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 Elle Draper

Running a business in Spain

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Running a business in Spain is much the same as it is back where you come from, with the additional hurdle of the language. But sit tight while I have a bit of a rant.

Running a business in Spain

Don’t go in half-baked

Don’t go into running a business in Spain without believing 100 per cent in what you will accomplish. Lose the “can do” attitude by setting yourselves head and shoulders above everyone else with your “will do” approach.

Don’t underestimate the effort. You’ll need to be prepared for some pretty horrific working hours. If starting your business from scratch, you’ll need to be able to work 25 hours per day, 8 days per week… and say goodbye to any time off for a while. You’ll need a level of energy that isn’t swayed by a footie game or a hangover from a big night out. Slacking is for losers and won’t help you as you throw caution to the wind and build your empire.

Ignore the haters

Sadly there is always someone who is either jealous of what you are achieving, or feels threatened by your “intrusion” into “their” industry. Ignore them!! Put all your energy into building YOUR business… not into worrying about what others may be saying about you.  Be the better person and ignore them. Yes, I know that’s tough – and sometimes I’ll admit to going hell for leather at some petty person who thinks they can cast aspersions. They only do it once, mind. So if you ARE going on the attack – do it calmly, politely, and leave no reason for doubt in anyone’s mind.

Know who/what you are

Owning a power drill and a fistful of screws, because you once put a shelf up at Granny’s house, does not make you a builder. Having bought a house once does not make you an Estate Agent. Having published the parish magazine once in “Publisher” does not make you the perfect owner of the next “Spain is Great” magazine. Whipping up a one-pager on WIX does not make you a web designer – so don’t try to kid others that it does. Be honest with yourself and with others.

Perhaps you pulled a few pints down at your local on a Saturday night back in the day – do you really think you have what it takes to run a bar fifteen streets back from The Strip? Juggling the finances? Speaking Spanish to your suppliers? Working from 7am until 4am every day of the week? Handling the menopausal outbursts and drama from the peroxide old bird you inherited when you took over the business? Stopping the resident sweaty “chef” from scratching his balls as he brings out another Full English? Manhandling the lobster red tourist who didn’t realise those shots of gin were quite so large? Think carefully before making the leap. We can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be sat outside sipping ice cold beers while your busty 21-year-old barmaid does it all for you and the Euros keep rolling in.

You need to actually sell something

You are not a successful businessperson if it’s just a two hour a week jolly up the local wine bar with a few others… lighting candles, praying to the universe, telling each other how empowered and wonderful you all are, dishing out your badly faded business cards you whipped up in Word… and spending your spouse’s hard-earned money – all while bringing in zero clients. That’s not running a successful business – that’s a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that of course – but it doesn’t make you Sir Alan Sugar or Deborah Meaden.

Just don’t assume you have the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with the many men and women that shed blood sweat and tears to put food on their families tables and keep the wolves from the door… when the worst you have to worry about is where your next handbag is coming from or what to call your latest fluffy kitten.

Get your face out there

Networking IS key though! When we first moved to Spain, we spent at least one day/night out every week meeting people socially and getting our faces known around town. This is vital because people do business with people… and much business comes from recommendation. Although we get the Spain Buddy name out wherever we can, we have not had to advertise our ten year web design business in many years – all our work comes from recommendation or because people like what they see of other projects we have been part of. Get out there and make friends – they will be your biggest fans… and later on your happy clients will be your biggest advertisers. Always have a few business cards in your wallet, back pocket or (if you’re anything like me) tucked into your bra strap.

Watch the booze!

But remember – you are ALWAYS the face of your business… so watch how you conduct yourself. I was about to say, “Don’t get too drunk too often. Don’t hog the karaoke. And don’t be too in your face straight away.” But hey – that worked for me so I won’t knock it. These days, my networking is a lot more civilised. Yes of course the wine still flows and of course I’m always up for a laugh – but you’ll never find me rolling in a gutter. When alcohol flows, inhibitions relax and true colours are shown. If you are a nutcase when sozzled… remember that this can be the first impression that some people will form about you. Are you okay with that?

Be legal

Whether you choose to be self-employed or set up as a company… make sure you are legal. There is much to be said for hiring an Asesoria, Gestoria or Abogado to take care of your accounts and business affairs. Yes they cost money – but they will save you a fortune by ensuring that everything is as it should be.

Choose your legal bod by taking recommendations from people close to where you live and operate. But go with your gut. Since moving to Spain we’ve had four Asesorias. Two were awful and two have been excellent! They all came via recommendation though – so what do I know?! What we did learn though, is that it’s worth paying a little more and having somebody who you can trust. Our two successful Asesorias are Asesoria Europa in Lanzarote (we only left him because we moved to the mainland) and CTR Solicitors in Huercal Overa (who we currently use).

Yes it is expensive to set up a business, and the monthly costs can be tough. But it pays to be safe and legal. Remember – your competitors are always watching.

Build or buy?

If you have super-duper skills in your industry, have been there before, and have full confidence in your own marketing abilities – then go for it and start something from scratch yourself. However – a lot must be said for buying an existing business. You will have access to existing clients, an established reputation, and perhaps some stock too dependent upon the business type. There are plenty of options available – everything from bars and restaurants to plumbing and electrical firms. It’s just a matter of finding what works for you and rolling with it.

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Don’t be swayed

Look – if you’re really up for it… then don’t let anyone put you off. Speaking personally, I found it terrifying when first building a business from scratch and leaving the relative safety of a secure monthly employee wage. But hell it’s worth it! There are good times and bad, of course, and you’ll need a strong stomach for the rollercoaster ride. But would I change any of it? No – not a damn thing! Follow your heart and the very best of luck to you!

10 Responses to Running a business in Spain

  1. Carol Byrne July 8, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Well said, every point a valid one. Every knock back is another chance to get back up and fight another day too – you have to make the doors open, rather than wait for them. Always follow through and deliver too – I have lost count of the folk who are ‘desperate’ to make a go of something and then let it slide.

  2. Elle Draper
    Elle Draper July 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    You make a really valid point there Carol that I should’ve included – “Stick at it”. So many people have amazing ideas but give up too soon. There’s a difference between “giving up” and “knowing when you’re beat”. xx

  3. Sandra Piddock July 8, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Stunning as usual – funny but on the money. This should be required reading for everyone considering setting up a business in Spain. x

  4. Elle Draper
    Elle Draper July 8, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    Thank you Sandra. This article started as a Facebook post – but I thought I’d add some constructive elements in too and add it as an article rathern than a pointed 100 word rant on my Facebook wall ;)
    E x

  5. Patricia McKenzie July 8, 2016 at 9:03 pm

    Unfortunately Elle, there are still those who read the manual on the plane or ferry coming over to Spain. Personally I will only source those tradesmen who have been recommended by people who have lived here for 10 years or more. Have been ripped off too many times. Now have an excellent plumber and other tradesmen who I trust.

  6. Steve Hall July 9, 2016 at 1:40 am

    Would not disagree with a word of that. 15 years here and I struggle to recommend a business that has not been here nearly as long. I don’t care what you say or pray. I won’t use you until you have been recommended and I won’t recommend you until I have used you myself with satisfaction.

    …and here is the rub. The longer I live here, the more I use and recommend Spanish businesses. The nearest bar to my home is British. I have used it once. The owner was rude and served putrid, luke-warm coffee. Every single day I walk past at least twice to a Spanish bar that serves great coffee, always has Spanish newspapers to read. Guessing Madam Essex loses over 1000 euros a year from me.

    Just because you are an expat does not give you the right to demand expat clients. You have to be at least as good as the locals to get the vote. I will NOT pay more for a coffee or a cabbage just because you are from down the M62 or along the M61

    Good luck to all who commit

  7. Darren July 9, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Excellent funny but true ! using established businesses a good pointer too many people suddenly become qualified experts during their flight here …and people pay the price

  8. Elle Draper
    Elle Draper July 9, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Speaking of which, Pat. Are you able to recommend a pool builder in the Albanchez area? Someone asked for a recommendation – but I couldn’t give thejm a personal one because we’ve not had a pool since moving to the mainland.
    Hope you’re doing okay – this year’s been a toughie for you so far!
    E x

  9. Elle Draper
    Elle Draper July 9, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Longevity is a good indicator yes! I won’t dismiss someone newer, necessarily – we all had to start somewhere. But if someone is still doing solid business a decade or more later (and not reinventing themselves everytime they get bored as we see all too often)… then they have weathered the credit crunch storm and survived the teething problems.
    You and your coffee! Just had a bin a jar of the stuff. I’m allergic to it and, like you, Alan prefers it served hot and fresh from a Spanish bar.
    E x

  10. Elle Draper
    Elle Draper July 9, 2016 at 11:11 am

    Exactly right. It’s the poor pensioner… or someone on their last few Euros that sometimes end up taking on someone cheap and unqualified – yet it costs them much longer in the end.
    E x

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