Episode 68 – Thriving Abroad with Louise Wiles

Louise WilesLouise Wiles took part in the very first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge. As the deadline approached to submit the completed proposal for a chance to win a publishing deal, she hesitated.

“I haven’t sent it in. Am I going to send it in? Oh, I’m not sure.”

In the end, encouraged by her husband, she submitted it. Which is lucky, as it turned out to be one of the winners.

In this week’s episode, Louise describes how she and her business partner and coauthor Evelyn Simpson set up Thriving Abroad without ever having met in person, how she overcame the resistance and fear of putting the book out into the world at every stage, from initial proposal to just three weeks before publication, and what she’d do differently next time round.

If you’re struggling with self-doubt and resistance as you write your book, this is for you.

Here’s the Thriving Abroad framework we discuss in the podcast:

The Thriving Abroad Framework


Thriving Abroad: http://www.thrivingabroad.com/

Thriving Abroad, the book

Thriving Abroad on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ThrivingAbroad/

Louise on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/louisewiles/

The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/

Alison Jones:                        Hello, and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. And this is very exciting: today I’m here with Louise Wiles. Louise spent 13 years as an expat, and during that time, while she was actually away, she founded Thriving Abroad to help individuals and companies get the most out of the global mobility experience. Now, I know her because she took part in the very first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge back in June 2016. She didn’t just take part, she was one of the winners. And her book, Thriving Abroad, has just been published in June 2017. So welcome to the show, Louise.

Louise Wiles:                       Thank you. Lovely to be here.

Alison Jones:                        Oh, it’s so nice to be talking to you on the podcast – it’s really exciting. So tell me a little bit. Let’s back up. Just tell me a bit about your own experience and how Thriving Abroad, the business, came out of that.

Louise Wiles:                       Okay. Well, I suppose … going way back when, when I first relocated to live in Madrid, which was when I was 30, I’d been working in personal training and development. So I’ve always had an interest in personal development, and that kind of continued as I lived abroad. I did a Masters in occupational psychology and a coaching qualification and started to work as a coach. So gradually realised that actually the expat experience and this professional experience, the two could merge. I started my own company in about, I think, 2005.

Then in 2012, I met Evelyn, my co-author. We were at that point both running very similar businesses, separately. I was in Lisbon and she was in Brussels. At that point we met on LinkedIn. The whole reason for meeting was a response to a question about why expat partners, the spouses or partners of international assignees generally didn’t work. Was it just because they didn’t want to or … And we had some really strong views about that and kind of laid into this question. Then decided to have several conversations more and decided to do some research together on the subject. And did this big survey which, we had some intention of having 50 participants in this survey. I think in the end we had over 400 responses.

Alison Jones:                        Wow.

Louise Wiles:                       We analysed it. It became quite a big thing. We worked together on that and realised we worked pretty well together. Had similar businesses, decided to start working together and set up a business and so Thriving Abroad was born.

Alison Jones:                        I love the fact you set up a business having never actually met in person. There’s the virtual world for you.

Louise Wiles:                       Well, yes. Yeah, yeah. I think in the first two years, we probably met five times. Even now, I probably met and been, you know, sitting face to face with Evelyn about 10 times. Yeah. It’s quite incredible really what you can achieve.

Alison Jones:                        That is amazing. Yeah. And talking about virtual collaboration, let’s talk a little bit about that first 10-day Business Book Proposal Challenge. You know, back in June last year. How did you find that? The process of actually working up your proposal?

Louise Wiles:                       It was great. Actually, it came at a really timely point for us and for the book writing because we’d actually already started writing the book. And it was taking us longer than we ever imagined it would.

Alison Jones:                        Ha ha ha. Sorry. Hollow laugh.

Louise Wiles:                       Partly, I think, because we were both writing it together as well, so that kind of added another layer of complexity to it. But we kind of reached a point where we were wondering are we really going to continue with this? And I saw your book proposal advertised, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I need to do.” And so I followed it word for word. I mean, I literally did every exercise every day and really kept on top of it. I found it really, really helpful to just get me thinking through the book again and why we were writing the book, the purpose for the book, where we felt it fitted and sat within the market, what we felt it was adding to what’s already out there, knew where the gap was for it, who we were targeting with it. It really helped to consolidate all of that and also the content as well because the content we already had, although, we realised we needed to tweak that.

It really helped me pull that all together again, and I kind of felt that at the end of this process I will have a book proposal that’s strong or I will have one that makes me realise that we’re not going to continue with this. And-

Alison Jones:                        Kill or cure.

Louise Wiles:                       And I remember I got to the end of the week, and I remember, I think it finished on a Friday or Saturday the book proposal challenge, and you’d given us till Monday morning to put in the book proposal for the competition. I remember Sunday evening I sat down, I thought, “I haven’t sent it in. Am I going to send it in? Oh, I’m not sure.” And my husband was around, and I said, “Look, I’ve done this, and I’m really not sure about it,” and gave it to him. He is my worst critic, he really is. But he’s also a very good at looking at stuff, and he looked at it, made a few suggestions and went, “Yeah, that’s really convincing. Send it in.” So I did and thought nothing more of it until I saw your email, I have to say that.

Alison Jones:                        That’s hilarious. I hadn’t realised that you came so close to not submitting. Why do you think that was?

Louise Wiles:                       I just didn’t there was any chance that we would win. So I thought, it had served its purpose for us in the sense of convincing me it was worth continuing, and we were going to self-publish at that point, so we kind of, we were working with someone on that. I just didn’t think, that’s just bit of resistance as well putting it out there anyway. But I’m very glad I did.

Alison Jones:                        I’m glad you did, too, but I think that’s absolutely fascinating, and I think there’s probably lots of people listening who recognise that kind of, “Oh well, there’s no point…” There’s a whole podcast right here, isn’t there about … Maybe you were actually scared of winning or maybe … I think the lesson there is if you have a chance to do something, for goodness’ sake do it. What have you got to lose?

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah, and I’d also say that there was, ever since I had the idea, and it was me, I had the idea of writing the book, and it came to be two years ago. I was listening to or reading a book about writing books. A long hard journey to Portugal and we were heading across the Spanish Meseta, which is flat and boring, and I was reading as we were going. And I just suddenly had this gut feeling that I have to write a book. It was a really bizarre sense. It came from somewhere, and I’ve never thought about it before, but it just felt right. I really want to do this, I need to do this. And that has kept me going, and I think that’s probably why I wrote the book, did the book proposal challenge, because really, I did want to continue.

But then I think always at that point when you’re about to release something, you tend to talk yourself out of it or you can do. And that’s where the resistance comes in, I think. And that’s what I did with the book proposal and at any number of points along the way.

Alison Jones:                        So funny. It reminds me of, Steven Pressfield has this fabulous phrase, ‘it takes balls of steel to ship’ which I know Sherry Bevan loves as well. And it’s that point where you created this thing, but it’s yours and it isn’t out in the world. And that’s safe still, and then suddenly there’s that point where you submit something and you give it to someone else and you open yourself up to possibility but also to the possibility of being judged and found lacking. All that kind of big stuff that… yeah, it’s terrifying.

Louise Wiles:                       Absolutely. And I haven’t told you this, perhaps I shouldn’t tell you this, but I will. For the benefit of anyone listening who’s feeling this now, about three weeks before publication, I found myself sitting at my desk thinking, “I think I’m just not ready for this. I think I need to talk to Alison about delaying publication.” Coming up with all these reasons why it wasn’t a good time, and then I just realised, “No, this is resistance. Stop. Stop.”

Alison Jones:                        Oh, it’s so funny. No, I didn’t… That’s really interesting, isn’t it?

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah.

Alison Jones:                        And now it’s out in the world. How did you feel when you held it in your hand for the first time?

Louise Wiles:                       Oh, just fantastic. Yes, yes. It’s funny because you think about that moment, and I had the cover for a while and I had that on the wall, so I felt I kind of really knew, and obviously, there was the review copy, so I knew what it was going to look like, but no, nothing equals actually holding it in your hands now. And even now, I go and pick up a copy…

Alison Jones:                        Stroke it.

Louise Wiles:                       … you’ll find me sat on the sofa somewhere…

Alison Jones:                        Just sniffing and stroking it, yeah. It’s funny, I was at-

Louise Wiles:                       I’m so happy with how it looks and the sort of-

Alison Jones:                        It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? Yeah.

Louise Wiles:                       Just the layout, it’s actually as I would have dreamed for it to be. So it just, yeah, I’m delighted with it.

Alison Jones:                        And I think that’s one of the reasons why print books are doing so well, isn’t it? There is something so visceral, the just holding and smelling and experiencing a book, it’s not quite the same when you’re looking at PDF proofs…

Louise Wiles:                       No. I’m a real business book, I love business books, and I have far too many of them to read.

Alison Jones:                        Noooo, no, no, no, no.

Louise Wiles:                       And I started buying them all one Kindle, and I’ve actually, yeah, I’m buying a lot more now actually in the flesh, so to speak.

Alison Jones:                        They do furnish a room beautifully, don’t they?

Louise Wiles:                       They do, they do. And it’s just lovely to go and pick one up and just flip through. Just to extract a few ideas because I think business books, you don’t ever tend to read from beginning to the end in one sitting, well, very rarely, me, anyway. I like to dip in and out, and you can do that so much easier with the real thing than with a Kindle version, I find.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah. And even just having them on your shelf can be a reminder of what’s in them, sometimes. I find that a lot.

Louise Wiles:                       Yes.

Alison Jones:                        After the proposal challenge, obviously, you won a place. As well as winning the publishing deal, you won a place on the bootcamp, This Book Means Business, the Bootcamp which is sort of six-week programme following on from that.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah.

Alison Jones:                        And one of the things that we really focus on in that, I’m telling that obviously for the listeners’ benefit rather than yours because you were there, you know this. But we focus on kind of baking the book into the business. So just tell me a little bit about how you went about using that process of writing the book even before it was published as a way of building your business.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah. I think it’s probably two broad ways, and it worked both ways. So writing the book has enhanced the business in that it made me really think about the messages, and for articulating the content of the book, you always come up with more ideas and so things changed. So that was really beneficial that way round, but then the other way round, in terms of using the content from the book, I wrote blog posts and articles that are posted on LinkedIn to sort of get reaction and to see what the comments would be from those. But then also as part of the research for the book, we spoke to people who ultimately would be our target audience for the book. Our audience is twofold, the book is written for international assignees from organisations who’d been relocated abroad but being sold into corporate and into those organisations through HR, so we interviewed HR directors about the subject of the book and got their perspective on things. So raising our profile that way as we went, yeah.

Alison Jones:                        And that’s been really useful in the marketing, hasn’t it? So you’ve been able to send reviewed copies to people who participated and they’ve passed them onto people in their organisation. Yeah, it means that you’re building a network, and I can’t remember who it was. Was it Robbie who was saying about people love to be involved in the creation of a book? There is something interesting and creative and enjoyable about that process, and it’s a great way to engage people.

Louise Wiles:                       If I had my time again, I would definitely interview more people, and I would also put the book out for people to review at an earlier stage. So perhaps … Our book is written in three parts. I would have put out part one, part two, and part three and got feedback as we wrote them rather than leaving it all to the very end of the first draught which is what, yeah.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah. And it’s that fear again, isn’t it? It’s that sense that it’s safe while it’s with you, but it’s scary putting it out there. Believe me, I get this. But it’s very powerful.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah. It is scary, and I remember the … We got to the review stage. You reviewed and said it was great, and that was fantastic. Then I sent it out to about, I think, 13, 14 people, a real range of people. And I’d created online a survey on Survey Monkey. Every time, Survey Monkey would send me a reminder that someone had actually completed one, and I was like peeking around the corner going in there and going, “Oh, dare I look?” And actually, it was lovely because, on the whole, the feedback was positive but constructive as well. And yeah, it would have been lovely to have a lot more earlier on as well.

Alison Jones:                        So if you’re out there, if you’re listening, you are feeling the fear, do it anyway because it actually is terrific to get feedback and people love to give it so yeah, brilliant. People aren’t rude, you know? They’re going to tell you constructive things.

Louise Wiles:                       No, and people are incredibly helpful. That’s the other thing. They want to help, and the feedback was never rude. Never. It was perhaps, I only had one, what I would say, negative review. The rest were very positive, and where they felt things weren’t, perhaps as they wanted them to be, they were very constructive in their feedback. They just offered ideas and suggestions which was really helpful.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah, brilliant. Now, one of the most interesting features of that book and one of the kind of visual motifs that runs all the way through it and makes it look so beautiful is that Thriving Abroad framework. You’ve used it almost like a navigation tool in the book. I’ll put the picture up on the show notes so people can see what I mean, because it’s quite hard to describe, but tell me how you developed it and how you use it in the book but also kind of in your business more broadly.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah. It represents the relocation process if you like, and it evolved as we wrote the book. We had a framework but realised it wasn’t sufficient, so this one kind of evolved as we wrote more of the book and realised where the book was going, which sounds very… it sounds like we didn’t have a plan, we did have a plan, but I think everyone who writes the book knows that it does develop in a way as well as you write, so the framework developed. And there were key messages that we wanted to pull out, so the framework represents those. It represents the relocation experience as a process and a change process.

I think that’s one of the key messages as a business we want to get across. And that forms the basis of the support we provide, so it’s essential to what we do. And that is that people think, oh, we’re relocating abroad, we’re moving from A to B. Often it’s related to a job change, so they think about the job change and that’s it. But actually what international relocation is, is a complete life change. You’re changing not just your profession and your career, you’re changing every aspect of your personal life as well. And if you’re going and taking family, you’re changing and impacting on your family’s lives as well. So at the core of the framework is the individual, and we represent that with the three key roles of their lives which is professional, personal, and family life.

The purpose for that is to say, make sure you’re relocating with the understanding that it will impact on those three areas and have aspirations and goals for those and the reason for moving for those because that will help you through the challenges. And it will help you, also, to create that successful and thriving life abroad. So it conveys the key messages in the book, and because it’s a five-stage process, it starts with the decision, preparation, the actual moving, relocating part, and settling in the new environment and then building this thriving life. It represents the whole experience as you change process, one that’s continuous. And actually, one that will be repeated as well because most people who move abroad will then move on again either to a new location internationally or back home. So they’ll repeat that again. So it’s not just probably, they’re not going to circle around it once.

Alison Jones:                        And it’s a helpful tool for the reader just to sort of see their journey in context. It’s a great navigational tool for the book as well, isn’t it? So it works on quite a lot of different levels.

Louise Wiles:                       Yes, yes, yes. And it has around it four questions: what, why, how, and who. And we come back to those questions throughout the book. For example, the decision, it’s really important to understand the context of your decision. So what does it mean to relocate internationally, what are the challenges, what are the opportunities, how are you supported by your organisation? So understand all of that before you make the decision, but then when you make the decision, understand why you’re doing it from a professional perspective, personal perspective, and family perspective. Yeah, so it’s kind of, hopefully, prompting people to have these thoughts continually as they relocate and move through the book.

And the book actually probably isn’t designed to be read from A to Z in one go. Although it does, even if you’re thinking about relocating, then it gives you that sense of what the experience will be potentially, but it also can be used stage by stage, so at the decision stage you’ve got the first part. Then the preparation stage, part two, and then part three for the remaining three stages.

Alison Jones:                        And it’s worth making the point that this book is, it’s interesting because very often when I work with people, I’m encouraging them to write for their clients. So your target reader and you get your target client and they’re the person and it’s a beautiful thing. But you’ve got that slight complexity in that you’re writing for the people who are undertaking the assignments and your clients are the people who are sending them. And we’ve done a really clever job, I think, of tying those two up together so that your reader is not necessarily the person who’s going to be buying the book. Somebody’s buying on their behalf, so it’s just worth pointing out because people, you might find that if you’re listening and you’re thinking, “Well, my book actually is not being bought by the people it’s written for…” that’s okay. You just have to think quite carefully about how you market it and who you market it to and how you link the calls to action in there as well.

Louise Wiles:                       Yes, and how you position it as well, the kind of market, yeah. And at the moment, I’m writing a White Paper that positions the book for HR because I think they probably understand that the employee, the assignee needs support. But whether they understand why we’ve presented the support in this way, I don’t know. So yeah, it’s a bit of education that needs to go on there as well.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah, absolutely.

Louise Wiles:                       Pitching the book.

Alison Jones:                        And we’re looking at, and we haven’t got a taker yet, but we’re looking at doing quite interesting things like allowing people to put their own, a company to put its own foreword in there and brand it so that it can give it out to its employees, which would be quite exciting, and add an appendix with contact details and so on. So I’m hoping somebody’s going to bite on that because I think it’d be a really interesting project to do.

Louise Wiles:                       Yes. No, definitely. Definitely.

Alison Jones:                        And you also did a workbook to go alongside the book, tell me the thinking behind that.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah, I think there are probably two reasons for writing the workbook. The first was that we wanted the book to be something that people use, so it’s definitely not just something you read for, as I said, you read and put away. It’s a tool. And throughout, we have thinking points, and the workbook picks up those thinking points, and the idea is that people read the chapter and then go and do some work on that chapter. So we’re asking them to, yeah, develop their own rationale and goals for international relocation and then manage it proactively. And the workbook aims to support that. So that’s the first reason for writing it.

Then the second, I suppose from a business perspective is that people buy the book and then they can come register to receive the workbook as a download. So we then have their email, and we have a chance to communicate with them and through that communication offer further support. So yeah, it kind of takes the whole thing beyond the book, if you see what I mean.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah, absolutely. I love that, I love bringing people … Because a book, reading a book is an offline experience that they get a very good sense of you but you have no idea who they are. So bringing them into your online world, your online platform as well is really powerful. That’s fantastic.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah. So if somebody’s listening to this and they’re sort of six or 12 months behind you, they’re where you were, desperate to get the damn thing finished, wondering if this is really a good idea, what one bit of advice would you give them?

Louise Wiles:                       I would say just get it to that first draft stage as quickly as possible. And however ugly or unfinished it feels, just get there because then once you’ve got the completed book in your hand, then you can start looking at it and thinking, “Okay, what needs to change?” And also, invite feedback along the way, but also, at that point, get more feedback and work from then. I think it … We’ve already talked about this, but we can talk ourselves out of it more than we can talk ourselves in, I think, a lot of the time and create doubt and uncertainty about the content. The only way to confirm in our minds that the content is right is by getting feedback, but in order to do that, you’ve got to have a complete book in your hand. So yeah, just get that first draft out.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant advice.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah.

Alison Jones:                        Hard but brilliant.

Louise Wiles:                       Hard. Well, yeah, and set yourself with deadlines. I mean, the thing that really helped with me working with you is that we would agree a deadline, and I had to meet it. And I really stuck to those deadlines because-

Alison Jones:                        You did. Yes, you were brilliant. And I could tell you really took a workman-like attitude to the whole thing, didn’t you?

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah. Well, I just had enough of the book being a subject that… all my family were rooting for me to get it done as well. For God sake, get it off your desk. But yeah, I just set myself a three-month project and said, “Right, by three months time, this book will be at this stage,” and it was. I think you get to a point where you have to do that to yourself. Otherwise, it just would go on forever…

Alison Jones:                        It would. You can polish it forever, can’t you?

Louise Wiles:                       It will never be completely finished. I can think of 20 things I’d like to change now about the book, but you have to just, at some point, you know, that it’s good enough.

Alison Jones:                        This is one of the mantras of the proposal challenge, isn’t it? ‘Done is better than perfect.’

Louise Wiles:                       Yes. Yes, yes. And it’s very true.

Alison Jones:                        I can’t tell you how many times I say that in any one given challenge. It’s quite funny. Now, I always ask my guests to recommend someone else as a guest on the show. Someone with something interesting to say about the business of business books. Who do you think I should invite?

Louise Wiles:                       Okay, well, I think you should invite Sandra Green. Sandra Green is the creator and owner of Handbags in the Boardroom.

Alison Jones:                        Ah, yes, yes, yes.

Louise Wiles:                       And she has the Women Leader Association, WLA, and she’s written a book called Handbags in the Boardroom, 36 reasons why women don’t make it to the boardroom and what you can do about it, and it’s great. So I think it’s a, yeah, I think she’d be really interesting to talk to because it’s a book that comes from her business, about her business, about her subject.

Alison Jones:                        It’s a great title as well, isn’t it?

Louise Wiles:                       Yes, yes.

Alison Jones:                        I like that. Brilliant. Thank you. Great recommendation. Now, Louise, if people want to find out more about your, more about Thriving Abroad, the book and the company, where should they go?

Louise Wiles:                       Come to our website, www.thrivingabroad.com, and there, you’ll find all about Thriving Abroad, you’ll find out about the book, how you can access the book. The book is also available on Amazon, so that’s an easy one as well. Yeah, all the links are there. Facebook as well, Thriving Abroad. And LinkedIn, you can find me on LinkedIn, Louise Wiles.

Alison Jones:                        Brilliant. I shall put all those links up on the show notes, so if anybody wants to go and have a look rather than Googling frantically, they can go and find them there. It was lovely to talk to you. It was so interesting as well. I thought I knew the complete story of this book, but even I’ve discovered things that I didn’t know that were going on kind of under the surface, so that’s … it’s interesting to me. As a publisher, once it’s in production, you’ve got the schedule, it’s all ticking along. It’s really useful for me to remember that even at that stage, that fear, that doubt is, that resistance, it’s still there for the author…

Louise Wiles:                       And particularly just before launch, you think, “No, I can’t do this.”

Alison Jones:                        Which of course is going to impact on the marketing, so it’s really important.

Louise Wiles:                       And actually, that is very true. Very true. There is, there’s a lot that I should have done that I think I probably didn’t do.

Alison Jones:                        Because of the fear?

Louise Wiles:                       Point of resistance, which is just crazy. It really is. Yeah. And things you don’t see it as resistance at the time, you see it as very valid reasons why not.

Alison Jones:                        Well, that’s the power of resistance, isn’t it?

Louise Wiles:                       You need someone calling on it, I think, actually, often.

Alison Jones:                        Yeah.

Louise Wiles:                       Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Alison Jones:                        So interesting. That was wonderful. Thank you so much, Louise.

Louise Wiles:                       Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity and all your support.


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