As a mother, corporate and co-founder of this blog, I know what it takes for an entrepreneur. But moving to a new country and starting fresh is another ball game. In our 3 part series of The Expat Woman Entrepreneur, I decided to talk to 4 women who moved away from home to set up a new life and a thriving business.
The Expat Woman Entrepreneur Series Part 1
Our series is an ode to women who did this and much more! Read their stories, I am sure you will leave feeling inspired, I know I am!
“If expat women aren’t suited for being successful entrepreneurs, I don’t know who is!”
My name is April Remfrey and I am an American living and loving life in Switzerland. I have been a special needs teacher for the past 20 years and I left the comfort of a teaching position to start my own company. I was born and raised in Iowa, USA. Only three months after graduating from college, my husband and I were married in a state of blissful ignorance. We first lived in Wisconsin, but the itch to move overcame us and we migrated to Paris for a couple of years. Paris was the best and worst thing that ever happened to me. I learned I had no work permit upon arrival and therefore, felt as if I had no purpose at the ripe old age of 24.
But, more importantly, I learned that I have enough grit to forge my own path and make my own destiny. Switzerland is our 14th move since getting married in 1998. In that time, we have lived in many places in the US, Paris and now for the last six years in Bülach, just north of the Zürich airport. Our 14-year-old daughter is just about to enter the third year of middle school and we are helping her feel her way through the process of applying for an apprenticeship.
Almost a year ago, I started my business, Remfrey Educational Consulting, assisting families while they are moving anywhere in the world and are searching for the best school for their child with special needs. This business is something that has been in the back of my mind for many years as I watched students with special needs move from one school to another and having to start over each time. I am quite shocked at how the narrative is lost so quickly during a move whether that move is across town or around the world. It’s not fair to the student! Their time is precious, and I wanted to do something about it.
I see my role as an investigator on behalf of the student. I interview past teachers and therapists and put together a learner profile that all schools will understand so they can set up the right program for the student. In the end, it’s all about keeping the story alive. So, I guess you could call me a storyteller just as much as a teacher!
I come from an entrepreneurial family. My parents had a huge garden in our backyard which we froze, canned and ate from all year round. God forbid there were store-bought frozen or canned vegetables in our table! One year, my father got a bit overzealous and planted way too many cauliflowers. He decided to put an ad in the local paper and sell them for 50 cents a head. Problem solved and a little pocket money to boot!
My mother taught private piano lessons in addition to her teaching position at the local school. One family wanted to enrol all three of their children in piano lessons but needed to find an alternative to paying cash. My mother and this family came to an agreement that they would trade piano lessons for farm-raised chickens. Boy, were those chickens delicious!
The cauliflower incident sparked the businessman inside my father for years to come. He began making custom golf clubs and teaching private trumpet lessons. The golf clubs were traded for our dentist bills and even the installation of an air conditioner! He was very good about money and kept the extra earned cash rolled up in his sock drawer. That sock drawer paid for our summer vacations every year! Little did my parents know the seeds they were planting. Just like I am a doer and not a sitter, my mind is always thinking of new ideas and opportunities.
Watching my parents, it was inevitable that I would also become an entrepreneur. However, I’d never have guessed I’d end up as an entrepreneur in Switzerland! I’ve found the process of setting up my business quite easy so far. Thankfully, I’ve had individuals helping me along the way. I’ve never had a problem asking for help and asking for help sure came in handy when creating my business.
A Typical Day in my Life
On a day-to-day basis, I am sitting at my computer writing blog posts to get my message out, writing proposals to speak at conferences, setting up parent workshops, having Skype calls with people all over the world, and enjoying the opportunity to have lunch with my daughter when she comes home from school!
Advise for Expat Entrepreneurs
Networking has been the backbone of getting this business off the ground. My strategy is to ask people to tell me about their entrepreneurial journey so I can learn from them. I find people on LinkedIn that have interesting profiles and ask if they have a moment to speak. It is surprising how many people have said yes and followed through! I’ve learned so much from so many people, but especially inspiring women. My network has grown to the point that I now have ‘friends’ that I’ve only met while sitting alone in my office. It’s amazing!
As a woman, making my way through this new experience, I have all my life experiences to draw upon. Not only do I have twenty years of knowledge accumulation to pull from, but I also have my strength and resilience which comes from being an expat. Us expat women are a unique species. Not only can we start afresh in a completely new country without the support of our family and friends but create a network so that our kids have a door to knock on when they need help! We can take a difficult situation and turn it into an amazing life experience for ourselves and our families.
If expat women aren’t suited for being successful entrepreneurs, I don’t know who is!
“When we tap into this type of female support system, we can really move mountains!”
Hi, I’m Claire Corbett and I’ve been living in Switzerland for around 6 years now. I grew up in Ireland and have lived in several countries since University including almost a decade in the US. I love to travel and experience different cultures as I have an innate curiosity about people. As a mother of a gorgeous and headstrong 5-year-old, motherhood has taught me a lot about myself and challenges me (in a good way) every single day. I am married to a Scotsman who is the reason for us moving to Switzerland, just like many other expats.
My current business is “your” business – I help women succeed in their respective fields. I set up my own business from scratch 4 years ago and haven’t looked back since. I support women who want to start their own entrepreneurial journeys, also those who feel a bit stuck in their current roles and want to find purpose and I also facilitate workshops and similar initiatives in the corporate world of Switzerland.
During my time working in corporate banking, I came to a point where I wanted more fulfillment in my work life. I took a step back to figure out what made me happy and I found the answer – travel was my passion and I knew I had to do pursue something in this field. This was when I set up my first business – a niche travel company (back in 2009) for golf travel to Morocco. I loved this new phase in my life – my creativity was reborn, and I was enjoying my own boss.
However, once we moved to Switzerland and I became a mother, travelling to Morocco became challenging and I decided to sell my travel business and think about my next move which would fit well with my family and my interests. During my initial years, I would constantly meet women who had great ideas, wanted to set their own ventures but were hesitant for various reasons. A foreign country, lack of confidence, information and experience were common themes that were holding women back from taking that first step. Combining my business degree, coaching diploma and experience of starting a company from scratch – I decided that I want to address this gap and support women realize their dreams and hence, I founded my consultancy, Right Point. I focus purely on female entrepreneurs simply because I find women a joy to work with! I am extremely passionate about what I do and my goal is to support women all over!
A Typical Day in my Life
My day has a lot of variety, and that’s the way I like it! I have the flexibility to take care of my family needs along with working with my clients. My job involves – Skype calls with my clients, designing workshop content, assignments, marketing, and admin. I make sure I squeeze in fitness routines into my daily routine – I believe in a healthy mind and a healthy body. I make sure I manage my time to ensure balance and this is one of my top tips as a coach to other woman entrepreneurs.
Advise for Expat Entrepreneurs
Cultivate an ‘I can do it!” mindset! Often, I have seen and observed that the biggest limitation in our journey is our own self and our mindset. I always tell my clients to spend time planning and think about every possible element before the “get-go”. This helps you mitigate risk resulting in greater success for your new start-up. Flexibility is another key element – if something doesn’t work, don’t get disheartened and try something else. I also largely believe in the power of building networks and meaningful connections. Lastly, it’s very important that women support women – “When we tap into this type of female support system, we can really move mountains!”
I really hope you liked Part 1(of 3) of our special series, The Expat Woman Entrepreneur.
We’d love it if you would share it and do leave us a comment below.
A big thanks to the wonderful ladies who participated in this initiative, I loved reading and sharing their stories.
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Thanks for giving our travel project “21 Hidden Gems of Switzerland” so much LOVE! The guide is absolutely free to download, so get your copy today.