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The last weekend in February, I took my wife and daughter to Austin to tour and visit family and friends. We had a great trip, and thanks to travel hacking and smart planning the entire trip cost next to nothing! I had a great time and would love to share more about what I did and how I traveled on such a small budget.
The Flights and Hotels Were Free… Kind Of
We didn’t start out planning to go to Austin. The city had been on our visit list for a long while, but the plan came together thanks to a confluence of serendipitous events. I am so glad it worked out!
My wife and I had a planned trip to Mexico with my wife’s family last year, but ended up having to cancel our trip due to a hurricane nearly destroying our planned hotel and no other hotels operating due to the storm. When we cancelled, we were left with a credit for a few hundred dollars for the two of us. The credit was good for one year. My wife’s parents paid for the flights and said we could keep the credits or use them for a future family trip. Because we didn’t have a need to fly Alaska over that year, the credits were sitting in our account and ready to expire.
We talked about going to the East Coast for a visit to Baltimore, Richmond (to see my sister), Wilmington, and Amish Country in Pennsylvania, but the only flight options were red eyes and we didn’t think that sounded very fun with a one year old. We found that Alaska had a non-stop flight from LAX to Austin and booked our flights!
Next we raided our hotel points balances for free nights in Austin. We spent the first night in a free suite at the Wyndham Garden just outside of downtown and the next three nights at the swanky downtown Weston, also free thanks to Starwood Points.
The cost for the hotels: $0. And thanks to my new Amex Business Platinum card, I have gold status at Starwood so we got some free bonus points each night and a free bottle of water each day. The card also got me (and my wife and daughter for $27 extra) into the Alaska Boardroom lounge at LAX where I enjoyed free grown up beverages, my wife had an espresso, and we all snacked and hung out in the kids’ room and watched Frozen.
We Enjoyed Staying Downtown
The first night was nice. We stayed at a hotel with free parking and drove over to the restaurant Zocolo for dinner. We had a mish mash of appetizers and called it a night.
From that point on, we stayed downtown and it was great. We did need a rental car, which cost about $90 for the five day/four night trip. That gave us access to fun stops like Art on Fifth, a cool gallery with Dr. Seuss and Star Wars art exhibits, Zilker Park, the first Whole Foods, my cousin’s neighborhood and Kirby Lane in North Austin, and the airport.
The highlight of our trip might have been the tacos and Tex-Mex style food. I tried tacos and other Mexican style fare at Torchy’s Tacos, Magnolia Café, Juan in a Million, and Jo’s Coffee. Eating at Eureka! and the Arlo’s food cart were also great meals.
Staying downtown gave us walking access to the Farmer’s Market, riverfront walking paths, Texas State Capitol, restaurants, bars on 6th Street, and plenty more to eat, drink, and do.
Parking in Austin is a Nightmare
The biggest downside of Austin was the parking. If you can find parking in a lot downtown, it will run $10-$20 and you have to rush over early in the morning to pay again. Parking on the street is cheaper, but finding a spot is terrible and you have to feed the meter every three hours. Technically feeding the meter is against the law, but we did it anyway to save on parking, don’t tell.
We went to visit the South Congress neighborhood on Saturday and couldn’t find a place to park, so I gave up and we left. That’s right, we didn’t go into businesses because we couldn’t find a place to park! We went back Monday morning where I got a badass wallet and had no problem finding a spot, but parking downtown was always a huge hassle.
Work and Play Makes Travel Fun and Profitable
While in Austin, I still found time to work. I wrote while my daughter napped, responded to emails on the go, and met with my friend and mastermind group member Nate Bills.
Our families got together for touring around Austin, we stopped in and walked around the Texas Star Tattoo Convention, and went for dinner and drinks at a funky joint called Spider House near the University of Texas campus.
Because I worked and we discussed work while together, some of the costs of the trip were able to go on the business credit card to write off. My family’s personal vacation costs are not tax deductible, but the expenses directly related to the business are deductible.
I’ll Be Back!
Overall it was a great trip. I highly recommend every restaurant I visited, though Juan in a Million’s breakfast tacos and dinner at the original Chuy’s might stick out as my favorites. The total cost for the trip excluding meals that we would have had to eat anyway and a little shopping was about $200.
It was a great trip. My wife and daughter had fun, I had fun, we got to see family and friends, and I even got to write off a few bucks along the way. Thanks to South by Southwest and the great tech scene in Austin, I’m sure I’ll be back. It had been 25 years since my last visit. I’m sure my next one will be far sooner.
If you do anything long enough, you’ll eventually reach a point where someone asks you, “if you could start over today knowing everything you know now, what would you do differently?” If I were going back in time, I may have started my online business at ericrosenberg.com. It certainly wouldn’t have been ericseconomicandpoliticalisnights.blogspot.com, which is what I started within 2006.
While the question is a fun hypothetical, you can’t really go back in time without causing problems with the space-time continuum, so I can only look forward. I just invested $1,000 in a new online personal brand, and today I want to share why, how, and what my plans are in the future.
Unifying Under a Consolidated Brand
I regularly meet with people from all different corners of the online world. When I lived back in Portland, one Monday in July, 2015 I met with my friend Steven Shewach at Hopworks Brewing, a local microbrewery with a killer happy hour menu and good beer selection.
Steven was going through a transformative time and as part of that was thinking through new options to continue building his online brand. As we were talking through his new digital strategy, I realized that my answer to “if I could go back and do it again” would be to start writing as myself and build my brand as my own name. Clearly, I made a different choice with a blog named Personal Profitability, but that doesn’t mean it is too late to make a change and improve.
I realized that by using multiple brand names, Personal Profitability and Narrow Bridge Media, I was diluting my brand and holding myself back from my full potential. I always worked hard to present myself professionally, but never took the time to think about presenting myself. I was always working on presenting my brands.
Building a Public Perception
Unlike high school, on the internet, you can be anything you want. Whether that is a savvy marketing wiz or a geeky programmer, you can create that persona. Of course, if you are totally full of crap people will see right through it, but you control everything that goes out through your channels.'Unlike high school, on the internet, you can be anything you want.'Click To Tweet
Over the last few years, I have built my public persona around two of my passions: personal finance and the internet. I leveraged this blog to land freelance writing gigs with a group of amazing clients, built a website development business, created enough online income to leave my job, and made my way onto the stage speaking in my own breakout session at FinCon in San Diego.
As I’ve written in my monthly income reports, this year’s FinCon helped me reach into the world of six-figure freelancing. Doing an 80/20 analysis, I found that I would be best off winding down my website support and development business to focus on writing. After speaking at FinCon, I decided that the experience was so great that I want to add speaking to my business in 2017, and winding down the website business is freeing up my time to focus there.
I ran my website and writing business as Narrow Bridge Media at NarrowBridgeMedia.com. With the closure of my website business, I realized that I really needed to make myself the brand, as my writing and speaking both revolve around me. But I didn’t want to fold everything into Personal Profitability because that has stood on its own for so many years. So I started thinking outside the box.
A $1,000 Investment in Internet Real Estate
As long as I’ve been writing online, I have wanted to own my own name’s .com URL. You can buy unclaimed URLs for about $10 per year at places like GoDaddy, NameCheap, and Google Domains. But domain names that people or businesses already own are not so simple. Those must be acquired through private transactions and unless you own a trademark on the name, you just have to suck it up and pay the asking price.
I have long owned EricRosenberg.me and picked up ericrosenberg.net and ericrosenberg.org along the way as well. For a time I used ericjrosenberg.com, but using my middle initial was confusing and a mouthful, so I stuck with the .me version for quite a while. But I always wanted the .com, which for a long time was owned by an individual. When it expired, I missed my chance and a domain squatting company picked it up and listed it for sale for $2,200.
I also bought eric.business and eric.money when those domains became available but don’t really utilize them. Eric.money forwards to ericrosenberg.com and eric.business is an internet “speed dial” to quickly reach some of my different business pages. I rarely bother to update it, but may do something more with it in the future.
I emailed that company from time to time offering to make a deal, but they would never move down to my budget and I wasn’t willing to stretch to their asking price. I realized that this was my moment and shutting down narrowbridgemedia.com and replacing it with a new ericrosenberg.com is my best choice. But I wasn’t going to pay over $2,000 for the domain.
Over a series of emails, I got them to lower the price to $1,000, over 50% off the asking price. Haggling paid off, and I decided it was worth $1,000 to own my own name’s .com. I used my credit card to pay, picking up 1,000 Starwood points in the process, and later that day ericrosenberg.com was in my own account.
Operating as Eric Rosenberg
So now I operate as Eric Rosenberg. I still use Narrow Bridge Media, Inc. as my registered business name, but for practical purposes, people know they are hiring Eric Rosenberg, not an ambiguous company called Narrow Bridge Media.
My clients already knew me by name, and getting on stage at FinCon this year really helped raise my profile. I’ve been on stage as the coordinator of Ignite FinCon for five years, but speaking in a breakout session by myself to around 100 bloggers gives me much more credibility. I used videos from that presentation and other past talks to build out my new speaking page at EricRosenberg.com. Now that is a primary part of my business, not just a link somewhere down the page.
Of course, as my income reports say, I make most of my income writing. That is also a major focal point of my new homepage. Where I can, I also updated my social media accounts to use Eric Rosenberg as a primary user name. Personal Profitability has some of its own accounts and pages as well, but now I have a unified brand across the web everywhere I operate.
Learning from Great Examples
I didn’t come up with the idea of unifying my online brand under ericrosenberg.com in a vacuum. I have drawn on the influence of many other online entrepreneurs I look up to in the pursuit of online profitability.
On one side of the spectrum are business owners like Darren Rowse, Ramit Sethi, and Pat Flynn. Those three each run sites under the brands Problogger, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, and Smart Passive Income respectively. I know that both Ramit and Pat have said that they would have picked a different name in the beginning, but it has not hindered their amazing successes.
Other entrepreneurs have seen success operating as their own brand. Gary Vaynerchuk, Chris Guillebeau, and Chris Ducker all use theirname.com as their website. Chris Ducker has specifically pointed out that much of his success began when he rebranded with ChrisDucker.com.
I have recently been following the success of my friend Stefanie O’Connell. Stefanie has been a rock star lately branding herself as a Millennial finance expert. Between media appearances on TV shows like Today and news sources like The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, Stefanie has been sharing her story in her book, on her website, and on social media.
Stefanie was a serious part of the inspiration to make the leap from NarrowBridgeMedia.com and invest the money and time to build my own personal brand at EricRosenberg.com.
Laying the Path Forward
So what’s next for Eric? I plan to leverage my new consolidated online presence to build a speaking business in 2017, continue to carry on with my writing, maybe do a little consulting for other online businesses, and keep pressing forward on my newer side hustles, projects like Money Mola and KosherFish. I've already landed my next speaking gig at the TBEX conference in Huntsville, Alabama this May!
For the first time in a long time, I feel like things are going great. I’m working reasonable hours. I’m making a great income. I have time to spend with my family. I have exciting projects in the pipeline. Aside from some minor health issues and wanting to move from my apartment back into a house, I can’t complain!'I don’t need to wait until I’m 65 to enjoy my life, I am already starting.'Click To Tweet
That’s what side hustles and entrepreneurship are all about. It’s about creating a lifestyle that you’re happy with on the day-to-day. I don’t need to wait until I’m 65 to enjoy my life, I am already starting. I hope this site is teaching you to do the same. That’s what Personal Profitability is all about.
Summer is in full swing and I recently passed my three month anniversary as a full-time online freelancer. I have seen some fun, some unexpected, and lots of hard work. Read on to see how the cookie crumbled in June.
British blogger Adam Piplica left his job as a marketing analyst to pursue blogging full-time, but then decided to go back into the full-time working world as a certified financial planner to really make a difference in people's lives. Hear how it all happened in this week's episode.
Jason Vitug started with a traditional career path in Silicon Valley, but walked away from it all to found Phroogal, a website dedicated to answering people's questions about financial literacy. His projects have grown to include an annual Financial Literacy Road Trip and a brand new book. Find out more in this week's episode of the Personal Profitability Podcast.