I Have A Secret…

I debated whether I should share my secret on this blog.  It’s a brand new blog and it’s supposed to be reflective of my “business” persona.  And then today, while soaking in a bath of epsom salts for the back pain I get from sitting at my desk for 12 hour stretches and carrying my quadriplegic 60 lb son, I realized – how can you separate the two?

So here I am to share my secret.

But I can’t get right to it, can I? Everything has context, and this is a story, and this story, like all stories, has a beginning, middle, and end.

And it starts when I was 25 years old and pregnant with my first child.  At the 34th week of pregnancy, I was told my unborn child had a brain malformation called semi-lobar holopresencephaly, and that the doctor was SO VERY SORRY that it wasn’t discovered in time for me to abort.  He gave my unborn son a 1 in 10 million chance of surviving birth, and 1 in 20 million chance of surviving to be 1 year old.

Today, my son is 10 years old, and is the love of my life, my teacher, my guide, and the absolute most precious gift I’ve ever received.

But getting Nathan to a beautiful, healthy, happy 10 years old wasn’t easy.  The first year especially was riddled with life-threatening surgeries, medical negligence, fear, and an insane amount of stress.  To date, Nathan’s had 5 surgeries, 3-4 near-death experiences, more hospitalizations than I care to count or remember, gazillions of hours of therapy, 3 stem cell treatments, and every single therapy available to a child with cerebral palsy.

At 26 years old I was blessed with the opportunity of guarding and protecting this soul, while he was tasked with the job of teaching me so many lessons, like patience, faith, and to change my perceptions of reality.  But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

While caring for Nathan and in between hospitalizations, doctor visits, and therapies, I was also building my SEO business.  I was lucky enough to be one of the first individuals in the whole entire world to practice SEO, and was gifted with the skills, knowledge, and abilities to know SEO as well as I breathe.  So I nourished my child and I nourished my business and both grew and both demanded a lot from me.  Time, energy, faith, perseverance, and more intense focus than I thought I could ever muster.

Then I got pregnant and had my 2nd child – a gorgeous little girl.  Then I got pregnant again with a bouncing little boy.  Then I bought a 5,000 sq foot fixer upper with 3 acres of land, and in the same month that the house closed, Google Penguin hit and my business collapsed.

And power through it all I did, without pausing, without thought to the possibility of failure.  We renovated the house, cared for Nathan and all his needs, created 2 new businesses, and kept working relentlessly to keep it all afloat.

If you knew me as a child or as a young adult, you might remember me bouncing off the walls.  I was full of energy.  I was a consummate athlete.  I loved to swim, play tennis, play water polo, Rollerblade.  I never learned to be still, and I mastered the art of staying active while engaged with academics.  I consumed books like others do chocolate and read entire 300 word books in days from the time I was about 12 years old.  My college years I juggled a full time job, full time school, and athletics (I played college water polo) and as usual, excelled.

The Gryffin Team in 2013

If you’d told me some years back that I’d develop “Chronic Fatigue” I would’ve laughed in your face and believed it to be completely impossible.  It was the one thing I excelled at – having energy.  There’s no way that could become my illness.  But develop chronic fatigue I did, and such a debilitating form of it that there were days that getting out of bed was simply beyond my means.

So what does all this have to do with my secret? And most importantly, what does this have to do with business? This is a resume blog, isn’t it? Why are you talking about your health? Your kids?

We will get there, dear friends, but not today.  Because now I have to take it easy, and take a little break.  I’ll come back soon and tell you more of this story I’ve started.

 

My Journey to Becoming a “Remoter”

I have the unusual situation of being able to live anywhere in the world.

It wasn’t easy to become a “Remoter” – it took planning, preparation, and vision.

In this article, I’ll share the steps I took to gain the flexibility of living anywhere in the world, and my experience after living 2 years in Colombia with my family.

Preparing to Become a Remoter

The first step was having the vision to live anywhere in the world.  Everything starts with “intention”, and believe it or not, the first and most important step was knowing that this was the direction I wanted to move in.

It started with a vision board.  The vision board made it clear that it was time to move in a different direction, one with more ocean, time for family, and spirituality.  And yes, money and success as well.

Moving to the Clouds

A year before we considered sending everyone to work remotely, we started using cloud apps.  We started using a combination of these tools:

  1. Google Apps for Business: All of our company emails are hosted on Google Apps for Business
  2. Google Drive: All of our docs are hosted on the cloud.  This gives us incredible flexibility for collaboration on documents
  3. Dropbox:  All images, infographics, AI files, and any other files that are not text docs or spreadsheets are hosted on a company dropbox account
  4. Trello: Before creating our own in-house project management team, we used Trello boards to manage pending projects
  5. MindMeister: This was used to brainstorm projects, manage workflows, and create new processes and procedures
  6. Visual.ly: Fabulous tool to create visuals and brainstorm layouts of landing pages, etc
  7. Podio: Combined with Trello, Podio allowed us to track the process of content marketing, recruiting, client management, and more
  8. Streak: This Chrome extension for Gmail was fundamental in helping to organize our inbox for outreach processes before we created our own in-house blogger outreach app
  9. Skype: Skype is used for communication between individuals and teams.  We have group skype chats for when we need to communicate as a team, and use Skype screen shares for training purposes.
  10. Quickbooks Online: Enables collaboration between us and our US based accountants

These tools formed the foundation of a cloud collaboration system that enabled all of our team members to work effectively from home.

Managing the Details

Next we had to address those pesky physical things such as mail, checks, and other tasks that required a physical presence.  We opened a PO Box nearby, and changed all of our business and personal mail to be sent there.  We then hired a trusted family member to go to the mail box every week, deposit any checks that came in, and scan and email a copy of all of the mail received.

Next, we rented out our home and moved everything to storage, identifying only the essentials – in the end, these turned out to be only clothes and electronics.  All we took with us when we moved abroad where our computers, TV’s, and clothes.  The rest turned out not to be necessary.

Communications

Moving overseas required a few different stages in terms of phones and communication.  We set up a local Vonage line with a Los Angeles number that we could take with us wherever we lived.  Then, we set up an account with TollFreeForwarding, a former client of ours, to redirect our company and any other local phones to the Vonage line.

Next, we switched our cell phones to MetroPCS, who has good international calling plans that are relatively inexpensive.  For $60/month, we get unlimited data, calls, and 200 international minutes every month – more than enough.  When calls come in to our cell phones, we normally let people know that we’ll call back shortly, which we do from the Vonage line.

Finally, when we actually moved to South America, we purchased a 2nd phone to use locally, while keeping the international cell phone.  It’s irritating to carry around 2 phones, but essential to be able to have a local SIM card while receiving calls from our U.S. based clients.

Moving Abroad

Our first destination was Colombia.  We moved to Cartagena, where we enrolled the kids in a local, bilingual private school.  They didn’t understand a single word of Spanish, so their first 3 months were hard.  Not surprisingly, within 3 months they were able to understand Spanish, and within 6 months they were fluent in Spanish.  Our youngest son lost the ability to speak English at this point, although he understood it perfectly.  It’s taken 2 years for him to regain both languages.  Our oldest daughter, 4 at the time that we moved, was fully bilingual and able to switch from English to Spanish and back within 6 months.

I have to admit we made a lot of rookie mistakes during this first move.  The first was renting an unfurnished place, requiring us to buy all the furniture, appliances, and household items.  It wasn’t long until we realized that we could’ve easily rented a furnished place and saved considerably in terms of time, and stress.

Establishing an Office Abroad

Hiring people to work with us was also difficult, as you have to build a network of trust.  It took a good year until we had a strong, trusted staff to work with.  We got lucky because we were able to hire someone that we knew to help us set up and manage the office.  She helped facilitate so much of the process, from helping to find a local accountant, to dealing with the local banks, and more.  I believe this is the single most important step – hiring a local to help “ease” you into the culture and navigate the pesky nuances.

Living and Working in Colombia

We are 2 years into our first “Remoters” experience in Cartagena, Colombia.  We have built a strong, trusted team of designers, programmers, and project managers in Colombia – all working from home.  Our children have learned to speak Spanish, dance salsa, and have been deeply changed by experiencing a different culture and way of life. Both my husband and I have improved our health and fitness considerably, as the cost of these in Colombia is considerably less.  I lost 20 lbs in my first year and established strong eating and exercise habits.  And we have been able to slow down a little and enjoy a slower, more social, less hectic way of life.  All in all, incredible gains for just 2 years abroad.

The company has grown again, going from a small team to having a staff of over 20 people located in 3 different countries.  Removing the overhead of a local office has also helped to streamline costs and give us more latitude for growth.

What’s Next?

A wanderluster at heart, I’m starting to wonder…what’s next? Stay? Go? Where? We have built a life in Colombia, with a network of people that we absolutely love.  But Cartagena is a tiny city with even tinier opportunities.  At some point it’ll be inevitable for that question to become impossible to ignore.  Back to LA? Over to Europe? We’ll be more skilled the next time around, more “lean”, with a few more notches under our belt.  Who knows??!

 

New Year, New You

I’ve been busy the last decade.

I’ve had 3 kids, one who wasn’t supposed to survive.  The little ones are 5 and 6, only 16 months apart.

I’ve started several businesses, and am hatching several more.  I’ve moved to South America to establish an office and now back to Los Angeles. And between all of that, I’ve managed dozens of employees and clients, started speaking at conferences, and have traveled all over the world for meetings and conferences.

And the one thing that never happened was writing.  It was always last on the list of priorities, the one thing that indelibly got pushed back.

Writing for other blogs, writing for my own company website, writing on my own blog, writing a book, writing a journal.  It simply never happened.

And this year, as part of my New Year New You resolutions, I would like to embark on a journey of writing.  Whether I write about business, about life, about health, about parenting, or special needs – I’d like to write.

Perhaps in this long journey I’ve picked up a few things that I can share with you.

So here I go.  This is the first of hopefully many posts that I’ll be sharing with you.  Hello!