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10 Tips to Make a Success of Buying a Business Abroad

Starting on Wednesday this week on the Sky One television channel, seasoned presenter Jonnie Irwin will help a handful of Britons buy a business abroad in the channel’s new series ‘Dream Lives for Sale’ – and the timing of this programme’s launch couldn’t be more appropriate.

January is one of the hardest months to get through for us Britons: it’s a long month, it’s a dark and cold month, it’s a month when many annual bills go up and salaries are tight following the Christmas and New Year celebrations.  And in our experience at Expatra, it’s the number one month in which people more actively research their expatriate options.  In other words, January is the most popular month for dedicated and detailed Internet searches relating specifically to moving to live and work abroad.

If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your working environment, you’re fed up of your commute, you want greater freedom and control in and over your career and you like the thought of venturing abroad to start afresh, our report today, ‘10 tips to make a success of buying a business abroad,’ will arm you with the insight and knowledge you need to ensure you buy a profitable opportunity rather than an expensive mistake!  Read on to benefit from our own insight so that you can be one step closer to achieving your dream of a new life abroad, working for yourself.

1)  Know Your Own Strengths

To succeed in business you’re going to have to put a lot of hours in and do a lot of hard work – therefore you will need to enjoy what you’re doing otherwise it will feel like a prison sentence.  If you’re not exactly sure about what you’d like to do, or what business you’d like to buy, identifying your strengths may help you draw up a shortlist of business opportunities that would play to those strengths.

2)  Be Honest About Your Own Areas of Weakness

No one is brilliant at all aspects of business – not even the world’s most successful businessmen and women!  Such individuals simply know when to delegate a task that they are less good at, so that their creative talents are correctly focused on the aspects of their business that they are best at.

So, if for example you’re not very organised, perhaps you will need to think about employing an office manager or an accountant to see to that element of your business.  Alternatively, if you’re not a ‘people person,’ perhaps that will lead you into thinking about starting a business where you don’t have to directly interface with the public.  Knowing your own areas of weakness is as important as knowing your strengths – that way you can play to your strengths and ensure your areas of weakness are less exposed through delegation, employment or the way you structure your company.

3)  Be Led More By Your Head Than Your Heart When Deciding What You Want to Do

Perhaps you’ve been heavily influenced by a book, a film or even a dream and you have a fantasy life in mind in which you run a pretty little shop and make a tidy profit from your eclectic goods and your shop’s reputation – or in which you spend all day skiing and run a profitable après ski bar by night…

But perhaps your dream/fantasy life is less achievable, less profitable and therefore less likely to succeed than you might at first like to think!

If you begin to boil down to the nitty gritty of any business idea and you discover that the hours you will have to toil for the returns just don’t add up as achievable, you need to throw that idea out the window.

So, when it comes time for you to decide what you can and would like to do abroad, you need to be led more by your head than by your heart.  So, your head will be telling you to look at the bottom line profit margin, to look at the likelihood of whether you and your family can make a success of a given business idea, and whether there will be sustainability in the idea to support your ambitions for the future.

Your heart may pull you towards seemingly idyllic jobs such as running a beach bar – but your head might point out the fact that such a business is seasonal and you will have to work 24/7 during the hottest and hardest part of the year and then live on next to nothing for the 6 – 8 months of the year when no tourists will come.

Be realistic about what you can do, what you want to do and what will make you the profit you need to live a good life.  After all, moving to live and work abroad is NOT about making your life harder or worse, it’s about improving your life’s quality!

4)  Do Your Location Research With Business Viability in Mind

Perhaps you’ve visited a part of the world and fallen in love with it – maybe you dream of living full time in that location and you’re just looking for a business you can buy so that you can move abroad and start your new life.  However, I would urge you to stop right there!  Your location should be at least secondary in your decision making process!  It certainly should not be driving your decision to start a business abroad.

To live a good life abroad you have to have the funds to support and sustain – to have the funds you need a good job or a good business behind you.  Finding either of these opportunities will depend greatly on where you’re looking!  So, you need to know what you can do, what you can do to make a profit and then and only then should you look abroad to find that opportunity.

You may be absolutely dead set on living in Southern Spain and believe that you would make an excellent estate agent – however, the Spanish property market has suffered greatly in recent years and more estate agencies have gone out of business than properties have been sold to foreign buyers.  So, if you want to work as an estate agent as you feel this is the business for you, you will need to look for a new location.

Of course, there are those people who are so fixed on a location that they will find a business to fit their lifestyle requirements – but this is a risky way of making a decision to buy a business!  It can work, but it can lead you to working in a business that is less ideally suited for you, and to you having a harder time finding the happy life overseas that you were seeking…so be careful.

5)  Be Prepared to Work Harder Than You’ve Ever Worked

When you begin working for yourself you realise the gravity of the reality that your entire life and that of your family depends on you making a success and a profit from your business and the decisions you make.  As a result you will naturally work harder than you have ever worked before!

You will also realise that there is no fall back, no redundancy package, no state support package if you fail.  If you fail you may lose everything!  So, there is no option but to succeed…such thoughts drive one’s determination to work even harder!

There will also be more tangible reasons behind you needing to work hard – you may be the only ‘staff’ employed within your business, and demand may simply see you rushed off your feet.  Alternatively, you will need to get out there and canvass for custom, market for trade and push for business, all good reasons why you will be working harder than ever before.

So, you need to have the energy, enthusiasm, hard work ethic and determination to succeed if you really do want to succeed!  Of course, the rewards are massive and you will enjoy such a sense of achievement when you make your business fly that all the hard work will be oh so worth it.

6)  Have Your Whole Family On Side

Moving to live abroad shouldn’t only be your dream and your decision if you’re part of a family dynamic.  If you have a spouse and children for example, you really need them to be behind your decision.  They too will have to work hard to help the business, and to integrate into a whole new life overseas.

The rewards, the opportunities, the happiness, freedom and enjoyment will come – but they can take time.  So, you need your family right beside you so that you are all pulling in the same direction for the collective success of your new business venture abroad.

It will be up to you to lay it on the line and explain that sacrifices in terms of time may have to be made to get the business up and running, but that they will be worth the end result which will be a better life living abroad.

7)  Think About Viability, Sustainability and Expansion in That Order

You need to come up with a business idea, or buy a business that is viable – i.e., one that will return you enough profit to live on.  That business has to have legs so that it will carry you day to day, month to month and year to year.  That is your bottom line when you’re making a decision about which business to establish, or which opportunity to buy.

Only then can you think about expansion and development – get your basic needs covered first, and then and only then think about whether the business can potentially grow to become all that you dream of.  Your day to day financial needs should never, ever be forgotten, overlooked or underestimated.

8)  You Will Only Get Out What You’re Prepared to Put in

If you prefer it when someone else makes decisions or directs your day, you may not have it in you to run your own business where every single decision starts and ends with you!  If on the other hand you relish the thought of having that much freedom, of controlling your own destiny and of being the number one decision maker charting the course of your own life, you most certainly have got it in you to become a business owner abroad.

Ultimately however, you will only ever get out as much as you put in!  So if you only have a part-time interest in working and more of a full-time attitude to sunning yourself on a beach or skiing down a mountainside, perhaps you’ll only have limited business success!  Think about how much of yourself you’re prepared to dedicate to your business and the returns you will want to achieve – ensure the two can marry up.

9)  Take Time to Understand the Local Business Environment

In the UK, establishing a company and sorting out your tax return, opening a business bank account and marketing yourself accurately, getting any licenses you need and ensuring you adhere to local authority guidelines on health, safety, hygiene etc., etc., can take a lot of puzzling out!  Abroad when you add in a foreign language, more red tape and perhaps even a little nepotism, favouritism, an old boy’s network or low level corruption, you could discover starting a business is akin to climbing into a snake pit and trying to get out unscathed!

Therefore, you need to take time to understand what your responsibilities will be as a business owner so that you can be forewarned and forearmed.  You can always employ someone to help you once the business is profitable enough, but initially, and certainly to ensure you know everything about your own company, you will want and need to know how things are expected to be run.  Take some time to ensure you will be able to cope with what is expected of you…otherwise it could all come as a horrible shock!

10) Have Enough Cash to Sustain You for at Least 3 Months

Ideally you will have enough cash in the bank to support yourself and your family for a year as that’s how long it will take for you to get a completely ‘good feel’ for your business – however, if you had that much money you’d probably have invested it into a different business or instant expansion anyway!  So, more realistic is for people to have at least 3 months in the bank that they can use when invoices are late being paid, the business faces a blip or profits are not quite as good as first expected.

You really do need this safety net otherwise you are putting too much pressure on yourself and the business and this will lead to excessive stress which could undermine a perfectly good company and result in failure at the first hurdle.

Do not venture abroad until you have your safety net in place, it is not fair on you, your family or your business.

Finally, it just remains for us to say that you can do it!  Reach for your dreams and never underestimate yourself, if you want something enough, you will find a way to make it happen.

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