Emma Cook quit her senior management role in the corporate world to become an independent business consultant in another country. “People said, ‘you’ll never get clients’. That made me more determined.”
“Many people are happy not to work when they move abroad but, after a while I realised that wasn’t what I wanted. Having my own business gives me a strong sense of purpose and satisfaction. It fulfils my personal need to have a balance of work, family and leisure,” explains the British-born expat partner who moved to Slovenia in 2015. “I had prior experience as a freelance strategy consultant but still spent quite a lot of time thinking whether I should try to do something entirely new – as I’m sure many expat partners do. In the end, I decided to stick with what I do well and give it a different shape.
I started out by working remotely for large corporations outside Slovenia as there weren’t many prospective clients in the country. Then I came across an accelerator supporting local startups. I loved that! It gave me so much satisfaction to advise highly passionate entrepreneurs with amazing business ideas on their business strategy. It was a great match.” Emma also worked with a number of local midsize businesses. Finding these clients (through “networking, networking, networking”) seemed pretty much against all odds, she says, “because I didn’t speak any Slovenian or have any local knowledge. But by being adaptable with my offer and pushing outside my comfort zone, I eventually found opportunities.”
Moving to Portugal in 2017, Emma took her business concept with her and started again – under a new name and with a slightly different focus to adapt to the needs of Portuguese companies. In both locations, working largely alone has been one of her biggest challenges: “In the corporate world, you have teams around you, peers to make decisions with, structure and clear KPIs,” she explains. “As an independent consultant, I’m making decisions by myself and that can sometimes be tough on confidence. You’ve got to remind yourself that you’ve got skills that people need.”
“I think to be able to grow a business, any type of business, overseas is something to be proud of,” Emma concludes. “A huge part of it is learning from mistakes, learning from experiences, the good and the bad! It can be really difficult, but if you run a business that makes you tick and responds to a clear market need, the rewards will make it worth your while.”