I never had any real desire to live in the United States. The relocation was improvised, although it did occur organically from growth within my business. The lessons I’ve learned from my relocation experience, both good and bad, can help prepare you for the expectations of moving to another country.
Some background first: When I started my business in London in 1986, very few event planning companies were in existence. I began operations after seven years of working with sports clients at a PR agency. I realized I was largely handling logistics for special occasions, and that there was a huge demand for them.
At the time, I was in partnership with someone who had a lot of contracts with the city. As a result of this, my business flourished and we landed our first client: Lloyd’s of London, which needed sponsors to celebrate its 350th anniversary. That event put me in contact with the Lord Mayor of London, and we established a solid relationship. His committee of business leaders recommended my company and generated business for us to manage many European, then international events.
This success led to requests for me to teach what I had learned in the United States. By now, the event planning industry was emerging and universities were adding courses that needed someone with my experience to share insights.
During a seminar in San Diego in 1999, a planner from with Duke University in Durham, N.C., contacted me to organize high level donor event for their Campaign in London, then in Europe and Asia on behalf of the school. That led to more work with the university, and suddenly I was spending 10 months a year in the Triangle area and became psychologically invested in being successful there. I realized I needed to relocate to North Carolina full time – and I did so without a true strategic plan to follow.
What occurred next was a great deal of learning on my part. These are the lessons I learned about starting and building a business in another country:
- Know the lifestyle customs. This goes beyond different food and fashions. I’m talking about items such as health insurance to cover your medical costs (its free in the United Kingdom) and a bank account to access the country’s currency (difficult to do without credit references). You need an American driver’s license to buy a car loan. Never take for granted that your daily lifestyle in one nation will work the same in another.
- Be prepared for different business requirements. I found that the reporting methodology for America is more complicated than in the United Kingdom. There is five times more paperwork to fill out here than in my native country due to government bureaucracy.
- Have a support structure around you. This particularly applies if you have a spouse and/or children living back home – you will feel isolated and uncomfortable during your time away from work. My frustration over this situation led me to start a British expatriate meet-up group in Durham. To my shock, I learned many others shared my sentiment, as 140 people signed up to join and socialize within the first four weeks!
Thankfully, a few things did pleasantly surprise me after making my move. These included:
- Expect a friendly reception among your new neighbors. I believe that Americans are so used to having to move on account of their job situations that they try to establish themselves in new communities. This leads to them being very accommodating when meeting their new neighbors, including you.
- Support for entrepreneurship and business partnerships are strong. Business leaders in America are invested in the success of others in their region, so they help you start and grow a business if they see strong potential there to benefit everyone.
- The standard of living is incredible. My tiny two-bedroom apartment in London cost me nearly three times that of my five-bedroom house in North Carolina. There is more disposable income to use if you succeed in America. If that’s not an incentive to move, I don’t know what is!
- Moving to a new country deserves your full attention to maximize your success. With careful planning in advance, the upsides of relocating can, and should, outweigh the downsides as you begin the next chapter of your life.
Sally Webb, CSEP, is CEO of The Special Event Company, a strategic event and meeting management company based in Cary, North Carolina. Founded in 1986 in London, England, and operating in the United States since 1999, the company opened its U.S. headquarters in the Triangle in 2005 and expanded to Charlotte, NC in 2011. TSEC has won more than 30 international awards. The company maintains a prestigious local client base and is a one-stop shop for all aspects of event production, logistic management, and marketing through its group of companies. For more information, please visit http://www.specialeventco.com/. Sally is a member of the Enterprising Women Advisory Board and is a 2013 recipient of the Enterprising Women of the Year Award.