Taughnee Golubović ("Tawny Go-LEW-bo-vich") spent much of the ‘90s doing “techie stuff" as a technology manager in a marketing and research firm - until the dot-com bust in 2000 pushed her (hard) down the self-employment path. At first she focused on finding clients fast just to pay the bills, but things worked out so well that she soon became entirely independent, designing websites. Today, with so many great DIY website design options available, Taughnee has wisely reinvented herself as an online marketing and branding maven, helping small business stand out in the vast World Wide Web.
Like many web-based business owners, Taughnee loved the freedom to travel and work wherever she chose, so when she met the love of her life -- who happened to live in Croatia -- she took her biz overseas in 2015. We spoke with her about the reality versus the dream of working anywhere in the world and how she’s dealt with the global transition while also making her brand more relevant in today’s business landscape.
Hi Taughnee! Tell us about your business, Endeavor Creative.
For a long time, I called myself a web designer and worked with just about anyone who needed a website—non-profits, universities, government agencies, bloggers and small businesses. These days, with the advent of so many great DIY website building options, I’ve placed more emphasis on strategy. Now I specifically target very small, service-based businesses looking to attract clients online. As a tiny service-based business myself I’m intimate with the problems we all face trying to get our customers’ attention online.
You moved to Croatia in 2015 and decided to continue your business there. What was that work transition like for you?
I expected the transition to be a breeze, and it was anything but smooth. I had been straddling two countries (France and the U.S.A.) while I worked during 2011-2014. My clients were cool with it -- even my more conservative, old-school clients who preferred face-to-face meetings -- were good sports about working around time zone issues and learning how to use Skype.
But when I moved to Croatia that caused a lot of my clients to re-evaluate. It was one thing for me to be working while I traveled, but quite another thing to be on the other side of the world permanently. Work dried up and I blew through my emergency savings. I was entirely referral-based until that point, so I had no marketing system in place to drum up work and lacked the safety net of being able to go out and find a conventional job to pay the bills because of my foreigner status, e.g. a lack of language fluency, a non-citizen, less opportunities, etc.
I had assumed that like always, I’d figure it out along the way, but in retrospect, I can see that I had made a huge mistake by relying on my “clients will always just magically be there" marketing strategy.
It got pretty desperate there for awhile, and when you're desperate it’s very hard to put yourself out there in a way that doesn’t seem, well, desperate. It’s also very hard to get clear about where you want to take your business -- to dream, plan, take risks -- when the most important concern is being able to put groceries on the table that day.
I did find some freelance work and that helped to bring in some cash, allowing me to take a step back and re-evaluate. The goal was for my ideal clients to come to me with the types of projects that really light me up. I got clear about the work I wanted to do and the people I wanted to do it for and repositioned, rebranded, and created a system for getting visible online. I say that like it's no big deal, but it was the hardest work I've ever done!
It turns out there are plenty of people who are comfortable working remotely, in different time zones, and hopping on a video call rather than meeting in person. I found these clients primarily through content marketing. For me, content has replaced face-to-face networking as a way to introduce myself to people online and earn their trust.
Having survived all of that and made it through to the other side -- where things are actually better than ever -- I'm better suited to guide and empower my clients, especially if location-independence or finding clients online is a goal, because I’ve been through it.
Explain how you operate a US business in a foreign country. Do you pay taxes in both places? Do you maintain a US business license?
People are often surprised when I tell them that nothing has really changed! I’m a resident here, but I’m still a citizen of the good ol’ U.S.A. And that means Uncle Sam still expects me to pay my taxes as usual. I also maintain the same business license and bank accounts. Thanks to technology, where I am physically doesn’t really matter anymore.
I’m a Gen X-er, so I didn’t enter the job market at a time when any of this was even a remote possibility, I could never have dreamed this life up. To me, it’s crazy and wonderful the way technology has opened up the entire world to us.
I think a lot of self-employed people who provide web-based services dream about working anywhere they’d want around the globe. Having done this now for about seven years, what are your thoughts on the dream versus the reality of being a self-employed expat?
Being an expat isn’t something I set out to be, but even since the early days I always wanted to be location-independent so I could travel. I turned down more than one opportunity to merge my business with a local business for that reason. If I hadn’t met my husband and moved to Croatia to be with him, I think I’d still be living the digital-nomad lifestyle in Bali or Thailand right now.
The expat life suits me, but it's probably not for everyone. For one thing, I learned that the rest of the world doesn’t necessarily work the way the U.S. does where convenience is king. I’m talking about things like hopping on Amazon Prime and having printer ink delivered to my door when it runs out, or how sometimes our internet isn’t reliable and client calls get dropped and that’s mortifying. I no longer live five blocks from an Apple store so it takes forever to resolve computer problems. I can’t get an order of Nachos Supreme at Taco Bell for breakfast at five AM if I want to. (Not that I would, but you know, it was nice knowing I had the option.) Life moves at a different pace here, and lack of convenience has been the biggest adjustment.
What do you love about your work?
The quality of the people I work with. I intentionally work with amazing people who are putting good things into the world. I love knowing that something I've done or created has made a difference in someone's business, and that's why I've always loved working directly with entrepreneurs.
As an expat worker specifically what I love is how this experience has made me a better person. All of the challenges have had their rewards, and I’ve learned a great deal about myself along the way. I’ve learned to chill out and laugh a little more and not take it all so seriously. And being able to take weekend trips to places like Prague and Budapest and Venice is a pretty great perk!
What do you struggle with as an entrepreneur?
What I struggle with most is probably the biggest cliché of all: lack of time. Although I’ve made huge strides in turning around my business since the move, I wasn’t prepared for it to actually work out as well as it has!
I’m busier than I’ve ever been and I’m experiencing some growing pains, in a good way. The new challenges in front of me include setting better boundaries and enforcing them and learning to release my grip and to outsource and delegate a bit more. I can't go around saying, “I need three of me!” forever. The whole point of this lifestyle is for me to have the freedom to have adventures and the time to stop and smell the roses once in awhile. That said, it’s a good problem to have!
What words of wisdom would you offer a budding entrepreneur who is thinking about going solo or is just starting out?
I think it's important to take the time to do the soul-searching work of getting really clear about the business and brand you want to build -- to visualize that future dream business and then to let that vision guide you. I think a lot of new entrepreneurs dive into the middle somewhere and start winging it and don't go deep enough with that, or they don’t aim high enough and end up with a struggle on their hands.
That's the way it was for me when I was just starting out, but when I went through hard times, 99% of the battle to turn things around was mental. Now I know that when you have a clear vision to inspire you, it becomes easier to break down the steps you need to take to get there (no more winging it) and keeps you motivated on the tough days.
As a practical matter, I highly recommend setting aside a percentage of income and putting it into an emergency business savings account. When my business stumbled, I had about $10k saved up just for emergency situations and it saved me. Even if you never need to use it, having a bit of financial security allows you to operate (mentally) from a position of power rather than desperation -- to say no to the things that aren't going to serve you and to stay focused on building that future dream business.
Once you have that in order, I’d say be willing to fail along the way, because failure is our best teacher. Be willing to be imperfect and to even be wrong. So often we stand in our own way—every entrepreneur I’ve ever met struggles with some sort of fear -- failure, success, looking stupid, criticism. But real growth, creativity, and even innovation happen when we let go of our egos a bit and just get out there as bravely as we can. I think one of the things that doesn't get said often enough is that it’s okay to grow as you go.
Have you dreamed of taking your business to a foreign country? Have a question for @taughnee about living or working abroad? Ask in the comments below!
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