Starting a business in Spain wasn’t too difficult, but it did come with plenty of frustration. I am sure it would be the same in any country, but Spain continually presents me with opportunities to “calm down”. Just take a deep breath and keep focused on the end goal.
As you know we moved to Spain in August of 2012 on the non-lucrative visa. Our entire blog tells you our story and what we experienced along the way. With that type of visa, we were not allowed to work in Spain for the first 5 years. Once we passed our 5-year mark and officially held resident cards with “allowed to work” on them, it was time to think about our business plans.
What Business Should We Have?
We’ve actually had a few business plans in the works, waiting for the day when we were allowed to work. When the time officially came, we weren’t quite ready to hit the ground running. We knew we didn’t want to build the Wagoners Abroad business in Spain, as that is primarily a US customer base. That left us with our Almuñécar website, Almuñécar Info.
We originally started the Almuñécar Info site in 2013, to be a guide in English for foreigners living in the area or just coming for a visit. In 2015 we invested a little and added a specialized business directory. The plan was to build a following and eventually sell publicity to local businesses, once we were allowed to work in 2017. Great, we had a plan!
We chatted with a few local friends and businesses to see how they were currently doing their publicity. We spoke a little about our plan and were a bit shocked at some of the varied responses.
“Why would I pay to advertise when people will just tell each other about my business?”
“I think it is best to use a flyer and place on cars.”
“It is an interesting idea, but people on the internet are here.”
As you can see, we had a big hill to climb to get this business off the ground. It was a frustration, but we knew with time more people would understand the power of the internet.
Starting Some Legwork
We worked for weeks building a skeleton of a business directory to minimally populate it with local businesses. We couldn’t draw readers if it was just sitting there empty, yet we didn’t want to give away publicity that we would later want to sell. All of this was much easier said than done.
There wasn’t really much online for businesses in town and we scoured what we could and Alan imported a few lists. As it turned out, much of the data was out of date. In the long run, it became a manual process editing or adding one by one. Painstakingly entering each business one by one, without a way of knowing their official address, phone number, or hours of operation.
I mean seriously we live in the land of putting a note up on the business door saying “on vacation”, with no extra info! No idea of when that note went up and no idea how long it will be there.
We did the best we could with what we could find online, but it did turn into calling or visiting many places to gather information. Over time we had a good base of a couple of hundred businesses and we would add more here and there.
Building a Following
It seems to be the craze these days to start up a blog or a website. It is all well and good and the dream is to hit the jackpot. The reality is running a blog or website is loads of work and is worth nothing if you don’t have people reading it! Is this really a good idea for a business in Spain? We live in such a small town, maybe this is too small of a niche topic?
We had already been populating the website with useful information to help people. Now it was up to us to be sure the content was different from what was already out there. We didn’t want to be news or event-driven, but we did want to have helpful information. The list of potential posts quickly grew, once we had this focus.
It was going to be full of tourist information, as that is easy. The information which later became most popular are the articles helping people move or get settled here. These are the articles on “how to pay a parking ticket in Spain“, “How to recycle in Spain“, “Where to find an English-speaking doctor in Almuñécar“, as well as the Festivals of Almuñécar and the list goes on. It was time to get some regular writing done!
People are Reading It!
After starting to write information on the web, people were actually reading it! I remember in 2015 being so excited when we had 1000 readers in one month. I knew we would have a good thing eventually, so we just kept working away, adding content and adding to the business directory.
If the information was useful enough to read, we needed to connect with some of the readers on social media. This is when we decided to interact with Facebook Almuñécar Info and Twitter, now we are focusing on Instagram too. using social media is helpful in getting the information out, but it is also a portal for people to ask questions and something else to manage.
The questions continue to roll in daily. We do our best to answer the quick ones or send a link to a post with the answer. Sometimes it needs to be “hire us or hire someone” to help you. This is all free work, which helps build the trust, knowledge, and the following we need. Loads of work, which we hope will benefit us one day!
Why Do We Do This?
First of all, it is because we love the life we designed and want to keep it going! We never thought we would have been living in Spain for 7 years, but we are coming up to that milestone in a few months.
Secondly, blogging is tough and doesn’t last forever. The internet is saturated with information and it is competitive to keep the leading edge, as well as maintain current information. Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t giving up on blogging. It is so rewarding when a reader reaches out with a heartfelt thank you, just from reading our blog. Helping others and providing valuable information is a passion of ours.
We are always thinking of another income stream, so if one fails we have several others to fall back on. None of them are good enough to support us on their own, so we just keep adding to the building blocks! We don’t need to be rich but do need to cover our day to day life and plan for future retirement.
We can work!
In August 2017, we were officially at our 5-year mark and were able to work. Of course, we didn’t have our resident cards in hand until that November. The original plan was to hit the ground running when we could work, but we weren’t really ready and we didn’t think the business owners were quite ready. We were now getting about 5000 page views a month on the blog, but it just wasn’t enough to “sell it”. It wasn’t the right timing to kick off the business that winter.
We continued to build our readership, write useful articles and interact with local business owners. It was time to try that old-fashioned word of mouth method. We started to provide free publicity for friends with a business or offer exchanges of services.
This worked out really well, we would get a little something in exchange for providing them publicity. Without giving away who they are, we can officially verify we’ve helped them quite a bit! We’ve noticed one place with outdoor seating has gone from 10 tables outside to about 20 in the past few years! The owner stated, “There are so many foreigners now!” We can’t prove we had something to do with it, but we are going to take a little credit.
The Word Is Getting Out
Slowly but surely that word of mouth method started working. A few locals would reach out to us for an exchange. We still weren’t at the stage of paid work but on the right path. We worked with an HGTV program “Mediterranean Life” in June of 2017 and two more times in the spring of 2018. These all helped us connect with more local businesses and build relationships.
The readership on the website was steadily growing and in August 2018, we hit an all-time high of 15,000 page views for the month. It was amazing, each year was nearly double from the previous year. At this point, it was clear it was time to make things happen. We never expected a blog about our small town to be so popular.
Starting the Business in Spain
I know you wanted to start at this point, but you had to read all of that to understand the time it takes, the pains felt and the dedication just to get to this point!
In the fall of 2018, we started toying with the idea of officially registering our business in Spain. Now it was down to the timing of when to start. The timing was a big factor because to be “Autonomo” (self-employed) in Spain you need to pay into the social security system each month. The minimum rate is €260 a month and it can increase depending on your earnings. This was going to be a big investment, so we needed to be sure to time it right.
We decided I would be the one to register as autonomo because if we both did it the fees would be double.
Timing of the launch
We found that there is a program available for a first-time autonomo with a graduated payment to help you out the first two years. This way you aren’t hit with the €260 a month right from the beginning. The first year is about €60ish a month, the following six months are slightly more and the next six months are a bit closer to €160. This varies depending on age and a few other factors, so it’s just a rough guide.
A quick sidenote:
The monthly payments to social security also allow us to be part of the national healthcare system. We will all receive national health cards and free medical care!
In addition, if I contribute for 8 years I will be entitled to a pension for life!
We wanted to wait for the new year for many reasons. First of all, we didn’t want to deal with taxes for the business for the last month or two of the year. We felt it was “cleaner” to launch in the new year (2019). Secondly, we thought spring would be best to help provide publicity and fill out directory before the high summer season. Lastly, we knew it would take a while to build our marketing materials and actually do the official paperwork to be self-employed.
Where Do I Start my business in Spain?
We did so much research online about how to start a business in Spain and it was really getting confusing. I am not planning on writing an ebook for this one, nor do I even plan to write a how-to guide on the blog. At least not at this moment, as the wounds are still fresh, ha!
Thankfully, I was chatting about all of this with my local friend, we meet weekly to practice English/Spanish. She suggested I just go to CADE (Consejería de Empleo, Formación y Trabajo Autónomo) to help me out. I didn’t know what that was, but she explained it is a government-run office which helps people become self-employed for free! She offered to go with me in place of one of our next language exchanges and help out.
Ah The Paperwork
A few weeks later we were there in the office and ready to sign up, as I already had a paying customer in the wings. I’m pretty good with my Spanish, but this was an entirely new vocabulary world for me. I provided all of my information and she reviewed rules, policies and so on with me. I understood most of it but was confused when she mentioned €2000. Huh? “Do I need to pay €2000?”
Nope, turns out the Junta de Andalucia can award a new business up to €2000 (ish) to help them start their business. You need to have had your business up and running a minimum of 3 months and can apply for this funding. If you keep your business running for a total of 12 months, that money is yours to keep, with no paybacks! Well, hey! I’m liking this! Wow!
Not only that, but the CADE would do all of the paperwork and registration for me with the Hacienda and Social Security Office! I just had to go to the employment office and officially register myself as “unemployed”. Once I was unemployed and had an official number, they could do it all for me. Off I went to the unemployment office, to tell them I am unemployed and just need a number. You don’t need to test me and interview me to help me find a job. I have a job! Ha! So weird.
Am I Self-Employed Now?
Once I provided all of the details to CADE, which took a couple of hours over a few visits. I needed to show my “unemployment” papers, my banking papers, residency and also make choices. I had to select a workman’s comp insurance provider and an official start date. On my official start date, I had an appointment with CADE to kick everything off and a day or so later they contacted me and said all of the documentation was ready for me to pick up. I was officially self-employed and they were going to start billing me monthly for social security!
Just When You Think Things Are Done
Great now I can work, but what about taxes, invoicing, accounting, and the list goes on. The first part of becoming autonomo was a breeze compared to this phase!
First Alan and I met with an Assessor (accounting and taxes). She advised us on what we needed to do, about the system and her fees. We both really liked her style, she was well informed and someone we were happy to work with. We started the process with her to get that side of things done. She has been a dream to work with and has helped us with far more than we signed up for. She has my digital code to file taxes and do a few things on my behalf, so this is very helpful.
Off to Sell Our Services
I first tried to reach out to potential customers via email but didn’t even get a reply. I realized once again, I needed to go old school. Face to face and relationships are gold here in our town, so it was time to go door to door. This is exactly what I did do and will continue to do. Based on the responses of business owners I met with, they seemed a bit intimidated with the annual prices we had listed. They asked if it was possible to just pay monthly.
Yikes, another new path we needed to explore.
After we gave it some thought, we realized this was a win-win scenario. The customer doesn’t need to pay one big lump sum each year. And we can start to build a pay-check for ourselves. Once we have clients on the monthly plan, for the first time in seven years we will know for certain some money will be coming in next month!
You have no idea how stressful it is not knowing if you are going to make any money next month or in the future at all. When you do a project or earn some money, it is tough to spend it. We may just need to survive off of that for a while. This could be great for us and really take some pressure off our daily lives.
How Do We Bill Monthly?
We asked our assessor how to do direct debit and bill our customers. She said she used the software from the bank, but we needed to have a business bank account. We weren’t too excited about this because that meant we had to interact with a Spanish online system!
Believe me, when I say the bulk of our frustrations in Spain tend to stem from outdated online procedures or a lack of them. Are we ever going to get moving on our business in Spain?
Off To The Bank
Luckily we have a good relationship with our bank and know most everyone who works there. All of them are multi-lingual, so it was a matter of sitting down with them to open up a business account. We opened the account and were informed that the invoicing or direct debit software is all online and is run by a 3rd party. Great!
We raced home to figure it all out and between Alan and Me it took many attempts, frustrations, deciding we will just take cash only moments to get through this software and figure things out. As mentioned previously, it’s the online stuff that throws the two IT people into a tailspin fast!
I was so frustrated, we had clients waiting for information, appointments to be met, videos to be made and marketing to do for the business. It was all pouring down all at once and we couldn’t figure out how to do direct debit for our customers! Oh, and we had clients visiting in town and wanting to meet up too. It all came to a head and I made a decision.
Remember my post on my walk to the bank? It hasn’t changed! 🙂
I quit! Alan to the Rescue!
I quit trying to do the face to face with the customers and the paperwork too. Alan is amazing with attention to detail in contracts and paperwork, and he finally figured out that crazy banking software! Alan saves the day and was my knight in shining armor. So I quit that part of it and Alan officially handles contracts and billing! Yippee! I thought I was going to explode from stress. We knew once we figured it all out, we would be through the worst of it and it would be a well-oiled machine in no time.
Alan was a dream come true, as he created all of the contracts, forms and even automated an invoicing and customer tracking system! He was working away and it was all perfect. We discovered along the way we also needed some digital privacy forms to add to our contract and he just kept perfecting it all.
I’ve been out selling our services and Alan ensures I have everything needed to support the sell. He also does all of the customer records, contracts, invoicing, and billing! He even created some automation for much of this.
Selling Our Services
As stated above, we are still doing the face to face sell. This is slow and time-consuming, but the relationship and trust are very important. I also need to do a little education on how the internet works and how things take time. There won’t likely be a noticeable difference in the first few months, as it can take a while for Google to find their listing on the internet and present it in search results.
Some of the first potential customers I approached are some of the businesses who have already felt the impact of our influence from Wagoners Abroad. You see there are now several Americans living in the area and some businesses have benefited from them being here. They understand what the potential of online publicity means.
Woo hoo! Within a couple of weeks, we had our first monthly contract! We now know for the next 12 months, that little bit will be coming into our bank account!
I Quit Too!
We have a small number of monthly contracts now and have had just 2 billing cycles. The first cycle was just one customer and we had a little hiccup with the software. The second month all kinks were worked out and we had more customers to invoice. Oops another little hiccup, again with the banking software. There was a quick scramble to the bank to cancel the transaction, as it can only be done in person. All was thought to be corrected at the bank, but NO!
Anyway, it was at this point Alan wanted to quit too! Hopefully, he doesn’t quit, as he is really better at it than I would be, plus now he knows the quirks of it all. Fingers crossed next time is smooth sailing and he stays on board! Ha!
Alan can comment here: “Yes, the software sucks!”
Keep ’em Coming!
So each day it is out and about hitting the pavement and we now have more customers! It seems that face to face is the best way to build our business in Spain, though painfully slow and inefficient. it’s all about relationships, so we will keep building them. Some are from our direct outreach and others are via recommendations. Thank you to everyone who is recommending our services! When people are getting a massage, or at their favorite restaurant they have dropped a mention about our blog, services, and sphere of influence. Slowly but surely we are building our business.
We are making this happen!
It isn’t all about us making money. Yes, that is a major part of it, but it so much more. We want our readers to have trusted information at their fingertips, online! To provide our local business owners, skilled SEO, and marketing experience. And give them the best publicity money can buy, at a fair price, and help them grow. That is what we do, to keep it all simple, in balance and have everyone benefit.
We want to be that bridge connecting local businesses with foreign customers!
Okay, so this is our story so far! The start of our business in Spain! We will give you updates as we go.