My husband and I were successful entrepreneurs in Europe for a number of years before deciding to move to the U.S. Although we had good reasons for wanting to make the change, we had our fair share of doubts, too — specifically about business. What if things didn’t go as well for us in the States? What if our talents and ambition weren’t enough to make up for the language barrier, or gaps in how we understood the culture?
Undoubtedly, many other foreign entrepreneurs have shared these same fears. America is one of the best places on Earth to do business, but it can also be one of the hardest. Competition is stiff, and navigating the bureaucratic challenges can be a nightmare, particularly for immigrants.
That said, the risk has paid off for our family so far (knock on wood). Three things in particular have helped smooth out the ride. Since we couldn’t have succeeded (now, or ever) without the help of others, I’d like to pass on the most important lessons in the hopes that they might help someone else.
Here are three smart ways for entrepreneurs to help themselves in a foreign country:
1. Ask questions
Most entrepreneurs like to think of themselves as open-minded. However, they’re also known for having a passion for self-sufficiency (some might say an “obsession” with it) — and let’s be honest, they’re not always known for their humility.
Add those things up and you get someone who has trouble asking for help. When you move to a foreign country, though, you should leave that attitude behind. Here’s why:
Whether you don’t understand a regulatory requirement for your business, aren’t sure about a cultural nuance you keep observing, or simply didn’t catch someone’s name because of an accent you aren’t used to, your willingness to ask for clarification is a strength, not a weakness. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve regretted asking a question relating to business, but I don’t have enough fingers to count how many times I wish I’d asked more. Remember: knowledge is power. And if you don’t ask, you won’t know.
2. Encourage others to ask questions, too
If you’re speaking in a second language to your clients, colleagues, or other business relations, don’t take for granted that they’ll ask you to clarify your meaning if they don’t understand something. We just established that asking can be hard for any entrepreneur. Instead of assuming they did understand, encourage them to voice any and all questions that they might have.
Showing a bit of vulnerability in the process — for instance, explaining that you’re not 100 percent confident in your ability to communicate effectively using the language in question — doesn’t hurt, either. It might even help you close a deal; someone who’s able to be vulnerable is seen as more trustworthy than those who are completely closed off.
3. Leverage your own psychological biases
Our doubts and fears are often our own worst enemies. Confirmation bias, for example, subconsciously leads us to seek out and emphasize information that supports what we already believe.
In the context of business, it can play out something like this: deep down, you doubt you can ever “really” succeed as an entrepreneur, despite already owning a profitable business. So when you have a bad day, you immediately take it to mean that you don’t belong in this room, this industry, or this country (or whatever it may be).
But given that your mind is powerful enough to create these subconscious beliefs, it’s also powerful enough to overturn them. When facing an immensely challenging situation (like bringing your business to a new continent or country), it’s vital that you take the time to look within and identify what limitations you may have unnecessarily placed on yourself. Once you know what they are, you can turn them on their head.
Believe you will succeed, in other words, and your built-in confirmation bias will start pointing out evidence in favor of that belief.
Bonus tip: Don’t neglect your personal or social life
If you move with family, make sure they remain a priority despite all the business-oriented challenges you’ll face. They’re still your closest supporters, and losing that support would be devastating to your entrepreneurial ambitions (not to mention your home life).
Making new friends is vital, too. Not only do they help you ease into life in a foreign country, but they often end up being entrepreneurial allies, as well. Networking takes on a new dimension of difficulty when you’re out of your geographical, cultural, and linguistic elements. In other words, you need all the help you can get.
Immigrating as an entrepreneur is one of the most challenging, rewarding, and transformative experiences I’ve ever gone through. If you have a good reason to do it, then my best advice is this: don’t let fear get in the way. Get out there and let it happen.