Jennifer Donovan always knew she wanted to live abroad.
“I started traveling internationally in my teenage years,” she says. “I caught that wanderlust bug and realized I have a huge curiosity for other cultures, foods, languages and people.”
After school, Jennifer made her home in San Francisco and cultivated a successful 25-year career in PR and communications. In 2013, she opened her solo firm Nova Communications, where she consults with companies of all sizes — from startup consumer apps to billion-dollar global tech giants — on their social media and communications programs.
Throughout it all, Jennifer kept traveling the world. Three years ago, she and her partner fell in love with Portugal and bought a house there. But it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic offered an opportunity for self-reflection that Jennifer took the leap to move both her home and business to Lisbon.
In this episode of That Solo Life: The Solo PR Pro Podcast, Jennifer joins Karen and Michelle to talk about making the decision to move to a new country and offer tips to solo PRs interested in exploring the digital nomad lifestyle.
Curious about moving abroad? Think about what you want
Long before Jennifer bought a house in Portugal, she and her partner noticed something interesting during their travels. As they looked around at other travelers, they realized they were outliers — most of the other folks they saw were either college-aged or retirees in their 60s and 70s.
“It gave us the idea that if we’re going to move somewhere, we want to do it when we’re young enough to really be able to enjoy it,” she says.
Then Lisbon captured her heart with its ocean views, towering mountains and laid-back pace. In making the big move, Jennifer was able to choose the lifestyle she wanted, while also significantly reducing her cost of living.
She recommends that anyone curious about making a similar change take a close look at how they want their life to feel. Factors she considered included everything from safety to the political environment to the climate. She chose Lisbon in part because its location in the far west of Europe makes it easier to travel back to the U.S.
It’s also important to consider access to the activities you love.
“Moving to a beach town with a bunch of retirees may sound good, but are you going to be able to make the right connections?” she says. “Or is that place going to give you the access to arts and culture and music that you might be looking for?”
How to keep your clients when you work from afar
For solo PR pros, finding a new place that works for your business is an equally important factor. Good internet service is a non-negotiable, but here are some other things to consider as you weigh your options.
Manage client expectations
Jennifer says that the way she runs her business has remained essentially unchanged in the year since she moved to Lisbon. Proactively managing client expectations has been one of the keys to making the transition a smooth one.
“While the pandemic helped with remote work, I think the idea of you being in a different time zone ‘feels’ like you're further away and feels a little bit off to clients,” she says. If you have clients who expect to see you in the office on a regular schedule, you may have to reconsider your move or whether to retain that client.
Adjust your work schedule to accommodate the time difference
Jennifer has clients on both the East and West coasts of the U.S., so she’s five to eight hours ahead of their schedules. She loves that this gives her the whole morning to get work done before her clients even get to the office, and she says it actually saves her a lot of back-and-forth by email or Slack.
The trade-off, of course, is that any real-time engagement with clients happens between 4 and 9 p.m., which required a bit of an adjustment on her part.
“You don’t want to let yourself be ‘out of sight, out of mind,’” Jennifer says. “Find ways to remind people that you're still a good connection, you're still a good potential partner, you're still somebody that they can refer business to, and vice versa.”
She has remained active in online communities and looks for opportunities to send business to her connections in the U.S.
Look toward the future
In addition to thinking about how to manage the clients you have today, it’s important to think about what your business could look like down the road.
Could your new home be a potential source of new business, or a good place to hire support locally? Do you speak the language there, or is your native language broadly spoken there? How might a different cost of living affect the resilience of your business?
Get a good accountant
If you’re a U.S. citizen, you’ll be filling your annual taxes with the IRS no matter where you live. And if you have clients in more than one country, your tax situation could get complex.
Find an accountant who can handle your international income tax situation, and consider any changes you might need to make to your business entity. For example, Jennifer moved her LLC from California to Delaware, which is a better fit for her new situation.
Resources are plentiful, and so is the opportunity for connection
Moving to a new country involves figuring out a lot of logistics regarding everything from visas to health insurance to mail service.
“One of the things that’s different now — as opposed to when somebody did this even 15 years ago — is the accessibility of information on the internet,” Jennifer says, adding that a handful of online expat communities provided many of the tips, skills and connections she needed to figure out her move.
One of the best surprises about moving to Lisbon has been how easily Jennifer has made new connections and created a community in her new home. That, and the $21 airfare to visit neighboring countries.
“People are all the same, at the core,” she says. “So even though it’s a different country and a different language and a different culture, there really weren’t huge surprises — and that’s been really nice to realize.”
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Photo courtesy of Jennifer Donovan