Welcome back to what I hope you’ll agree is a fascinating story of professional transition amid cross-cultural life.
This is the second part in a three-part series of how two expat business women — Evelyn Simpson (previously The Smart Expat) and Louise Wiles (previously Success Abroad Coaching) — living in different countries met, collaborated on a joint survey project, identified a niche and conspired to build an online business together: Simpson Wiles and Associates Ltd., and the corresponding website ThrivingAbroad.com.
Simpson Wiles and Associates is a UK-registered company in which both are shareholders; they deal with the financial consequences of the structure differently according to the rules and regulations of their respective host countries.
[Here’s part one in case you missed it.]
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So how did Evelyn and Louise come up with the concept of ThrivingAbroad.com, its mission and intended goods/services? Having each developed and run her own expat partner coaching business and then worked closely together on their successful Career Choice and the Accompanying Partner survey/report, they were on the same wavelength.
“We started with the products and services and structured our programmes around what we had learned from our research, the needs that we saw among accompanying partners and what we knew had worked with our previous clients,” Louise said. “We also knew that, to be successful and meet needs, we had to deliver something that offered more specific deliverables than just “coaching,” so we knew that the programmes had to be system-based.”
“We also know that the accompanying partners who are most successful in transitioning are the ones who manage to develop a positive mindset, and who feel empowered to drive their own personal development while on assignment,” Evelyn continued. “We wanted the company name, website and materials to have the same positive, empowered feeling.”
As for dividing up responsibilities, they each tend toward certain tasks which fall within their natural skillsets and interests, but share the rest, especially those efforts which have helped set the tone for the company.
“There was so much to do at the beginning that when one of us was finished with one task, she would go to the next one on the list.Some tasks we divide on an equal basis such as blog writing,” Louise explained. “I do two, Evelyn does two.”
“However, we do see some natural divisions. Evelyn (as a former investment banker) enjoys the finance role more than me, and so she has taken on the bank account and book keeping role, which makes me very happy! I am sure that we will need to take a more disciplined approach to the division of tasks/roles as the business grows. The bigger issue is getting it all done rather than who does what and I’m sure that at some point in the future we’re both going to have to do things that neither of us wants to do. We recognise that we cannot both do it all.”
Which brings up what can easily be a tricky issue for work partners: how to resolve differences of opinion. Even in this potential danger area, their mutual respect and willingness to put the business first seem to help keep things on an even keel.
“So far, there haven’t been any major differences of opinion but we’ve found that, when we disagree on something we’ve been able to reach a quick conclusion,” Evelyn said. “We’re each direct and respectful about expressing our opinions and we approach our differences of opinion with an open mind and a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view and to make compromises.”
“I ask myself, how important is it to me to defend my view point?” Louise added. “Generally, I realise that it is not ‘make or break,’ and I can see the positive in Evelyn’s point of view. I think that we both sense when one of us is more convinced or passionate about our point of view and tend to go with that one. We are conscious that we need to make decisions and act, not waste time arguing over who is right or wrong.”
At this point, talk turned to what they each consider to be their biggest hurdles when setting up their new business. They responded similarly, consistent with what most of us would expect from working mothers whose life partners’ jobs require fairly frequent travel.
“For me it’s been finding the right balance between home life and work,” Evelyn offered. “Even though I had to find that balance before, when it’s just you, it’s much easier to let other priorities get in the way.”
“Ditto for me on the balance front. This is good in one sense as it means we have a lot of understanding for each other’s home challenges, which can be both good and bad as we tend not to pressurize each other in this respect,” Louise said. “Personally, my biggest hurdle is time management and focus. Getting things done quickly and getting it “out” into the world rather than thinking it all needs to be absolutely perfect. Having a business partner who expects me to get it done, helps motivate me to get things done – accountability and agreed deadlines are very helpful.”
And then Louise shared this:
“Our biggest challenge is not in the joint venture, but in trying to convince companies of the rationale for supporting accompanying partners and actually persuading them to devote resources to supporting accompanying partners.”
I wish I could say I was surprised or stunned or even taken aback. Sadly, what seems to be a “no-brainer” in terms of a small financial outlay for accompanying partner support compared to the potential benefits to be reaped from an expat employee’s successful international assignment – in terms of greater focus and productivity, feeling appreciated by and therefore appreciative of the organization, peace of mind that family members are being supported, emotional support from those spouse/partner/family members – is instead a major bone of contention.
The simplest way to justify providing accompanying partners necessary support is that family issues rank as one of the most common reasons expat assignments fall apart, end early or are turned down before they begin. All of which costs a business money, time and effort to hire, replace and train new employees, not to mention the churn and disruption encountered.
Having addressed the challenges of starting a new joint business, we turned to the benefits.
“As I mentioned before, for me it is the accountability and being part of a team, albeit a small one at the moment,” Louise said. “I also think people take more notice of “us” than they did when it was just “me.” We also have double the contacts, and our different locations I think can be a real bonus as well.”
“Two heads are definitely better than one, and the more we’ve talked about the company and what we want to do, the more our dreams and ambitions for it have grown,” Evelyn said. “It’s also lovely to have a colleague, even if we’re currently separated by a few national borders.”
What about lessons learned for those interested in setting up such a partnership?
“Take on a smaller project together first and see how you manage it,” Evelyn said. “It will give a strong sense of whether your values and your objectives are aligned.”
“Yes, you need to have a good mutual understanding of each other’s values, objectives and goals, their style of working and their way of communicating,” Louise concurred. “I think it is working well so far because we really do listen to each other – of course we do, we are both coaches − but also I think you have to be careful that you don’t become simply a talking and ideas shop. What is important is getting your thoughts, ideas and services out into the world and we are constantly conscious of the need to do this.”
Finally, I asked about advice to accompanying partners:
“Before deciding to relocate, it is important to think carefully about what you want from your career and then to do some serious research about possibilities in your potential new location,” Louise said. “Bear in mind that you may need to be creative, flexible and patient, and see the relocation as an opportunity perhaps for reinvention.”
“Think broadly about what you want to do as an accompanying partner,” Evelyn added. “Challenge and opportunity often go hand in hand, so when life feels tough, keep your mind open to the opportunities that might be around you.”
As fate would have it, our intrepid expat entrepreneurs are both on the move this summer to the UK, Evelyn’s family to Scotland and Louise’s family to England. Do check out the blog at ThrivingAbroad.com to keep up with their respective repatriations, then join me in September when I’ll report on what it’s like to keep a business partnership afloat during the typical upheaval of expat transition.
[Image credit: patrisyu, portfoli 6621 at freedigitalphotos.net]