totally unrelated on your About page, like a hobby or an unexpected interest.
  • Drop regular hints of your personality in your blog posts and website copy. People like knowing these idiosyncrasies  about the person behind the site. It’s like finding out your favorite author hates broccoli just like you do. It’s another point of bonding between strangers.

Case Study: Peter Shankman, founder of HARO, is mad about skydiving, NASA, and cats. His business is in PR and networking, but he regularly drops info about his big loves in his blog, Facebook updates, and Twitter. You feel like you know Peter even if you’ve never met him, which gives him an edge over other thought leaders who just spout wisdom.

Taking your lessons home

This concludes today’s tour. Your “souvenirs” include:

  • A “Just Get Started” button from the apron of the Thai food cart vendor
  • A postcard from Macchu Picchu to remind you to develop a back catalog of products or services for the hordes of visitors who will come to your site later
  • A bottle of homemade rice wine from Fat Mother to remind you to loosen up and get personal with your customers

Now that you’re back at home (or back at your homepage), I hope you’ll just get started on a catalog of new products and sell them with a little personal twist. It’s the international way of doing things, and more important, it is the more profitable way of doing things.

Stay tuned for our next tour, where we’ll visit remote but colorful Siberia, Irish pubs outside of Ireland, and landlords in Denmark.

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Reader Comments (48)

  1. says

    You are absolutely right about the Peru. There are many new sites where you can see excavation and they indeed feel better than going to Machu Picchu. They are building on their strength and so should we as bloggers.

    • says

      Hi, Rohit. How great it is for Peru that they have an abundance of historical sites! But it took some excavation and looking to find them all, and I think it works the same way in our own businesses. We have to dig a little to uncover the good stuff.

      • says

        Betsy, a good place is to start looking at the google analytic data and what google ranks you for. That is free keyword research for you. Those are queries your readers have and google is directing them to you. Once I see a pattern, I try to write a post on it or invite an expert to write on it for my site

        • says

          Excellent advice, Rohit. It’s also useful to do keyword research when titling your posts to make sure you’re using the language your potential readers are searching for.

  2. says

    Hey Betsy,

    Awesome stuff. After your last post, I made a “A Guide to Newcomers” page on my site. I get lots of email sign ups from that page. And I like your idea about “Just Get Started”. It took me a year after quitting my job, but I finally launched last week!! Not only did it go well, but I got a steady stream of feedback from my list that I otherwise would have never gotten.

    Brian, Sonia, Jon, make sure Betsy keeps this series going. Thanks.

    • says

      Ed, I love hearing success stories! The Newcomers page has been one of the best things we’ve ever done for our business. It helps people understand what we can offer very quickly and it gives them a peek at the breadth of our work, which is hard to do if someone only sees the few latest blogs posts on your home page. Good luck on your new venture! (And thanks for the plug to the Copyblogger team, Ed and Les :)

  3. says

    What a great analogy, Betsy!

    This really touched on a nerve for me…I sometimes hold myself back (okay, a lot of the time) because I want for my blog/website to be perfect, “It’s needs to much work” I tell myself and then it keeps me from posting.

    What I NEED to do is just hop to it, redecorate, make it something I love, someplace that someone would want to visit. I will fix up my living room for company, but not my website? That’s bonkers, isn’t it?

      • says

        Thank you so much!

        (I should have included the caveat though, I was referring to my personal interior design site, http://www.thedesignjunkie.com)…I agree that Freshtight looks great. It is run by an absolutely fantastic Graphic Design Team…but thank you so much for checking it out, that was awfully nice of you!

    • says

      Christy, perfectionism is the death blow to success, isn’t it? I keep relearning this lesson myself in a hundred different ways. In fact, I consider myself very fortunate to have a business partner/husband who does not have this same affliction because he can tell me when a book is really done. If not, I’d still be rewriting the first one. It’s a tough lesson, but if you can give yourself those deadlines and stick to them you’ll learn to live with “almost perfect” – and a lot more company in your “house.”

      • says

        It so is, Betsy!

        Here it is, hours later and I am still thinking about this post. Thank you for providing me with a nice, swift kick in my ass, which I desperately needed.

        PS-Thank you also for the free E-book. I plan to start it soon. I am excited to read more of your work! :)

  4. says

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It was like floating down a stream, meandering from one point to the next.

    Thanks for the lesson

  5. says

    “Alter your mindset”
    It is so easy to put off from today what might be done tomorrow (to coin a phrase). It is so important to change one’s mindset and i really appreciate the timely reminder.
    Thanks for the insight and please keep travelling and sharing insights,

    • says

      Hi, Nigel. Over the last few years my life and business has been greatly impacted by altering my mindset in key areas. It’s a nifty little skill to develop, and I highly recommend it.

  6. says

    Hey Betsy,

    I’m jealous while excited for you and your husband. Great adventures provide great insight to share with others and that is exactly how your post touched me. Thanks for traveling and sharing.
    Only the Best,

    • says

      Les, my favorite thing about long-term travel is what it teaches me about my life. The internal journey is just as incredible as the external journey, and we get to meet really interesting people along the way. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. We have another post coming up soon!

  7. says

    I’ve been reminded of some very important things today…

    How often we focus on getting everything perfect before taking off. But do we really want a business that won’t get better? If our businesses will get better then it can’t start out perfect. Thanks for that reminder that getting it done is better than making it perfect. Perfection should be something we consistently reach out for NOT something that holds us back.

    Getting personal doesn’t come naturally to someone like me. I’ve just added my picture to my new site. I have always liked to be anonymous but I am learning that people prefer to see a face.

    • says

      Chiimezirim, you make an excellent point – if we want our businesses to get better, then they can’t be perfect at the start. I love that!

      Glad to hear you are getting more personal with your audience. No one wants to do business with an anonymous person.

  8. says

    Great post! I especially love this quote: “. . . we don’t go on because we’re ready, we go on because it’s 11:30.”

    And I believe it’s showtime! So I’m going to get started.

  9. says

    “Done is better than perfect” is some of the best advice you’ll ever come across. I’ve tried to live by that motto ever since I read “Ready, Fire, Aim” about 4 years ago (that book is written by Michael Masterton, for anyone who wants to check it out).

  10. says

    Betsy many thanks for suggesting a new perspective for your readers. I find it is so easy to stay with what I know works, but difficult to consider other ideas I’ve never tried.

    Loved the analogy — keep up your good work and enjoy your travels!!

    Paula Leslie
    Essential Life Strategies

    • says

      Hi, Paula. It is hard to break out of your comfort zone, but if you bump out the boundaries a little bit every day pretty soon you’ll have a much bigger area to live and work in. In my life, frequent change is the comfort zone, and I find sticking to one way or place the thing that makes me grumpy. :)

  11. says

    I tell myself that if i wait for the perfect time, i won’t get it done. There’s nothing wrong in small beginnings. The only problem will be when you remain there. I’m in my second year in college and i started my blog with a subdomain and a poor design and gradually i began to make changes and finally i got myself a domain name yesterday and it’s getting better everyday.

    • says

      Hi, Ologundudu. That should be tattooed on everyone’s forehead: “There’s nothing wrong in small beginnings.” It’s the beginning that is so hard for most people, mainly because they envision the final polished product instead of the gradual work that needs to be done first to eventually get there.

  12. says

    That was very cleverly written and educational at the same time. I suffer from the same mindset of being a “perfectionist” and not taking action fast enough.

    • says

      Hi, Griffin. My favorite business advice is to “fail fast,” meaning you try things often and discard what doesn’t work. It means you’ll naturally make more mistakes, but you’ll also land on the winning ideas faster. Good luck beating those “perfectionist” demons!

  13. says

    Very timely as I begin the challenge to write an eBook in 30 days. Plus post, play, plan this winter’s journey to Central America and continue to improve my website. Setting a deadline works for me.

  14. says

    Gaelyn, I’m doing the same challenge right now with an ebook. Deadlines are the key, but only if you stick to them. Enjoy your travels to Central America this winter!

  15. Ana says

    Hi Betsy, I just happened onto your post and I fully understand the need to just get started. What’s hampering me from just launching, however, is the need to at least have it basically right. Yes, of course I’m a perfectionist but imho that label’s getting kind of old. I happen to be in a profession where perfectionism is naturally expected by the clientele: I’m an editor. My job is to fix documents to make them as close to perfect as possible. So some things do have to be right from the start.

    If my new website isn’t at least minimally professional in design, I will not be taken seriously. Trouble is, I’m a word person who simply doesn’t know how to design, and I can’t afford to hire help. I’d love to learn, but I can’t pay to learn. So I plug along, trying to figure out things like themes, banners and logos by myself.

    The second challenge is that I don’t have enough testimonials. I do have a few, but I have to make sure they’re carefully embedded into the copy of my Home and About pages so it won’t be immediately apparent how few they are. I know I always want to do business with established professionals and it’s natural that others do, too. That means enough evidence of past satisfied customers.

    Then there are the other tech skills I don’t quite have down yet that could possibly affect my performance on assignments.I have the requisite editing expertise from many years of direct experience. But many of my younger competitors honed advanced computer and tech acumen in school or early jobs, skills now expected in newspapers and other publications that literally didn’t exist when I was getting started. Even as a freelancer in that respect I’m playing catch-up.

    So sometimes it’s not just perfectionism. In certain realms, you do have to get it right at the starting gate or you will not get customers.

    • says


      While I agree that you need to get some things right, you’re making excuses, and I’ll prove it to you. I’ve been looking for an editor to help me with my content. I really don’t care if your website looks like crap or that you don’t have tech skills. Click on my name above and leave me your website on my contact page.

      • says

        I’m with Ed, here. (And I’m kinda digging your style, Ed. Way to go in supporting other entrepreneurs!) As someone who hires editors on a regular basis, you’re putting a lot out there that I’m not looking for. I don’t care about banner ads and design from an editor, and I think most of my author friends would agree. I care about good content and knowing what kind of editor you are and what kind of projects you like. It’s way more important to me to find someone I can work with and who understands my vision for the project than liking their website colors or design ability.

  16. says

    great post! that’s true about the motorbikes in Thailand, when I was there that really stood out in my mind seeing 30 people in a cluster on bikes driving around….very interesting post!

  17. says


    Discount not small beginnings.

    Just start and move towards a defined goal and don’t worry about what others think. I have found with blogging that people are pretty forgiving, even of typos and grammatical faux pas. I love that I can write in my own voice without much concern for the rules I learned in school.

    As for design…. I get it. I’m a little snobbish myself, but truth be told the sites I frequent have my loyalty for the value they deliver through great content not because of their design appeal. Of course if you can’t get past that one, there are so many free online applications with incredible free tutorials via a simple google search that without any money and with a little extra effort you could come up with something appealing in no time.

    In closing I would say – quit making excuses for your age, lack of money, counterparts, perfectionism and cut a new path for yourself in this incredible toy box none as personal blogging.

    Only the Best,

  18. Ana says

    Les, Ed and Betsy, I hear you all.

    As I said to Ed on his contact page, I’m not looking for beauty. I’m not looking for fancy design. I’m not into the perfect banner. Or the perfect anything. Just a banner. I have yet to see a website without one. As for a logo, that’s your brand. I want to make a simple one that says visually what I do. My content says the rest, and that’s been finished for weeks.

    I’ve been on it every day. Every day since I bought my domain name in late September, with a day or so off for the hurricane, I’ve been trying to figure it out. There are no excuses. I work every day. But a beginner will take longer.

    As for perfectionism in my field itself, as I also mentioned to Ed, an occasional gaffe won’t put anyone off your site. It doesn’t put me off. I’m not anal, I look to be inspired. I wouldn’t dream of leaving Copyblogger or any of my favorite blogs and not one could be called “perfect.” I intend to have a blog myself that’s not for editing. But it will sell other things.

    And a few more gaffes, a few more misspellings, misused words, sentences that may not express the thought you intended … just might make a potential client or customer question your credibility. That’s what an editor is for. I’m not perfect. No one is. But our job is to make your words sound as professional as you are.

    My editing site, when it’s up, will be basic. That’s ok. But it’s my advertisement. It has to be professional enough to compete with others.

    Everyone’s thoughts were, as I said, inspiring, as is Betsy’s post. I also assume it’s ok to qualify things when it’s called for. We hear a lot today about perfectionism, especially among women. Isn’t there a middle ground between genuine perfectionism that makes you hold yourself back and jumping into something before it’s ready which is also non-productive? I believe there is.

  19. Kevin says

    I enjoyed the post. It really makes me want to travel the world. I can’t imagine what lessons I might be able to learn.

    Just get started is something that I have been living by in my online business. My website is up but far from finished. My free report is far from perfect. But they are out there. Which has been pretty cool.

    Now I need to figure out what cool places I want to go…

  20. says

    Very timely as I begin the challenge to write an eBook in 30 days. Plus post, play, plan this winter’s journey to Central America and continue to improve my website. Setting a deadline works for me.

  21. says

    Action brings results and revenue. Action also brings feedbacks. If we never do anything, we’ll never knows what the market wants, we’ll never know if we are on the right track. Have a general plan, take action and make adjustments along the way. There is no perfect plan.

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