9 lessons I learnt from starting a business abroad

9 lessons I learnt from starting a business abroad

Summer time always puts me in a reflective mood. While walking on a beach in Poland I was thinking of the past few years since I gave up corporate life and started my coaching business.

Few people know that I already started my coaching business in Brazil and then continued it here in Amsterdam after moving back to the Netherlands.

Since I regularly receive many questions on how to start up successfully, I have decided to share my experiences with those of you who are starting or thinking of starting your own business.

Lessons for starting your business abroad

Some tips below are applicable only in the Netherlands, but many others are universal:

 Formally starting your business is easy

The first thing I found out when starting up my company in the Netherlands is that it’s a very simple process. At least it is for EU citizens - I must add!

All you need to do is to go to the KvK (Chamber of Commerce) and register with your passport and business name. Within 30 minutes you are done. Time for champagne!

 Know your client really well

Don't drink too much champagne because the real work starts now! At the start of my venture, I decided I wanted to work with all women, irrespective of their nationality. I even had two websites, in English and in Dutch. However, after a couple of months I noticed I did not have even one 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 maintain communication in two languages. No more articles in Dutch. Woohoo!

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.

The best tip I can share here is to describe your "ideal" clients in as much detail as possible. I even went to the extent to describe what type of magazines my clients read, and what books and movies they would like.

Develop your product, test it & develop it further

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

Thanks to that I found out which workshops got more attention and which content was more appealing. I also found out how to actually run a workshop. It was great fun and an amazing learning curve.

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

 Leave certain activities to specialists

When I was starting my business I wanted to do everything by myself. I even created my own website, and I was really proud of it. But it took me a lot of time and effort, which I could have spent on other things.

I have now remade my website and I hired a specialist to do that. I am not saying you should do the same, but I discovered that certain things are best left to specialists. Especially matters like tax and accounting are better to be outsourced.

 Network, network and... network!

Although it sounds cliché, this is one of the biggest and most important business lessons I have learnt. In the beginning I did not see how networking could help me. I was going to different events but rarely met someone who said: Yes, I want to be your client today!

First I thought there must be something wrong with me. But then I learnt that networking works in its own way, differently to what I expected. I have learnt that networking is not about doing your sales pitch, quickly handing over your business card and moving on to the next "victim."

Networking is about building deeper, long lasting relationships with others. The time and effort that you invest in it always pays off, sooner or later.

My biggest corporate contracts to date are the result of networking. And yes, sometimes it took several months after the first contact.

 Build your expert status online and offline

When I talk to my potential clients they often tell me that they feel like they already know me thanks to reading my articles or following me on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

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

 Learn from others who are further ahead

When I was starting my business a few years ago, Marianne, a great lady who was also a coach, shared a lot of what she learnt with me from when she was starting her coaching business - I am very grateful to her for doing that.

You need others who are already in business to mentor you, so you don't have to re-invent the wheel all over again.

 Invest in your business and in yourself

Find out what your business needs most and invest in it. It can save time and funnily enough, money... in the end. This year I invested in myself and worked with a speech coach to take my public speaking to the next level.

If you want to reach the top you need to be at your best, and believe me, you are worth investing in.

 Perseverance, in other words, don’t give up!

For me, having my own business means lots of fun and lots of hard work as well. In my view, the most important quality of a business owner is perseverance.

There were many times when I asked myself: Is it ever going to work out? If I did not have the support of people close to me and did not persevere, it would have been much tougher. So remember: never, ever give up!

Please feel free to share your tips on how to start business abroad!


Dorota Klop-Sowinska


Dorota Klop-Sowinska

Official Member of Forbes Coaches Council. I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am the author of the book Career Jump! How to Successfully Change Your Professional Path...

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