From UK to Kuwait, USA, UAE and Singapore
Helen’s story in a nutshell:
I was in hospital, in labour, with my second daughter negotiating, or rather shouting down the phone at an estate agent – I was desperate to firm up the deal on a new house. And it was a brand new house. A beautiful kitchen, plenty of space, a great neighbourhood, somewhere to build a home. Twelve weeks after we moved in my husband announced we were moving to Chicago. Since then we’ve lived in one of the coldest places on the planet, one of the hottest and now one of the most humid. Luckily this has been an inspirational experience that has fed my passion as a travel journalist, helping other expat families to travel more adventurously in order to find out how the world ticks.
Biggest start up / expat challenge:
Operating in different cultures and getting to grips with social and religious sensitivities. For example, Singapore is liberating and open-minded; there is room for entrepreneurs to breath. Dubai is a great place to live, but you have to understand how the place ticks, especially as a women in a patriarchal society. These are interesting challenges.
Who are your cheerleaders?:
My two daughters. They are both my inspiration and the reason why I’m passionate about sharing information.
What are your words of Wisdom?:
The world doesn’t revolve around you. You should revolve around the world. It’s a big jigsaw – you just need to work out how all the pieces fit together.
There are the obvious differences of the male/female divide, religion and social sensitivities, but these are only barriers for a short time until you understand the rules of the land and respect them. I like to believe there are peach and coconut cultures. Some cultures are very welcoming, and people will chat to you in a queue for the checkout counter. It doesn’t mean they want to have dinner with you though. Coconut cultures don’t want to impose so appear stand offish and won’t strike up a conversation until formal introductions have been made. Then you may become as thick as thieves. I’ll leave you to work out which country is which!
Just put one foot in front of the other, and keep going. There are thousands of people who have done it before you (in most situations!) so if you need help, just reach out a hand and someone will grab it.
Developing my business so it is flexible enough to move country with me.
Working practices and benefits in Singapore:
Singapore loves hard work, and if you’re someone who can operate within boundaries it’s the place for you. Some people find it too stifling but I’d rather understand the rules and work with them, then work in a country where the rules are too fluid and whatever you do you’re on the wrong side of the law.
At 13 ¾ I read “The Secret Diary to Adrian Mole, ages 13 ¾” by Sue Townsend. The main character talked about his future and so I started a diary. I committed pen and paper my determination to be a journalist. After reading history at university I won a newspaper scholarship and trained as a reporter. Broadening my skills by working in public relations and marketing, I’m now challenging the industry’s thoughts on communications and how it should be done. I’m a soldier fighting to drag organisations down from their soapboxes by encouraging them to create communities with their customers to engage in two-way conversation. And it’s fun.
Where you find inspiration from:
Maps. I collect antique maps of places I’ve lived, some of which are more than 300 years old. It’s fascinating to see how the world has changed, not just in terms of what the map shows, but what it doesn’t. Travelling is all about learning why we live where we do. I would have loved to have been a explorer mapping the world for the first time.
How you stay motivated:
I’m passionate about sharing information. For my corporate clients I help them to engage with customers through projects than benefits the business and their customers. Expat Explorers is an example of one of those projects. It’s my community.
Useful tools for expats in business:
Networking groups. It depends where you live as to how good these groups are, but there is a group to suit all sorts of people: women’s groups, mother who want to stay busy groups, business groups linked to your home country.
Networking isn’t about going to an event with the mindset that you might pick up business. That’s the short game, and people don’t like being sold to. Networking is about exploring what people do, taking an interest and working out how you can be useful to them. Not only do you develop your own reputation in a positive way, but people like to repay favours, and eventually what goes around comes around. It’s not philanthropic; it’s a business approach.
Plans for the future:
I’ll be happy if my children grow up to be respectful of creed, colour and race, and an understanding that they need to create their own path to success; the world doesn’t owe them a living. I’d like to spread that message and if our children grow up with an understanding of responsibility, and an enthusiasm for life, I’ll feel I’ll have made a mark.
P4PR is a communications business, which focuses on content-led marketing by developing community projects that enhance an organisation’s reputation while offering value, rather than a sales pitch, to customers. Expat Explorers is an example of how this can be achieved in the travel and expat sectors.