Building Your Fortune from Your Kitchen Table


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By Jessica Ramesch, International Living,

For every substantial, bricks-and-mortar business set up by an expat overseas, there are hundreds of small enterprises that people operate from their own homes with very little investment. Within a year of starting their micro-enterprise overseas, Jim and Mariellen Wiemann are making a profit and supplementing their retirement income. “The business allows us to purchase the things we might otherwise not have. We are planning some vacations abroad, and the business will support those adventures,” says Jim.

Jim and Mariellen are just two of the expats who’ve discovered you don’t have to have a huge amount of money to create a business overseas.

There are lots of small opportunities you can tap into…working a few hours from home while still putting your lifestyle first. After all…it’s for lifestyle you want to move in the first place.

There is no end to the imagination of people who move abroad, spot an easy niche to fill, and bring their natural entrepreneurship to the task.

They’re producing food…growing things in the backyard…mending and repairing stuff…offering caretaking services…all the simple little businesses for which you don’t need to rent or build a premises. You don’t need a lot of equipment either…maybe an oven or sewing machine…a workbench or shed…a few tools, perhaps.

You undoubtedly have some skill, craft, or ability that you can use to make money in this fashion. Jim dug deep and found a skill he had learned as a young worker, but it wasn’t what he had built his career on. And it may even be something you’ve never done before but you can teach yourself—as Neil Thomas Evans did in Panama.

For many people, the very basis of a cottage enterprise is keeping it small and simple. But if it proves successful and you can’t meet the demand you’ve created, it is possible to bring in other home workers, as Neil Thomas Evans has done in Panama.

Neil left family, friends, and Boston winters behind to take advantage of opportunities in Panama. He saw great potential in national products, like the nation’s award-winning rum and coffee, as well as in the growing international community living there.

He had previously traveled to other rum-producing countries and noted that rum cakes tended to be sold in all the souvenir shops. Panama didn’t have an in-country souvenir rum cake industry, so he decided to try and fill the niche.

First, Neil took time to develop the perfect rum cake, tweaking the recipe over and over until he was satisfied. “I had never made a rum cake before in my life,” he says. “I went from asking what kind of pot to use to being an expert. And I gained seven pounds sampling all those recipe variations.”

Once Neil had fine-tuned the recipe, he chose a name: Panama Tropical Rum Cakes. Then he took his cottage industry to the next level, choosing bakers who could produce his cakes for him.

Soon Neil began to get inquiries from Panama rum cake enthusiasts abroad. He set up a website so customers could order online.

The most challenging part of setting up his operation, he says, was sourcing attractive keepsake boxes in which the rum cakes could be packaged and shipped. “I posted on the website Alibaba, and I got something like 100 bids,” he says. Though overwhelmed by the response, he finally settled on a manufacturer that agreed to produce boxes to specification—custom-making them to suit Neil’s cakes.

“The first order was a minimum of 5,000,” says Neil. “I took the plunge, and I’m happy to report we have since reordered many times over. People love the beautiful boxes. They save them to use for photos, jewelry, and personal items.” It’s the combination of quality product and attractive packaging, he adds, that has helped him achieve success.

So, if you are planning on moving abroad but you don’t have a lot of seed capital for setting up a business, don’t let that put you off. There is still plenty of opportunity. Look around and see where there is a niche…a potential market that hasn’t yet been tapped…and quite possibly you can start off a small service or production line to fill it.

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