From Panama to Paris I flew for the weekend… Then early this morning I was on a plane to Dublin, from where I write. Then, I’m southbound to the main event: A week in Waterford.
The Live And Invest Overseas team has expanded to include a secondary base of operations on the Emerald Isle.
For Lief and me, it’s like returning home after too long away.
Twenty-five years ago, Lief and I pulled up stakes—me from Baltimore, him from Chicago—and moved to Waterford, Ireland.
Retire overseas has long been my beat but not my personal agenda. Lief and I arrived in Waterford with a business plan. We’d come to establish our first EU base.
The Challenge In Moving To Waterford, Ireland
Those early years in Ireland, we pushed ahead, stubbornly, persistently, enthusiastically, through challenge after challenge.
We’d wanted to establish an office for a direct-marketing publishing company, but no such industry existed in Ireland. Hardly any industry whatever existed in Waterford.
The Celtic Tiger was coming into its own, but Waterford was beyond its roar. The pool of available local labor was thin.
For marketing, fulfillment, and editorial support staff we hired people with no relevant experience. They’d worked as receptionists in hotels, hands in local stables, cashiers in local shops.
We tried to identify people who seemed to want to learn and then set about trying to train them.
Staffing our fledgling office was tough and so, too, was just about everything else, including finding the office in the first place. We didn’t want to be located in the new “industrial park” being built on the outskirts of Waterford City. It looked like a prison compound to me. However, other options for commercial space, like options for staffing, were limited.
Opening a corporate bank account, getting a company credit card (uncommon back then), finding an Irish tax accountant to keep us compliant, drafting employment contracts (which, we were instructed, had to allow for things like regular tea breaks)… all these administrative tasks were a struggle.
Meantime, Lief and I, recently married, were struggling on every other front, as well…
Struggling to solidify our new family unit… Struggling to adapt to life in a new city…
And, struggling to communicate our situation to those in the home office back in Baltimore.
They couldn’t understand how or why it was taking so long to do simple things like rent office space, open a company bank account, and hire start-up staff… and we couldn’t adequately explain the delays, because we didn’t understand them ourselves.
What Moving Has Taught Me
Today, 25 years and a series of starting-a-business-in-a-foreign-country-from-nothing experiences later, I can explain. Someone who hasn’t done it isn’t going to understand, but it’s just the way it goes.
Way back when in Waterford, I was among those who hadn’t done it. I didn’t know yet that the only way through the challenges is through them.
Perseverance is a critical prerequisite for the successful entrepreneur abroad.
A year after we’d landed in Waterford, I’d about had it. I was worn out trying to teach a bunch of sometimes-interested folks how to build and run a direct-marketing publishing operation…
Worn out by social charges, Bank Holidays, twice-daily tea breaks, bankers who didn’t return your phone calls, tax auditors who’d never heard of the business we were in and I couldn’t make heads or tails of our financial statements…
I was lonely for people who understood what I was saying without endless background and context. I wanted to be among folks who’d shared at least some of my experiences, personal and professional.
Telling every story from scratch every day… about how to produce a magazine, how to publish a book, how to sell a subscription, and then how to renew it? That was getting old.
Nearly desperate, I called my partner for this venture and told him I wasn’t sure this establish-an-office-in-Waterford thing was going to work out. Bill asked me to sit tight. He was in Paris and would fly over for a visit asap.
Bill came to Waterford. He spent a couple of days in the office, meeting with me, Lief, and the team we’d assembled by that point. We’d just moved into new office space, a big improvement over our original, windowless digs. The new office was in a three-story townhouse in the heart of Waterford City. We had a classic Irish Georgian front door that I’d painted red.
The afternoon he was leaving for the airport and his return flight to Paris, Bill and I walked out the big red front door and stood for a minute on the landing. Bill looked up and down Catherine Street at the other Georgian-style townhouses then back at the bright red door of our place. For me the door was a metaphor. It was my way forward. Bill got it.
“You’ve planted a seed here,” he said. “You’ve started something. It will continue to grow.
“It’d be a shame to walk away from this now.”
The second most important thing for an entrepreneur abroad to possess, along with perseverance, is perspective. You’ve got to be able to see what’s in front of you in the context of the bigger-picture agenda.
Most of the time, you’ve got to do this on your own, reminding yourself that you’re making progress. Despite the challenges and the struggles, you’re building and growing. You’re on track, moving ahead…
Sometimes, though, it will be hard to believe yourself.
Yes, I was lucky way back when in Waterford to have someone to call for a dose of perspective when I needed it and owe Bill a great debt of gratitude. If he’d not been around to make the point that, struggles to get to that point aside, there I was, I might have called it a day.
I might have returned to Baltimore and the familiar way of life I was longing for. Indeed, I would have walked away… meaning that the 25 years since would have played out very differently.
If not for Ireland… then maybe not Paris seven years later… and probably not Panama four years after that.
Reinventing your life overseas, wherever you choose to go, one step leads to the next.
When you set out, you may not be certain where you’re headed… but I can tell you from experience that you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.
Meanwhile, you might need reassurance that the path you’ve chosen isn’t crazy and can’t think of anyone to call, reach out to us.
We’ll be standing by to provide a word of support when you need it.
Meantime, stay the course. Adventure awaits.
Founding Publisher, Overseas Opportunity Letter