It is not easy to admit the mistakes we have made but I’m going to share three big mistakes that I made when I was starting Tandem Nomads. I am sharing them because I know that some of the challenges that I faced then are issues that affect a lot of expat partners trying to start or grow their business today. And I would really like you to avoid some of the things that almost stopped Tandem Nomads happening before it really got started!
Although it is embarrassing for me to look back on some of these things and to share them, I want to tell you about them because I wish someone had been around to tell me.
This blog article is a summary of the related podcast episode.
1. Start earlier
During its first year, Tandem Nomads was not even a business. It was an outlet for me to share a message that I was personally passionate about and that was turning dual careers into opportunities. In fact, I had a consulting business, developing marketing strategies for corporate clients. It was not a priority to build Tandem Nomads as a business, and although I did want to grow my podcast audience, I wasn’t thinking about it strategically in terms of business growth. I had the podcast going for a year and a half before I truly committed to making Tandem Nomads a real business.
Why did it take me so long to take action?
I did not make it a priority. My excuse at the time was that I did not have time, and truthfully, I did have a lot going on. I already had a business, I had just moved to the USA and it was not an easy transition. There was also the issue of the number of guests we had – when you are an expat in a popular destination like New York City, a lot of people want to visit! If you have ever tried to work from home while hosting guests, you will know that it is so hard to be able to get any work done. While having friends and family visit is one of the joys of expat life, it really did stop me focusing on myself and my new business idea.
This was not the only thing stopping me. This is hard to admit now but I was also so worried about what other people would think if I went public with my Tandem Nomads idea. I had been so intentionally focused on not branding myself as an expat spouse in my career that I had completely dissociated myself from that identity. This stopped me coming forward as an expat spouse and talking about the career challenges that come with that experience. This really made me hesitate about committing to Tandem Nomads.
I had an experience one day which brought this into focus for me. At the time, I was struggling to juggle the podcast and my consulting business. I was at a business event with business startups, large corporate companies and venture capitalists and I started feeling sick to my stomach. I knew it wasn’t a physical thing, it was a psychological thing.
I had completely lost my identity. I was deep into working on Tandem Nomads but when people at this event asked me what I was working on, I was holding back. I felt like a fraud and I felt like I couldn’t be myself. It was so painful for me. I now know that this is a common experience for many expat spouses but trying to find myself in the middle of this was extremely hard.
I literally left in the middle of that event, took a cab home, and started crying. I just did not know who I was anymore.
It took me a while to realize that worrying about what other people think and these ideas of self-doubt and of not being good enough are nonsense. These are ideas in our minds that are holding us back from achieving our goals and our dreams and stopping us being proud of doing whatever we want to do! I wish I had someone to tell me that when I was feeling so awful! If you are in that situation now, don’t let these thoughts stop you. Don’t let your fears about what others might think to stop you from pursuing what you want to do!
While these ideas may be nonsense, overcoming this mindset is not easy. Many people struggle with these issues so badly that life almost passes them by. Mindset blocks run deep in our psyche. It is so important to acknowledge them and face them. And then find a way to push through.
For me, it took talking to my husband and some good friends, as well as a lot of reflection. I realized that I could not continue to live ‘in between’.
So here some of the actions I took:
1. I had to validate my business idea.
I had to choose and commit to Tandem Nomads as a business. To do this, I gave myself a deadline to decide to either pursue it as a business or let it go. I put in place a series of indicators to define if my idea was viable and if I could attract enough clients with it.
I used this to help me make my decision to commit to Tandem Nomads and closing my other business which was no longer bringing me much joy.
2. I made important trade offs
The second thing I did was also very difficult. My husband and I sat down and agreed that we would have to refuse receiving guests at home. It is so difficult for visitors to understand that although I was at home, I needed to work and that I wasn’t available to spend time with them. We looked at our calendar and agreed when we would be ‘open’ for guests and when we would not. This was very, very tough – some of our friends really didn’t understand. Just talking about this makes me feel bad but it was something I also really needed to do and in hindsight, I’m so glad that I did it.
At some point, you have to make your business a priority. There might be things in your life right now that you need to talk to your family about to make this happen for you.
3. I asked for help
This might include talking to your partner. One of the things I finally did was to ask my husband for support. While he has always supported me, I realized that there was a big difference between asking for support and explaining exactly what we need.
In my case, I defined exactly what I needed, where he could help and asked him to be my proofreader. That was a task that took so much of my time and so every day he proofread my content before I published it. This was what I needed from him but for many of my clients with children, sharing childcare is critical. It is so important to have this conversation with your partner. Sit down and make sure you have exactly the help you need so that you can make your business a priority.
The final thing I want to share here is I decided to stop trying to be perfect. I just needed to start and be okay with not having every single thing figured out. I learned how to start and perfect later.
When I look back, I feel a little disappointed. For the first year and a half, Tandem Nomads was just a free platform where I was sharing content. I waited such a long time before committing to it and making it a priority. Don’t wait Nomad Nation, get going! If any of my experiences are resonating with you, do something to overcome the barriers that are holding you back.
2. Invest in yourself
This is something else which is hard to talk about – money. This is a huge mindset challenge that we really need to overcome. One of the big things that I would do differently is that I would have invested in my business earlier. I should have spent money on the guidance and resources I needed to take my business to the next level.
Why did it take me so long to invest in my business?
When I started moving internationally with my husband, I quit my career in advertising and with it, I lost my financial independence. In so many ways, it was traumatic to let that go. My husband’s money became my money and I didn’t have my own anymore. In the early days of our expat life, I found it hard to buy something for myself when I was shopping with him. I felt like I was cheating. I think that experience became ingrained in my thinking. Even when we were living on my income because I was paid in local currency, I still struggled to spend money on myself! Something in my brain made me feel guilty.
Thankfully, I eventually realized that spending money on my business was vital. It was essential to my growth, the business’ sustainability, and my financial independence.
But this guilt is still something I struggle with and if you do too, I invite you to reflect on why and how you can overcome this.
The moment I finally started investing in myself, my business exploded.
In the first year, I did not invest in anything except a podcast course and there was no immediate return, but my podcast show was out thanks to it! When I finally made the decision to commit to Tandem Nomads as a business, I invested properly in support, help, and courses that I needed to really grow, and my return was three times my initial investment! In the following year, I doubled my investment and my return was ten times my expenditure!
I need to be completely honest and transparent about what happened next. As I’ve explained in the podcast in the past, in 2018 I experienced some challenges as my husband and I tried to have a baby. It was a very difficult time and I really struggled. Had I not invested in my business before this happened, I would not have been able to take some time off or invest in the personal and psychological coaching that I needed to deal with what was happening in my life. That investment allowed me to maintain the same revenue as the previous year, even though I took nearly four months off.
You can learn more about what happened in this episode: Tandem Nomads fourth anniversary – the good, the bad and the ugly
While this is still difficult for me to talk about, I want you to see how investing in your business can make a difference when times are tough. Sometimes, it’s investing in services and education, but sometimes you do need to invest in personal help so you can move forward successfully. Running a business is not like a standard 9 to 5 job, it is very much part of your life and revolves around how you are doing personally. If you want to grow your business, you also need to nourish yourself.
How I had to be strategic when investing in my business
I also wanted to share how I invested once I committed to my business. I started with small amounts but the more results I got, the more I reinvested in my business. I also had to deal with that lingering guilt – when I started my money was still in the same account as my husband’s – it was all shared. This is important for us because we want to have a joint strategy for how we manage our money and share our life together.
In order to be able to move forward with investing in Tandem Nomads, I needed to sit down with my husband and discuss it with him, telling him about the investments I was making, making sure that he was on board with me. I prepared the arguments of course, about why I needed to invest so much. But to be honest, I realized while doing that, that the person I needed to convince more was me, not my husband.
Try doing that for your business – work out an argument for why you are investing. Take some time to think about what is stopping you from investing in yourself. Be honest to yourself. If it is that you don’t have any money, I can understand that, but you don’t have to spend all your money at the beginning. You can spend a little bit and then make sure that you are committed to it so that you can grow the investment over time.
Make sure to also face those limiting beliefs that you don’t have money to invest in yourself. Because if you don’t invest in yourself now, you will never grow. It is as simple as that, or it will take you years before you grow. But here is one more thing that you need to know.
When you don’t invest in yourself, it’s actually costing you more money than if you do.
When you invest in expert support, help, guidance, and the tools you need, you are actually saving yourself from making costly mistakes that will stop you from growing, and that could actually lead to you losing money. If you are committed to your business, think about the support you need and the investment you need to make, and how you can come up with the money to do it.
One more thing…
When you invest money, if it does not feel risky, then it’s not worth it.
You need to feel that it is risky. You need to feel that it is an important investment because that is what will push you to commit to your business. It will give you the drive on the tough days to not give up. I have said this before, to succeed in business, we need to be hungry. So often as the expat partner, we are not the sole provider in the family, so no-one is depending on our income which can mean that it is very difficult to make the business the priority because it’s not what’s providing that necessary revenue.
Investing in yourself, particularly if it is risky, can help you shift your whole mindset shift. It can turn you into a real entrepreneur who is committed to its business. This is what happened to me – I saw a huge shift in my attitude and mindset once I invested. I became so much more focused on making revenue so I can recoup that money!
I hope this helps you get rid of any guilt you might feel about spending money on yourself. This is something you really need to get rid of – you are worth it, you are worth the money!
And I want to add one final thing about investing in yourself and your business. Your business is just as important as your partner’s job. Expat jobs are not as secure as they once were and your business could be your family’s financial backup plan. If you want to be secure and have that financial safety net for your family, you need to build the right foundations for your business. This means that you need to stop trying to figure everything out alone and invest in the help and support you need to grow! You need to commit to earning money now.
If you would learn more about this and about how to get your partner to really support you, check out this episode.
How I keep track of my investments and return on investment
A few more tips for those of you who are thinking about ways to get your partner more involved in your business. I found it helpful in overcoming my own guilt to think of my household as the board of directors. While I think about this very seriously, it is something I also have fun with. I call my husband my shareholder (we share our finances so I always share with him the important decisions I make in my business). I treat him like a business investor – I send him an annual report on Tandem Nomads where I sum up what has happened in the last financial year, how much we invested and what the return was. I even have an investor rewards program and a stakeholders event! We do something fun like a nice dinner or a weekend break at the end of every year or when I (we) achieve a specific goal.
Being clear about goals is also critical- when you start to invest, make sure you are super clear on what your financial goals are. And then celebrate achieving them!
I set an annual goal but then also quarterly and monthly financial goals – and I have incentives to achieve them! Make the incentives something that your partner or even your whole family can enjoy with you so that your investment becomes something they all feel part of. Share your goals with them so that everyone understands what you are trying to achieve and why. These are simple ways that you can involve your family and make it fun, as well as ways to help you overcome that mindset of not wanting to spend money on yourself.
If you haven’t already started investing in yourself and your business, then this is the time to start. I promise it will make a huge difference not just to your revenue but to your attitude and focus on your business. It really is key to your success.
3. Set up your marketing funnels as soon as possible
This is embarrassing to admit as a marketer, but I took far too long to focus on growing my mailing list and setting up my marketing funnels. If I had done this at the beginning of Tandem Nomads, I probably could have achieved three times my revenue in my first year.
One of the reasons I was able to grow my revenue so much in my second year was that I put in place a strong system with a proper marketing funnel and a strategy for growing my email list. If you are struggling to grow your revenue, there’s a good chance that you haven’t got a good system like this in place and that you need not just to have a strong email list but also a robust system to go from email to conversion and revenue, via a clear marketing funnel.
This is so important – it must be a real priority for you right now! It is also crucial that you offer value in return for people trusting you with their email address. The reason why you need their email address is that email is the only place where you can control your relationship with your audience of potential clients. Social media is great, the internet is great, but you are at the mercy of their rules and logarithms.
You need to build a system to nurture your relationship with potential clients
Once you have a system in place to build your mailing list, then you can shift your focus to nurturing those relationships by continuing to provide value, and by setting up that funnel that goes from value to conversion into revenue.
Stop wasting time doing everything at once
Why didn’t I do this at the very beginning of my business? I was “busy” and overwhelmed, there was always something else to do! It really is as simple as that, and because I had not invested in getting the right support, I was trying to learn everything and do everything all at once, on my own without any direction. While I learned a lot from that experience, I also lost a lot of time, energy, and revenue by not being methodical about building my system to do it right!
So, if you are in this stage, stop wasting time trying to do everything in every direction. Focus on a clear roadmap for your business and a step-by-step process!
And this is exactly what I could not find and wish I had when I started. There is so much information and resources out there, but I could not find guidance that showed the big picture in one place and explained the process of building a portable business one step at the time.
And that is why I decided to create a clear A to Z implementation plan to help my clients. I call this plan the 3C™ system to create revenue and impact. I am now turning this coaching program into an online course and a free workbook to help you get started NOW and not waste as much time as I did!
3 Steps to build the foundations of a successful portable business
Build a system that allows you to be more efficient with your time
The other reason that I didn’t set up my system immediately was that it takes time to create content that offers value. There is so much bad content out there! If you want to make an impact on your potential clients and in your industry, you need to provide really valuable content. A key part of doing this is to offer something that provides a transformation – you need something that will help your potential customers deal with a pain point in their business or in their lives. Even when you are giving something away for free, it must be good!
I realized that I needed to make this my number one priority, and in order to give it the time and attention it needed, I had to stop doing other things. I stopped doing all my own social media – I delegated it to someone else – so that I could create valuable content with my free resources, and ultimately get more clients.
Then I had to create a system. I remember spending a week just focusing on that, creating a system to make it easy to create content. Some of the things I did included creating templates so that I didn’t have to start from scratch all the time. If you are signed up to my newsletter, you’ll notice that it always looks the same and has the same structure, so I don’t have to spend time thinking about layout – I just focus on delivering valuable content.
It is a weekly email where I share insights from every episode and share some of what is happening in the background of Tandem Nomads.
Another thing that has helped me is to repurpose content that I have already created. Creating a major piece of content like a workbook can take days of work, but I know that I can repurpose this content in so many ways. I can use it for different episodes, different social media posts, or it can even become the foundation for an online course. By investing in creating a substantial piece of content, I’m actually creating value that I can deliver in a number of different formats.
The main thing here though is to develop your mailing list. If this is not a priority for you right now, stop everything else you are doing and make it one.
Developing your mailing list is where you need to put all your energy to grow your business!
While it was hard for me to share my mistakes with you, I hope that by opening up about what I experienced when I was starting Tandem Nomads, you can avoid some of the challenges I faced and enjoy great business success even sooner!