Man oh man, I loves me some Internets.
Start with the fact that I met the Web Goddess on the web, through an online divorce support group. Add to that the fact that off and on, the Internet has played a key role in my livelihood for well over a decade. And the web continually brings new opportunities and information into my life.
Consider the example of my largest Serbian client — a key partner in my international consulting practice. Actually, technically speaking, she’s my only Serbian client. And if you insist on being picky, she’s my entire international consulting practice.
A few months ago I got an email from Melisa Antic that started like this:
Dear Mr. Petersen,
I have come across your website in what is seeming to be an impossible
task of finding a web content writer and consultant in one person.
I am starting up a small business in Belgrade, Serbia, a mix of a
relocation and concierge agency services for expats in Belgrade, and would
greatly appreciate professional help when it comes to website content
writing and consultancy.
The website Melisa found was lovingly hand-crafted for me by the Web Goddess when I started my home-based writing and consulting business in 2007. It was intended to serve as an online resume and brochure, and to help establish an image of stability and professionalism. It has done all those things very well, although my career has recently taken some different turns.
I never made much effort to drive traffic to the site, but I also thought that just by being out there on the web, the site might bring in an occasional new client. And in fact it did.
I was skeptical at first. At least it wasn’t from Nigeria, I thought. (Can you imagine trying to run a legitimate business from Nigeria?) I set up a phone call with her (on her dime), and subsequently reviewed some materials she sent me.
Melisa is building a business based on helping English-speaking expats relocate and settle in to living in Belgrade. She named her company Belgrade Assistance, and she already had a logo and a local web designer. Her potential clients primarily work for large multi-national corporations, so she knew she needed sophisticated marketing materials. Melisa speaks fluent English, but it’s not her first language, and she wanted the text to be flawless.
As it happens, I’ve worked with expats quite a bit, and at one point I tried very hard to get myself transferred overseas. I told her I thought I could help her, and asked her for a deposit to begin work. I provided the bank information she requested — after a quick call to Citibank to make sure the information would enable deposits but not withdrawals.
A few days later the deposit landed in my account, and the last wisps of doubt disappeared. I was doing business with a client in Serbia.
We’ve had an excellent collaboration, via phone, email and Facebook. She had a strong sense of the kind of business she wanted to build, but she was receptive to suggestions — not just about text, but about connecting with her market. I suggested that she “give away” some useful specific information about Belgrade on the website, both to establish her expertise and to set up a situation where any client she connects with will feel that the transaction has already begun.
I knew that adapting to a new culture can be a source of high anxiety for expats, especially those who relocate with a spouse and children. She knew that she would be competing with global relocation services that used a cookie-cutter approach in every market where they do business. She loved the slogan I suggested for the business: “Making Belgrade Feel Like Home.”
The site is launched, and it’s visually stunning. The writing is pretty good, too. Melisa has an attractive site to back her up as she does the methodical work of connecting with corporate HR departments and local institutions, building a business, and serving her clients. I have a new city on the list of places I hope to visit someday. If I ever make it there, I know a terrific local resource for advice on what to see and do.
Did I mention that I love the Internet?