Author Archives: Angie Weinberger

For this year we planned to experiment. Sounds funny right?

So one of these experiments is that we invited bloggers to tell us about how their transition to Switzerland has changed their outer and inner life. The results are showing women with different voices and different stories. All of them have shown a lot of courage. We admire them for what they have mastered. We love their voices and we love how they admit their anxieties and shortcomings.

Going abroad is an adventure. It changes us deeply. Some of us can never stop and settle again. Others just want to do that. Let’s see what our bloggers want to share from Tuesday onwards. Every Tuesday a new post will appear. Your comments are appreciated and please share as much as possible.

 

Thank you

GPT-Team

 

We are all focussed on our immediate need these days (“I need to get this done NOW.”)​. When you run a startup this thinking changes a lot as suddenly you just need to do one thing: Make others happy! In that sense I sometimes browse through posts and share a lot of knowledge and insights via Social Media.

I have just browsed through this article and had to laugh about one sentence. I thought it was worth sharing with you and hope you like the post.

“From an organisational design point of view, GM is a subset of HR. But when HR went through a redesign, GM was left out, because it was regarded as being a bit strange and too difficult to do. It often has its own software, its own reward and HR policies, and so on. Consequently, mobility was left in the ‘too difficult to solve’ box, and we see that with our client base.”Andrew Robb, L​eader of Deloitte’s Global Mobility Transformation Team​

We have a lot to catch up on and a lot of work to especially around the interface of talent management, succession planning and Global Mobility.

One of the hardest issues for me when becoming an entrepreneur at 40 was that I had been used to a certain lifestyle that included holidays, lunch and dinner at restaurants, not knowing how much milk costs, buying healthy food, going to concerts and movies for fun. All of my close friends are employed and have a career. I hardly know anybody who lives like me here in Zurich, Switzerland (among the Top 5 most expensive cities in the world).

Counting the cash
Living in Zurich can be tough when you are starting out…

I admit that I still live in an overpriced apartment and have big car (which I do not really need) but I had to learn as an entrepreneur to spend a lot less money than I used to and I am still working on this exercise. As you might face similar challenges (or you wonder how you will get through the initial low earning first three years) I thought I’d share my practices to remind me of my real situation.

1) Carry very little money with you when you go to town. Leave your credit card at home. Use your credit card only for emergencies or online bargains. Have enough money to buy a cup of coffee (max 10 CHF).

2) Call a friend for coffee instead of dinner and hope that they will ask you to come to their house. Invite friends to your house for a glass of wine.

3) If you reach a milestone such as two years in the business celebrate yourself at home. Cook a nice meal and buy healthy food.

4) Pay small amounts at the grocery store with your bankcard so you see exactly what you spent your money for. When you go out for drinks or fun only carry cash and when you are out of cash return home. That’s especially important when you tend to buy expensive drinks at 15 CHF. (Imagine how long you work for one drink!)

5) Budget all your spending especially your holidays or how much money you spend on clothes, makeup, sunglasses and shoes.

6) Strictly separate business from private spending but try to optimize your private spending by using legal options to deduct costs for a home office, laptops, phone, Internet connection and cleaning services.

7) Avoid television and exposure to advertising. You feel a lot less like spending money on crap that you don’t need.

8) Avoid impulse buying decisions by adding all potential buys (books, seminars, travels) to wish lists. I even have a wish book. A lot of my wishes do not appear so important after a few weeks. Others just materialize themselves.

9) Love your business plan. Add anything you will earn right when you have the confirmation. Stay on the careful side but motivate yourself by adding all future turnover and checking the total annual turnover regularly.

 

I cannot say that I have worked it all out but my spending was a lot higher. I cut it approximately by half this way. Keeping the wish lists and wish book makes me more appreciative of the stuff and holidays I eventually pay for. Since I work on my own I appreciate the luxury in my life a lot more than when I was in the corporate world.

 

How do you survive as a startup entrepreneur? Where do you save and what do you value?

Once you understand how to adapt your application strategy to Switzerland you might feel frustrated by the amount of rejections you have received to date. Many of my clients are very eager in the beginning of their job search and after about two months reality of the Swiss job market hits them. My advice to clients in this case is to focus on two to three applications per week. However, make them count.

 

1) Stand out of the crowd by using your network

Use your network to follow up on your application or to support your application. Many HR processes in Switzerland are very standardized. It is usually necessary that you apply through a website first. However, you can ask your contacts in the company to follow up and support your application. This way the recruiter will be more inclined to take a closer look.

 

2) Have a perfectly branded motivation letter and résumé

I advise to seek a coach or consultant if you are not sure how to brand yourself. Most of my clients cannot tell me who they are professionally. We usually work that out within the first month of our cooperation. Once you know what you are good at, you still need to brand it in a way that is understood by your wider audience (not only by peers or similar professionals). This is not so easy but it can be done.

 

3) Less is more

Only apply to roles where you fulfil 70% of the criteria. Be honest to yourself. Then write on a piece of paper what you like about the company. On a second piece of paper note why you would like to work in this role. Based on these notes write a new motivation letter from scratch. This way you will avoid the copy and paste taste many motivation letters have.

 

4) Patience is key

The recruiters are under a lot of pressure to make the right choice so be patient and nice with them. If you follow up wait for two weeks before doing so. If you follow up over the phone ensure they have time to understand who you are. Try to connect with the person by being friendly and professional.

Tips GPT_7

Understand the recruiting market

Unlike other countries in the Swiss cultural norm is to be transactional and sequential. That means that many professional do not like to be disturbed in their way of handling a process (one candidate at a time). Even Swiss HR colleagues tell me that recruiting has become really low in standard.

 

A fast turnaround and response time used to be considered market relevant when I was hired in 1997 for the first time. Within 10 days of handing in my applications I had been to an assessment of two days and been given an offer within less than three weeks (as a graduate).

 

Nowadays, HR has hardly any decision making power in the recruiting process. Often the recruiter has to wait for feedback from the line manager for days. Also, most line managers increase the minimum requirements for candidates on a daily basis. Often they change their initial search as they are basically looking for a mini-version of themselves.

 

Another issue is the time component. Professionals and especially Line Managers have such an overbooked agenda that it is very hard to block interview times in their schedules.

 

I know: These challenges exist across the globe but you must not forget that here the recruiters hire for about 50 roles at the same time. Switzerland is still growing in many business areas. So be patient and kind and show a bit of understanding.

 

Again, the advantage is that the Swiss like to work with perfection. The least you can expect is a professional interview process and a personalized feedback once you made it to the interview stage.

Discrimination Issues

 

In Switzerland (unlike most other countries in the world) it is very common to add a picture and all of your most personal details on your résumé or curriculum vitae (CV). This includes but is not limited to your date and place of birth, marital status, names and birth dates of your children, work permit type and validity, postal address.

You may be discriminated purely on this basis.

Increasingly Swiss role descriptions demand “Swiss German” (which is a dialect not a language) and knowledge of the Swiss market.

Other reasons why you might end up in the rejection pile that are not really related to your professional experience:

  • Salary expectations: Switzerland has a very high salary level. Still, if your expectations do not match the budget of the position you could instantly be selected for the “rejection” pile.
  • Resignation period: You might have a non-negotiable resignation period. Usually staff is needed yesterday and most companies are not organized enough to hire a candidate before the current position holder runs off.
  • Children: Your young children cause concern about your availability.
  • Woman in their 30ies: Your age and gender causes concern about you having children.
  • Number of moves: Your annual job changes indicate you are a troublemaker
  • Social Media: Your Facebook pictures indicate you are partying to hard or likely to cause trouble.
  • Lack of German or French: Your lack of language skills is interpreted as a lack of respect for the Swiss culture.
  • Longer periods of unemployment or education periods.
  • The missing “rote Faden”: The most prominent cultural tendency in this country is “Uncertainty Avoidance” (check out G. Hofstede’s definition). Basically, you will need to fit into a shoe like Cinderella. If that shoe is too big (or goodness you have the same amount as Imelda Marcos) the recruiter might think you are not an “earnest professional” but a “Hans Dampf in allen Gassen”.

 

Most of my clients hate it when I tell them that they have to brand themselves in one area, which might narrow their “shoe” to Cinderella’s size. It is not against you. Just painful experience and understanding the market a bit longer. I talk to headhunters and HR recruiters. Their band with for your multitalented selves is limited. Make it easier for them to work with you and keep 60% of your talents in the drawer for later use. If you need someone to tell you what a wonderful person you are you can always email me.

Confession #5: I hate traditional business development.

I decided to build my own system. There are many traditional approaches to developing a business. All of them have their justification for why they are the best system ever built. When I started my business I dreaded “business development”. Telephoning a person I do not know is scary and it feels slime-baggy too. (Yes, it’s worse than going to the dentist.)

The way I worked to build my client base I would now describe as organic and intuitive in hindsight. There was an idea of a system, an intuitive priority list and a decision to focus on corporate clients.

When I hired a business development and Marketing specialist I heard the term “conversion rate” for the first time. It did not look great when I worked out mine. Our “corporate” conversion from proposal to client is probably 60% (3/5 so far have signed the contract) right now. BUT that is because we are only proposing to very few clients.

For private clients the conversion rate is a lot better. Mainly because private clients come either through personal contacts or through a referral from a person I know well. From 10 individuals coming for a first consultation around 8 come back. We do not even keep stats about that. Sometimes I am just happy if I could help someone within the first hour of coaching.

Let’s say for a moment that our conversion rate is 40%. There is still a huge gap to 100% and we spent several thousand francs on “networking” activities, social media marketing, relationship building and blogging. Now, if I had listened to classical approaches that are taught in business schools I would be utterly frustrated and probably have given up my business by now.

BUT: We are still in business and we are generating  a lot more turnover than last year.

I read books and develop goals for myself. The turnover is a good indicator and shows how you are doing. At the same time you could measure your success by client feedback and other metrics. The biggest indicator that I am on the right track for me is when the cooperation with the client feels light and when I love to work with the person or corporation. There’s nothing more demotivating than feeling like a “resource”, “provider” or “commodity”. Funnily, I sometimes feel the most energized when I work as a volunteer or pro-bono because this feels mostly aligned with my purpose of “serving your client”. Still, we need to earn income to pay the bills. It’s a reality and Switzerland is generally expensive.

Developing goals that are relevant to you

At GPT we are currently focusing on three targets for the business year.

1) Excellent client service: Being in constant contact and supporting twenty VIP. They are our ideal clients and it is a pleasure to work with them. With them our work feels effortless and we contribute to solving the challenges they are facing.

2) Doubling turnover year by year in the first three years of business . Then grow further. Be profitable and sustainable. Make enough money to pay the bills.

3) Ten corporate clients with a direct contractual relationship by the end of 2015. Feel in good connection with them. Work with companies where cooperation feels light. Have at least a pilot case with the top five.

Develop a system of gratitude that aligns with your values

Again, there are many “referral systems” out there. It always feels like cheating to me. I would like to refer genuinely and based on a positive experience with a provider or company. It does not make sense anymore when I am paid for the referral or recommendation. Therefore (after a negative self-experiment) we have decided not to work with Multi-level Marketing companies as clients. We do not believe in their system. We are declaring this in our T&C (Terms & Conditions). I advise you develop T&C. They give you a policy to refer to when you want to say “no” to a potential client.

A good way to avoid a financially based referral system is to agree to support each other on a “give-and-take-basis”. In the beginning of my business I was so desperate to earn money that I tried the provision angle first. I noticed though that it is a lot more fun for me to refer to another service provider (e.g. a headhunter or banker or insurance broker) when I do it purely because I like the way they serve their clients (and me).

A general rule is that I thank the referrer. Sometimes, I even invite them for a lunch or offer them a reduction for a coaching.

 

If the system of gratitude ever gets out of balance you can still re-negotiate.

 

Another way is to be very transparent to your client about referral fees you are expecting. At least give your client an alternative as well so they do not just have to go with one provider because of your bottom line. Or charge only if the service you provide is  directly linked to your business model and your client still saves when working with you as opposed to another provider.

Maybe this is not the way to become rich but at least it feels right.