Most people assume that starting a business means staying put in one country as the organisation grows, but it's not necessarily so.
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When people ask me what it’s like being an entrepreneur, as stressful as it can be, I always find myself talking about how lucky I’ve been to travel and live around the world.
I founded my first business, GVI, as a total rookie - aged 21 and fresh out of university. Since then, I have lived in England, France, Spain, Guatemala, Costa Rica before settling down where I am now - in Cape Town, South Africa – the birthplace of my two most recent businesses: AVirtual and Deeply Social.
We all know that moving house is never stress free – let alone country to country. Call me crazy, but over the years I’ve moved my wife, four kids and a dog halfway across the planet. And as hectic as it has been, I do not regret the choices for a moment and perhaps much to the dismay of my wife, would gladly do it all over again.
If you want to give it a try, here are a few tips to make the transition as smooth as possible:
1) Don’t make a snap decision
Moving countries is significantly more complicated than getting a different haircut or buying a new car. Don’t dive straight into the deep end or go all out straight off the bat. After quitting your job and selling your house, you may just find a few months later it was the wrong decision and by that point - you have nothing to return to.
Take it one step at a time. Before moving to Costa Rica, my wife and I went on holiday. After the initial holiday we then decided to stay for six months at first. It takes at least that long for a place to feel like ‘home’, and for us it was just the confirmation we needed to make the permanent move.
Costa Rica: apparently it takes a while to be sure you want to stay...
Moving with this kind of mind-set is actually quite relaxing as you are not under immense amounts of pressure for it to work out. Furthermore, in this technological day and age, business continuity shouldn’t even be a concern.
I kept GVI going whilst in Costa Rica and that was almost 20 years ago! Plus, outsourcing is a helpful phenomenon taking root in many businesses. My two latest businesses are in fact built on outsourcing administrative support and social media management.
There are plenty of ways to go abroad and make sure your business is in safe hands.
2) Local expat communities are treasure troves
Wherever you go, culture shock will be inevitable - don’t think you’re immune because you’ve relocated to a country where people speak the same language as you! Adapting to a new culture is probably the hardest aspect about moving abroad. It is a process that might make you feel lost and frustrated.
This is why joining a business community or a group of expats can be like an oasis in the desert. These groups are helpful not just for gaining business contacts, but also as a source of advice for everyday life - what bank to choose, which supermarket is good, which restaurant is perfect for a child’s birthday party – things that seem small but make a big difference in helping you to settle down.
I’ve found that people are always ready to help and give advice. It’s worth joining these groups before you move so you already have a community that can support you when you arrive.
When I moved to Cape Town, I joined EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organisation), and the people I’ve met there have not only become good friends, but have been instrumental in advancing my business.
3) Allow change to reinvigorate you, like a breath of fresh air
One thing especially refreshing about moving abroad is that it forces you to deviate from your normal routine. When you’re in one place for a long time, you become complacent, and sometimes a little stuck in the rut of the same thing - day in, day out.
In my experience, if you change jobs, but stay in the same city, it’s unlikely that anything will change. You will probably go out to the same places, drink the same beer and mix with the same people.
Moving abroad is a brilliant way to shake things up a bit, stop, and really think about what you’re doing. It can get uncomfortable sometimes, but it can also be liberating.
If you're going to move, move to a place where they do things a little differently
Having a fresh pair of eyes can do wonders for your business and you become both more flexible and adaptable as a result. If you can’t try out a different takeaway once in a while without panicking, how can you expect to build a pioneering business ready to disrupt a whole industry?
4) Immersion is non-negotiable
Although I’m a self-confessed beach bum entrepreneur today, before moving to Costa Rica being healthy never really crossed my mind. Exercise and diet were not a part of my vocabulary. But a few days after moving there, we realised that our local community was incredibly health conscious.
We soon immersed ourselves in this new atmosphere and our lives changed. Even today, looking back at my old lifestyle I wonder how on earth I was able to carry on for that long. If like me, you’re after a calmer lifestyle, don’t look at Paris or Las Vegas.
Go somewhere where you can experience another way of living and immerse yourself into a different world.
5) Change takes time (and sometimes a lot of it)
Even if you relocate to a place world’s apart both geographically and culturally from home, you might not feel the difference straight away. If this happens, don’t let it get to you.
Change takes time, and time requires patience. If you start taking cooking lessons today, you won’t be a Michelin Star chef tomorrow. Always persevere, keep your objective in mind and things will naturally fall into place. After all, you’ve done the hardest part: you are already there.
So there you have it, five tips for entrepreneurs who like me can quite seem to shake the travel bug. Take it from someone who has done his fair share, travelling is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. And there is nothing quite like exploring a new, unfamiliar environment, all the whilst calling it ‘home’.