People often tell me that I have a life they envy when they hear that I split my time running my travel agency business from both the expat community where I live in Sotogrande in southern Spain, and visiting my grown up children (and their children!) in the UK. Not to mention the odd research trip where I have to run my business on the road, often from hotel rooms or roadside cafes.
Yes, it sounds glamorous, but it took a while to get right, and I’m still learning:
Second Time Lucky
This isn’t the first time we tried the big move abroad. When our children left home, my husband and I took a gap year to go travelling. We let out our house for over two years, made a plan to travel for 14 months, and then move to Spain. Travelling was great for throwing off most of the shackles that bound us to the UK. However, I struggled as an expat first time around. I felt terribly homesick, and with grandchildren starting to arrive back home it just felt the wrong time. My husband and I returned to the UK and I went back to the familiarity of my old corporate work.
Fast Forward three years and the time just felt right and we’ve now made the move for good.
Moving abroad is a big upheaval. If it doesn’t quite work out, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was a bad idea. It could mean the timing isn’t quite right.
Get the Tech You Need
Having everything in the cloud – websites, payments, and accounting software – now means that I can truly run a virtual business, which I hadn’t really set up first time around. Even my phone is VOIP so I can take and make calls anywhere, and am not limited to Spain or the UK.
I took an initial consultation whilst in Tanzania a while ago and the customer was surprised but pleased to see that I was walking my talk!
You need to consider where your business will have its official “home”. I have chosen to deliberately legally run my business from the UK.
This means that I am bound by UK rules and not Spanish ones, as I am much more familiar with the former. It keeps thing simple for both me and my accountant.
In addition to using GDP, we work mainly in Euros, and USD. However on a rare occasion we need foreign exchange in another currency.
Our trade consortia has a commercial agreement with American Express which is very favourable for us. To date there has only been one currency that we have been unable to exchange Vietnam Dong.
For me the etiquette across the 2 countries is surprisingly the same, and the heart of success is about building relationships. Face to face contact is important with the Spanish. Engagement over a coffee or lunch, is preferred, and the expats who have been part of the community for some years follow the similar preferences. Structured networking is a big business tool in the UK but that’s’ not the case in Spain.
Here, networking comes back to the informality of taking time to build relationships, face to face. The working day hours in the two countries are also very different so it is possible to be working a day from 8am until 8pm to cover the time differences.
Use all the Networking Tools Available
Although I run a business from two locations, I find that I have to travel for business less and less, and the travel tends to be mainly personal.
Virtual networking like LinkedIn has been really helpful for this: it can be a very powerful vehicle and allows me to connect with suppliers, people in the travel industry and keep up with old networks and contacts who can’t meet face to face.
I do have a VA based in the UK who can step up to the mark if there are any meetings with suppliers that really can’t be missed or things that need chasing and I’m unable to do so.
My PR person and website lady are also UK based, which makes sense as a big part of my target market is the UK. Having people on my team in my other location means that it easier to stay in touch and feel less isolated.
Integrate into the New Location
Learning Spanish and connecting with the expat community here has not only brought me a lot of support but I’m now starting to see business with expats here booking their travel through Travel Producer. I’m intending to do some volunteer work with a local domestic violence refuge which not only fulfils my desire to do work like this, but I imagine will also make me feel more of the community here.
My next business move is to get a Spanish and English speaking PA here in Marbella. I can see this being essential to the expansion of the business as I have to acknowledge that it really is a dual location business and need to set up it to cater for both cultures.
Watch the Cash
Think about hidden costs. Currently I tend to pick up travel documents when I’m in the UK but as we get busier these will have to come by courier which will be an extra expense.
Little things like this have to be thought through and come into your financial calculations.
Stay in Touch
The hardest part of being away from the family is when one of the kids has a real crisis. Hearing tears down the phone is heart-breaking but talking ‘face to face’ over Skype or Facetime makes the distance shrink
Remember Why You Are There
Introducing a structure to the day-to-day takes makes for better business management. On a sunny day you can then have the flexibility enough to take a walk on the beach when the weather is fine, and then move the work to the evening.
Don’t feel guilty about building a business around a better work-life balance. But do prepared that this may take a while to achieve.