I’m thinking of starting a business….

When you think of the word ‘work’ what do you think of?
Is work something you have to do or is it something you love to do?
Is it something you define as a full-time paying job or running a business or running a home?

Interestingly the Oxford dictionary defines work as “an activity involving mental or physical effort, done in order to achieve a purpose or result”

Whatever your definition of work is, there is something important about what work means for us as a human society. It provides a contribution, it makes us feel valued or not valued and it allows us to receive contribution. Embarking upon our international assignments certainly adds another dimension to how we may view work.

As my husband and I move between assignments, we come across people who have started new careers, found new jobs, found opportunities to start new businesses or expand existing businesses. It is with interest that I look upon not only my own business but their businesses’ too and how they’ve made these businesses work notwithstanding many challenges.

Reflecting back on these experiences and conversations, there are some common themes, questions and insights to consider. Ashley and Nadine Rix are such colleagues whom, as one of the offerings in their business, Nyansa Africa, assist new business entrants from outside the African continent to set up in the West African market. Having run their own successful business for 10 years, Ashley indicates that thinking about your ability to work in the country, your type of business, whether to partner or not or the ease at which you can deliver your product or service are some of the elements that should be in your mind.

If embarking upon a business peaks your interest, here are some of the thoughts you may want to consider as you start your thinking process:

What type of business could I start?

You may already have a clear idea of what your business is or you may still be trying to identify an idea. Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Is there a very specific problem within the community or country I’m in, that I believe I have the skills or products to solve?
  2. Is there a product or service from my home country or other assignment countries I’ve been in, that I think can sell well where I am?
  3. Is there a product or service in the country I’m in, that I believe can sell well in my home country?
  4. What specific problem or frustration am I currently facing that I can solve for myself and others in our community and ask a fee for that?
  5. What special skills do I have that I can use to make and sell something, or, teach somebody something? e.g. baking, musical instrument lessons, sports instruction, language lessons etc.

These questions may spark some initial ideas. If it’s a new idea to the market it may be wise to test the idea in some way before any cash investment is made. Ask people in your network or target group whether they would pay for such a product or service. Perhaps give out one or two small samples and obtain some feedback.

Try and ascertain who those people are who are willing to take ‘cash out their wallet’ to pay for your product or service.

Am I able to work in the country I’m in?

Immigration rules and regulations are a very real and important consideration when working in another country. Understanding these rules determine in what way you can or can’t run your business. Depending on your visa status, i.e. resident, spousal dependant, diplomat or multiple entrant visa, there may be certain allowances or restrictions you need to take into account.

Consider the following questions as ways to approach this:

  1. Are there any special agreements between your countries that allow you an option or opportunity to provide a service or skill?
  2. Is there a way to run this business online that does not infringe the immigration regulations?
  3. Is there someone who is a citizen of this country whom you could do this business idea with?
  4. Is there an existing local business in this field that you could partner with or run a collaborative arrangement with?
  5. Are there affordable business capital investment structures that the country offers that could work for your idea and offer you a permit?

Depending on the type of business you want to run, you may find that there are additional registration and licence requirements too, e.g. a restaurant.

Consider speaking to someone in the expat network or a local legal or immigration representative to help find the answers to these questions.

What about marketing?

What type of image are you wanting to create with your product or service. Are you needing specialised design services or are you looking for an effective low-cost option such as social media.

Low cost marketing options are certainly more available through social media. In the countries we’ve been in, access and usability of the likes of Facebook and Instagram are far more evident in the local community and a good platform to use. Understand what the trends are in your own country and what you can offer at a low cost that still creates a professional perception of your offering. Linking and following many of the expat or other groups on these social media platforms also provides a powerful word of mouth marketing tool.

Find out about any local business networking groups. You may find business networking groups with the likes of Inter-Nations, Meetup, local Women’s associations or local Tedx groups or where available, BNI (Business Networking International).

Consider local business events run by Chambers of Commerce or Local business schools. Special interest groups may also well be a good place to network. It just takes a conversation and one or two questions to find a potential link to opportunity.

Delivering the product and service?

If you’re making something or offering a specialised service, for example, ensure that the materials you require to do so are easily available in the country you’re in, otherwise this incurs extra cost, influencing your price at a level customers may or may not want to pay.

If you’re using your house as a business meet point or operations point, understand what that means with regards to your lease agreement and if there are any permissions you may need to get.

Respecting the country, you’re in goes a long way to building a business reputation of integrity. Yes, there are obstacles we face living in a different country, however, there are certainly opportunities too, that we may never have thought of before. It is not uncommon to find trailing spouses involved in viable businesses that require a completely different skillset to what they may have their professional expertise in. Offering consistence, quality and persevering through the challenges is bound to support whatever your definition of work may be. Good Luck!

Text and photo by Zee-Caroline Pitt. Zee  is currently based in Ghana and helps junior and middle managers structure their business priorities and learn how to make effective decisions. She enjoys the discovery of new people and places, finding new projects to work on. Zee is also a skilled photographer, see some of her work in the book project she completed in Uganda to support a boxing NGO (e-book available for iPad).

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