When you move every few years, when you don’t know the exact duration of your partner’s contract abroad, when you are susceptible to be relocated without sufficient advance notice, when you do not hold a working visa or can’t find a job locally, could starting and running a portable business be the best logical option?
A location-independent business is a business that you can run regardless of your physical location, one you can carry without interruption whenever you travel or wherever you relocate.
Location Independent Portable Businesses are Online Businesses!
But not all online businesses are portable! Let’s explain…
Example 1: you run an e-commerce website and sell your products worldwide. You operate it from home or from a physical location where you store your products, pack and ship them from there. You have an online business but not a portable one.
Your online business is not location independent. You’d have to stop and relocate your operations when you move, not the most appealing option for expats that don’t always know how long they’ll stay in their current posting.
Example 2: you are a coach or consultant, have an online presence with a website or blog but your services are performed locally through one on one consultations. You could relocate anywhere and still perform your work but you’d have to start from scratch with new clients.
Your business might have an online presence and be relocatable and location independent, it is still not a portable business.
A portable business is a business that will not suffer when you move to another city or country, will not be disrupted when you travel or are sick, will keep on running when you take a few hours or several days off.
All you’ll need are a laptop and a good internet connection to run your business smoothly without interruption. The world is your office!
Why is a Portable Business Perfect for Expat Partners?
Think of how much time you lose settling in after each relocation! Think about how you have to start your job search all over again at every single move!
From a few weeks here and there at times of transition, unemployment periods will extend to months, sometimes years, and will make it more and more difficult for you to remain competitive in the job market.
Call those “transition periods” if you want but they will appear more than small gaps in your professional career timeline.
You may have options such as taking a job that doesn’t match your qualifications, downgrading your professional expectations, pursuing your education to obtain a new diploma, upgrading your professional and technical skills with specific courses, or simply volunteer your time and expertise to a cause that’s dear to you.
But are these viable options in the long-term for your career?
Will they help you find and secure a job to fit your current and future needs?
What about your financial independence, your professional identity, your self-confidence?
Thinking of starting a portable business might seem a bit scary at first but will soon become a very realistic and feasible endeavor.
Starting a Portable Business doesn’t have to be Complicated, Risky or Expensive
It does require to accept new challenges and embrace learning new skills and new technologies. These new types of businesses will soon be the norm anyway With the new economy, only the people that will be able to keep their skills in line with the new digital and technology trends will remain competitive.
Don’t do anything to upgrade your skills now and you’ll find yourself out of any long-term employment perspective. Your initial job may not exist anymore when you return home in a few years’ time. So roll up your sleeves…
Why not use this transition period in your life as an expat partner or trailing spouse to profit from it in the long term?
Don’t waste time, start learning now and build something of your own. It’s a life changer, a real confidence booster.You don’t have anything to lose anyway.
Why don’t you upgrade your skills and start a business at the same time? Learn and take action, one step at a time. WWhat do you risk? Anything you learn won’t be lost. At worst, your business won’t take off but you’ll have learned something new. At best, you’ll have a successful ride that might change your life forever.
It looks like a no-brainer!
Does a Portable Business Need to be a Service Based Business?
Most people imagine a portable business to be a service based business where you deliver digital products to your customers worldwide or offer your time and services through remote work. That is true in most cases. A travel specialist, financial advisor, yoga or pilates instructor, life or career coach, etc can run a business online from anywhere.
But physical products business are not exempt from it either. You can now sell products worldwide with a portable business that holds no stock, doesn’t require you to pack and ship personally. There is a myriad of companies available to handle all the physical aspects of selling products online. You can now source, manufacture, import, store and deliver your products without handling any physical operation. FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon) business model might be the perfect way to operate an e-commerce business.
What do you Need to Succeed?
The most important is not your technical skills. You can learn new skills anytime. Practice is what makes perfect and that is why internships are required from young graduates before entering the corporate world. You might learn the theory, if you don’t put it into practice right away, it soon becomes useless.
So why don’t you combine both, learning and taking action? Learn as you go. Simply start, learn the skills required as you progress, and put everything you learn into action. One step at a time.
Technology is an absolute must to make businesses portable, viable and sustainable.Don’t be resistant to new technologies. It might take a lot of time initially to get into it, the learning curve might be steep, but you’ll figure it out. You don’t need a college degree or business background.
You’ll have to learn how to maintain a website, (better yet, learn how to build it from scratch!), generate traffic and communicate with prospects and customers, collect payments, etc. There is nothing more satisfying than to take on something challenging but it’s not the easiest route when you have no product or business idea and no specific knowledge and previous experience at online business.
But don’t let this discourage you if you do not feel ready to embrace that route. You can also build a portable business without diving straight into the new technologies. You might want to look at the Amazon FBA business model which does not require any specific technical and digital skills: no website to build, no traffic to drive, no payment to process, etc… You can learn to select, source, import, and sell products on Amazon in weeks and build a profitable business in months, not years, and this without any prior experience.
In any case, you need to focus on your mindset to get going.
Action is the Best Motivation
The more you think about a problem, the less probable you’ll act. And if you are not convinced about that, you should check out Mel Robbins’ presentation and her 5 seconds rule about motivation.
In short, no one ever gets motivated to do something uncomfortable. When you wait for motivation, your brain switches to safety mode and makes you rethink your initial intention. Trust your guts, go for it. A simple 5 seconds countdown is all that it takes, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Go!
Will that be all you need? To start, yes! To keep on going, probably not!.
Don’t ever fall for scammers that promise you will become an instant millionaire or work only 4 hours per week, it’s just pure BS!
Starting an online portable business, like any other type of business, requires dedication, organization, discipline, and … work.
Working from home is not always the easiest thing to do. You’ll have to focus on your business to succeed at it! It might not be easy at first, you might struggle for a while, but it can be learned and practiced.
You’re good at it anyway. Whether you’re an expat partner or trailing wife, you’re a pro at adapting to new situations and a creative problem solver. Put all your qualities and soft skills to good use and just enjoy the process.
What about Visa Issues?
How do you start and run a business when you are not allowed to work in your host country? How do you overcome the legal hurdles related to your lifestyle?
Of course, each and every personal situation is different. It always depends on your country of origin, your nationality, your tax-base home, your host country etc…There’s not one single answer that fits everyone. So please bear in mind that the following suggestions do not represent legal advice. Everyone should seek legal advice pertaining to their own situation.
So how would you approach the problem?
In general, your business should not be based in your host country. When you do not plan to stay forever in a place, setting a business there is never a good option. You’d have to move your legal structure, shut it down and restart it somewhere else. It will be costly and totally inefficient. A useless loss of time and money, it’s not worth registering a company in a country where you are going to stay for only 2 or 3 years.
In most situation, your business should be based in the country you are from, your passport country, or the one where you have your family interests or pay your taxes. Of course, each special situation must have to be verified but those general rules apply in most cases.
They’re the most logical for portability reasons.
You know the legal system of your country, speak the language, and are able to communicate effectively. You can sift through most administrative burdens when you already familiar with the accounting and tax structures. You can easily open and operate a bank account.
You may come across many financial advisors that will recommend offshore companies. There is nothing wrong with that but think first of all implications. Your main objective is to build a sustainable business, not reduce or evade taxation. There is more and more scrutiny on offshore businesses and it becomes harder to open bank accounts.
Reporting offshore accounts and remaining compliant with international and your home country laws are extremely complex and, if not done properly, bear stiff penalties. The burden might not be worth the benefits initially thought.
For example, it is very easy to open a legal business in Hong Kong when living in another country but opening a business bank account is another story. Recent tax evasion and money laundering issues have generated more and more control and make it quite difficult to open a bank account there.
It may be a great solution to base an e-commerce business in Labuan, Malaysia, but processing payments from US-based customers with a Labuan bank account might prove difficult or even impossible. Also, American citizens or residents should know all implications. The Land of the Free might be your biggest market but you won’t be able to benefit from it thanks to FATCA policies that push institutions to shut down many options for offshore businesses.
This trend is generalizing worldwide so be aware…
Again, please seek legal advice before setting up your structure and make sure your legal advisor or accountant is aware of your special situation to manage a company and pay your taxes from anywhere.
You might want to consult several professionals before making your decision. You should at least include a tax lawyer and an accountant familiar with online global business operations. Immigration lawyers or corporate lawyers might be necessary depending on your personal situation.
Make sure they listen to you and your problems to figure out your exact needs. You don’t want anyone to give you a generic solution that doesn’t account for your specifics.
How do you build a sustainable and scalable business?
First, you need to produce and deliver the product or service and differentiate yourself from your competition. Then you’ll have to reach your potential customers and communicate with them. Finally, you’ll need to make money, figure out how to get paid to build and scale your business.
Do not forget that the only thing which is not scalable is TIME! As a freelance or solo entrepreneur, you exchange your time for money. You can’t operate when you are sick, when you move, or when you don’t have time anymore. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day and that same rule applies to everyone!
The only ways to scale a portable business are:
- Hire more people: freelancers and remote employees such as virtual assistants
- Invest in more technology to automate tasks
- Expand your product line and online services offerings
In any case, you’ll need to make sure to balance your resources with your revenue and have enough available to sustain growth. One of the advantages expat and trailing spouses might have, is that they do not need to draw a personal income right away. It might not be ideal but by accepting to follow your partner for his career, you knew that your personal and financial independence would be at risk. Use this not so perfect and temporary situation to your advantage. Invest in yourself and invest in building and growing your own business.
You might not be able to pay yourself at the beginning but think about it as an investment, not a loss. You’re putting down the foundation for a sustainable business. It will pay off…
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Sitting at your computer all day will not help you build a sustainable business!
Enjoy your life too, don’t isolate yourself! Balance your time between work/family/leisure.
After all, the objective of starting a portable business is to profit from your experience of moving to different places and environments, with your family. Spend time with your family, allocate time for yourself, get out, and meet people, travel…
Combine the best of both worlds, being a global entrepreneur and a global citizen!
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