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Meet Dan and Jess Saunders, our globetrotting Stroudies

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Dan and Jess Saunders met in Stroud when they both worked for Ecotricity, one of the area’s biggest employers. 

While they both grew up outside of Stroud, Jess in the West Midlands and Dan in Shropshire, they both found sanctuary in Stroud and grew to call this beautiful town their home. 

That’s before they sold it all to really start living. 

They quit the 9-5 grind and went in search of a different kind of life. They searched for a lifestyle that doesn’t require a fixed address and involves exploring the world while building a business. 

However, their roots are still firmly grounded in Stroud. They wouldn’t have it any other way. Let’s get to know our newest columnists.

In 2017, we went on holiday to Thailand. We’d both been stressed with work, we’d bought our first house and got married the year before, writes Jess Saunders.

On paper, our lives looked pretty good, but we were stuck with the question of ‘what now?’.

Dan had been at Ecotricity since 2008 and had built a successful career in IT, and trained as a web developer too.

I joined a few years later, as a ‘stop gap’ job after a year and a half backpacking the world. 

That stop-gap turned into a career in marketing, where I studied and completed a Chartered Institute of Marketing qualification (achieving a distinction, no less) and went on to run the company’s social media efforts.

While we weren’t unhappy, we didn’t know what to do next, and we didn’t feel completely fulfilled. 

On that overdue holiday in 2017, where we were both close to burning out, we started to think about the future. 

After reading ‘The 4-Hour Work Week’ (if you haven’t read it, we recommend it), our eyes were opened. We weren’t the only people to feel like this.

Life didn’t have to be about a mortgage, living for the weekend and grinding for that next promotion. Not that there’s anything wrong with this type of lifestyle, we just realised it wasn’t what we wanted.

That’s when we started to imagine how we could design the life we wanted to lead, and not the one that was prescribed to us. Up until that point, it was like life was on autopilot. 

We realised that office life wasn’t for us, and neither was the 9-5 grind. We didn’t give up our careers though. We thought about the steps we could take to achieve something different. 

In spring 2019, we both left our jobs to start our remote digital marketing agency and take our blog more seriously. 

We knew that the key to the life we wanted, and time freedom, was to build a business that we could run from anywhere in the world – as long as we had our laptops and a wifi connection.

Taking this leap of faith was scary. We didn’t know anything about running a business but we were lucky to have skills that were compatible, and were determined to give it all we had. 

What was there to lose? Our backup plan was that we could always go back into employment if we needed to. We realise this is a privileged position to be in.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened (yet!). But, before our first year of business was up, the pandemic hit. We were lucky to have built a foundation in that first year – we lost some business but overall we were OK, even if that meant reduced income for a few months. 

As we had only started our business one year before, we didn’t qualify for any government support, that was tough but we made it work.

Fast forward to one year later, we’ve sold our house (even if that meant a full-on anxiety fuelled breakdown on my part, but that’s a story for another day) and moved halfway across the world to Bali. 

We’re continuing to build our business – both our vegan food blog and the remote agency, as well as building up a food photography portfolio, which I want to explore further in the future.

It was hard leaving Stroud during a pandemic – leaving everything that we knew behind, and searching for something that was different and new in such an uncertain time. But we think it will be worth it.

Building a business during a pandemic hasn’t been easy, but we figure, if we can make it through that, what can’t we do?

Jess and Dan run their food blog, Vegan Punks, and Kind Comms, their remote social media marketing agency from Bali, and work with clients that are based in Gloucestershire and further afield.

They’ll be covering topics such as alternative lifestyles, vegan recipes and mental health for Stroud Times. They’ll return to Stroud in August, but have no fixed plans for after that yet.

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