Doing Business the Dutch Way

Many people are asking me how I’m settling in here, and what I’m up to – so I thought I’d put it all together, as its been 3 months since I married my Dutch husband, and relocated with my 12 year old-son to Eindhoven, Netherlands.

My husband has a large extended family, that are all local, and we are part of a church community – so life in that regard has been great, we have instant family and friends around us. The first month was spent settling my son into school and finding my way around.  The road rules are different here, for bikes and cars, but I’m comfortable enough now with driving, and biking is always fun. I love that I can get anywhere by bike, bus or train – with the city centre being a short bus ride or 20-minute bike ride away.

For me though a big focus has been my professional life – I set up my business Talentstorm just over 2 years ago in the UK, and while that is early days as a small business and my ‘offer’ is still evolving, I was keen from the outset to continue as an independent out here.

I came over last summer and had a couple of visits at the KVK (Dutch Chamber of Commerce) to help me with the legalities. Things were very straight-forward, and they have a good system of support. I was able to set up as a sole proprietor, not needing a Ltd Co. A sole proprietorship in the NL seems a bit more flexible than the sole trader equivalent in the UK, for example you can have more than one business entity under a sole proprietorship, and you can have employees. One of the clever things they do here is they link up your business with the tax people automatically, so you don’t have to worry about that. 

With my business set up I found some early networking opportunities and was instantly struck by how friendly and welcoming everyone was. Eindhoven is home to multinationals like Philips, ASML and DAF, and therefore has a thriving expat community. A short bus ride from my house takes me to the High Tech Campus – this is the smartest square km in Europe hosting 200 companies and 12,000 researchers, developers and entrepreneurs. I’ve had some fantastic evenings meeting other professionals, and some follow on ‘coffee’ meetups. The Dutch are known for being very direct (I know I married a Dutch man!) – and this tendency to be straightforward and no-nonsense is very helpful in a business setting.

It’s still early days for me in fully understanding how things work here and what opportunities there are, but I have a couple of Self-Development workshops in the pipeline to deliver to some professional women’s groups – and I’m using that as an opportunity to create a follow-on one to one session around Managing your Professional Development. It’s the flip-side of the coin for organisations that want to create a learning culture – raising awareness of the importance of taking personal responsibility for one’s continuous learning. 

Of course, I still have my UK clients, and am more than happy to pop back (it’s only a 45-minute flight) to deliver any training or consultancy projects, and as European Partner for LearningPlanet (microlearning training videos) – I can support clients easily over the phone and via VC. 

So all in all – it’s very exciting – and watch this space!!

The rise and rise of women’s networks

It was the ease in conversation and connection that did it, that led me to go home with a buzz. It was striking – the warmth, the empathy, the eagerness to share and support. This was my second event for women in the space of one week, just two weeks after I’d arrived in the Dutch city of Eindhoven.

The first was an event on Gender Equality, organised by a local ‘Stichting’ (Dutch name for a foundation) – called ‘Fight Like A Woman’ – that focuses its support on professional women returning to work and assisting organisations with increasing diversity.

I turned up not knowing a single person and was met with a warm welcome, from those organizing as well as those attending, and by the end of the evening I’d exchanged details with several people.

It was attending this event that led to an invitation to another event, this being a masterclass event for a group called Womelite, aimed at ‘business and professional women of tomorrow’. What was amazing about this group was every woman in attendance had come here from somewhere else – I spoke to women from France, Poland, Zimbabwe, USA and Canada – all had come to the Netherlands for work (or for love and then found work!). As Eindhoven is a tech hub, many worked in professional roles at some of the large employers in the area such as Phillips and Johnson & Johnson. Others had moved here and set up their own businesses.

There is something about having things in common that makes it easy to connect, and all having to strike out in a new country is definitely a leveler! The evening was fun and informal, with lots of laughter. Talking to new people was easy, as ‘where are you from?’ is always a good opener.

These two profoundly positive experiences led me to reflect on my previous involvement with networking back in the UK. I was not located close to a city centre to make face to face networking easy, but I benefited from being part of a couple of ‘virtual’ women only networks. Although not a business group, I’ve been a member of #teamtall, a Facebook group for tall women since it was founded in 2016. The connections I’ve made through that have stood the test of time, and this network alone has led to writing opportunities and, dare I say it, even some fashion blogging. Another one I came to recently is the NOI Club, self-described as ‘a community of women with projects and businesses, powered by kindness’ Their Facebook group keeps connections going in-between in-person events and features a ‘self-promotion Monday’ where members are encouraged to share and promote their businesses.

For me the NOI club has been fascinating to be a part of in my first two years of running my own business, many of my own challenges have been echoed by others in the group, and often I am astounded by the get up and go of so many of the female founders in the platform. The takeaway from this being that even by being an observer you can be inspired.

Social media platforms such as Facebook have made it easy to create groups and networks, and when these work, they can work well. Setting up a successful network – even a virtual one – is not for the faint-hearted though. Having been involved with #teamtall from the outset, I can attest to the hard-work and long hours that founder Sallee Poinsette-Nash has put in to create the community feel. Now running at 3,700 members worldwide, it feels like a ‘tipping point’ has been reached, with content and information being regularly shared by the community rather than the founder.

But why is networking for women so important?

A 2018 Harvard Business Review article entitled ‘Do Women’s networking events move the needle on equality?’ set to put the record straight, with the author undertaking a research study to test the long-term effects of uniting women. The study conducted across 2,600 women set out to examine whether attending a US Conference for Women attributed to either of the two following outcomes – financial (pay raises and promotion) and intellectual outcomes (increased optimism, lower stress levels, and a feeling of connection).

The study found that the year after connecting with peers at the Conference for Women, the likelihood of receiving a promotion doubled. A poll of attendees on their overall outlook showed that 78% of them reported feeling ‘more optimistic about the future’ after attending, and 71% felt ‘more connected to others’.

Laura Dalton White, founder of the Conferences for Women, adds, “Something special happens when you see that you are not alone. Making connections and building relationships with other attendees and speakers helps women form an understanding of their worth, and then they learn strategies to ask for promotions, seek fair pay, and even become mentors to others.’

With the attention on diversity in workplaces that Gender Pay Reporting has brought and the barriers that still exist, it seems there is very much a place and need for women’s networks, and I am personally very excited to have landed in a place that seems to have a strong community culture with active women’s networks that I can be part of.

Check out this great list of UK and worldwide networks: 20 women’s networks to help you thrive,compiled by Miisa Mink and featured in the Noi Club blog. One not mentioned on this list that merits a mention is Found and Flourish – a community for women entrepreneurs.

I’m still new to the Netherlands but have come across the following – feel free to add any more!

Wegate – the European Gateway for Women’s Entrepreneurship – Providing support, learning & advice for women entrepreneurs across Europe

Connecting Women – based in The Hague this English-speaking group holds monthly meetings

For Dutch speakers the site Alle Vrouwen Netwerken has compiled a useful list of Dutch Women’s networks.

Leadership Lessons from my father – my goal to write a book

Earlier this year I set myself a task – to write a book about my Dad – and here’s why…

This book has been consciously and sub-consciously in my head for four years, since the death of my father on Christmas Day 2015. Dad was taken ill earlier that year, and had a rapid decline, which took us all by surprise, as he had been in good health prior to that. The things that have come into my mind since then, that I have felt prompted to write, I in fact always felt. It was just somehow with his passing I felt them more keenly. So I have been writing and re-writing much of this book in my head for five years. Indeed I have attempted to capture various elements on paper a few times, and each time I got stuck, as I couldn’t picture the end result, who it would be for, and why anyone would be compelled to read a book about someone else’s father, as for those of us lucky enough to have had a good father, all our fathers are special. So let me tell you where this began in my mind.

In my line of work I have looked after training in organisations, training of all kinds, from the mandatory to the developmental for over 25 years. I have both commissioned and delivered management and leadership training to different teams of senior employees, so attending any training often felt like a busman’s holiday, with me not actually expecting to get too much out of it, as I had usually arranged the day anyway, and knew what was coming on the agenda. I remember one day around 14 years ago, sitting in a conference room with around 20 other senior managers, when our external facilitator for the day gave us a task – to reflect on the greatest leader that had influenced us in our lives. For me it was immediate, I knew that person was my Dad, that I had witnessed many leadership skills and attributes demonstrated by him over the years. What I was not prepared for, however, was my emotional response, and that as soon as I held this thought, I was flooded with emotion and had to pretty much blink back the tears throughout the rest of the day.

Fast forward to my Dad’s passing, and with writing the eulogy for the funeral I felt like I had been entrusted with an important task, to capture the various attributes he had. It was then, recounting the stories and anecdotes with family and friends, that I felt strongly that this chapter should not be closed off and left, and there were powerful lessons in the way he had conducted himself that could and should be shared.

Reading management and leadership literature and ‘keeping up’ with the latest thinking, I have often felt that the particular characteristics that my Dad displayed are unique and deserve exploring. How to do this though is what I have wrestled with. My Dad may not have been considered a great achiever in a worldly or monetary sense, his achievements and leadership transcended across work, church, community and family – that was part of what made him special. To understand his motivations, one needs to understand the family, church and community environment he was operating in. So, in the end I have settled on the most obvious solution, to write a biographical memoir, so it will be there, on permanent record, for Dad’s 25 grandchildren and anyone else that wants to read it. So, while this account is written for family and friends, the leadership lessons I believe are universal and much needed for our day, and I hope that others may be inspired by my Dad’s example.

I am lucky enough to have some good source material to get me started, my Dad kept journals for a couple of years, and wrote an account of his early life. There is also his fishing blog which covered more than fishing, including his end-of-life battle with mesothelioma.

I’ve never written a book before, least of all a biographical memoir, so if anyone knows anyone that has expertise in this area – I would be grateful to have a conversation! Also if you have any stories about my Dad, let me know!