This is part of my summer series spotlighting some of the awesome entrepreneurs I know and their small remote businesses. If you know someone who should be featured or if you have a small business that you’d like to promote, get in touch with me!
It’s time for you to meet Lindsey Hansen, an American ex-pat putting her PhD in Art History and decade of teaching experience to good use as a professional tour guide in Paris. She started learning French at 3, and has been having a love affair with the country ever since, though it became much more serious when she studied Gothic architectural sculpture for her PhD. During that time, she split her time between Indiana and Paris, where she met her partner, who is French. Originally, her professional goals included becoming an Art History professor at an American university, but moving to France permanently meant that was no longer an option so she had to get creative. Thus, the beginning of her tour guide business!
Now, she’s a licensed national tour guide offering “educational tours of French museums and monuments for curious travelers of all ages.” Using art, history, and culture, she helps her clients discover the best that France has to offer with customized small-group tours that dig deep into the sites they visit. Lindsey’s goal is not to just provide great photo ops to her clients but to help them “discover hidden treasures off the tourist track and provide the tools for understanding and decoding the world around us.” And the best part? Her pricing! Most academic tour companies are hella expensive, but Lindsey provides her services at an affordable rate, making high quality educational tours available to a much larger group of the tourist population. So whether you’re interested in neighborhood tours, a full-day excursion outside of Paris, or something made-to-order, she’s got something for you!
I’ve been obsessed with her Instagram stories where she guides viewers through Virtual Visits of French towns, monuments, and historical sites, often testing out tour routes. They are detailed and full of fun trivia and lots of photos; they help fill the France-sized hole in my heart and temper my building wanderlust. (And they are all saved as posts on her blog!)
What have you learned about running a small business since you began? What piece of advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
My favorite part of the work I do is the content creation and being with new people when I’m out on tours. But when you’re running your own business, a lot more of your time is devoted to marketing and fighting hard for visibility. The “fun” parts of the job are really overshadowed by the marketing/administration parts of the job.
One of the things I’d tell myself is that you can’t be shy as a small business owner. You actually have to be kind of shameless and plug yourself and your products whenever and wherever you can. (Most recently for me, this meant giving my business card to an internationally-known drag queen at a drag show in Paris, because one of the things that I’d love to do is give tours of Paris to drag queens when they’re on tour and want to explore the city. Six-months-ago me would never have had the nerve to do that…)
How has the Covid crisis affected your work/business?
How hasn’t it affected my business?? I was set to have a banner year of tours – in April alone, I had at least one tour, if not two or three, scheduled for almost every day of the month. And then we went into lockdown, and all of my clients, tours, and revenue disappeared. So, I’ve had to change my entire approach for this year and also reconsider what my goals are for the future in the Covid and post-Covid world.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced running a small business and how you’ve overcome it?
My biggest challenge is definitely MARKETING. I hate it. There’s a reason that I became an academic and not a businesswoman. I’m shy, and I hate the idea of “inconveniencing” or “bothering” people by talking about my work or making a pitch for a business. To overcome my hangups about self-promotion, I’ve been trying to take a play from my college roommate’s playbook. She’s an extrovert and is absolutely shameless. She’s also a small business owner (a realtor) and will talk about her work anywhere, anytime, with anyone – like even in the grocery store with someone she’s never met—and she gives her card to anyone and everyone. I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as brazen as she is, but I am trying to push myself to post about my business on my private social media channels and talk about my business with people when the context is right. I’d love to be able to grow my business organically through word-of-mouth and by creating the right contacts, but to do that, I need to be more like my college roommate and get myself and my brand out there!
How long have you worked from home? What has changed from when you first starting working from home to now? What have you learned? What tips can you pass on to others who may be working from home for the first time?
I’ve been saying since lockdown started that I was kind of made for this. I’ve been working at home in one form or another for a very long time. Graduate school is basically work from home, except when you’re teaching on campus. Research in libraries is independent work. Writing is a work-from-home activity, and one that requires a lot of discipline, good goal-setting, and a solid schedule. So, thanks to all that time in grad school, I’ve been in charge of scheduling and managing my time for over a decade now. In that time, I’ve learned how important it is to effectively schedule your work days.
I have daily, weekly, monthly, and even yearly to-do lists. I sit down at the start of the year and make a big list of all the things I think I want to get accomplished in the year; then I do monthly “performance reviews” with myself where I look at back at what I did/did not get accomplished, then adjust my weekly/monthly/annual goals accordingly. In June, I sit down for a bigger “performance review” looking back at the last 6 months and forward at what the rest of the year will hold.
If you’re new to working at home, one of the best tips I can give is: get to know yourself, your rhythms, and your routines. What can you get done most effectively and when? Figure out what you can do best in each period of the day and only work on certain types of projects when you feel like you’re going to get the work done successfully. Save “treat” projects (the things you like working on the most) for the end of the day. Otherwise, they can take up all of your time and keep you from getting the other, less fun but absolutely necessary, work accomplished.
I’d also say it’s important to schedule breaks/mental health/movement throughout the day. Those things help keep you on task. For example, I try to do a 30-minute cardio workout before the day starts to get my mind and body warmed up (NB: I recognize this is possible because I’m childless, and that doing a morning workout can be much more challenging for people with families…), then take a stretch/movement break mid-morning (sitting at a computer is hard!), and then in the afternoon around 3pm when I will inevitably be falling asleep at my desk, I head out for a quick walk. It keeps me from feeling unproductive, gets me fresh air and sun, and ensures that my last few hours of the work day will be productive when I sit back down at my desk.
As cities reopen, what local establishment/attraction/site would you encourage people to seek out in your town?
The best thing about Paris is that it’s a walking city. I think travelers always think about going places like the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower or other packed places, but those will likely be inaccessible for a long time to come (especially for guided visits as groups will not be permitted). But there’s so much to explore and enjoy in Paris that doesn’t require being stuffed into an overly-full museum. Take a walk along the banks of the Seine; visit the Luxembourg Gardens or the Parc Buttes Chaumont; just walk the back streets and be ready to be surprised by all the delightful things waiting for you (historic fountains, quaint alleyways, hidden green spaces, unexpected historic monuments…).
The other beauty of Paris (and France more generally) is that supporting local business is so easy. Chain restaurants are more of the exception than the rule here, so whenever you walk into a café or a restaurant or a boulangerie or a chocolate shop, you’re likely to be supporting local business and keeping the local economy alive. Among the places I can’t wait to get back to myself are Freddy’s, a cute counter-service restaurant in the Saint-Germain neighborhood with the best 17 euro lunch menu in town; Bushkazi, an Afghan restaurant near the Place de Clichy with the *dreamiest* vegetarian plate; and Café Kitsune, a small café (owned by the luxury clothing brand) in the gardens of the Palais Royal with killer chai lattes. I also wouldn’t mind a cone of Berthillon ice cream and a stroll through the Ile Saint-Louis to look at the 17th-century mansions…
How do you separate your personal and work lives?
Fortunately, I have a partner who works a standard 9-5 job. And, he’s French, so the 35-hour work week is sacred to him. Of course, I sometimes work longer hours than he does or work outside of that 9-5 framework, because I am an American and an academic after all… But he really helps me to remember that we should work to live, not live to work. Thanks to him, I’ve started really appreciating weekends, whether it be for a day trip into a forest for a hike, or a weekend excursion a bit further from home.
I’ve also learned in the last few years when to say no – for example, to taking a tour on a Sunday if it means that I’ll be working 7 days in a single week, or taking editing orders that will eat up my entire weekend. Sure, I might lose a few clients or a bit of extra income, but I also know I’ll be happier, more relaxed, and more effective in my work the rest of the time. And, my partner’s love language is “quality time,” so spending time outside of his normal work hours is important for the health of our relationship. So, the time away from the grind means I’ll have a happier partner because we’ll have had the chance to spend a couple of days of quality time together, and that’s very important.
What’s your travel style?
Ooh, I’d say I don’t have one typical travel style, but a mix of a couple of different ones depending on what we’re doing and where we’re going. We try to get away for the weekend whenever we can. We have a country house about an hour and a half from Paris, and often times, we just like to go escape there to relax and unwind and be away from wi-fi and distractions.
When we can take a 3- or 4-day weekend, we might drive to Normandy or Burgundy, find a cute area to explore, rent a room in a chambre d’hôte, and then play things by ear. For those trips, we usually don’t plan much in advance, beside figuring out what monuments or sites we’ll be able to visit. Sometimes (if we’re traveling outside of holiday seasons), we don’t even book a chambre d’hote until arrive in the region we’re visiting to give ourselves even more flexibility. Then, we get recommendations from our hosts and just drive around and see what we can find. Sometimes I’ll do the same kind of thing with solo travels. For example, I went to Ghent for my birthday in February. The only thing I really had planned was a trip to MSK to see the Van Eyck show, but other than that, I just kind of went with the flow, exploring the city center and letting my eyes and interests direct my route for the full three days of the trip. And it was fabulous!
What’s your favorite travel destination that you’ve been?
If I had to choose, I think I’d say the Finistère region of France at the far western tip of Brittany. We’ve done two trips there, 10 days each time. For both trips, we chose a “home base” – Douarnenez the first time and Plouescat the second time – and then explored as much as we could in the surrounding areas. We visited quaint medieval towns like Quimper and Locronan, stunning islands like the Ile de Batz, and the stunning cliffs of the Pointe du Raz – the farthest western point in Brittany that opens up onto the Atlantic Ocean – when we were there. We balance big days of adventuring with long days laying on the beach on these trips. It’s a perfect hybrid of culture, hiking, and pure relaxation.
How do you think Covid will affect the future of travel? How will it affect your own personal travel in the next 12-18 months?
I don’t think we’re going to go back to pre-Covid travel habits for a long time, and that will have an impact on both my personal travel habits and on my business. I’m assuming that my business will be shuttered to “real” visits until a vaccine is widely available… or maybe even longer. When will people feel safe to travel again? And, once they do start traveling, how long will they stay abroad, and what will the want to see? Before the crisis, the Louvre had become sort of like my office – I was doing tours there at least 4 days a week. But an over-crowded museum is a much less attractive place to be these days. I have a feeling that when I do start guiding again (whenever that may be), my activity will consist mostly of walking tours in famous Parisian neighborhoods rather than indoor museum tours.
For personal travel, the crisis has had a pretty big impact on us. I was supposed to go on an Alaska cruise with my parents, sister, and aunts and uncles in August. That’s been cancelled, as have my partner’s and my plans to visit friends and family all over the US in August. He’s not an American national, so getting into the US will be hard, and I’m not a French national, so getting back in after leaving could be hard for me. So, we’ve decided to stay local and spend a couple weeks exploring another one of our favorite regions of France: the Pyrenees.
I’m sad that we can’t go further afield and that I can’t see my family this year… but I’m actually kind of excited to stay local and to explore more of the beautiful country where I live.
Any final words of wisdom to fellow entrepreneurs, remote workers, and travelers?
It’s an unprecedented time for all of us, and navigating this new world is both anxiety-inducing and exciting. I think that “making it” as a small business owner is going to take a lot of creativity and ingenuity. We really have to be willing to think far outside the box and come up with new products, strategies, or even income streams to keep ourselves going. But in the long run, I think that challenge to push ourselves beyond our (perceived) limits will be a good thing. I’m excited to see what we’ll all produce, and how much better our products and services will be on the other side of all of this. So, I guess my “words of wisdom” would be: Keep going. And be creative!
Thank you, Lindsey, for sharing some of your experiences and earned wisdom with us today! I encourage everyone to follow her Virtual Visits in her Instagram stories and check out her website. Social links are below!