In my new blog series on expat careers, I’ll be interviewing people who have been navigating life abroad and made career changes during their time on the move. First up is Rachel Awad, an American expat in Cairo, who shares how she set up her business abroad. She is an expat veteran, having first moved abroad 30 years ago. After many years working in education, she has recently started not just one, but two online businesses. Read on for more about Rachel’s experiences starting her own business and her advice for others. Thanks Rachel for sharing your story and tips!
1. Where are you from, Where do you live now and how did you end up here?
I currently live in Cairo, Egypt- we’re here primarily for my husband’s work. My first expat experience was about 30 years ago, and that’s when my husband and I met. We moved back to the United States for a while, and then moved to Egypt in 1996. We also spent 12 years in Qatar (for my work) after moving here the first time, and came back to Cairo (probably permanently) about a year and a half ago.
2. What made you decide to start your business?
I had never really thought about doing my own business. My husband is the entrepreneur in the family – he has had his own businesses since before we met. I on the other hand have been working full time for others for about 35 years – since I left college. My whole career has been in education. Different roles have included: college counselor, teacher (school and university level), school principal, consultant to ministries of education, and leading non-profit educational programing. When I left my last full time job in Qatar about a year and a half ago, it was the first time I didn’t have a “what’s next” plan professionally.
Part Time Consultancy as a First Step
I enjoyed some amazing time off, but started to get antsy. I applied for jobs here and there but was being incredibly picky. Doing some part time consulting for organizations working in education and/or non-profit was a first step in my new journey. At the same time, I was also providing ad-hoc support to a few families who were looking at US colleges for their kids. I had a lot of experience supporting students who were applying to college, both professionally throughout my career and also with my own son, who went to the US for university after living his whole life in Egypt and Qatar.
Starting A Remote USA College Application Support Service
As I was working on these different consulting projects, I found that I really loved working with clients on individual projects or challenges. Because each assignment was unique, I didn’t get bored, and was doing new things all the time. About 6 months ago I decided to try to scale up my consulting work and actually formally launch as a business. In conversations with a lot of people both locally and in expat online forums I realized that the US college application process was something that a lot of families need help with. Many schools internationally don’t really understand the process and aren’t able to support it, other than some of the top American schools.
I have worked as a college counselor, and had also delivered a lot of training to college counselors on various ways to support students as they navigate academic and career pathways. So, I decided to launch a remote college application support service – where I could offer planning and support services to both US expats whose kids are looking to return to the US for university, or international students who would like to apply to US colleges/universities.
Spin Off: Writing and Editing Business
I spend a few months developing the business model, and slowly building a brand and a website. My expertise was in the actual service of college advising, but not so much in the business planning and branding aspects, so it was taking some time. And while I was working on this, a spin-off idea started to develop. Based on requests I was getting and some of the earlier consulting work I have been doing, I decided to launch another business providing writing and editing services. They are linked in some ways, because one of the most sought-after college advising services is support writing the personal statement required by almost all US colleges.
In addition, there are so many individuals and organizations who struggle with professionally written English language content. This includes websites, reports, – and pretty much any document that has been drafted in a different language and then translated into English. I have done content editing for almost all of my previous employers, and also had done quite a few consulting jobs which included content development and editing. I started getting requests to help with CVs as well. So I decided that while I was still finalizing the college application service model, I would launch a site to promote my work as a writer/editor.
3. What do you find most rewarding about your new career?
One of the things I love – especially as an expat – is the fact that I can do it from anywhere. I need a computer, and a decent internet connection (and sometimes not so decent is okay too). I can work from home in my pajamas. Working while traveling and while on “home visits” to the US is a great advantage. I can go to a café if I want a change of scene. It’s incredibly liberating. I also love being my own boss. I have had senior roles in the past, but I have never been in a position where I got to call all the shots, and make all the strategic decisions. And finally, I love that the work isn’t boring. Even if one particular assignment might get tedious, the work is always changing. Different clients, different writing projects, different students/families with different needs and expectations.
4. What are the biggest challenges you are facing?
There has been so much to learn, and many challenges along the way. I have been learning the importance of branding. Designing material (names, logos, websites, etc.) that capture who I am and what I am trying to do. in a consistent and professional manner. Knowing how to market my services is also a big challenge. Getting the word out. Letting people and companies know I’m out here, and what I can offer. I am especially focused now on how to market my services internationally. Locally isn’t such a problem, but for many reasons I want to develop a more global model.
5. What advice do you have for others living abroad to start their own business?
Choose a Remote Business Model
For expats who are trying to develop a model for their own business, I would say try to focus on a model for a business that can be delivered remotely, or can be easily launched in new locations. That way you are not tied to a specific location, and you don’t have to give it up when it’s time for the next move.
Build on the Skills and Experience you have
While we often hear the advice to follow our passion, I also recommend that people build on the skills and experience they have. It will help give you credibility among potential clients/customers.
Allow Yourself Time to Learn
Even if you are 100% confident in your service offerings, you need to allow yourself time to learn. Knowing how to do something and knowing how to run it as a business are two very different things! I definitely recommend finding people you can talk to and bounce ideas off of. I don’t just mean a spouse or best friend who will be a sounding board, but people who have some expertise and can give critical feedback. These don’t have to be your closest friends – but should be people who you can turn to for trusted advice or input who are willing to share a bit of their time with you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Try
And finally, I think I would say “Don’t be afraid to try.” Starting something new can be scary – every expat already knows that. Starting your own business can definitely be scary. But if you don’t try you’ll never know if it will work out. Be ready to step out of your comfort zone and take risks.
More About Rachel and her Businesses:
Would you like to know more about Rachel’s work? See her websites:
Global College Admissions Planning: www.gcapconsulting.com
Write This Way Writing & Editing Services: www.writethisway.me
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