This week’s episode features my conversation with newlywed, Gen-Z’er, and small business owner Sarah Tulen. Join us as we discuss balancing and growing a new business, all while living in a new country.
Being Productive While Running a Business Overseas
Sarah Kim Tulen is a nomad who hails from Orange County, California, attended Emerson College in Boston, worked and lived in New York City, and is now living in the Netherlands! Sarah’s husband (whom she met in New York) is from the Netherlands and last year when his visa expired, they decided to move to the Netherlands rather than renew it.
Sarah is the founder of Communaholics, a digital marketing agency she founded just a year ago, that creates innovative digital strategies for open-minded clients. Sarah’s agency runs on a green initiative called PLANT10 that is written into every contract, meaning that Communaholics plants 10 trees for every month of work done with a client.
Sarah previously worked at one of the best communication firms in the United States and aims for her agency to be a less intimidating environment than the places she has previously worked at.
In college, Sarah majored in marketing communications and minored in entrepreneurship. She also has a background in digital marketing. Sarah feels that based on her studies and past experience, she is exactly where she is supposed to be.
When she’s not working, Sarah enjoys surfing, rock climbing, yoga, skincare, embroidery, macramé, painting, baking, and most prominently-sushi eating!
A typical day
Sarah’s typical day is very different than what you might think a successful entrepreneur may have. Sarah’s husband is a chef, so his hours are quite varied. She tries to align her schedule with his and because several of her clients are in the US, she is able to begin her day a bit later, around 10:00 am. One of the reasons Sarah began her business, rather than apply to a traditional job, was so she would be able to see and spend time with her husband since his schedule cannot be controlled.
Sarah begins each day by enjoying a matcha latte and spending some quiet time with her husband. She also likes to take time to visually plan her day out and think of all the things she needs to get done. After a while she will begin working on her social media content, getting things posted to her business Instagram page.
Around noon she will be doing client work with a focus on getting all of her meetings held in the early afternoon.
Her workday usually ends at about 1:00 in the morning. After work she spends time creating content for her social media pages or watching television.
Sarah and her husband moved to the Netherlands in the middle of the pandemic and initially, there was no strict protocol on masks. Now, however, the country is on lock-down. All shops are closed and there is a curfew of 9:00 pm. Masks are also now required everywhere. This has made it a challenge for Sarah to meet people and make friends in a new country. She also expected that her family would be able to visit her, but that’s not possible right now. Fortunately, her husband’s friends and family have been very welcoming to her.
Biggest productivity challenges
In managing her life and business, Sarah finds that her biggest challenge is just starting.
Sarah is diagnosed with ADHD, which impacts how she manages her time and gets work done. She finds that throughout the day, she will drift to different activities, so she has to re-align herself every few hours to stay on track. Sarah also deals with anxiety and imposter syndrome (as so many of us do) as a young business owner, questioning her own capabilities or whether or not she is ready for what she is doing.
As a digital marketing agency owner, Sarah offers a broad variety of services to her clients. Her main focus is social media strategy, Facebook and Instagram ads, content creation, graphic design–really anything related to social media.
Sarah has no “typical” client. They come from all different industries such as wellness, luxury goods, and service-based businesses such as therapists. Sarah loves having an eclectic list of clients because she feels this fits her personality well since she has so many varied interests and hobbies.
Resources and tools Sarah recommends
When it comes to balancing her work with her personal life, Sarah likes to use pen and paper to manage her tasks and calendar. She also finds that this works well with her ADHD, as writing things down makes it easier for her to commit it to memory.
Sarah sets multiple alarms throughout the day to “reset” her mind, as her thoughts tend to wander during the day. She tries to give herself grace and not restrict herself to sitting at her computer for long periods of time. Sarah tends to work in bursts of energy and productivity, so it’s important that she has the freedom to come and go from her computer.
One of Sarah’s favorite tools to use for work is Slack. She uses it to communicate with (and organize) her clients and colleagues. She likes being able to categorize her clients and their most important messages into specific “rooms”. She can also keep track of files she is sharing with them and any changes that may need to be made.
Sarah prefers to use a paper planner to manage her appointments and other time-based commitments. This year she is using a hardcover, spiral-bound planner from the Rifle Paper Company. Sarah likes this planner because it has a helpful month overview and a day-to-day breakdown with boxes that can be checked off when tasks are completed.
How Sarah manages her ADHD while being productive in her business
The best way to describe ADHD is that it is like having several tabs open at one time on a computer. There are so many different things that Sarah is thinking about at any given time, and if she pivots to one of those things, she can stay on it for hours. The nice thing, though, is that she can become very focused on things she is passionate about, like creating social media content.
In order to manage this, Sarah has to be very intentional when it comes to how she spends her time. She has put specific routines and systems in place based on when she is most likely to get distracted. She doesn’t necessarily restrict herself from wandering off-topic, but the alarms she sets for herself throughout the day remind her of what she should be working on–a sort of tap on her shoulder.
Sarah has found that if she doesn’t allow herself to give in to her natural tendencies a least a little, she grows to resent her work. Sarah has worked hard to accept who she is and what is required for her to be the most productive and produce the highest quality of work. She feels like she has arrived at a place where she knows exactly what she needs to do in order to do her best work.
While living in the Netherlands, Sarah has done her best to learn the native language, which is Dutch. She speaks it with her husband often and tries to incorporate it into her daily life as much as possible. Where Sarah lives, it’s very normal to speak a second language and almost odd if you don’t. So Sarah is making this a focus for herself.
Challenges Sarah has faced starting a new business in a foreign country
One of the biggest challenges Sarah has faced (and still struggles with) is setting boundaries for herself when it comes to how often she works. At the beginning of her business, she was working constantly because she felt like if she wasn’t, she was wasting time. Now she is sure to take Saturday nights off, but it can be hard because as a business owner, her mind is always on her work.
Another challenge she has faced is acclimating herself to the way her Dutch clients view money and work. Although Sarah has American clients, she also now has clients in the Netherlands and the two countries have very different views on things. Americans are very focused on maximizing profit while the Dutch are focused on minimizing cost. The marketing industry is so different in the Netherlands because they are not as willing to pay money for certain marketing services. Sarah has worked to understand their mindset and has adjusted her approach to potential clients to present the kind of work that she does.
Finally, because Sarah works with clients all over the world, she has had to learn to adjust to several different time zones to meet the needs of her clients. She uses a map on her desktop with all the time zones she works with so she can more easily schedule meetings at a reasonable time.
If you are a small business owner yourself, Sarah has a few tips when it comes to getting more out of an Instagram account:
- Detach yourself from metrics, like how many followers or “likes” you may have, because this doesn’t necessarily convert into sales or other growth. Do not buy followers or likes because this can get your account banned.
- Use hashtags that are relevant to your niche, post consistently, and use all the different features that Instagram offers, such as stories, IGTV, and reels.
- Don’t overlook community management either, interact with people who could be interested in what you offer.
If you are wanting to learn more about how to do all of this, Sarah suggests using YouTube or even following her on Instagram, where she regularly gives suggestions and how-tos.
What do you do to get back on track on a day when everything gets away from you?
Sarah has these kinds of days (or sometimes even weekends) often. When she isn’t feeling productive, she tries to listen to what her body is telling her and not restrict herself. When she can’t get herself to work, she knows there is something either mentally or physically going on. During those times, she will read a book, Facetime friends, or watch Netflix. After giving herself time and permission to rest, she will come back to her work much more productive.
Sarah’s last words for the listener
Rome wasn’t built in a day and the best things in life take time. If you need a day off, listen to your body and take it, because you can’t build your business if you are running yourself dry. You risk burnout and your company won’t grow. Take time for yourself to relax and then get back to it the next day.
What do you think? Questions? Comments?
Connect with Sarah
Resources and Links
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