15 minutes with Flying Solo’s Grace Koelma “digital nomad”
Ever wondered what it’d be like to travel the world while running a business and raising a young child? Well, meet Flying Solo member Grace Koelma. With husband Eric and their toddler son in tow, she wants to change how we think about education with online magazine The Mulberry Journal.
Describe your “aha” moment: when were you hit by the soloist bug
I was pregnant with my son and imagining what life would look like in five years. My husband and I had long-term plans to travel the world, but felt tied down by corporate jobs and salaries with four weeks of annual leave a year. Facing the prospect of adding a baby to our delicate ecosystem got me thinking of how we could make travel and kids work… and that’s when I had the idea to homeschool.
I was amazed at the thriving online community, particularly on Instagram. While the world had been focusing on other things, homeschooling had grown up from that frumpy, weird image that was perpetuated in the 90s, to this alternative, trendy lifestyle choice. And more than that, it was enabling thousands of families to travel overseas long term. I was in.
My research led me discover a gap in the market and I talked to my husband about starting an online community for Australian homeschooling families. While I was largely just talk (the energetic ramblings of a pregnant woman) my husband saw real potential. We started our community by publishing a quarterly digital magazine, and launched our first issue when our son was just seven weeks old. Since then, our community has grown and we have expanded our reach globally. We recently moved all our content to an online publishing platform called The Mulberry Journal.
Describe the “why” of your business
- Help families see that it is possible to have a lifestyle that doesn’t involve sending your kids to school full time, and to actually LOVE being a continuing part of your kid’s education.
- Connect people researching homeschooling for the first time with other families who are living the life.
- Connect people with high quality homeschooling resources to help them feel less overwhelmed by the ‘curriculum requirements’.
Once you became a soloist, what about your life changed almost immediately. What changes have been slower to come?
I started The Mulberry Journal as a side project while on maternity leave with my son, so it was a slower transition for me, but the day my husband quit his job, s**t became real. We had been wanting to take our entrepreneur goals seriously for a while, and quitting a full time income in a stable marketing job meant we really had to double down to make things work.
"We have just been on a tropical island for three weeks, and now living for eight weeks in provincial France. So yeah, in that respect, working for ourselves has been amazing. "
Changes that have been slower to come have been working out a work-life balance that suits us, and means we’re still highly productive, but also have ample time to spend with our son. Without childcare, this is still very much in progress and we’re definitely not happy with the balance yet.
List your three biggest business goals? Which of them scare you the most?
I’d like to
- start making enough profit from the business to be able to employ two more staff members;
- create a dynamic, groundbreaking, one-of-a-kind product that my audience can’t get enough of; create a killer affiliate program to go with it, so I can create further passive income streams.
The second point scares me most. We’re in the process of creating a B2B product and it’s hard putting energy into something that may or may not work. Trying to predict consumer behaviour does my head in, no matter how much validation you do before you launch something, when it comes time to ask people to put down money, it’s a gamble. There’s a fair bit of unknown and that’s scary.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
Time. As a full-time travel mum of a 2 year old, time is my biggest enemy. We don’t stay anywhere long enough to enrol him in preschool, and we haven’t been in a location long enough to try hiring nannies yet. But we plan to change that in the coming months to help us slow down and put a larger focus on growing our business.
What makes you happiest about life now you’re a soloist?
We have just been on a tropical island for three weeks, and now living for eight weeks in provincial France. So yeah, in that respect, working for ourselves has been amazing. We get to immerse ourselves in the most exotic, out-of-this-world, pinch-myself locations and earn money as we travel.
Finally, can you share your best tip for simplifying the soloist life…
When you’re solo, keeping on top of your inbox is more important than ever. Enabling ‘Undo Send’ and ‘Unread first’ features in Gmail has helped me enormously. It means I can read emails and then mark unread until I have time to get to them, sort of like a To-Do list at the top of my inbox. And being able to hit ‘undo’ when I send a complex or sensitive email has been a lifesaver and got me out of hot water more times than I care to admit!