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Where does it all go wrong? Avoidable mistakes when starting a business abroad

I grew up on the Costa Del Sol and by the time I was sixteen I had seen pretty much every expat business mistake under the sun; I’d seen the alcoholics who bought bars, the wishful thinkers who thought Irish bacon was a unique selling point, the clueless in a kitchen who thought running a restaurant was a good idea and the really mediocre artists who would sell their soul to the devil for a single customer.

Since those long ago summer days of sunshine (accompanied by the sound of cement mixers!) I’ve been in a few countries and I’ve seen the same mistakes repeated over and over again. I’ve watched people work themselves into the ground in climates that physically broke them; I’ve seen divorces, suicides, even a murder; I’ve see alcoholics by the score and the sad road home for many dreamers. And yet I still admire them, they gave it a go, and I can’t ever knock that, I just wish they had hesitated, just for a day, a week, and thought about a few things, specifically these things.

Play to your strengths:- It is frequently said that if you can’t cook don’t buy a restaurant, but it is rarely said if you don’t understand commercial quantities, portion control, consistency and the fact that your stock is dying on you as soon as you buy it, don’t buy a restaurant. A lifestyle business, which is what most people move abroad to open, requires a wider skill set than any other, you are a Jack of All Trades, and if you don’t have those skills already you kind of need to acquire them, preferably before you start.

We do need to be brutally honest with ourselves in these circumstances, we need to admit what we’re crap at and find some way to make up that shortfall and we need to maximise our resources so we get to use the stuff we’re good at from the word go. If you have no building experience don’t buy a business that needs extensive renovation, get something turnkey and get on with what you are good at, your head and your bank balance will thank you for it.

Stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes:- I hear it a lot, “I want to come to Turkey and open an Irish bar/Indian restaurant/dog grooming parlour/nuclear fusion laboratory, how do I do it?” this is kind of the wrong way to look at thing, it’s probably a better idea to come to Turkey and see what it needs in the place you want to be and see if you can fill a niche with your skills, passion and imagination here. If your idea of what you want to do is so fixed that you cannot respond to the local market then chances are you will fail. The market dictates the business not vice versa.

So you research, from a variety of sources, on the ground, not on an internet forum (!!!), and you form a plan and you make it in response to the place you intend to operate in because British rules don’t apply here, Irish rules don’t apply here, only here applies here!

“If you build it they will come” only works for Kevin Costner (and he had a budget!):- I’m not sure how long Kevin Costner hung around on that field of dreams nearly going bankrupt (whilst being impossible handsome) but one day of that sort of stress is too long for me. Complacency in marketing doesn’t pay the bills and just owning something and telling all your Facebook friends about it isn’t enough. Marketing is where most people fall down in business, particularly a new small business, because when money is short they slash the marketing budget and start to believe the lies about social media marketing!

You need a business plan and that includes a marketing plan and an advertising budget and you need to be clear on your unique selling point and who you are targeting in your marketing and how to reach them.

You need more than one string to your bow:- I like diversification, it helps me sleep at night. I like the whole concept of Income Streams, because I know that we are held hostage to whim and circumstance. All it takes is one bomb, one law change, one political change, one natural disaster and we can kiss goodbye to a substantial chunk of our income and our cash flow can be shot before we get a grip on it. So I believe we should diversify, not put all our eggs in one basket, appeal to the widest possible demographic, be flexible in our business and responsive to how the world changes and have a backup.

Britain and Ireland endured a huge recession and businesses up and down the coast of Turkey suffered because their business model was totally tailored to the budget holiday maker from those countries and that market suddenly had no disposable income, and so those businesses went bust in a period of huge economic growth for Turkey! I lost a booking this weekend on my Kirazli studio because of Hurricane Sandy, there is nothing I can do about it, it’s not a risk I could insure against, but it is a loss I can mitigate by having alternative forms of income, and that helps, loads.

The sunshine shows up the cracks:- People dream of a business in the sun for all sorts of reasons and sometimes they think it will make everything that is wrong at home better, but it doesn’t, under the bright sunlight the cracks show up more clearly. Moving abroad doesn’t heal marriages, it doesn’t make your kids less stroppy, it doesn’t make you rich and it doesn’t stop drinkers drinking, philanders philandering and shopaholics blowing the house keeping on shoes. You move abroad when you are happy and calm and stable and in a good place head wise, you don’t move abroad when your head is messed up, it will just get messier, in a foreign language, a long way from home.

I’m depressing myself now! I keep remembering all the insane things I have seen over the years.

Look it’s really simple, you can move abroad and have a nicer, less stressy life, you can have time to learn new things, time to enjoy hobbies, sunlight, beaches, warm summer nights and bright clear winters. You just have to be sensible about it. I’ve been here seven years and it works for me. I don’t have the totally perfect life, I’m not rich, I still have had tragedy and pain, but I’m still here and I get to work long and hard at the things that I love and according to a very old and very wise definition, that is what happiness is!

This article first appeared on the website of House Elements, a turnkey business for sale in Aegean Turkey – to visit the House Elements website please click HERE

House Elements - Turnkey Business for sale in Turkey