Setting up a portable business as a diplomatic spouse
Updated: Mar 10, 2021
What’s the solution to professional reinvention?
Starting your own business!
I'm thrilled to present this first post of 2020 to you.
It's an enduring privilege that my work connects me to amazing people around the world who are working to help those of us who live and work away from home. Amel Derragui is one such person.
Amel is an entrepreneur and founded Tandem Nomads in response to a problem she encountered in living her globally mobile life: maintaining her career while accompanying her husband who is a diplomat.
Does this sound familiar to you?
Lack of career progression and leaving a career is the most common frustration I hear from diplomatic spouses. As we've seen in the Love and Diplomacy series (all blogs and podcasts in this series are detailed in 'Want to know more?' below), diplomacy demands so much of the diplomat AND those accompanying them. Thankfully, times are changing and important discussions are being had within our employing agencies to better acknowledge and accommodate these demands on those accompanying diplomats on postings.
But progress is slow and any solution is going to be imperfect. Diplomatic spouses still can face not having work rights on their diplomatic visas. There are language and cultural issues which can make accessing the local job market difficult. There can also be caring responsibilities for families adjusting to and living in the unfamiliar. It can feel like our careers - and the purpose our work can give our lives - must be sacrificed for everyone else's well-being; that losing our careers is the price that diplomatic spouses must pay to live their diplomatic life.
Both Amel and I believe that this does not have to be the case if this is not what you want for your life. There are ways to turn your challenges into opportunities. Read on...
Wait. Before you do read Amel's words, you'll hear more from Amel and her fascinating story about how she came to do her work in 'Ep. 17 - on portable businesses with Amel Derragui' of The Lonely Diplomat podcast (released on Saturday 18 January 2020).
OK, now read on...
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As a diplomatic partner, you are a master of reinvention. Personal reinvention can be liberating and rewarding as you learn new cultures, new languages, discover new horizons, and grow as a person – but then along comes the inevitable professional reinvention.
Finding a new job can be especially challenging for diplomatic partners. Not only must you find a job that provides the flexibility your busy life demands, but there are many barriers to overcome, such as work permissions, language barriers and degree equivalences.
Despite being highly qualified (even overqualified) for the jobs you apply for, potential employers often require justification for your frequent relocation and the relevance of your experience in other countries.
This process is exhausting and rather than reward you in the way that personal reinvention does, professional reinvention can dramatically affect confidence and sense of identity.
So, what’s the solution to professional reinvention? Starting your own business!
If you doubt that you are cut out for this, hopefully these three reasons will encourage to give it another thought.
In fact, I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the best solution for diplomatic partners to overcome their dual-career challenges, find fulfillment, build financial independence, and become empowered.
Although the words “entrepreneurship” and “business” may seem intimidating, here are the three reasons that you should consider starting your own business:
Reason 1: Building your own business is a chance to shape your life and career the way you want
There are three components that you may be seeking that a small business can give you:
Lifestyle and flexibility
Your time is constantly requested for your partner’s work, your children, receiving visitors, and extensive traveling. As a small business owner (or self-employed) you create the schedule that works for your lifestyle. When you have your own business, you act as your own boss.
It takes diligence and hard work to manage your resources, budget, and time, but the reward is so worth it: you can maintain total control over your work, achieving the flexibility and mobility you need.
The key to success here is to make sure that your business is truly portable. Also, to do it right, you also want to learn how to create a business model that is portable and how to avoid common mistakes when starting a business on the move.
Financial independence and safety net
Diplomatic partners may feel the need to contribute to the household domestically or financially. Many diplomatic partners are parents, and while some find balance in the home by raising children, some partners have a strong need to feel rewarded by earning money and contributing financially to the family.
In some cases, financial dependence can create frustrations and even resentment in the partnership, as well as cause vulnerability to the domestic partner in the instance of a relationship breakdown.
Therefore, starting a business gives you the chance to build your own source of income, provide yourself with the safety net you need, but also with a resume and the necessary track record in case you need to go back to the labour market.
Stability and growth
In a traditional “stable” career and a steady fixed job, you have the chance to grow in the company and to evolve in terms of responsibilities, skills and income. As an expat partners moving from a country to another every few years, that stability and growth is often very difficult to achieve because of the frequent changes of jobs and countries.
Diplomatic partners are global nomads and require jobs that are as mobile as they are. Creating a sustainable portable business allows you to continue your work whenever and wherever you relocate, but is also provides the continuity and the growth you would crave from a traditional successful career. In fact, when you start your own business you offer yourself the opportunity to continuously learn and grow as a person and as a professional while being in the same field for at least a while.
Reason 2: You are already an entrepreneur though you might not know it!
Entrepreneurship is primarily a mindset and the capacity to solve problems. As an expat partner it’s a mindset you already have!
In fact, every time you move, you are faced with new challenges to solve: How do I communicate? How does healthcare work? Where do I shop, find what I need and build my social network?
As you settle in a new country you adapt to the culture and customs by constantly learning. These skills you’ve developed – problem-solving, adaptability and resilience – these are the skills that make up a great entrepreneur.
The other thing that a lot of entrepreneurs have in common is their desire to make an impact. Expat partners often relate to this important need of having a purpose in their life, which is why many choose to volunteer.
If you truly want to make a difference, creating a business that you are passionate about is the best solution to make a real impact while also supporting your own financial needs.
Each time you move, you meet new people and share your experience; you leave a footprint everywhere you go. Your lifestyle has helped you build the fundamental qualities of an entrepreneur. All it takes to start is to find the right business idea that will combine the skills you already have with your passion for the problem you want to solve (and be paid to solve).
Reason 3: Times are changing
Our world is changing. Traditional corporate jobs are decreasingly relevant for many reasons:
Companies seek less and less full-time employment to increase flexibility within their own business and to cut their costs. Essentially, companies are looking for short-term employees and outsources, which means that stable, traditional jobs are indeed becoming increasingly difficult to find for expat partners, but also for everyone.
As we discuss the future of work, we can’t leave out technology. We are living in the era of artificial intelligence, and we often hear the concern that our jobs will be taken over by machines. Many of the positions we hold today are progressively becoming irrelevant.
According to Alec Ross, author of The Industries of the Future, jobs that will be protected are those that require soft skills that machines cannot replicate such as creativity, leadership, and initiative; which are the key qualities of entrepreneurs.
Also, the advance of technology is actually an advantage for diplomatic partners looking to start a portable business. There are so many tools available now that allow to run a business from anywhere in the world.
In fact, ten or twenty years ago, diplomatic partners faced so many more obstacles that technology has eliminated today.
Starting your own portable business is simply belonging to today’s world and being in control of the new dynamics of our modern society.
Today, you have the opportunity to turn your dual career challenges into great opportunities by starting your own business that fits your needs and lifestyle.
In fact, managing your own portable business is a flexible and rewarding solution which allows you to take control of your life and leave a lasting impact, no matter where in the world you go. To get started and find the right business idea for you, check out the episode #94 of the Tandem Nomads podcast.
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Amel Derragui is a marketing and business coach, a speaker and the founder of Tandem Nomads. Tandem Nomads is a podcast show and entrepreneurship platform designed to help expat partners and global nomads build a successful portable business thanks to various resources and training programs. Her work has been featured on the cover story of Forbes Magazine in Austria, Global Living Magazine in the US and various other media. She is regularly invited to deliver workshops or webinars on how to build a successful portable business. She also often speaks about this topic at conferences for multinationals and international organizations (such as the World Bank, IMF and Foreign Ministries) who need to address the dual career challenges and support their employees’ spouses abroad.
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Amel, thank you - most sincerely - for sharing your wisdom and insight with my audience in this article. I know that the wisdom you shared has come from trial and error as much as it comes from your successes.
I also want to thank you for your support for me and my work here at The Lonely Diplomat. I'm always eager to learn from others in the arena such as yourself.
I cannot wait for the world to hear our conversation on The Lonely Diplomat podcast!
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Could you make a globally portable business work for you and your circumstances?
Be sure to check out Amel's fantastic work designed expressly to support you from idea through to delivery at www.tandemnomads.com.
Want to know more?
The Lonely Diplomat: on being 'on' - part one
Diplomatic spouses of the world, unite!
On being a male diplomatic spouse
On being gay and living a diplomatic life
TN142 - Turning loneliness into an opportunity to make an impact with Phil McAuliffe
Ep. 2 - Diplomatic spouses of the world, unite! with Georgie Ryan
Ep. 10 - On the price of diplomacy
Ep. 12 - On being a male diplomatic spouse with Simon
Ep. 15 - On being a gay diplomatic spouse with Kevin Huntting
Ep. 17 - On portable businesses with Amel Derragui
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