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Expat Entrepreneur Spotlight: Fiona Flintham
Starting your own venture in a new country can be a pretty lonely business. Having a network of people who share your experiences and support you along the way is a key element to succeeding. With this in mind, we kick-off the “Expat Entrepreneur Spotlight” blog series, in which you’ll meet some of the courageous start-uppers and learn how they dealt with the struggles they faced and how they overcame them.
Starting us off, meet Fiona Flintham, a Brit with wit, grit and wicked marketing skills to boot.
What brought you to Switzerland?
Fiona Flintham Marketing
Marketing mentoring programs
Career opportunity of husband. After 18 months of him commuting between London and Zurich, we decided to all move to Switzerland.
Q: What gave you the idea to start your business?
When I moved to Switzerland I gave up my corporate job in London and was then approached to consult for an online business in the parenting space. So I was already working very practically in online marketing but I knew I wanted to build my own business beyond consulting. However, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what business to launch.
My first online business was a yoga website which I built with the goal of monetizing with affiliate revenue. After a year of working on it I’d built a website that was coming up top in the Google search results, an achievement as this brought in a good volume of visitors. But I realised that I wasn’t passionate enough about yoga to keep creating the content myself. I started outsourcing that part but quickly felt that I wasn’t using my core talents and it was not fulfilling or very profitable!
There wasn’t one factor that led me to my current business, it was more that over time I learned to change direction and focus on how I could authentically help people with my existing talents and skills.
Since then I set up fionaflintham.com to help small business owners get found online and on social as this is what I’d done for global entertainment businesses in my corporate career. After a few months I decided to narrow my niche to specifically businesses targeting mums online. Over the course of my career at Disney, BBC, and Penguin Publishing, I’d worked on brands in the parenting market and had over 10 years experience in this area both online and offline. It was a market I knew a lot about and was confident in my ability to help others.
Q: What’s your philosophy on entrepreneurship?
I believe that as entrepreneurs we find success and fulfilment by focusing not on money or our own products or services, but on helping people.
I try to apply that to my business daily. I have it written in my planner ‘how does this help more people every day’. This leads me towards giving value and helping people through my blog and social media accounts.
Q: How long did it take you to go from idea until taking the actual first step to get started? What was the hardest part?
Not long at all. I’m always ‘doing’. Some of it comes to nothing, but everything I’ve ever done in my business has either been a lesson learned or has led me on towards something positive. I don’t procrastinate, but when I was first starting I found the hardest part was deciding what to do first. It was easy to become overwhelmed with everything that I could have done.
Q: Looking back, what’s something you wish you had known from the start about what it’s like to become an entrepreneur?
There are two things I wish I’d known when I first started. The first is how important it was to figure out my ‘why’. Knowing and understanding why you are doing something is a solid foundation and makes it easier to continue when things get tough or frustrating. I found initially this was less to do with my business and more to do with my personal vision for the future. Once I got clearer on that, I felt I had a better understanding of whom I wanted to work with and this then started to show in my marketing communications and messaging online.
The second thing I wished I known and from the start was how crucial a solid support network was and how important it is to build that from the start – or before you start! Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. I underestimated how important it was to find people who understand the emotional roller coaster you go through and are willing to be a supportive ear when you need it. Whether it’s meeting fellow business owners at an industry networking event or being in a paid mastermind group or a Meetup group – there are many ways to find good people to listen to and learn from. And when you find good mentors and business buddies this can make the journey so much more fun!
“Resilience to keep taking small steps forwards when you’re feeling alone is vital to success as an entrepreneur.”
Q: Can you share some of the highlights of where your business has taken you and the people you have met along the way?
What a fantastic question! It is important to remember the highlights, even the small things – these are what make being a business owner fulfilling. Personally I feel luckily to have met some incredible local women who have impacted me and my business. I count the Swiss Startup Club in Zurich as one of the best places to go to get good business advice and meet savvy business owners. The organizer (and now dear friend) Jana Nevrlka has created a dynamic knowledge-sharing space for entrepreneurs and start-ups. She has been an honest (and fun) sounding board for me and I encourage others to get out and meet likeminded entrepreneurs.
Recently in addition to my online marketing business I helped to launch the DrivenWoman network here in Switzerland. Meeting and working with the founder and accomplished entrepreneur Miisa Mink, has been a huge inspiration for me and for my business goals. I now get to meet amazing women every month at our in-person member meetings – where we help women with ideas and ambition who want to achieve their goals.
Q: What was the biggest hurdle for you to overcome along the way?
My own fears. I found that no longer having a global brand name on my CV was uncomfortable at first. Before moving to Switzerland I’d only ever worked for well known brands and when I started working for myself I felt very vulnerable without the ‘big brand’ name to give me credibility. Its something I struggled with for a while, and only with experience did it stop mattering to me. But yes, fear was a hurdle in the first year.
Q: What is a lesson you have learned since becoming an expat entrepreneur in Switzerland?
As an expat, simple things can be overwhelming, knowing no-one, having no colleagues or friends initially is a good learning curve as you build those skills needed to survive. Getting out and meeting people (who all speak a language you cant understand) becomes second nature, and I do believe that building this resilience is a valuable skill for building a business too. Resilience is the thing that keeps me going when times are tough. Resilience to keep taking small steps forwards when you’re feeling alone is vital to success as an entrepreneur.
Q: What is the biggest challenge your company faces today?
I’m at a point now where I have built momentum in my business and now face the challenge of finding the resources – such as freelance business and home help – to enable me to implement more, at greater speed.
Q: What was the best advice you received?
This advice came from my husband – whilst I was busy building an online business working from home alone, he must have felt my frustrations as I remember clearly when he told me to go out into Zurich and find some networking events. That evening I signed up for an all-day workshop, where I ended up meeting many wonderful entrepreneurs some of whom are still friends today. After that workshop I committed to going to a new meet-up or event every month – even when I didn’t feel like it, even when I knew no-one.
Q: What advice would you give other expat entrepreneurs wanting to start their business in Switzerland?
Be brave, step outside of your comfort zone and reach out to meet others and build your support network early on. I think it’s also important to tap into the knowledge of experts so that you can take fast action. As an expat, there is a lot to learn about setting up a business, and rather than trying to figure it all out yourself, I’d recommend tapping into the expertise that is already here in Switzerland – I wish the Swiss Small Biz Bootcamp had been around when I’d started!
5 Steps to Freelance in Switzerland
Prep: Work permit requirements
Step 1: Name your business
Step 2: Plan your business
Step 3: Incorporate and register
Step 4: Kick off
Step 5: Keep rocking
I am a multilingual business executive, communications professional and writer with 20+ years of experience in operations and project management in various roles and industries.
Through the SSBB workshops and blog I help expat entrepreneurs plan, start, register and run their (small) business in the Switzerland.