Tips for turning your passion into business from an expat entrepreneur

  • Tamara Jacobi
Published 2020-07-06 10:00

Born in Newport, Vermont, in the USA, Tamara Jacobi was raised in Canada. Today, she lives in San Pancho, Mexico, where she owns an adventure business, managed by her family, in the heart of nature. An avid writer, she is the author of Wildpreneurs, a guidebook for turning your passion into business. Tamara talks to the best ideas to have right now to become a successful expat entrepreneur in the post-COVID-19 era.

How is the economic downturn resulting from the global health crisis going to affect entrepreneurship around the world?

Around the world, the health crisis has already profoundly affected entrepreneurs with non-essential businesses: travel (hospitality, adventure, transportation), restaurants and luxuries (massage or salons—I haven’t had my hair cut in months!) and other “superfluous” products/services. Think about how this has affected your own household and spending; with uncertainty on the horizon, you may be cutting back on unnecessary expenses and focusing only on essential items. Conversely, entrepreneurs that specialise in the essentials (organic gardens, grocery stores) or who are virtually focused (graphic designers, digital nomads, podcasters, online storefronts, etc.) have been thriving. 

Looking down the road, I predict that the economic downturn will ultimately spark a new wave of brilliant and diverse entrepreneurship. Around the world, free-thinkers are not only realising the instability of 9-5 jobs, they are also tuning into their inspiration/passion as they consider becoming the CEOs of their own lives. Months at home offered an opportunity to daydream—wild ideas have no geographic restrictions! 

Spring 2020 also prompted many to consider starting a “side hustle” or a “plan B” to bring in extra income. Additionally, there has been a widespread shift toward working from home; a preferable and more productive approach for many free-thinkers. This newfound freedom is a catalyst for a reconsideration of values, needs and lifestyle—personally and professionally. With all this in mind, entrepreneurship is a great option! 

Thus, as the economy gradually recovers, there will be infinite exciting new opportunities for entrepreneurs across all industries, both essential and non-essential services (ex. the travel industry will be booming more than ever once the risk has passed!). This is a clean slate and new beginning for many free thinkers; it’s an opportunity to adapt, pivot, embrace uncertainty and dive into the adventure of blazing their own unique trails through business. 

How would you define a successful expat entrepreneur in the post-COVID-19 era?

I foresee a redefinition of success and a step out of the box. We’ve been given a sharp reminder that humans aren’t invincible; life is short! This new era will bring an opportunity to create purposeful businesses that are aligned with ideal lifestyle, passion and values (richness comes in many forms beyond monetary!). 

A successful expat entrepreneur will be mindful of the following elements for long term success: 

  • Build health into the foundation of their business. Regardless of geographic location, a strong immune system is crucial. Sitting at a desk all day every day doesn’t nourish our minds or bodies. Movement and nourishment (in many forms) should be integrated into the daily routine. 
  • Keep business simple. This will make it easier to pivot and adapt to “the new normal,” which will offer stability in the long run. Consider your favourite food truck down the street; easily relocated, easy to close temporarily, low overhead. Be mindful that simple doesn’t mean compromising the quality of a product/service. 
  • Embrace the mindset: “No mud, no lotus” (philosopher, Thich Nhat Hanh). Challenges are inevitable! Commit to getting gritty, learning and persisting through the obstacles. Success means becoming a master of artful mistake making! With this positive approach, there is no failure, only growth and adventure! Ultimately, the lotus will bloom. This is the essence of what it means to be a Wildpreneur. 
  • Go with the flow of the surrounding culture. My experience living as an expat in Mexico for nearly 15 years has taught me that fighting the current will get you nowhere (except stressed out!). My American focus on chronic productivity, progress and speed clashed with the laid back mañana culture. I had much to learn! The local community and Mexican culture transformed not only my business but also my personal values as I learned the wisdom of slowing down and enjoying both the journey and the destination. Cultural lessons can be profound and invaluable for creating a thriving business within your community. 
  • Have a virtual back up plan. Be prepared to do business online if necessary. 
  • Financial cushion. If you do need to close or scale back for a period of time (recession, pandemic, etc.) you’ll have a piggy bank you can smash. 

In your opinion, what would be the ideal startup ideas to have right now?

A strong immune system is worth more than gold—particularly now! Wellness products and services are much needed and ideal. A startup in this arena could take many shapes and forms: health/nutrition coaches, organic gardens, food trucks that offer superfoods on the go, homemade whole food energy bars, meditation/mindfulness online classes and apps, healthy living blogs and podcasts, organic/natural cleaning or personal care products. These startups can be simple, low overhead, quick to get started, fun to brand (tell your expat story!) and in demand locally and globally (now and into the future—health will never go out of style). 

Though virtual and digital startups are also likely to be trending and successful, they can be volatile and competitive. Technology changes so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up and be cutting edge. It also takes a lot more financial resources to “go big.” 

What, according to you, would be the best destinations to set up a business right now and why?

The best destination is the place you love—a place that nourishes you personally and professionally! Given that you may need to be prepared to stay home for now (due to travel risk and concerns) the best place to set up would be in a strong community and culture that are aligned with your personal and business values. If you’re considering relocation to a new destination—whether it’s a city, a small community or the wilderness—find your paradise. Where do you feel most inspired? What makes you come alive? Pick a place where you are surrounded by nourishment for your mind and body. This will lay the foundation for creating a healthy business that will thrive. If you end up having to stay home or take your business in a virtual direction for a period of time, then at least you will be stuck in your paradise! 

My family and I created our dream business in the jungle, a natural place that we are passionate about. We thrive on playing in Mother Nature’s playground. Though we’ve encountered countless obstacles, building our business on a foundation of fun in a place that we love has been the key ingredient to keeping us going for nearly 15 years. 

As far as concerns destinations specifically, I love Mexico! It’s been welcoming culturally, logistical and geographically. I moved to the Mexican Pacific as a young expat (21 years old, straight out of college), and I had much to learn about living and working internationally. For the most part, the local community was supportive, patient and encouraging. It was fairly simple to create a business (very little red tape, just a lot of photocopies and patience needed!). Mexico's proximity to the USA and Canada is also ideal for my family and I. When our business is closed in the summer rainy season, we drive from Mexico to the Colorado Rockies and on to Quebec, Canada. There's a great healthcare system too (I gave birth to my son in Puerto Vallarta in 2019). Mexico is a land of opportunity for expat entrepreneurs—it’s a canvas to create! For those who don’t speak Spanish, English is also widely spoken. 

Panama is another great option for a variety of reasons. It is beautifully diverse ecologically with the Caribbean/Atlantic coastline, mountains and Pacific all within a day's drive. There are a variety of charming communities and entrepreneurial opportunities. Panama’s financial and health system are also based on the US dollar, which makes it convenient for expats who are based in North America. It can also be driven to/easily accessed from the USA/Canada. My husband owns property there, and we are planning to explore Panama more thoroughly in the near future.

Is there any piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring entrepreneurs who would like to move abroad?

Be ready to adapt; this is a crucial skill for living and working abroad. Though I initially resisted Mexico’s “mañana culture,” when I finally opened my eyes to its wisdom, my life was profoundly transformed—personally and professionally. My book, Wildpreneurs, explores my evolution in Chapter 6 Simplification & Adaptation—Is it Mañana yet? The Mexican culture inspired me to relax my grip on constant productivity and “progress”, and I learned to let go of wearing busyness as a badge of honour. Now I prefer to savour the experience, to move slowly and steadily (“poco a poco” they say in Mexico), savour the journey and always have time for siestas and fiestas with my amigos! Mexico has taught me to live a fulfilled and happy life each day. 

Additionally, I would offer an equation that I call the 3 Ws: 

  1.  Wish. Tune into what makes you come alive, identify your wild business idea and imagine yourself in action, making it happen. Making a wish, setting your intention, and visualisation are the first step on your journey. 

  2. Wildpreneur Approach. Summon your grit and persistence. Commit to embracing the challenge (no mud, no lotus!). There is no failure, only stepping stones; become a master of artful mistake-making. 

  3. Wisdom. Do what you love! Infuse love and mindfulness into all aspects of your business with a holistic approach (people, planet and profit). 

1 Comment
3 weeks ago

People should definitely consider Georgia for a place to settle. 1 year visa-free on arrival, and repeatable, one of the lowest costs of living on the planet, European style cities and food, great natural beauty and did I mention the wine? You can get white wine for $1.00 a bottle and yes it's still drinkable.