How Three Aussie Entrepreneurs Moved Overseas To Build Their Businesses
The freedoms that come with owning your own business are plentiful: you’ve got the freedom to decide your own hours, the freedom to show up to work late when you’ve spent a little too much time “networking” the night before, and the freedom to delegate work you don’t want to do. But running your own business, whether a startup or a more established company, can also give you the freedom to pack up and bid your hometown adieu.
We spoke to three entrepreneurs about how they made relocation work for them, the challenges they faced and their advice to anyone considering a similar move.
Erin Young, Zen Green Tea
After spending a study year abroad in chilly Cologne in Germany with very little money, and a long-term relationship that was causing her financial stress, Erin decided she’d had enough of being broke: the entrepreneurial life was for her.
“I decided that I never wanted my decisions to be dictated by my finances, and my time to be tied to a job,” she says. “When I got back to Australia I began networking with people who were running their own businesses, and I had the idea of selling matcha green tea powder.” And so Zen Green Tea was born.
Earlier this year, after building Zen into one of the country’s leading matcha suppliers over a period of five years, Erin took the plunge, quit her full-time job, and moved to her boyfriend’s dairy farm just outside the Irish city of Cork. “I’d already built a good online sales base before I moved overseas,” says Erin. “The thing that really allowed me to move overseas was having a distributor on board. They streamlined all my sales, and allowed me to have enough volume to start using a pick-pack facility.”
Erin had extended periods of time travelling under her belt while running her business from afar — her mum helped with postage and customer service when she was out of the country.
The majority of Erin’s company is run online; she tracks sales, orders stock and ensures that her orders are being filled by her distributor. She says she could spend just half an hour a day on her business (every entrepreneur’s dream), but usually puts in at least five hours a day, four days a week on marketing, writing blog posts and rebuilding her website in order to expand Zen into the UK.
“Running Zen has afforded me a lot of freedom, and has made it a lot less scary to be able to do the same work here as I did in Sydney,” says Erin. “I want to have Zen earning enough money that I can always sustain myself off it and be at liberty to move around. So although I’m living in Ireland, I can go back home for a few months because I don’t have a limited amount of annual leave. If I’m missing the sun I can fly to a sunny place.”
She says her main challenges have been internal as the Sydney rat-race and entrepreneurial scene kept her motivation levels high — a pressure that is almost non-existent in rural Ireland. “Everything in Sydney was about how much money you earned,” she explains. “Here, all that doesn’t matter anymore, so I do have days where I’m not as driven to put in the hours.”
Her advice to those planning on buying their one-way ticket to their new home? Build networks of other entrepreneurs wherever you go in the world. Also read books like The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris and 7 Day Startup by Dan Norris, as well as the Shopify blog for advice on how to efficiently run your business.
Lisa Maree, Lisa Maree and Glam Crew
Unlike Erin, Lisa Maree leapt into an overseas move soon after founding her eponymous beachwear company in 2008. After showing at Australian Fashion Week in 2009, she was picked up by a fashion agent from New York and presented her line at Miami Fashion Week a few months later. Net-a-Porter expressed their interest and soon she was approached by masses of other stores.
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“My business was not very established when I decided to go overseas, and I didn’t have an international presence,” says Lisa Maree. “At the time when things were really getting going overseas, about 2011, I decided to move to LA. I opened a US head office and kept my Sydney office running with a manager overseeing the Sydney side of things.”
But, she says, being in different time zone from her employees proved difficult, as despite implementing a reporting system and regular Skype calls, her staff in Sydney’s Surry Hills seemed to lack the motivation to work when she wasn’t in the country to crack the whip. She shut down operations in Sydney and relocated her head office to sunny LA, where she had chosen to live thanks to its similarities with her hometown of Bondi.
After a couple of years in LA, due to personal reasons and a desire to move her manufacturing base, she packed up again and moved to Turkey. “I spent a year going back and forth between LA and Turkey and then made the move and opened a Turkish head office where I moved all of my admin — learning from past experience — and kept my shipping warehouse and sales showroom in the US,” she says.
When it comes to the freedoms running her own company have allowed her, Lisa Maree says she is “blessed”. “I am at a point now where I can just take off, and I have my team and systems set up and in place. I know I can feel comfortable that things won’t fall apart if I’m travelling,” she says. “I have basically spent the last two years travelling regularly throughout Europe, seeing amazing places and making priceless business connections.”
Having returned to Australia, her business has even allowed her the flexibility to launch another startup, Glam Crew, which aims to be the “Uber for Beauty”, providing hair stylists, spray tans and makeup artists on demand.
Lisa Maree’s main advice is to ensure you have a reliable manager overseeing operations if you plan on basing your company in Australia while overseas. “Ninety-five per cent of the time staff will inject less effort if you’re not present,” she cautions. “If you can find an amazing manager that cares about the business as much as you do, you can make the transition a lot easier, but in my experience you need to be present as much as possible until you can work out a solution that will work for you. It’s definitely not an easy option to implement.”
Jess Russ, Jessica T
After venturing to Hong Kong several times a year over a period of 10 years, Jess Russ decided it was time to up sticks and relocate to the city 18 months ago. Her company, Jessica T, which designs, develops and supplies accessories to some of the biggest names in fashion and retail around Australia, remained operating in Brisbane as it expanded to Hong Kong.
While her business was well established, with four years of profitable trading history behind it, she hadn’t launched it into any international markets before the move. “We had very little international presence in 2015 when we decided to expand,” says Jess. “Albeit, we did have an in-depth understanding of working with and alongside South-East Asian companies.”
Before she left, Jess made sure that she had a top-notch team; many had worked for the company since the beginning, and could be trusted to perform semi-autonomously. She also implemented systems and tools to ensure everything continued to run seamlessly in her absence. “It is an extremely diverse city with a strong start-up culture and a relatively simple tax system,” says Jess of why she chose Hong Kong as her base. “Being my own boss was extremely advantageous in terms of travelling and eventually relocating to Hong Kong. It’s not an easy task to move your entire life to another country and at times it can be stressful and challenging.”
For anyone who plans on following suit? “Customers require constant attention and communication so a reliable internet connection is a must,” Jess advises. “It’s important to frequently check in and check emails to let your customers or clients know you are on top of everything, despite being in a different time zone.”
“The freedom of not being bound by a traditional nine-to-five work schedule means I was able to swiftly address any crisis situations during the move, and not allow them to become bigger problems. I am able to work at critical times of the day when my customers need me, wherever they are in the world, yet I also have downtime when my schedule allows.”
“It is most definitely an exciting goal to work towards, once you have a stable business.”
Che-Marie Trigg is a freelance writer and full-time subeditor. Her work has appeared in Virgin Australia Voyeur, Collective Hub and GoPlaces with Toyota magazines among others, as well as on websites like Broadsheet and Junkee. Follow her on Instagram @chemariet.
Lead images: supplied