Expat Entrepreneur: Jamie Müller

Expat Entrepreneur: Jamie Müller

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Initially finding herself "getting ‘stuck’ in understanding the German entrepreneurial system", Jamie Müller finds the effort pays off in the end.

Name: Jamie Müller
Nationality: US American
City of residence: Gärtringen, Germany - west of Stuttgart
Name of company: Caterpillar Spirit
Date of company launch: 2006

Can you give us a brief description of your business and how it is going?

I am the owner and founder of Caterpillar Spirit. We provide training, coaching, facilitation and language programmes for numerous industries and individuals with a particular focus on intercultural issues. In a nutshell, we work with individuals and teams who are experiencing some type of change and transition, be it personal or professional, and provide tools, knowledge and support to better manage this change.  If we know anything, it is that change is a constant. Knowing how to expect, manage and learn from change is the key.

Since I began Caterpillar Spirit in 2006, things have continued to grow and expand every year. Last year, 2009, was my best and busiest year so far. Though we have grown, we are proud that we continue to provide a high level of relationship with our clients as well as the detailed customisation of our programmes. We are not a huge training company with off-the-shelf programmes, nor do we want to be.

We are focusing more and more on coaching programmes, as this field is growing quickly. I personally enjoy the long-term relationship provided when I coach.

We are also focusing on expanding our presence and speaking more and more at conferences here in Germany/ Northern Europe as well as in the United States.

What do you like about doing business in Germany?

What I enjoy most about doing business here in Germany is the direct feedback I receive from my clients and participants. I always allow for a written and verbal feedback session in my programs. Although I also did this in the US (Midwest), there was little constructive verbal feedback provided. Here in Germany, I learn immediately from my clients and participants what went well and what needs improvement. I can then adapt my programmes and style accordingly to provide a better service.

 

What do you find most frustrating about doing business in your country of residence?

The most frustrating time for me was when I was just getting started--setting everything up legally. I was motivated, had a lot of ideas and personal support, however I found myself getting ‘stuck’ in understanding the German entrepreneurial system, the numerous forms to complete, the many types of self-employment, finding a qualified accountant--numerous things.

I was unsure where I had to register the company, what types of insurance I would need, what the tax implications were and so on. Our company delivers services in various countries and there was confusion regarding VAT as well.  There were moments when this was overwhelming and slowed down my motivation. As a very driven person, this was very frustrating for me.

What was most helpful for me in this situation was the support of my husband as well as the book Praxisbuch Existenzgründung by Svenja Hofert. I strongly believe that having a successful business is only possible if your family supports you--there are a lot of ups and downs. Secondly, the book by Svenja is a book written in plain German explaining the legalities of self-employment here. I highly recommend it to anyone considering starting up in Germany.

What hurdles did you encounter when setting up?

See the answer to the third question–this was my most frustrating part!

 

How has the economic crisis affected your business?

Not very much at all.  I have clients in numerous industries as well as individual clients and teach at a local University. As such, when one industry or client slows down, I have been blessed with work in other areas.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs setting up business in your country of residence?

Be prepared that things are going to take twice as long as you would like them to go. I think most entrepreneurs have an incredible energy and motivation to get things going. Having patience and not giving up while learning the system here are key. Entrepreneurship here in Germany, though financially supported through the government, can socially still be seen as too risky and crazy by some. Know what you want with your business and tell others – though their initial response may be negative and sway you to keep the security of a job you perhaps do not enjoy, I recommend moving forward and show them that it is possible.

Be prepared to forego regular working hours and vacation – I believe this is for any entrepreneur key in the first few years, but perhaps particularly important here in Germany where vacation and clear working times are so highly valued. The division between work and private life may be very cloudy at times. Family and friends in Germany may or may not understand this.

And as I mentioned above, family support and Svenja’s book.

 

How does running a business in your current country of residence compare to running a business in other countries that you have lived in?

This is a great question.  The amount of bureaucracy is perhaps a bit less in the United States than in Germany, however it still exists and you should be just as prepared for that in the US.

I find that there is a key difference in the mentality around being an entrepreneur and starting a new business. The response from friends, family as well as the market can be different when presenting a new idea, a new product or a new way of doing things. I find here it can be met with scepticism and question about the need and quality. Whereas in the United States, something new is met with curiosity and positive interest. The field of Intercultural Communication is a growing one and can be understood as very abstract. This can lead to confusion, I have found, in telling people what I do as they are looking for something clear and concrete.

I believe it takes guts to start a new business, to take such a risk, to go out on your own. From a personal cultural perspective between the US and Germany, if I may sum it up, I believe you need a bit more guts here in Germany than in the US.

Would you like to add anything?

Just to let those who are starting out here in Germany know that I am happy to chat and offer my advice and experience with them.

You can contact Jamie via Expatica’s new Expat Aunt/ Uncle section to seek advice and tips on how to make the best of life abroad.

 

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