I almost didn't have a business when I moved overseas. When I came to Japan, I planned on running my T-shirt business from here and would find a way to ship back to the States. To my surprise, I learned you could not legally ship small business products through the APO mail here as it was sent via military aircraft. So I posted my hiatus to my product business.
In my few days without anything to do, I was still spending time in the Facebook help groups I was in before for my business, but this time I realized I could answer many of the questions asked. I underestimated the knowledge I had acquired over the past four years of running my own business.
At the same time, I repped for Brittany Jones, owner of Queen B Graphics & Design, and I realized many people were buying graphics but needed to know where to begin building a Tee Party. So I shot my shot with her and asked if she thought I could help by creating a posting plan for Tee Party graphics since a step-by-step posting plan with matching graphics did not exist in our industry then. I was ecstatic that she agreed. Sun Kissed Virtual Assistant was established in June 2021. Now that you understand why I almost didn't have a business to run from overseas, we can move on to the good stuff, the four lessons I learned.
I communicated primarily with my customers and audience through Facebook and email. At first, I was taking messages from personal PMs. It wasn't a problem until it was. Customer messages showed up right before my mom shared her latest workout accomplishment, and right below, an old friend checked in on me. I started to loathe checking my inbox, not because I didn't want to hear from my customers or loved ones, but because switching from business Amy to friend Amy from one message to the next was hard. One day I decided I needed to implement a boundary, and I did. I turned off the option to accept personal messages from those who are my friend on social media. While I am sure I missed a few opportunities to get an order, the peace I found was priceless. #nevergoingback
It was imperative to inform my customers when they could expect to hear from me or when they could expect their orders to be fulfilled. This can be displayed in a product description, email autoresponder, website announcement, pinned post, and Facebook page autoresponder. However, even if I got questions regarding when I would reply or their order status, I took it as feedback to find one more place to park the information to help the next person.
Providing expectations and business hours gave me the freedom and permission to be off when it was time to truly be off without feeling guilty. (Why are we like this?) Unless you are a 911 dispatcher, remember your customer's messages are not life-threatening emergencies. Replying within 1-2 business days will not cause the sky to fall... I promise.
In the Air Force, it is ingrained in us that "flexibility is the key to airpower." Things will not go as planned, and how you handle things thrown at you WILL 100% make or break you and your business. To win, you must be prepared to shift, maneuver, think outside the box, and pivot. So write your vision with a permanent marker and the plan to get there in pencil.
I lost count of the number of variations my business has seen, from working 1-on-1 to individual coaching, hiring out my jobs, and moving to all self-empowering products. It is almost painful to think about how much work I have done on my business to pivot into a different system or piece of technology, but on the bright side, I stayed flexible and had to get creative to make it work.
The danger of starting your business as a passionate outlet is that emotion can dictate decisions that otherwise should not be made. They say, "don't mix business with pleasure," which many creative entrepreneurs do. If something isn't working, rip the bandaid off and fix it or find another way. Love your work, but accept when things need to change. The only thing that grows in stagnation is bacteria. (Not a fact, made that up, but I'm sure my high school biology teacher would give me an "E" for effort).
Running a business from overseas while working a 9-5, juggling relationships, caring for the home, and mental health was the pinnacle of challenges I've experienced. But, unfortunately, available time was never in abundance.
I have learned in the military that systems and processes reduce ambiguity and allow many people to recreate the action without guessing or reinventing the wheel. I created themed days in my business (similar to what I did with making tees) that made it clear what I would work on when I sat down. Also, I discovered how to time block and that really helped me stay on task to perform the things I needed to get done.
Creating systems also allowed me to hire out tasks for a season when I needed extra help. In addition, since I had documented how I do things, passing the task on was easier.
As I typed that header, I felt goosebumps crawling up my arms.
*returned to type 30 minutes later because I didn't even know how to write this paragraph*
I took this tour because I was known to stay inside my comfort zone & I knew this would push me out of it, and did it ever. This assignment overseas was not the YouTube Vlog, sipping tea, and Sake bombs every weekend kind-of-assignment for me. As humid & hot as it gets in Okinawa, it was cold for me.
I severly underestimated the effect the lifestyle change would have on me:
- Left one of my dogs behind due to his Anxiety (a plane would have been torture for him)
- Long distance relationship
- No visitors allowed for the first 17 months
- No churches off base to attend & get connected in (grew very distant with my faith here)
- No gyms that didn't require you to wear a mask (I don't think I've been as close to death as I was wearing a mask on a Stairmaster enveloped in plastic tarp) ((well you could go on base which was always packed and may cause me to have to socialize #introvertnothanks))
- Apartment living after a house (no yard for the dog to play)
The list goes on. They all seem like small things but add up and compound over time.
I knew something was off about me here and I just felt like an out-of-body experience, like hollow. I am a self-help guru and I was stunned. I couldn't just figure out what was wrong so I could fix it. So after months (like I'm talking 13 months) of requesting to talk to someone, I finally got an appointment with a psychologist. Amongst telling me I struggled with Anxiety & diagnosed OCD for something I didn't realize was a thing (just thought I was a bit off), he dropped the D word... Depression.
Me? No way. I get out of bed. I ALWAYS have an appetite. I am high functioning and excel at work. I show up to my business with a smile... how? But the more I thought about it, all the signs were there. I had this preconceived picture of what someone that is depressed does and I didn't think it was me.
What does this have to do with lessons learned while running a business from overseas?
Your customers and community can shine the light when everything else is dark. So when life hits hard, lean in a little more into your community to keep centered. If you feel like something is off despite still "feeling happy", I encourage you to seek outside counsel or guidance.
I missed the depression for a long time because you all kept the light on for me just enough for me to keep showing up another day despite feeling alone (which quite frankly I was). To those who have supported my journey from the beginning or came along after, I truly hope you know how much your support did for me. I could quit tomorrow and my bills will be paid with my day job, but if I quit tomorrow, the joy and happiness you all bring would suddenly disappear.
Through starting this business from overseas, I was able to make amazing friends that will forever hold a part of my story here.
Sheila, Lauren, Dawn, Amanda, Krissy, Akela, MA, Ereeka & Kailene, you all are outstanding women I am so thankful I have gotten to know and invited into your story.
To the Squad- Brittany, Kelli & Caitlin, you three have provided me the adult friendships every girl deserves. Thank you for being there for me literally daily, all the laughs, milestone moments, new babies and shared tears. I love you.
To my family, thank you for being there for me every step of this assignment. Your love is fully known and felt.
To my boyfriend & childhood best friend, thank you for being my #1 fan even though you think all I do is "watermark" and type things 🤣
Thank you for reading. It's finally time to go home.