Seven Things I've Learned About Working Abroad

I'm finishing up a wonderful two week home exchange in France, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without continuing to work. I just launched a consulting practice in January, so there are new clients to serve, new business proposals to develop and move forward, and invoices to send (yay!.)

I've been proud of how I've been able to make this happen and what I've learned along the way. Here are a few things you should know if you're thinking about working abroad:

1) Stay Long Enough to Live, Not Vacation
One of the things that has made this experience work for me personally and professionally is the amount of time I've had to be here. When you do an extended stay, you don't have to rush to see the sights or cram in everything. I've gotten to visit Aix-en-Provence, Paris and Cassis... but I've also gotten a hell of a lot of work done while sitting at the little table on my balcony in Marseille.
A day trip to taste wine in Provence

2) Confirm The Home Wifi
None of this would be possible without a great wifi (pronounced "wee-fee" in France) connection. In fact, the wifi has worked better than the phone, despite my international plan with Verizon. Before you go, confirm that the hotel, home or apartment that you are staying at has wifi. Get the log in information, before you leave America. You're not a backpacker, you're a business person - the last thing you want to rely on is sitting at some sketchy Internet cafe.

3) Set Office Hours
If at all possible, keep office hours the same as your clients, no matter where they are. For me, that means that I'm six hours ahead of the East Coast United States. When I wake up, I relax into the morning. I visit my new favorite barista, pick up a croissant or just read on my balcony in sweats. I take the morning to mid-day time to explore, visit cathedrals, museums and have lunch at a bistro. But afternoon time is work time. Get your deliverables in on your clients deadline time. Host Google Hangouts, Skype calls and chats during their time. For me that means, sometimes I'm working around midnight... because it's the end of the work day in Washington. But, in the morning, I've got a jump on them to respond to any overnight emails.

All of this is not to say that you should work the entire time you are away. It's that you set your office hours. Make sure your clients or office have clear expectations of when you will be online and working and when you will be away.

4) Don't Rely on The Phone
One thing has consistently failed me that I didn't expect, and that's the phone. I know it works functionally, because I can have video chats on Hangout, Skype and Snapchat. But, I've had at least one crucial meeting have to reschedule because I couldn't get a call out and they couldn't get a call in. Do some research on where you are staying and what is the most stable communications form. For me, all of the meetings I'm setting up and doing are via Google Hangout which has worked perfectly - and given me good face-to-face time with clients, potential clients and partners... all while I'm a half block from the Mediterranean.

5) Can't Stop, Won't Stop
I made sure before I left that I did a ton of in person meetings. I knew I had billable work and new business proposals to write while I was here. And, while I've been here, I've started scheduling and booking myself over the next two to three weeks while I land. Again, this is life, not vacation. You can't afford to go away for a few weeks and have your funding or client pool dry up.

6) MeetUp.com, Yes, MeetUp.com
Some of the best advice my Parisian ex-pat pal, Tanisha Townsend gave me was to explore MeetUp.com. I don't think I had seriously used Meet Up since the Dean campaign, but she was right. I found local Marseille co-working space, SPARK, plus language sharing events, yoga and pilates. I wish I had found this on the front end of my stay. I would definitely have met more locals and ex-pats.

7) Learn New Things About Yourself
One thing that has been made very clear is the difference between my American work ethic and the Southern Europe sense of life and timing. As you can see by this post, I'm a bit type A... I have designed a life of intensity... a busy trap. Being here has forced me to find more balance. Times and appointments are more of suggestion here. That ex-pat yoga MeetUp that you scrambled to make? Eh. No one was there. Were you early? Did it move? Eh... just have a great day... explore a new neighborhood... eat new foods... practice your French.

The importance of living in the moment, rather than being controlled by the clock is a totally different way of life for me. And, immersing in it for two weeks has allowed me to learn language, write more, take more photos and generally expand my worldview.

I'm so glad I took the leap. But, steps one through five will allow me to have a thriving business to return home to.

Message me in the comments, Snap me (@floridagirlindc) or tweet me (@tammy) if you have questions about working abroad and how you might be able to do it.

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