Your Business Abroad: Seven Tips
By: Shanie Matthews
Publish Date: January
When my husband Jamie and I left our U.S. home in Lake Tahoe, California for our new lives in Argentina, we were looking to learn a new way of life, meet new people and explore a new culture. But we needed income, and both being entrepreneurial souls, we knew that to live our life to the fullest while living abroad we needed to create our own businesses.
In the past 12 years we've created and run nine successful businesses, from managing a vineyard in San Rafael to creating a bustling vacation-rental company in Patagonia. To say the least, we have learned a few lessons along the way. Here are seven tips to help you create your own successful business abroad...
1. Find your niche: As a person coming into a place from the outside you may discover that there are businesses "missing" from your new home. When we moved to San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, my husband and I realized that there was little English-language travel information on the Internet.
We saw that the market was lacking a vacation-rental company catering to the needs of international travelers. So we set up Bariloche Vacation Rental, a company that has hosted guests from over 40 countries.
Upon arriving in your new land, start researching the business market. Look through the local paper. Evaluate pamphlets at the tourism market. Ask yourself: Is there a niche of the tourism market that isn't being talked about? Do a Google search of the area in both the native tongue and other languages to see if there are opportunities just waiting to be marketed. Also, check to see if there are any items that may be of interest to export. Play to your new country's strengths; this not only helps you ﬁnd a business of interest but it also helps the local community.
2. Learn the cultural necessities: It's vital when creating a successful business to take the time to learn how the locals operate. Is it customary to kiss on the cheek instead of shake hands upon greeting? Is everything paid in cash?
For Jamie and me, life in Argentina taught us to take a more relaxed approach to business relations. We learned the importance of the siesta and family time between the hours of 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., and we went to a kiss-on-the-cheek greeting instead of a stiff handshake. This helped us build the foundation for positive business relationships.
3. Approach the locals: No one wants to look like a greedy foreigner trying to take advantage of their new home. Get to know the people in your town. Before setting up shop, have a wander through the area, chat with folks on the street, the store owners, restaurant patrons. Other great places to integrate include farmer's markets, local Facebook fan pages, clubs, activity groups and/or health clubs. And put in the time researching what other expats have learned while living in your chosen country.
It can help to offer a percentage of sales to locals that refer clients, or integrate a local non-proﬁt into your business. In the rentals business, we paid 10% for any rental referral.
4. Use social networking: By using social networking as a tool, your exposure can go viral. Implement different real-time instruments such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, and use relevant message boards. These are quick and easy methods to bring attention to your region and your business.
A great way to bring people into your circle is to offer free information, or contests with worthy prizes. For example, my husband and I wrote a restaurant guide for Bariloche that we offered free-of-charge on our vacation-rental website. When we launched the book, the networking sites helped create a buzz that brought about many bookings.
5. Create a good website: An easy-to-navigate site shows potential customers that you're professional. Before building your company site, check out other websites that pertain to your niche. Can you showcase the business idea better? Is the company idea clear and concise on competitor sites? Can you help draw attention to the business with clever, clear content?
6. Keep connected beyond the computer: It's also important to connect your business idea to the local community. One excellent way to do this is to volunteer. By helping the community, it shows that you are positively involved with the township, which leads to connections, which gives legs for your business to stand on. There is nothing quite as powerful as word of mouth for the successful future of a company.
7. Find good employees: As any business owner knows, a good employee is worth their weight in gold. In our vineyard we found that by showing our farm's caretakers trust and respect-something that they had not experienced prior-we received two bonuses. One, excellent employees sought us out for employment. Two, it helped our farm production grow from a 2,000 kilo grape harvest our ﬁrst year to a 60,000 kilo harvest our third.
Another way to ﬁnd dependable employees goes back to social networking. By demonstrating a community-based mentality when marketing our vacation rental property, we found that forward-thinking locals contacted us about jobs. In fact, one of our best team members, Marianna, befriended us initially on Facebook.