Always looking outwards
Michele Bar-Pereg turned her expat experience into a money-making business. Find out how she did it.
The offices of Foursquare Relocation are large and attractive. With the spacious quarters and a staff of 20 people of diverse nationalities, Michele Bar-Pereg, founder and director of the company has good reason to be proud of her entrepreneurial skills.
A vivacious woman, Michele is likeable and her enthusiasm is contagious.
"I love the people I meet. I love the job, because I never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. The routine tasks are terribly boring, but the people you meet, the stories you hear and the vision you get of Holland through their eyes makes it all exciting,"
The British national has come a long way.
It started with a bit of inspiration
Michele’s idea to start a relocation firm was born about 18 years ago, when the Londoner was a teacher of three to seven-year-olds at English-language schools. Married to a Dutchman, the couple's children were also going through the Netherlands’ educational system.
“Because I led a ‘double-life’, I found I knew the answers to all kinds of questions that mothers asked me,” she says.
Necessity is the mother of invention. With a concept, Michele started Formula 2 Relocations, bringing in her best friend as a partner and running the business first from her home.
“There were whole families needing information. ‘Who’s coming, why, what are they coming for and what are their needs and requirements?’” It soon changed from being women-oriented to a whole package.
And the business had no real competition when it started, Michele says.
Moving companies and property managers offered some relocation assistance to their clients, but Michele thought she saw what was missing. The business continued to grow and moved several times to larger quarters until the partners parted ways last year.
“The partnership was extremely successful and has given both of us the most incredible background and experience in the relocation industry,” she says.
Why ‘being practical’ works
In August 2001, Michele began Foursquare Relocation with an investment of purely independent venture capital, taking many of the staff from the former business with her and keeping about 75 percent of the clients.
Foursquare sells packages to companies, working with the human resource departments to offer personalised, hands-on relocation services and advice to employees. It’s not only about moving into the Netherlands, there is also a departure service to help Dutch or foreign personnel moving abroad.
“Dutch companies are now starting to use us. Nuon is one of our new clients. They’re globalising – bringing foreigners into the Netherlands.” Every new development sparks new ideas: Michele wants to organise cross-cultural trainings.
Her company helps with the little things too. “My philosophy has always been: ‘Be practical’. It’s nice to think about the social, psychological and spiritual aspects, but people really need practical help. They’re paying for a service that gets things done — a series of tasks that gets you through a relocation.”
And she has many more ideas for the future. For example, there’s a café on the ground floor where smaller services and packages are available.
Because foreigners sometimes can't read important Dutch correspondence that they receive, regular clients go to Foursquare for help. Michele is thus considering also offering ‘translation services’ as a small paid-for service at the café. (Information can be found at www.expatcafe.nl)
“One of the biggest hits is our unique Parents-To-Be programme, sold as a separate package... We simply manage someone’s pregnancy. If you’re a foreigner, you don’t know about midwives, having a baby at home, adoption, registering the birth, etc.”
Michele continues to be internationally orientated.
“You know how the Dutch look out to the sea? I’m always looking outwards.”
- Do as much advance research before you come as possible.
- Don’t speak to too many Dutch people about the way they do things, because they’re in the system and you’re not. My clients often say, “He did it like that; why can’t I?” or, “I met a man in a pub, and he told me…” This is a big problem and I have to advise my clients to listen to me and also to speak to other expatriates. They’re aware of the challenges.
- Network as much as possible, even at the risk of delaying finding a job or a class or an interest. Make your connections, because they will often lead you to easier solutions.
- When you come here for the first time, make sure your paperwork is up to date, including passports. Apostile stamps can’t be older than three months. People neglect to do this all the time — out of date papers cause all kinds of problems.
- Take all your records with you – don’t pack them.
- Be aware that a lot of information you receive may not be up to date. This is especially true when you’re looking for housing; properties that are advertised for sale may no longer be available.
- Don’t make decisions on what you’ve come from. Make decisions on what’s here. If you come with a long list of expectations, such as a house with a swimming pool, satellite TV. with the sports channel, etc., you’re setting yourself standards that are impossible to reach.
- Be aware that the further out you live, your house may be larger and more beautiful, but winter can be very long. People mistakenly make choices based on the way a house looks, as opposed to the community that the house is in, which can lead to loneliness, especially for a family. It’s important to be in a community.
- If this is a family move, keep even very young children fully informed and involved as much as possible. Let them make choices with you. Don’t tell them at a late date or plan on surprising them.
Don’t forget to bring your children’s favourite toys. Don’t pack them and ship them. It’s a little thing, but important.
Jonette Stabbert has lived in the Netherlands since 1970 and is a freelance journalist, editor and designer. She also teaches writing and creative workshops here and abroad.
Subject: Expat profiles