Expat entrepreneur: Sam Milner on running an internet business from Portugal
Sam Milner talks about running an internet business from Portugal, a country where this is not a typical means of gaining income.
Name: Samantha Milner
City of residence: Silves, Portugal
Name of company: DSM Internet Services
Date of company launch: January 2005
1. Can you give us a brief description of your business and how it is going?
Our business is six years old. It is a portfolio of online businesses that cater to online customers from a variety of backgrounds and niches. We sell everything, from how to make money online courses, to blogging about our lives in the Portuguese sunshine.
We are a husband and wife team running the businesses, which have been run from the Algarve for the last few years. The businesses are going very well and we have being expanding at a steady rate over the last couple of years with a 30 percent business increase during 2010.
2. What do you like about doing business in your country of residence?
I love working in the Algarve because if I take the day off, which I can whenever I like (one of the joys of being self employed), I can head to the beach and enjoy the sunshine and it feels like I am on holiday rather than being part of the rat race.
It is also very peaceful, so when I am working it is very rare that I feel stressed and I feel much healthier too.
Life in the Algarve is slow paced and this is something I cherish. We are also parents, we have a nine-year-old boy, and as we don’t have any family out here we lack support. But with school finishing later, it means we can get our work done and then spend time with him without it feeling rushed. This gives us a real quality of life.
3. What do you find most frustrating about doing business in your country of residence?
Whenever you want to get something done in Portugal, it always feels like you are banging your head against a brick wall. Everything seems to be so complicated especially when it comes to paperwork and this is why many people don’t want to own their own business in Portugal.
However if you get the right help (a local to help you through the system), and bite your top lip, you will get through okay.
4. What hurdles did you encounter when setting up?
I found it very hard at first to get all the proper paperwork in place and get my head around their tax system, benefits etc. Everyone I met that had moved here was in the over 50’s category, so they didn’t need to go through the same paperwork.
Because our businesses aren’t just typical Portuguese businesses, it was hard even with accountants to decide the best way forward. Though once we did find the correct methods it did feel like a really big weight had been lifted.
5. How has the economic crisis affected your business?
We find that as an online business we have not been affected too greatly. Seventy percent of our clients are based in the United States and, as such, we are paid in US Dollars; as the Euro suffered against the Pound we faired much better with the US Dollar.
We have seen a small drop in sales, but as our other businesses have grown, we have seen a good increase. Not to mention the fact that people want to learn how to start online businesses because the recession has hit them and they need an extra income.
6. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs setting up business in your country of residence?
I would suggest that they learn a lot about running a business in the Algarve and most of all determine if they have the skills to run their own business. I see many expats failing with their new businesses in Portugal, and one of the main reasons for this is that they do not have a clue what they are doing. They had been in employment in England with a dream of running their own business but without any knowledge of doing so.
Another important part is to make sure that you have a backup plan if it goes wrong.
If I were in normal employment and planning on opening a bar in Portugal, I would sign up for a business course prior to leaving the UK. When you move to Portugal you will be making big investments on your business so it is important that you give it the best chance possible.
7. How does running a business in your current country of residence compare to running a business in other countries that you have lived in?
I don’t find much of a difference between the two as my businesses require just the Internet connection and a laptop that can take hours of abuse. However, I did have to plan my location well. If I had lived in rural areas of the Algarve, where broadband isn’t as good, it would have made running my own business very stressful.
8. Does being a woman affect the way you do business? Does it affect the way you are treated in business affairs? Please explain.
I find that online customers warm to me much more when they find out I am a woman. Though not everyone notices straightaway as I go by my shortened name Sam instead of Samantha.
I have not come across any other successful well-known Internet marketing experts that are female as not many women succeed in this business. I meet many women who want to have their own online businesses but lack the organisational skills to get it off the ground.
I get treated very well in business affairs and have never had problems or been treated badly. Men warm to a woman’s ambition and appreciate the work that is put in to balance work and family life.
Also, in Portugal it is the norm for the women to be working. Unless the man of the house has a highly-paid job, the woman has to work for them to survive. Growing up in England, it was always a personal choice whether women worked or not, and if they didn’t the government would support them. It is a totally different story in Portugal.
Because we run a husband and wife team from home, it means that we have the perfect opportunity to achieve a good work-life balance.
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