Home » Running A Location-Independent Business Abroad

Running A Location-Independent Business Abroad

Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast.

A fellow podcaster is my guest on this episode, to give you the lowdown on what it takes to set up and run your business from anywhere in the world. Sundae Bean is an American by birth and the host of the Expat Happy Hour podcast.

Sundae is an intercultural strategist who left her corporate job in Switzerland to set up her own coaching business, working from Burkina Faso in West Africa and later, from South Africa.
In this chat, Sundae’s going to talk through:

• how she identified her ‘calling’ and her clients
• the admin that comes with working for yourself and being location independent
• time management and motivation as a solopreneur
• how she juggles clients all over the world while also carving out time for herself
• money, and earnings – what’s realistic when you’re starting out on your own

Sundae also stresses the importance of investing in yourself, and ‘doing the work’ to reach your goals.

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Sundae, in an email to Expat Focus, you mentioned that, through listening to this podcast, you felt like you already knew me. And I binge-listened to a bunch of episodes of your podcast, Expat Happy Hour, and I feel like you already know me too, because your podcast just hits the nail on the head over and over again when it comes to the struggles, the feelings, and the emotions that come with living abroad. And it really taps into what’s going on behind the top-level issues. And I just found that so enriching.

Sundae: Oh, well, thank you so much. I actually get feedback from listeners saying that it’s creepy; it’s like I’m a fly on the wall.

Carlie: I was like, hang on, how is she in my brain?

Sundae: Which is a really good sign. That’s a huge compliment. Thank you very much.

Carlie: Absolutely. And you’re an intercultural strategist, a certified life coach … Like one of our previous guests, Rachel Jones, you mentioned you’re an American mum with TCKs who is currently living on the African continent. But can you tell me, where did it all start for you?

Sundae: Let’s see. Well, I’ve been abroad for over 21 years, and it started when I was studying abroad in Spain and I realised I came from a very homogenous community in rural America. My parents: my father was a farmer; my mother was a housewife. I had no models for living or even traveling abroad. But something drew me to see our beautiful planet and our people.

I started traveling and I think I caught the travel bug. And I ended up going from Western Eastern Europe to Southeast Asia when I had a break between projects, when I was in a consulting firm. And I met a guy from Switzerland in Vietnam in the last two weeks of my trip. And long story short, I ended up moving to Switzerland in, I think, 2000, and we got married shortly thereafter.

And I just started this cross-cultural life, where I was trying to bridge cultures between the way I grew up and the way I saw the world, to be in a relationship with people who are very different from me.

And then that sort of flourished into a really deep interest in how people do this without it being so raw. I mean, I’m going to be really honest: when this was all happening, like 1999, 2000, 2001 – before podcasts like this, before Facebook groups – I had to figure this out all on my own. And it was hard.

I had to give up everything I’d created in the US and start over. And that inspired me to get a master’s degree in intercultural communication to help learn how to train people through international transitions. And then later, the coaching methodology, helping adults come to their own answers. And that’s what happened professionally.

Personally, we kept going. One day, my husband walked into the office, and he said, ‘Hey honey, I applied for a job. I think it’d be really cool if we lived and worked abroad.’ And I said, ‘I do live and work abroad.’ I had established myself in Switzerland.

I was actually coaching in German, working with top companies in the region, and I felt settled. And then I ended up giving up all of that and we moved to West Africa, to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. And I started my own company, and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Carlie: How difficult was that? Because I know from my experience that giving up my career to move to France … Actually, I was very lucky to take it with me in the end, but the prospect of needing to start again … And it sounds like you built up a new profession for yourself in Switzerland. You made those connections, you put down roots, and then to move again. How difficult was that to do that for yourself?

Sundae: That was honestly a huge leap of faith, and from the outside people probably thought it was crazy. And I’ll put it into context. I had worked over eight years, learned another language, got a master’s degree in a direction that didn’t even exist when I started studying it in the country, and was able to get a leadership position.

And they even give you a 13th salary in Switzerland – they pay you an extra month. And I had this lifetime position at the second biggest company in the country. And I gave all of that up, all of it, and here’s why I did it. I was at lunch with one of my girlfriends. She’s this beautiful soul. Her name is Dolina. And we were talking about this dilemma.

‘I’ve worked so hard to build this up and should I give it all up to start over?’ And she said, ‘Sundae, you’re not starting over.’ She said, ‘You’re bringing all of your skills and knowhow and capability with you.’ And that did it for me.

I thought, you know what, I’m an intercultural strategist. If I can’t go to a developing country or a francophone country and make it work, then who am I? I’m always wanting to be cutting edge on my learning and the methodologies, and I had been in Switzerland for quite a while then, and it was time for me to really up-level the way I was showing up in my own learning and growth.

And that’s why I did it. Because I know the kind of professional I want to be to serve my clients, right? And thankfully, we went through all kinds of stuff similar to what Rachel Jones has talked about on your podcast. We went through all kinds of crazy stuff I didn’t even know happened on this planet when I was a kid. And I think I’m so thankful for those experiences, because now I‘ve been there and I can serve my people in a much better way.

Carlie: I’m always curious about expats that start their own businesses, and whether it’s out of a drive to work for themselves and be their own bosses or if it’s out of necessity, because of the situation they’re put in. There’re not many other options for you. It sounds like you had that drive and it was a circumstance that led you to start working for yourself and to establish your business and your brand. Would that be right?

Sundae: It’s kind of a combination. To be honest, I was pretty comfortable in a corporate context, where I could just call the tech guy or legal … And my husband always said, ‘You should start your own business, because for all of the work that you’re doing, you would make more money. Exponentially more for the work that you’re putting in, than if you stay in a corporate context.’

And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not an entrepreneur.’ But when I decided to say yes, I did it for a bigger picture. I wanted my kids to live on other parts of the planet, besides the sheltered American Swiss context. And I wanted to support my husband, his career. I wanted to have this cultural experience.

I was in my department, managing my operations, my finances, to make sure that I could bring in enough revenue, etc., so I kind of said, ‘You know what, Sundae, you’ve got to have what it takes.’ I don’t know yet if I do, but I have a hunch that I’ll figure it out. And I basically said yes to it.

And how should I say this … I didn’t want to just give up everything I had built. I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t be able to do that at all. So, if I was going to say yes to the situation, I had to make it work.

Carlie: And you sort of had to have something for yourself.

Sundae: One hundred percent. There’s no way I couldn’t have, because I would have just been resentful. It would have damaged our relationship. It would have just been a disaster waiting to happen. I had to do my own thing, and this is where I came up with this topic. I call it the trailblazing spouse.

This was in 2013, or maybe even 2012, when I was lying in bed one morning thinking about whether I was going to say yes, and move my kids from cross-cultural kids to third-culture kids. And move me from dual career equal earner to accompanying spouse. These are the questions I had in my mind in the morning, and I know I’m not alone.

And I was like, ‘You know what, I hate this term, “trailing spouse”. I hate it.’ I was like, ‘I do not trail. I make my decisions for things that will serve me and my family. I’m not going to trail.’ And that’s where the idea of trailblazing came in. I thought, if I’m going to do this, I am going to create my own path. And when I woke up in the morning, I sketched out ideas for a trailblazing spouse. And I said, ‘Yes.’

Carlie: And when you did say yes, did you have the business, as it is today, in your mind? Is that what you started with? Or how did you go about building your location independent business at that point?

Sundae: I’m holding back laughter, because I’m just thinking, I had a kind of a naive idea. One thing that was naive was, first of all, in Switzerland, I didn’t have to do marketing and sales, because we had a person for that. Also, I was exposed to really large audiences, so I didn’t really have to market myself, because at events people would see me, and then that person from, let’s say, that one organization, would call the other person from the other organization and recommend me.

So really, I didn’t have to acquire clients, so I don’t think I knew what I was getting into. And thank God that I didn’t know what I was getting into. I sat at my website. I hoped people would find me and I had no idea people don’t find you.

Well, you have to go to them. So, I realised I had to go to them. And what I didn’t anticipate was the psychological distance that people would experience because I was in Ouagadougou. They thought being in West Africa was so far away. It was a five-hour flight from Brussels, but people felt that it was very psychologically away.

My learning in the beginning was, how do I get people to know me, to like me, to trust me? Because the work I do is very, very personal, very vulnerable. I’m just thinking, anybody who’s listening, how many times have you reached out to someone you’ve never met in person and said, ‘I got this thing I want to do, but I know that if I try to do it on my own, I’m not going to go as far as if I go with someone else?’ Or ‘I am stuck, and this is hard, and I’ve tried everything, and nothing is working. Will you help me?’

How many people do that and then pay someone for that collaboration? It takes a lot of trust. So, I didn’t realise how much of the building of trust I would have to make. And that’s why I started with my blog, really sharing what I was experiencing, and insight from the coaching perspective and the intercultural perspective. I didn’t anticipate that it would take up half of my time.

And the other thing I was naive about was I thought that I would have two clients. One would be brand new expats, and the other would be experienced expats. And it turned out that actually the majority of my clients are really experienced expats, people who’ve been around for 12, 14, 18 and even 20 years.

And the newbies weren’t the people who were resonating, or maybe they weren’t ready for support.

Carlie: Yeah, I think back to six years ago, when I first moved abroad. I don’t think I ever would have considered that I might need someone to help me through. And it’s only recently that I’ve been thinking about those major, I suppose, mental roadblocks that I have, and the everyday life aspects that I don’t feel 100% whole about.

And oh, wouldn’t it be great to maybe get some guidance on that? But it certainly wasn’t my attitude when I first moved to London and was bright-eyed and ready just to take it all in. You know?

Sundae: Right. You’re in the honeymoon phase and you’re excited and the adventure is there, but then someone dies, you miss a wedding, you don’t get the work that you want, you feel an identity crisis …

It’s like all that stuff comes, it weighs on you, and the exoticism of the experience is worn out. And you’re asking yourself, ‘Hey, am I going to regret this?’

Carlie: We actually just bought a house here and I had a massive cry when we first started going through the process, because I’m Australian. It’s all about home ownership when you’re Australian, and I realized that I didn’t have the French necessary to be able to really be actively involved in that process.

And this is the great Australian dream. I’m having it in France, and yet I have to be a spectator. And that was incredibly difficult. And it’s those things that have happened more and more in the last two to three years, compared to my first few years, that have made me think, wow, maybe this is where coaches like yourself are really, really valuable.

Sundae: And there’s the spectator. I love that metaphor. Another metaphor I hear a lot is that people … You feel like you’re standing at the sidelines of your life, where, depending on the reason you live abroad, it feels like someone else’s playing the main game and you’re on the sidelines. Or you feel like you’re a second signature.

You know, it depends. If your partner has a lead assignment, you’re always the one who signed second, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I am an independent, empowered individual and I want my own bank account. I want to make my own decisions. I don’t want to ask permission for things.’ And it’s that that’s deep identity confrontation that people have.

And as you said, this is a massive experience, and not even understanding … I mean, how many people have gotten married in a language that they can’t understand? I’ve been at weddings of binational couples and it’s in a language that the bride or the groom doesn’t get. Who wants to get married in a language you don’t even understand?

Carlie: So, you’ve identified that your target market is really those more seasoned expats. How did you go about connecting with them when you were based in Africa?

Sundae: I think they identified me. I don’t know if I identified them. I think what happened is I was talking about things that were really relevant for our context, like about expat fatigue and about the challenges when one partner has a lead assignment and they’re stressed, and the other partner is an accompanying spouse. And then I think those topics resonated with my audience and they kind of found me.

You asked, how did I go about that, going further? I think, for me, it was actually about doing the work. I started out kind of open. Who’s open for support? Who is feeling stuck? Really general language.

And then the more I started working with individuals, I realised – to be honest, I thought I was going to be doing a lot of intercultural coaching and that’s one of my strong areas of specialty – my clients were like, ‘Sundae, no, we’re okay with the culture stuff. We hired you because you get it, you get the culture stuff, but that’s not why I want to talk to you.’

So actually, what I started discovering with my clients is they were simply working to make themselves more of a priority, to get off the sidelines of their life. I discovered they were really working hard to focus on their health and wellbeing. A lot of people mistake self-care for selfishness. They have a hard time really taking time for themselves and getting the energy that they need to encounter their crazy day.

And my clients are also just looking for more purpose and meaning. They’re asking themselves, ‘Okay, I’ve done this; I’m here. I’m living this life. I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own. Now what?’ And that’s where I started listening. And that’s where, from a business perspective, I started saying, ‘Oh, this is what my clients really want. This is how I really serve them.’

I could have shown up online. I could have talked about the dimensions of culture and hierarchy, inequality, direct communication and indirect communication. Nobody cared about that. And yes, it comes up in coaching on occasion and it adds value. But honestly, it’s more that people are hungry for someone who understands the complexity of, what I call, their ‘Olympic level’ lives.

You know, anybody who just lives in their own hometown and is trying to be happily married and trying to raise well-adjusted kids and eat healthy knows how hard that is, right? And then do that an ocean away from your loved ones in a foreign language with a physical environment that you didn’t grow up with, and now we’re talking Olympic level challenges.

Carlie: Sundae, you’re dealing with the Olympic level challenges of other people, while being based in Africa, where you’re raising your own family and you’re running an online business for an audience that is global. How do you separate your work time from your personal time and stop yourself from being online 24/7?

Sundae: Hmm, that’s a really good question. So, what I do is I have very clear office hours. I start at 7:00 AM and I’m usually done between 4:00 PM and 5:00 PM. I take a break at 10:30 AM to go running, to shower and to eat. And then I WhatsApp with my friends or connect in some way. And then I get back to business around noon. So those are my working hours. They’re very consistent.

I do that because stuff happens. I just got a call last week. One of my kids was sick and I thought, okay, now I have to pick up and not go running today. I’m actually going to go run to the school, pick them up and come back. So I do that. So, while I always say, ‘Get it while the getting’s good.’ While I can have consistency, I’m going to do it, because I know that in summer break everybody’s off for 10 weeks and now I have to do the same thing but across three continents.

I want to be really clear. I struggled earlier on. My kids have called me out for being on my phone when I shouldn’t have been on my phone. And that’s something that I’ve struggled with, and then have worked on. And the other night, my son and I were reading stories, and he goes, ‘Mama, I want to tell you something.’ And I said, ‘What?’ And he goes, ‘You’re doing a really good job. You’re not on your phone as much as used to be.’

Carlie: That’s the ultimate compliment.

Sundae: It’s so sweet when your kids give you feedback.

So I have struggled with that. Also, I’m so personally passionate about it, that I’m personally interested, and it is emotionally … You know, the boundaries between what is personal and what is for work are blurry, because I’m a personal development junkie. I’m a culture junkie. All of those things I just love anyway.

Carlie: When your hobby is your job?

Sundae: Right. I have chosen and have the absolute privilege to do what I love. How else do I separate that? I think one of the things that I have worked on is the work that I do is so emotionally intense – I am celebrating with my clients; I am empathizing with my clients; I am strategizing with them – that I need to process that some how.

So that’s where running has been really important to me, to get fresh energy for the other half of my day. And whatever was happening, on an emotional level, to sort of clear that and then move on. So that’s another thing that I work really hard to do. And on the weekends, it is probably 95% of the time that I do not work.

So, I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job with that, and it’s important to me, because I really try to live it to give it. If I ask my clients to create more balance in their life and make time for them, I’ve got to be doing that myself.

Carlie: How do you handle the not so fun aspects of running your own business, and particularly when you’re based abroad? So, is your business then registered where you’re living? Or how do you deal with the administration side, when you’re not in your home country, where you might understand the tax laws and business setup aspects?

Sundae: This is going to be an answer no-one’s going to want to hear, because it’s not a fun one. I have consulted professionals. That means you have to pay for guidance and advice. My company is an LLC, or GmbH in German, and it’s Swiss based. And so all of my legal consultation, accounting – all of that – is operated from Switzerland. And that is the way I can have a location independent business.

I’m a dual citizen. So that means there is complexity in the taxes and all of those other things, so we always consult legal advisors and tax advisors and follow what they see based on my context. So that is something I really advise anybody who’s thinking about a location independent business – to be ready to invest.

This is my opinion. Maybe some other people have different ideas, but I believe this is what gives me security. It is important for me to invest in top advisory, so that I know with peace of mind that I’m doing the right thing. And that’s the not so fun part of the business. I have to pay that person so much money to figure this out. But then I have the peace of mind.

I think the other things that are hard with the location independent business is just the stuff that is … How should I say this? You’re always going to be serving clients that are far away from you or in other locations. And that gives you absolute freedom. And that’s what I love.

But if you are sitting in your office alone, you’re a sole entrepreneur. You really have to be very driven to keep your routine, your boundaries and motivation to keep going. You can’t have a buddy across the desk going, ‘Oh, I have this idea. What do you think?’

So I think that’s something with location independent business owners. They go towards the freedom, but what they have to realize is that there might be a solitude that comes with that. And they need to create structures in their day and their week and their life and their business to not feel isolated.

Carlie: Do you have to be good at and enjoy the hustle, to work for yourself and run your own business?

Sundae: Urgh, hustle. That word triggers me. I like to scramble, instead of hustle, maybe because hustle is connected to this idea of bro-marketing for me, and I have a sort of an allergic reaction to—

Carlie: Aha, that’s fair enough.

Sundae: Sorry. I’m sorry, everybody who’s all onboard for bro-marketing, but that’s not my style. I would say scramble. What I did not anticipate is that, as an interculturalist and coach, I would coach and train half of the time, but to get that 50% of my time doing the work, I had to scramble for the other 50%.

And the one thing that’s involved in that, that people probably don’t know … And I’ll say this, if you look at how I show up online, people might think, oh, she’s super comfortable with being online, or she has no problem putting herself out there. Of course, over seven years I’ve developed that, but I get sick of seeing my own face online.

But you can’t serve people unless you reach people. So the scramble is that I need people to connect with. I need to have an audience. And if I don’t, I’m not going to be able to do what I love, and I’m not going to touch people’s lives.

So people who are running a location independent business, and they’re passionate about whatever they do, whatever that thing is, they do have to prepare themselves that, unless they’re going to pay a really good sales and marketing team to do it for them, they’re going to have to do it themselves.

In fact, I would argue you should do it yourself, at least in the beginning, so that when you talk to your sales and marketing team, they understand your voice and your vibe, your messaging. And I think a lot of people resist that. They’re like, ‘I just want to be a’ – whatever the thing is – ‘and I don’t want to sell.’ Or ‘I don’t want to do marketing. That’s not me.’

And it’s like, well, who’s going to do it for you? You know, Coke has great marketing. Coke is a great product, but if they didn’t do sales and marketing, they wouldn’t sell it.

Carlie: You said that you had all these other departments back when you were working the nine to five in Switzerland. Are there any departments that you wish you could magic up for your own business, that you don’t currently have?

Sundae: I mean, hello, IT! I just got a new Mac, and it’s like, okay, I’ve got OneDrive and I’ve got GoogleDrive and I’ve got the iCloud and I’ve got … And it’s like things are sinking and I just want someone to come in and organize my folders and make sure everything is backed up properly and I’m using the right whatever. So, IT would probably be the first one.

Legal and accounting, I have to pay for. I wish it wasn’t part of my PNL statement. And what else would I outsource? Sales and marketing. I don’t want to do graphics. I mean, I outsource this now. People help me with graphics and sales and marketing and scheduling and all of that. I would love all of those things to happen.

And right now, when they do happen, I have a team of people that are supporting me. But they’re all independent contractors and not part of the corporate entity. Right? So many departments I would like to have. What else would I like? I would love someone to do corporate outreach for me, because working with corporate is so wonderful and I love it, but it’s really hard to find the right decision maker and then establish that relationship. So, it’s all a matter of time.

And that’s the other thing for independent business owners, or people who want to be, you need to be really clear on how you spend your time and energy. When you’re employed, you get a salary and you get paid for being at work. And some jobs even count your hours.

When you’re self-employed, all you get are results, right? It has nothing to do with the amount of time you’re sitting in your chair. So that’s a skill I think people need to learn when they’re doing a location independent business; how do I invest my time and energy so that it has the biggest impact for my clients and for my business goals? And that’s a huge shift, and that requires discipline.

And I just had Graham Alcott on my podcast, from Productivity Ninja, to give advice, because it’s like, how do we use our time and attention differently so that we can be at work, not as little as possible – because I love what I do – but more like, for the time I am at work, to maximize the output?

Carlie: His chat with you is actually one of the episodes I listened to the other day, and I found it really interesting that he doesn’t think you need to banish, for example, social media, from your life. And when you are running your own business, that’s an element that’s so important.

And yet I see on Expat Focus forums, for example, expats in France who are trying to set up their own business and just don’t have the energy or the interest to do social media. And yet they know it’s so important.

Sundae: I hear what you’re saying around this idea of, am I going to let it drive my life? Here’s honestly what I think about it. I think my job is about relationships and about connecting with people, and social media is not a task. It is social. So, if someone reaches out, I want to be able to respond. If someone says hello in a cafe, I want to say hello in the cafe in a timely way.

I don’t let it rule my life, but I’ve realised recently I need to actually give more space for social media. But then very focused. So, if I’m going to go on Facebook, I’m going to be all over Facebook, checking in, but then I’m off. Not every five minutes type of thing. So, this is the way we connect with our people.

And you know, if you’re location dependent like me, it’s how I have clients in Tokyo and Kenya and London, because they found me somewhere online. I want to use my energy well with my social media, so that I’m connecting with people in ways that feel authentic.

And I think that’s one learning tip that I’ve gained over the years. Because I was in corporate, you have to be professional, right? And it’s like, can you just let your hair down a little bit and let people see a little bit of who you are? Because you’re a real person too. And I think that’s the thing about social media. People are really trying to have a presence.

It’s that balance of showing your professional knowhow and allowing people to know what your competencies are, but it’s also letting them have a little bit of a peek behind the curtain at your personality, because who are they going to get when they hire you? They’re going to get you.

Carlie: Absolutely. I’m curious about when you started your business, what goals you set for yourself, and by when, and whether you actually achieved them. And when you look back now, from when you first set up to what you’ve grown your business into, is it the timeline you anticipated? Has it happened faster?

Sundae: Okay. Yeah, this is a good question. I’m tapping a little bit into my money stuff, right? One of my commitments to myself is to talk to coaches and professional service professionals around money, and to get over that. So this question is a stretch for me – I’m just going to say that upfront – because I grew up in a culture where we don’t talk about money.

My father didn’t even share how many heads of cattle he had, because he didn’t want people to calculate how much a cow was times how many and then what that meant from a revenue perspective.

Carlie: It’s such a tricky one too, because obviously you’re in a partnership, and your partner has an income. And so, do you have personal money goals? Do you have money goals that you need to support your family? Is it, ‘Oh well, I’m a trailing spouse. We’ll just see how this goes.’ I’m really curious about what attitude you had going in and what your goals were.

Sundae: Okay. So, my attitude going in was I am going to replace my corporate income, and I was earning well in the corporate context, and that was my goal. I want to replace my corporate income. And when I started it was really disappointing.

I think in my first year I made like $36,000, and then I think I spent $35,000. You know, I looked at my statement, and I was just like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was so upset, and my husband was like, ‘Congratulations, Sundae, first year of business and you made a profit.’

Carlie: Yes, absolutely!

Sundae: I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ You know, I’m pretty ambitious. I set high goals and I want to crush them. And so, I really was frustrated. Second year was pretty similar, and I thought, are you serious? I am doing all of this. I left all of that behind me, and this is what it looks like at the end of the year? It was so hard and there was some shame there. Like, what are you doing wrong, Sundae, that you can’t replace your corporate income?

And then what happened next – and this is where the click happened for me around the sales and marketing – I ended up investing in a really high level program, which I was able to teach through the coaching and the support I got, get savvy on. How do you show up online? What is the foundation you need for online business? How do you write sales copy that connects? What are your packages and services?

So, I’d already been working with clients in the background, so it was a combination of really knowing my client, what they needed, and then having the skills to frame myself and my message right. And that year, with this outrageous investment, things clicked, and I doubled my revenue, and since then I’ve been able to replace my corporate income and grow my business.

But I had to invest really heavily in myself to learn those skills. And I had to do the work. I had to work with my clients, because before, a lot of my corporate clients were top talent, or they were on secondment through corporate organizations. And then, all of a sudden, I was working with more independent clients, people who were the experienced expats but were feeling, you know, stuck. And then things started to pick up.

So, I have really ambitious goals. So what happens with me is I make a goal and then it keeps sliding. When I went to Switzerland, I said that all I wanted to do was order a beer in German without someone saying, ‘Wie bitte?’ And then all of a sudden, I was like, all I want to do is coach in German. All I want to do is …

So I keep moving the goalpost and that’s okay, because I’d like to retire my husband eventually. I don’t know if he would like that, but I would like that. And I’m also about huge impact. I want to be able to impact people who are in multiple corners of the world, because think about what an opportunity this is for us to live abroad and experience different cultures and stretch and grow in ways that we’ve never imagined. And what if it just sucks and we just stay stuck. We’d miss that.

And I hate that. I don’t want people to stay stuck and I don’t want relationships to break up because someone is not working or they’re struggling with their cultural differences and things. I just want people to embrace that, so I’m kind of on a personal mission too.

Carlie: Was it scary making that initial big investment in yourself?

Sundae: When you ask that, my answer surprises myself. I’ll be really transparent that the investment was $25,000, this one that I was talking about, and it wasn’t scary when I did it because there was this hunger deep down inside. I knew this was the right step I needed to do and I knew it was what I needed to go forward, so I didn’t question it. After I paid it, I was like, ‘What the heck did you just do?’

I got a scholarship for my master’s degree. I didn’t even pay for my master’s degree. I’d never paid that much for anything in my whole life. What was I thinking? And then, you know, what happened then? There were terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso, and I think I left Burkina within 10 days. I moved to Switzerland, and it was the worst possible time to do a business program.

Carlie: Just a little bit traumatized.

Sundae: Right? But the woman who was running the program, she was like, ‘Sundae, I totally understand, if you need to pause this. I’m here for you.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m doing it. I’m going to do it. Let’s do it.’ I was like, ‘I’m not going to wait another year, and in one year I’m going to be in the same place.’

So that’s what we did. And I have to be honest, she’s amazing. Kendrick Shope, she’s amazing. She talked about authentic selling and she said, ‘Coach about marketing and sales, not a life coach.’ So I was sitting in my office one night, talking to her on a call, and I was struggling through some of the frustrations I had, and then went into like this ugly cry. And she just sat there and it was so embarrassing. It wasn’t like I was talking to a therapist or something.

Carlie: Here’s me sales and marketing myself so well right now.

Sundae: I was like, ‘Oh man.’ But she’s gorgeous, because she and I share, actually, a coach training – we both are Martha Beck coaches – and she just held space for me. And that is the shift that I needed, where I was like, ‘Enough!’

And I share this story not because it’s embarrassing and makes me look bad, but because I want every single business owner to know that if you have that ugly cry moment, it’s normal and it’s okay. And it could be exactly that breakthrough moment where you say enough is enough, and then you make that change that changes everything in your business.

Another thing I’m allergic to is this overnight success business. You know, I made $5,000 in my first month and blah blah blah, as though everything is fast and overnight. And maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m doing the wrong stuff, but I don’t believe that is sustainable business.

I don’t think people who are just crushing it instantly and talking about it online, everywhere right away … I question how much they invest in Facebook ads. $6,000 to make $5,000 in revenue? What are your real numbers?

So those are the things I don’t want people to walk away thinking – that it’s just easy and there are no overheads. Location independent business also means you have to pay monthly for whatever things that you’re responsible for, whether it’s an administrative assistant or software that you have. That costs money every month.

Carlie: You’re telling me you’re not just working off the beach and tapping into McDonald’s free wifi? Isn’t that how it works?

Sundae: Do you understand the glare of your laptop when you’re on the beach?

Carlie: The sand in your keyboard.

Sundae: Oh, I’m so allergic. No. My philosophy is I’m going to sit in my air-conditioned hotel and do the work and then I’m going to put my laptop away and then I’m going to go read a book by the pool.

So obviously I have a few strong opinions about what’s online about location independent business, because I want people to know the truth. And the good part is – especially for expats and for parents – the good part is, if stuff goes on – like if there’s a death in the family or your aging parent gets sick or your kids have summer break – that having done the hard work of creating a location independent, you are afforded the freedom to say yes to those connections and to the people that you love the most and to the kind of lifestyle that you’re creating. So that’s why it’s worth it.

Carlie: Finally Sundae, what would be your best advice to people just starting out with the thought, or the practical aspect, of setting up their own business, whether they’re already an expat, or aspiring to be, and this is the way they’re going to do it?

Sundae: I’m going to say this, and it’s in no way a plug or a promotion or an affiliate for anybody, but I would say: invest in people who are doing it well and who know, because trying to figure it all out on your own will slow down your process. And I say that because I spent a good, I don’t know, six months or so, trying to figure it all out on my own, until I decided to join groups or work with experts that really fast tracked my progress.

So there are a lot of people out there doing really great work, and I would suggest that they find a community who is working towards that goal, but is backed by real knowhow and strategies. The other thing I would say is something you don’t learn in a business school. You have to do a lot of, what I call, self-work.

This is where the nerdy coaching side comes out of me, but I really believe it. And this actually came out, I think in your dual career podcast, that you have to take excellent care of yourself. You have to make yourself a priority, because you’re the golden goose, right? You, your energy, your attitude, your positivity, your creativity, all of that, is dependent on how well you’re taking care of yourself, and that is going to be the fuel for your business.

If you’re not already taking really great care of yourself, you’re going to have to learn how to do that, so that you can go through these bumpy things, and so that you can stay empowered in your growth process of your location independent business.

Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you have any questions for Sundae or want to share your own experience of running a business from abroad, drop us a message. We’re ‘Expat Focus’ on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Be sure to check out our other podcast episodes. We cover all aspects of expat life, but on the business front, just to name-check a few … Oliver Heslop talks tax tips for digital nomads; we have an interview with Michelle Purse Sweeny on how she set up her own business in Germany; and Ashley Bartner gets real about what it takes to run a B&B in the Italian countryside.

If you like what we do, please subscribe to the show. Tell all your friends, leave us a review, keep listening, and I’ll catch you next time.

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