Starting a business abroad: 8 lessons I learned

I often think of summer as a time of reflection. While walking along a beach in Poland recently, I was reflecting on the years that have passed since I left corporate life and started my coaching business. I started my business in Brazil and then moved it to the Netherlands.

Since I regularly get a lot of questions about starting successfully, I’ve decided to share my experiences with those of you who are starting or thinking of starting your own business.

The lessons I learned from starting my business abroad

While my experience of starting a business was, of course, unique in many ways to my adopted country, I found that many of the lessons I learned are actually universal and applicable almost anywhere.

1. Know your client very well

When I started, it was in my head that I wanted to work with all women of all different nationalities. It even had two websites, in English and in Dutch. However, after a couple of months I realized that I did not have a single Dutch client, but many international and expat women.

So I decided to focus only on them and took my Dutch site offline. It was liberating to choose my niche more specifically. It was also liberating not having to communicate in two languages. No more articles in Dutch. Wow!

The most important thing I discovered is that since I am also an expat, I have an immediate click and feeling with my international clients, a feeling that we understand each other. This is key in coaching.

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The best advice I can share here is to describe your “ideal” customers in as much detail as possible. I even went so far as to describe what kind of magazines my clients read and what books and movies they would like.

2. Develop, test and develop again

When I started my business (unofficially) in Brazil, I developed a set of basic workshops and immediately started running them, only to find out how potential clients would react.

Thanks to that, I discovered which workshops attracted the most attention and which content was most attractive to me. I also found out how to lead a workshop. It was a lot of fun and an incredible learning curve.

Startups often spend a lot of time inventing products or services that turn out not to be bought by customers. So my advice here is: develop your basic product or service quickly and then go out and test it with your customers. Take their feedback and use it to further develop your offerings.

3. Sometimes it is necessary to involve a specialist

It can be tempting at first to try to do everything yourself – your business is your baby, I get that. I did this. I even created my own website and was very proud of it. But it took me a lot of time and effort, which could have been spent on other things.

Now I have redone my website and hired a specialist to do it. I’m not saying you should do the same, but I’ve found that certain things are best left to specialists. Especially matters like taxes and accounting are best outsourced.

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4. Your network is your greatest asset

It sounds cliché, but one of the biggest and most important business lessons I’ve learned is to grow and value my network. At first I didn’t see how networking could help me. I would go to different events, but rarely did I come across someone who said, “Yes, I want to be your client today!”

At first I thought there must be something wrong with me. But then I learned that networking works its way, differently than I expected. I’ve learned that networking isn’t about making your sales pitch, quickly handing out your business card, and moving on to the next “victim.”

Networking is about building deeper and longer lasting relationships with others. The time and effort you invest in it always pays off sooner or later. My biggest corporate contracts to date are the result of networking. And yes, sometimes several months passed from the first contact.

5. Spend time building your status as an expert

As a new business owner, you may want to spend all of your time on things that will tangibly “make you money”: your product or service. However, it may also be worth slowly weaving a wider web. When I talk to my potential clients, they often tell me that they feel like they already know me from reading my articles or following me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

It takes me a long time to share my knowledge by giving speeches, writing articles and updating my social media accounts, but thanks to those activities people know what I stand for. If they like it, it’s easy for them to choose me. Remember, people need to know, like and trust you to go further with you in business!

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6. Take lessons from others

It is not always necessary to do it alone. There are others who have already traveled this path and can advise you. When I started my business a few years ago, Marianne, a great lady who was also a trainer, shared a lot of what she learned with me when she started her trainer business. I am very grateful to you for doing so.

You need advice from others who are already in the business, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel again.

7. Investing in yourself and your business reaps rewards

Especially in the early days of your business, it can be tempting to skimp on the pennies, but you’ll soon learn that a little wise investment pays for itself many times over. Find out what your business needs most and invest in it. You can save time and, oddly enough, money… in the end. This year I invested in myself and worked with a speaking coach to take my speaking to the next level.

If you want to reach the top, you have to give your best and, believe me, it is worth investing in you.

8. Never, never give up

In my opinion, the most important quality of a business owner is perseverance. For me, having my own business means a lot of fun and also a lot of hard work.

There were many times when I wondered: is it ever going to work? If I hadn’t had the support of people close to me and hadn’t persevered, it would have been much more difficult. So remember: never, never give up!

Do you have more tips on starting a business abroad? Let us know in the comments below!

This article originally appeared on IamExpat in the Netherlands.