7.13.2016

Seven Tips on Working from Saint Martin - Sint Maarten

You might recall that back in March, I worked for a couple weeks from Marseille. Well, another Home Exchange came up that I couldn't resist - and it was in Saint Martin.
First look at Orient Beach. Please note, I'm carrying a baguette, grocery bag of rosé and a bag of chargers.
I had just finished the biggest month of my growing business. Now was both a great time for a mini-break to take stock of where I was, where I was going, and what changes I needed to make for the second half of the year. All while still managing my workload and ensuring I was accessible to my clients.

As I prepare to depart island life, here are the things that really helped make this week a success - and the things I would do differently.

1. Scale You.
One of the reasons I was able to do this was because I have really found an amazing tribe of talented, business-savvy women to work with me. Before I left, I met with each of them and we talked through the client needs for the week, when they would be there in person or on the phone (because I would be mid-air), and being my back-up. I can not overstate how wonderful it is when you are starting a business to have someone that you trust to do great work and to make sure your clients remain happy if you are not there in person.

This does not mean you walk away for a week, lay on beaches drinking rum drinks and letting the business happen. When you are starting your own business, you are never off. Use your talent to scale you. Determine when you need to be present. And, be there for them when they have questions.

2. Proximity Matters
Where you are staying plays a big role in crafting your work day. The Home Exchange that I had was just a few blocks from Orient Beach. This meant that I could get up early, work in the morning and then go have breakfast and reply to morning emails from the beach. At lunch - I needed a sun break anyway - I would come in and get more work done. Once the mid-day rush was done, I would return to the beach through sunset and then handle anything else that had arisen in the day.
Closest beach chair to my house.
3. Plan Ahead for Calls
Let me assure you that you think you can take that conference call from the beach - you should not take that call from the beach. There are so many factors that can go wrong, from wind, to loud people, to just a bad connection. If you have a scheduled client call, plan to take it from your house. (Trust me, I made this mistake for you.)

Depending where you are on the island, a wifi-connected Skype or Google Hangout may work better than a phone call. Learn your surroundings and what works best - before your client call.

That said, sometimes you can't plan ahead. My friends were shocked when I got a 9pm call and took it. Business comes fast and when you are the principal, that means taking an emergency call from a Jeep whizzing across the island after dinner. I communicated quickly that I was in a bad location, but would be back home shortly and could respond to the need.

4. Pack Sunscreen and Bug Spray
This doesn't seem like business advice, but packing sunscreen and bug spray means that if you find a great spot to work from outside, that mosquitos or sunburn won't mess up your day. Sometimes sitting by a beach and letting your mind wander is a great way to come up with inspiration for your clients or new business. Don't cut that short because you didn't plan.

5. Double Down on Chargers
Island wifi and data is rough on the phone battery. I found that even a fully charged phone drained multiple times a day if I was working. I was constantly keeping backup chargers plugged in and in my bag. You can never run out of battery. That means business is at a full stop. Charge. Charge. Charge.

6. Activate Your International Data Plan
If you think you can come to Saint Martin and work with wifi alone, think again. It will save you money, for sure, but you will be limited to working wifi at home and at bars. And, let's face it, bars are probably not the best place to do business.

I was just there for five days, so I didn't settle into daily life and office hours the way I did in France. But, this still worked really well. I managed to get in a little rest and relaxation, explored a beautiful island - and stayed on top of business. Don't be afraid to try it. It just takes planning and discipline.

7. Find the Best Spots for Wifi in Saint Martin (or Your Island)
These spots will become your anchors when you are away from home base. In Saint Martin, I stayed in Orient Bay. My favorite wifi spot was CoCo Beach, which had great breakfast, friendly service, a beautiful view, and wifi that reached the beach chairs.

Watching planes land from Sunset Bar & Grill is kind of a rite of passage on this island. The bonus - the wifi password is posted behind the bar and is strong enough to support everything from you checking email to a livestream of the planes landing.
Me broadcasting a Facebook Live of the plane landing. 
TasteVin in Grand Case saved me from being the one to ask by clearly placing their wifi password on their menu. The benefit for them - lots of people post views of the stunning view along with their delicious meals. I had the gazapacho, sea bass and a great bottle of Provence rosé that our server recommended. All while being there in case my team or my clients needed me.

I don't have much desire to be a full-time digital nomad. I'm building a business and a life in the States that I love.  But, it is so nice that as I break away from a traditional 9-to-5 job environment, that I can still find ways to make an escape affordable and compatible with my business needs.

I've got Home Exchange offers in my mailbox for Italy, Iceland, Croatia - and more locally in Asheville, NC and Captiva Island. Maybe if I keep growing the business, I'll be able to make one of those happen by the end of 2016 or early 2017!

Let me know if you have any questions - in the comments below or on Twitter at @tammy.

5.12.2016

Budget Friendly Workout: Couch to 5k

When I decided to start my own business, I knew that would mean cutting back on expensive workout obsessions like SoulCycle and pilates. But, I couldn't just be dormant. After all, making a change to my health was part of the reason I was stepping away from the rat race.

A chance email from the Fit Foodie Run team asking me to be a race ambassador for their May 20th event in Fairfax was just the boost I needed. I downloaded my trusty Couch to 5k app, which helps you get from walking and getting winded to race day in 27 runs.

I love that the app integrates my music and allows me to track my progress. When I make a personal best, I cheer inside (and maybe some on the outside.)

I'm pretty sure I won't come in first place, but training for the Fit Foodie Run has definitely helped keep me motivated and on goal.

Want to join me? Register for the run and use "GIRLINDC" to get a discount. See you there!

Follow me on Snapchat at 'floridagirlindc' to cheer me on on my runs - and Snap me your training photos so that I can motivate you right back!

4.10.2016

My Spring DC Restaurant To Do List - #BestofDC Edition

I just returned from France - and am not even finished with blog posts from that trip! But, when I got back to Washington, the City Paper's Best of 2016 had been released, and with it, a whole new raft of places that I haven't tried yet surfaced.

Coincidentally, I need to catch up with so many friends. Which ones should we hit first?

Washington City Paper Best of 2016 Reader Awards:
Best Asian Restaurant: Thip Kao
Best Latin American: Cuba de Ayer
Best New Bar: The Pub & The People
Best Wine Bar: The Pursuit

And, because I don't trust the word of the people, here's what the Washington City Paper staff (helmed by Jessica Sidman, who I trust) said:

Best Brunch: Duke's Grocery (HOW HAVE I NOT BEEN HERE YET?)
Best Cafe for Any Meal: Little Red Fox
Best Chef's Counter: The Source (I've been to The Source a million times, but Chef Scott Drewno's always got something new going on and would be tons of fun to watch do his thing.)
Best Drinking Feat: The Kimpton Challenge (can I buy these fashion sneakers that I still covet from Marseille?)
Best Family Style Dish: Taiwanese Fried Chicken at Maketto
Best Fish Smokery: Ivy City Smokehouse
Best Neighborhood Restaurant: Nido
Best New Restaurant: Tail Up Goat
Best Reason to Spend $26 on Ramen: Yona
Best Under the Radar Happy Hour: Sushi Taro

Get the full list of Washington City Paper's Best of 2016 (and beyond) by clicking here - and make sure you're following their Food Editor, Jessica Sidman on Twitter.






4.04.2016

My French Grocery Store Latte Hack

Once I started grocery shopping for the day to day, I knew I needed to devise a way to get caffeine without taking off my pajamas.

After much experimentation, the perfect formula for a home French "latte" (short of an espresso machine) is 1/3 Nescafe Cafe Crema to 2/3 Nescafe Cappuccino.


If you're feeling randy, stir with a spoon that's been dredged in Nutella. You're welcome.


Side note: I've missed the easy morning convenience of my Keurig. And, I should have packed my AeroPress.  Those conveniences will be awesome to get back to in my own home. And, I'm also looking forward to my first Wydown Coffee visit back in DC. 

4.03.2016

Finding My Favorite Coffee Shop in Marseille: Maison Geney

The first week in Marseille, I pretty much stuck with the Starbucks on Rue de Republique in Vieux Port. The latte was consistently what I expected from a Starbucks in the States. My baristas were lovely and patient with my French. (Hint: "Grande latte, si vous plait?" goes a long way.) And, the wifi worked like a charm.

By week two, I had finally found a few local options that satisfied my morning latte routine. Green Bear Coffee and My Garden (loved the Bob Marley playlist) both have solid espresso drinks and pretty good food.

But the place that really captured my heart was Maison Geney. First rate croissants, pain perdu and almond cakes paired with a legitimately creamy perfect latte. And, all served in a space that just screams happiness.

There is beautiful light streaking through the windows, friendly owners and staff, and the countertops are covered in so many baked goods. You'll want to come back to work your way through all of them. Don't miss the little sofa nook in the back of the shop, where newspapers and fashion magazines provide you with ample time wasters as you sip your coffee.

Also, it is usually preferred to get your coffee in one location and then your croissant or pastry in another. Masion Geney is a great combination of both, a rare find.

And, if you're lucky, you just might get approached by a handsome young man, like I did.


I've only got three days left, but I just may spend them becoming a regular.

Maison Geney is located at 38 Rue Caisserie in Marseille, France.

Seven Things I've Learned About Working Abroad

I'm finishing up a wonderful two week home exchange in France, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without continuing to work. I just launched a consulting practice in January, so there are new clients to serve, new business proposals to develop and move forward, and invoices to send (yay!.)

I've been proud of how I've been able to make this happen and what I've learned along the way. Here are a few things you should know if you're thinking about working abroad:

1) Stay Long Enough to Live, Not Vacation
One of the things that has made this experience work for me personally and professionally is the amount of time I've had to be here. When you do an extended stay, you don't have to rush to see the sights or cram in everything. I've gotten to visit Aix-en-Provence, Paris and Cassis... but I've also gotten a hell of a lot of work done while sitting at the little table on my balcony in Marseille.
A day trip to taste wine in Provence

2) Confirm The Home Wifi
None of this would be possible without a great wifi (pronounced "wee-fee" in France) connection. In fact, the wifi has worked better than the phone, despite my international plan with Verizon. Before you go, confirm that the hotel, home or apartment that you are staying at has wifi. Get the log in information, before you leave America. You're not a backpacker, you're a business person - the last thing you want to rely on is sitting at some sketchy Internet cafe.

3) Set Office Hours
If at all possible, keep office hours the same as your clients, no matter where they are. For me, that means that I'm six hours ahead of the East Coast United States. When I wake up, I relax into the morning. I visit my new favorite barista, pick up a croissant or just read on my balcony in sweats. I take the morning to mid-day time to explore, visit cathedrals, museums and have lunch at a bistro. But afternoon time is work time. Get your deliverables in on your clients deadline time. Host Google Hangouts, Skype calls and chats during their time. For me that means, sometimes I'm working around midnight... because it's the end of the work day in Washington. But, in the morning, I've got a jump on them to respond to any overnight emails.

All of this is not to say that you should work the entire time you are away. It's that you set your office hours. Make sure your clients or office have clear expectations of when you will be online and working and when you will be away.

4) Don't Rely on The Phone
One thing has consistently failed me that I didn't expect, and that's the phone. I know it works functionally, because I can have video chats on Hangout, Skype and Snapchat. But, I've had at least one crucial meeting have to reschedule because I couldn't get a call out and they couldn't get a call in. Do some research on where you are staying and what is the most stable communications form. For me, all of the meetings I'm setting up and doing are via Google Hangout which has worked perfectly - and given me good face-to-face time with clients, potential clients and partners... all while I'm a half block from the Mediterranean.

5) Can't Stop, Won't Stop
I made sure before I left that I did a ton of in person meetings. I knew I had billable work and new business proposals to write while I was here. And, while I've been here, I've started scheduling and booking myself over the next two to three weeks while I land. Again, this is life, not vacation. You can't afford to go away for a few weeks and have your funding or client pool dry up.

6) MeetUp.com, Yes, MeetUp.com
Some of the best advice my Parisian ex-pat pal, Tanisha Townsend gave me was to explore MeetUp.com. I don't think I had seriously used Meet Up since the Dean campaign, but she was right. I found local Marseille co-working space, SPARK, plus language sharing events, yoga and pilates. I wish I had found this on the front end of my stay. I would definitely have met more locals and ex-pats.

7) Learn New Things About Yourself
One thing that has been made very clear is the difference between my American work ethic and the Southern Europe sense of life and timing. As you can see by this post, I'm a bit type A... I have designed a life of intensity... a busy trap. Being here has forced me to find more balance. Times and appointments are more of suggestion here. That ex-pat yoga MeetUp that you scrambled to make? Eh. No one was there. Were you early? Did it move? Eh... just have a great day... explore a new neighborhood... eat new foods... practice your French.

The importance of living in the moment, rather than being controlled by the clock is a totally different way of life for me. And, immersing in it for two weeks has allowed me to learn language, write more, take more photos and generally expand my worldview.

I'm so glad I took the leap. But, steps one through five will allow me to have a thriving business to return home to.

Message me in the comments, Snap me (@floridagirlindc) or tweet me (@tammy) if you have questions about working abroad and how you might be able to do it.

4.02.2016

Where to Eat in Marseille: La Table de Casimir

Tonight, I decided to broaden my little French world by going out for Italian - at La Table de Casimir. After all, one third of the population of Marseille can trace their roots back to Italy.
La Table de Casimir
Entering the restaurant was like walking into a full bear hug. The proprietor belted out "Buonasera!" with a huge smile when I walked in. I was the first person in for dinner and my natural instinct was that in France, that was wrong. But, he waived my anxiety off, sat me and said with a laugh, "You Americain?!? Only Americains eat at 7:30!"
I instantly relaxed and ordered a Provence rose to start. (I've committed to a rose every day and have been streaming live tastings on Snapchat at "floridagirlindc".)
For dinner, I was torn... There was eggplant Parmesan and I'd seen fresh eggplant in the daily markets. There was a veal orecchiette with artichokes and... Yum. And there was a braised beef with polenta.
I asked my host his opinion. "Orecchiette is a very good pasta, but it is pasta with veal." He pointed to the braised beef and said, "I brought two recipes with me from Italy. This is one."
Sold.
Braised Beef and Polenta
It was delicious. Hearty polenta, steaming gravy, falling apart on the fork beef comfort food. And just what I needed at the moment when I was missing home a bit.

After I had dredged baguette across every bit of gravy, my plate was removed and we started to talk dessert. There was a chocolate fondant cake, tiramisu and a ricotta cake. Again, I put myself in the hands of the owner.
Him: "You like chocolate?"
Me: *gives him a look*
Him: "Fondant. It is an aphrodisiac."
Me: "I'll have that." *glares inward at self that I didn't bring my boyfriend here*
Him: "Seven minutes."
Me: "It is all good."
Chocolate Fondant Cake
After all, time is relative here. I leaned back to slowly finish my second rose.
La Table de Casimir is located at 21 Rue d’Italie 13006 Marseille, France.

3.25.2016

Don't Believe What People Tell You About Marseille. It's Wonderful.

My biggest fear in planning two weeks in Marseille wasn't that I would be traveling alone. It was that it would be legitimately scary.

When you tell people that you're planning a vacation to Marseille, you'll get a look. Or maybe, someone will say, "Be careful." I even read somewhere online that it was the least safe city in Europe. (Meanwhile, Brussels was attacked while I was here.)

I'm here to tell you, Marseille is getting a bad rap.

Yes, it's a port town with thousands of years of nefarious history. It's at the intersection of France, Italy and North Africa. So, some mafia legend and racial/religious bias may play into current day fears. And, like many port cities, it may, just by it's nature, attract pirates and pirate loving people.

Maybe I'm one. Here's what I've experienced:

Marseille has been welcoming, sunny, multicultural and charming. Each time I've tackled something scary to me, I have been met with smiles, attempts at English, chivalry and wonderful food and drink. And, yes, I still have my wallet.

You have to be safe and watch out for pickpockets... just like you do in Paris or London or many of the most fantastic places in the world.

But, you'll be rewarded with amazing sunsets on the Old Port.

Restaurant staff will graciously still make you a bouillabaisse for one, even though the menu says that it is only prepared for two or more people. (At least at La Miramar.)

Walks in the evening along the Old Port and main streets are very well lit, teeming with people and gorgeous. Especially when there is a full moon.

I took the train to Aix-en-Provence yesterday for lunch. For lunch. It only took 15 minutes to get there. And the train round trip was only 15 Euro. (The taxi from the TGV station to the Apple store was 30 Euro each way, so I clearly need to learn the bus/shuttle system.)

If you've been looking into visiting the South of France and have been scared away from Marseille, I'm telling you, you're missing out.

3.24.2016

A Dispatch from the Marseille Office

When I decided to leave AARP at the end of last year, I left a seven week sabbatical on the table. I know, I know, I should have taken it while I was there. But, social kept growing. I was constantly making the business case, fighting for budget and staff, and turning wins into case studies to garner additional investment. And then, I had the opportunity to turn our legacy television and radio operation into a first class, brand multimedia studio.

The reasons why I didn't take that sabbatical were important to me at the time. But, now...

In the first few months of 2016, I launched Verified Strategy and packed my calendar with prospecting and proposals. I've got a few clients now and feel like we are growing at a steady pace.
My desk in Marseile
One day, I got a notication in my  HomeExchange.com mailbox asking if I would be open to a spring house swap in Marseille (I had listed my place on a whim,) so I jumped at the chance. For two weeks, I would live in the South of France, servicing my existing clients, writing communications audits, developing new proposals and sending invoices. I purposefully took care of my in person meetings before I left and set up a couple of weeks worth for when I return.

As I write this, I'm three days in. It's working. I've been using Skype and FaceTime for meetings. The wifi at my apartment is fantastic, so the work isn't suffering. In fact, it might be improving as I allow my brain time to learn new things. And, thanks to a quick dash up to the Apple store in Aix-en-Provence, my power supply is working great. [NOTE: If you're heading out of the country, it's worth getting the Mac adaptor set.]
The Apple store in Aix-en-Provence
Since it's life, not just vacation, I'm continuing to keep American office hours. I wake up and go on long walks, exploring cathedrals, markets and patisseries. I'm on a quest to find the best almond croissant in France. But then, mid-Marseille day, I'm back at the laptop.

My French improves daily. The Starbucks barista remembers my name. I can wander the winding streets, grocery shop like a local, make dinner at home and explore nearby towns.
The Old Port of Marseille, a half block from my apartment.
Fear not, I'm headed back to Washington soon enough. The East Coast is where business, friends, families and love are. But, it's nice to know that this life is possible. It was very difficult to see how I could step away from the busy trap I was caught in for a decade or longer.

It does, indeed, get better.

In the coming days, I'll share my working abroad experience, plus my usual restaurant and travel favorites. Many thanks to those of you who have already sent me recommendations. 

3.20.2016

My Marseille To Do List

I'm headed to Marseille for two weeks and find myself with far fewer recommendations in advance than most places that I travel. That means, there's tons of opportunity for discovery and exploration. I'm also excited for road trips (I'll have a car) to Provence and the French Riviera.

Before I head out, I wanted to share my list in case it's helpful for others that are thinking of traveling to the region. I'll let you know which ones I make it to. But, for now, consider this the beginning of your Google research. It's made up of tips from friends, Anthony Bourdain and Trip Advisor for the most part.

Restaurants
Casual Restaurants
Dayo*
Bar Bu - burgers, fish and chips
Le Bouchon Provencale* - charcuterie with shaded outdoor terrace
La Kahena* - Moroccan, near Old Port
Restaurant Femina - Moroccan
Cote Rue - French, Mediterranean
Chez Etienne - Pizza
Au Coeur Du Panier
La Table de Casimir - Italian
O'Bidul*
Le Gout des Choses
L'Arome*
La Cabanon du Cours*
Chez Ida
La Boite a Sardine
La Manne
La Comptoir Longchamp
Le Citronnier*
Big Fernand - Burgers
MundArt - Asian
Le Cafe Thai - Thai

High End Restaurants
Restaurant Peron - beautiful views, seafood
La Poule Noir* - French
La Table du Fort  - French
Un Table, Au Sud - fancy, overlooking Old Port
L'Alcyone - at the InterContinental Hotel Dieu
Chez Fon Fon* - beautiful at sunset, also great for lunch
L'Epuisette* - beautiful view on the water
Le Petite Nice - beautiful, on water
Alexander Mazzia - Italian
Auberge du Corsaire - on beach

Bakeries, Cafes and Boulangerie
Dame Farine - boulangerie
Bistro L'Horloge* - French bistro
Four des Navettes - bakery making local orange blossom scented cookies/biscuits
Green Bear Coffee* - coffee, sandwiches (organic)
Patisserie d'Aix - bakery
Grumpy Cakes* - bakery and deli
Maison Geney - bakery
Minoofi Bakery
Glaces Ego - gelato
Coogee - coffee shop
Scents Coffee - coffee, burgers and sandwiches
Le Cafe Des Thes - coffee and tea

Beach Bars & Restaurants
Abri Cotie
L'esplai du Grand Bar des Goudes

Shops
La Maison dus Pastis* - Pastis shop
Santons Marcel Carbonel* - Museum and workshop making small figurines called "santons"
Le Potier* - pottery

Hotels
Au Vieux Panier
Adonis Marseille
Mama Shelter
Passedat

Sightseeing
Marseille Cathedral *
Abbey of St. Victor *
Notre Dame de la Garde
Le Cours Julien - street art, graffiti neighborhood with cafes and shops
Plages du Prado - beaches with skatepark

Museums
Musee des Civilizations* - A museum of Europe and the Mediterranean. Cool architecture on the water.

Wineries & Vineyards
Domaine Sulauze
Southern Provence Rhone Wine Tours with Olivier Hickman

Road Trips
Cassis*
Les Calanques*
Nice*
Aix en Provence (I've been, it's lovely.)
Sisteron

 * means something about it is calling me