Jo Parfitt looks at a new breed of professional expat spouse - the entrepreneur.

I have been running my own business for longer than I have been an expat wife. In fact, my first opportunity to leave '9-5' arose when I was just 25 years old. A year later I was living in Dubai, so working for myself seemed an obvious choice. Since then I have created and maintained what I call a 'shifting portfolio of portable careers'. Most have had something to do with writing, and so, during my 18 years abroad I have been a copywriter, journalist, CV writer, author, publisher and writing teacher and now help others to write their books. But I am also passionate about the concept of portable careers in general and have developed a range of books and workshops that focus on this topic too. Oh, and I have sold Dorling Kindersley books, made and sold date chutney and even framed my mother's watercolours of Oman to sell at Muscat craft fairs. Perhaps I am just a 'serial entrepreneur'?

You may not be comfortable describing yourself as an entrepreneur. It may be a term that makes you think of Bill Gates, Richard Branson or Anita Roddick. If you are happier to consider that you are 'freelance', 'self-employed', 'work for yourself' or 'run your own business', that's fine. It's the same thing.

For many expatriate partners, like you, working for yourself is the solution to the dual career problem. Running a business of some kind that can move when you do is the best way to retain a professional identity and even sanity while on the move. Work, for me, is a necessary constant amidst all that change.

Do you have what it takes?
So, could you be an expat entrepreneur? Ivan Gould recently conducted a survey to ascertain whether women or men were more cut out to run their own businesses. He found that sex had nothing to do with it. Both required the same five traits, which are:

  • Desire for control
  • Strong self-motivation
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Flexibility and lateral thinking
  • Willingness to take risk

Look around you, at the proactive spouses in your community, whether they are working for wages or not, and you will see that they possess similar traits to those above.

Meet the expat entrepreneurs
Emma Bird first went to Milan to work as a journalist but before long had tired of the long hours. With a desire to be more in control, which also demonstrated her flexible thinking, she trained as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), took a risk and changed career. When she met Mario, Emma took another risk and moved to Sardinia with him. Here she found few work and networking opportunities solved the problem by deciding to start her own network, at www.weaveweb.it . Now that she has been self-employed for several years, yet still in her 20's, Emma's self-motivation can be seen in the fact that she has continued to add more skills to her portfolio and to spot opportunities. She still works as a freelance journalist, is writing a book on living in Italy for How To Books and now runs a second website offering advice to those who are thinking of coming to live in Italy, at www.howtoitaly.com .

Emma is perfect illustration of the kind of expatriate, female, entrepreneur that we are seeing these days. Over in Dubai, Maria McMahon began life in marketing, moved into business services and has now jumped on the recruitment band-wagon, where she runs Elite HR Services from her own villa. Debbie Jenkins was determined to create a business that moved when she did. Now based in a cave in Spain, she runs the virtual publishing company, Bookshaker.com with her brother, Joe, who is based in the UK. In April their book 'And Death Came Third' reached number 2 on Amazon.

Susanna Reay is an expat spouse based in Switzerland. She has just conducted research for a dissertation on the networking habits of female expatriate entrepreneurs, which highlights 'the emergence of a new breed of entrepreneur - 'the expatriate female entrepreneur [EFE]'.

Reay has discovered that while not all expatriate female entrepreneurs are also 'trailing spouses' their motivation to start a business shows that they are, indeed, natural entrepreneurs and do not follow this path simply through necessity.

'She [the EFE] is an 'idealistic sustainer', wanting to fulfil her business dream whilst maintaining a healthy work/life balance. This is made possible by being an astute businesswoman, with a clear vision and a business plan that is portable for possible future life-changes. She is generally aged between 31 and 50, multi-lingual, confidant, highly motivated, and a conscious and proactive networker,' writes Reay.

Having just had the privilege of attending the Shell Outpost Global Conference in Houston, I have been overwhelmed by the passion, drive, determination and problem-solving ability that was to be seen in each of the 88 Shell spouses who were there. The majority of them were working as volunteers, helping to run a range of settling in services for other Shell spouses, wherever they were living in the world. Interestingly, Reay considers the desire to be part of a large network as intrinsic to this expat entrepreneur, continuing:

'The EFE's sociability is core to her success and motivation in networking, along with a willingness to adapt and change with different locations. She builds a strong, supportive network of close family and peers to provide inspiration, motivation, emotional support, and tangible or informational resources when required. The EFE affiliates herself with several formal networks to help establish herself into the community as a serious business person [. . . ] Her strength lies in spotting niche markets that need to be met with an international yet personal touch to the business offering.'

Whether you have ambitions to be the next Gates or Roddick, to do business from your kitchen table or just to hang onto your professional identity you can do it. You are an expatriate spouse. You are a born entrepreneur.

Jo Parfitt is an expatriate partner, who has lived and worked overseas for almost 20 years, in five different countries. She makes her living from writing, speaking and teaching about what she has learned along the way. Find out more at her website www.summertimepublishing.com, where you can sign up for her free ezine, The Inspirer.

Susanna Reay is a British expatriate, currently residing in Basel, Switzerland. This research was completed for the final part of achieving an MBA with Brunel University, UK. Susanna currently works as a freelance consultant to small companies, helping them to develop an integrated business, marketing and design strategy for future growth.
Contact: susereay @ hotmail.com

Posted 15May2006