The Expat Entrepreneur

Jo Parfitt is an expert on expatriate career issues. Rather than giving up her career for a life on the move, she has carved a profession out of her expatriate lifestyle and created a portable career. She is the author of twenty-five books on topics ranging from computers and cookery to careers. She is also a trainer, a keynote speaker and founder of her own publishing company, The Book Cooks.

Double Dutch – Expatriate Life

With her arms flapping at her side, and a quacking noise escaping from her lips, Jo Parfitt stands in a Dutch marketplace, doing her best to convey to a meat stall holder what she needs for tonight’s family dinner. Two duck breasts in hand, her mission successfully completed, she leaves the stall and heads home.
Originally from Lincolnshire in England, Jo Parfitt temporarily calls the Netherlands her home. Mother of two, she has lived in five different countries over the course of two decades, following her husband on one work assignment to another across the world. She is therefore familiar with the tool of improvisation, not just to get her message across but also for sustaining her career.

Foreign Challenges

Her career choices stem from her personal experiences, beginning in 1987 when she moved to Dubai one day after her wedding. Her first three assignments in Dubai, Oman and Norway presented barriers to her career; work permits, foreign languages, no English language publications locally, insufficient knowledge about where to network and meet new people, childcare arrangements, and the effect of national customs and local cultures. She describes moving to Norway and starting over as ‘feeling like a pine tree in a forest’. Jo struggled with anonymity and feeling lonely and explains,

“It takes strength and time to get going again and in general it takes me a year in a new place to feel happy, and two on a business level”.

Repatriation back to the UK was also surprisingly difficult and Jo found going back to ‘normal life’ a real culture shock. However, the return to base was short lived as the Parfitt family packed up and moved to the Netherlands in 2005. Despite the short distance travelled, Jo nonetheless experienced problems adjusting at first, finding it difficult to get out and network on both social and business levels, one of the disadvantages of a home business on arrival in a new country.

Looking for Gaps

To overcome the threats to continuity of her career she looks for gaps in the local market, uses her established networks and available technology, and ensures that she bases all her endeavours on her passions.

In Oman, she capitalised on the abundance of dates, making and selling date chutney and then co-writing a recipe book called “Dates”, targeted at the expatriate community.

In 1995, when the Parfitt family moved to Norway, there was no demand for a book laden with date recipes, so Jo led creative writing workshops and established herself as a career counsellor. She began promoting portable careers, helping accompanying partners realise that with the right attitude, tools and foundation, a career can survive the relocations synonymous with an expat lifestyle.

“A Career in Your Suitcase”, Jo’s best-known brand and latest book, evolved from a request to give a talk at the woman’s club in Stavanger, Norway. She told the audience how she had kept a career alive despite living in three countries, being an expat wife, and being the mother of two small children. Whilst she herself did not think there was anything clever in her achievement at that time, the audience was enthusiastic, and the concept evolved into a book, and subsequently a workshop.

In the Netherlands, she regularly holds workshops for writers, writes for local and international publications, speaks at conferences and expat events and helps others get their work published.

Turning Local into Global

A major element of Jo’s success has been her ability to combine local elements with global factors. Local clients become part of her global customer base, she gives workshops locally in the Netherlands but also returns to countries she once called home to provide training, and she sells her books through Amazon whilst approaching local Dutch bookshops to stock her books.

She uses technology to sustain and grow her business, using Skype to hold mentoring sessions with writers that she is coaching, actively participating in internet networks such as Ecademy and LinkedIn (as well as local women’s business networks) and sending out a monthly newsletter to engage her customer base.

Advice for a Portable Career

Jo lays out ten steps to build and sustain a portable career:
1. Consider hiring a coach or career consultant to join you on your journey at any or all stages of the process.
2. Find your passions, values, mission and meaning.
3. Assess your skills, talents, strengths and uniqueness.
4. Discover what you want and need from a career at this stage in your life.
5. Brainstorm the perfect portable career for you.
6. Adjust your career to fit your current location and the opportunities it holds.
7. Do the research and learning you need to prepare for transition and your chosen career.
8. Create the marketing materials you need (CV, website, cards, brochures).
9. Network to meet the people you will need as they become your clients, employers, role models and support team
10. Make it happen by setting goals, staying motivated and developing the self-belief and confidence you need.

Future Projects

Jo’s one regret to date is that she has not yet had a novel published but she is working to change this. She participated in this year’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and fulfilled her promise to herself to complete the first draft of her new book.

Undoubtedly, there are more books on the horizon as Jo’s father, also an author, has unwittingly set his daughter a target to set her sights on.

“He’s written thirty-one books, so I have to beat him,” explains Jo, laughing.

She is also working on a series of podcasts with expat authors, the first already completed with an expatriate writer who has been Jo’s greatest inspiration, Robin Pascoe, “Robin writes about what she knows and she inspires. We met at the Women on the Move Conference in 1998 and became friends”.

Success as a Reward

When someone else enjoys success after reading one of her books, attending one of her workshops, hearing her speak or after coaching, Jo feels she can give herself a pat on the back. At conferences people come to thank her and tell her that they are now doing what they love because of her. She is not motivated by money but by inspiring and empowering others and filling her life with variety, “I love it when I am working, and do what I love when I am not working, with the people I love being with, travelling and changing lives along the way. I am creating the life I want to live and money is not the be all and end all.”

For further information on Jo Parfitt, visit her website at .


About the Author: Amanda van Mulligen (nee Hargraves) is British born, married to a Dutchman and lives in the Netherlands. She runs her own writing and translation business near The Hague and has a background in Human Resources. Amanda has a bachelor degree in European Studies, which included a year spent studying in Toulouse, France and has a post-graduate degree in Human Resources Management. Travelling and photography are top of her list of things to do in her spare time, as well of course as writing about her experiences living as an expat in The Netherlands as well as general travel articles. You can see more of her articles on and read her blog

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