Starting up a business in Britain as an exapt mother.
Starting up a new business as a mumpreneur is challenging in itself. Starting up a business as a foreign mumpreneur can be even more challenging because there are various cultural issues on top of the everyday business challenges and the colossal task of juggling motherhood with an entrepreneurial career. I am an American mother of three British born children and I’ve been living in England with my British husband since 1999. I started my design business in 2003 after being made redundant from my full time position as senior Internet designer. I had only just gotten used to working in a British company with British co-workers (a steep learning curve!) and suddenly I was on my own trying to create a job for myself and a future for my children. Some of the challenges and how I overcame them were:
Lack of family and friends (and friends of family and friends)
Solution: I started networking and through this met people who could help me and support me and I could do the same for them which helped to establish myself as a professional business woman.
Lack of childcare/help with my baby and toddler
Solution: I got free childcare by arranging a service exchange with a local nursery. I traded childcare with a neighbor who was also starting up her business.
Lack of history here, knowledge of British business practice and growing up here seeing how business is done
Solution: Read books by British business women and newspapers. It sounds simple but it is amazing what you can learn about a country and its people by reading the newspaper! (i.e., The Times and The Guardian ….and even some of the tabloids!)
Lack of correct terminology
Solution: I learned to ask for clarification and not to leave anything ambiguous. I learned as I went and asked people what they meant when they said something I didn’t understand or wasn’t sure of the meaning (translation please!).
There are of course many other challenges to starting up a business but these are specific to setting up a business in Britain when you are not from here. Of course I still come across these challenges now but through experience, I am better equipped to deal with them.
I am sure other non-British mumpreneurs have additional challenges too – perhaps language barriers and other cultural differences. I would love to hear what those are! Please feel free to post your story.
One major point I want to emphasise is when you are having a business discussion, if there is anything unclear because of use of language (for example, Americans use more direct language whereas the British use the passive tense more) get clarification! There have been times when I misunderstood my clients and business associates (and vice versa) simply because my use of language did not translate the way I wanted it to in British English. Or, I have taken what they have said at face value when actually, they meant something else. This can lead to confusion and business transactions going wrong.
Another note of advice and encouragement is if you are thinking about starting up a business, do something you love and are passionate about. Don’t be afraid if your business venture is foreign or non-British. Noriko, a Japanese mother of two British born children runs a business making and selling a very specific type of Japanese sweets. She started her business because she loves making these sweets and it was a way to instil part of her culture in her children’s lives and also introduce her culture, through her business, to the British people. Noriko sells Japanese sweets both online and at events such as the Brighton & Hove Food and Drink Festival.
There can be additional challenges if your business offers a product or service that is not as common here in Britain as it is in your home country. Jen, for example, from Holy Cow! Event Planning has discovered that hiring someone to organize or plan your event is not as popular or common over here in Britain as it is in Canada, her home country. She is immediately up against a barrier that she had not experienced before in her own culture. This poses a dilemma which Jen has recognized and has taken action on. She has adapted her business to incorporate social media services which are, ever increasingly, in high demand. Through this, she has been able to maintain a sustainable business and continue to live and work here in Britain as a Canadian expat.
Whatever you decide to do or whatever you are doing now, remember that it’s sometimes tough running a business as a foreign mumpreneur – learning a new ways of doing business and a different style of communication in doing business, but that it can also be wonderful and rewarding on both a personal and professional level. Ask for help, ask for clarification, love what you do and that passion will show through and break-down any cultural barriers you might come across.
By Meghan Peterson Fenn
Author of Bringing Up Brits: Expat Parents Raising Cross-Cultural Kids in Britain