When planning for retirement, the conventional focus is often on financial freedom that gives us enough time to be with who we want to be and live anywhere in the world. However, British expat Julie Talbot, 43, has slightly flipped this model, creating a remote business model that allows her to live in Abu Dhabi while investing and overseeing real estate deals back home in the UK.
"We limit ourselves by assumptions and objections that we tell ourselves, but what if we believe we can and then try?": With this mindset, Talbot started to buy and oversee the purchase of UK properties for her customer base – all whilst living in Abu Dhabi.
This working system gives her time and location freedom, what we often aspire for in retirement, allowing her to enjoy her personal space while working towards achieving financial freedom.
For around 16 years [2001-2017], she worked in the corporate world, management consulting in business sectors like logistics, healthcare, banking and transport. "I'd help teams and departments be more productive by working with them on their operating model or processes and how they did things."
One of my rules for making this work was that I didn't want to fly back to the UK. So that meant the business gave me location freedom - as I can carry on growing the portfolio from wherever I am
Remotely growing a property portfolio in the UK
Growing a property portfolio in the UK (without flying back to the UK) gave her the freedom she needed as an expat stay-at-home mother of two.
"It gave me time freedom because I could be present for my children, make every school pick-up, and build an income for our family. I could be spontaneous to be able to say yes to activities the kids wanted to do or to, make fairy cakes, or roll with changes of plans. Because it was my business, I controlled what I did and when.
"One of my rules for making this work was that I didn't want to fly back to the UK. So that meant the business gave me location freedom - as I can carry on growing the portfolio from wherever I am. It gave me time and freedom (to be with my family) and to be able to live where we wanted, which for many years was Abu Dhabi) whilst working towards financial freedom."
How did you start a business remotely, make it work from Abu Dhabi?
Talbot managed all her business setup costs in the UK, where she registered a ‘ltd’ company with companies house to provide additional services and support other property buyers. (‘Ltd.’ is a standard abbreviation for ‘limited’, a form of corporate structure available in countries including the UK, Ireland, and Canada. It is a suffix that follows the company name, indicating that it is a private limited company.)
"In the UK, I needed to get insurance, register with the Information Commissioners Office, register with a property redress scheme, and register with the government’s HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department."
She provided services to a limited number of other investors who wanted to grow a UK property portfolio, but didn't have the time (due to work or other commitments). "I was able to help a few other people grow their UK property portfolios by overseeing everything, and they paid me a fee. It helped me to fund my portfolio growth and business."
Tip #1: Invest in creating a working business model when choosing to work remotely.
Working for other investors meant Talbot was working on a higher number of purchases than she would if she were to buy property only for herself. It required her to build a particular working system to create a virtual property machine - a way of growing a portfolio in the UK without flying back to the UK.
"I work with private investors and commercial lenders to fund property projects. For working remotely, I had to spend on apps to enable virtual working and be able to run the business from my phone.
“The main tech-related expenses for the apps I use are: for cloud storage, around Dh40 [£10] per user; a cloud-based task management system I use a free version; a password management system, spending approximately Dh793 [£200] per year. I also minimise the use of spreadsheets so that, if need be, I can work more efficiently from my phone.
"I also used a call answering service, so all phone calls are answered, which varies based on call volume, costing approximately Dh119 [£30] per month. I had to do this for six weeks when I damaged my computer charging cable in a power surge in Sri Lanka and couldn't get a new one as we were in a remote area."
Tip #2: Learn from experts, work with them as mentors.
Talbot runs the business virtually, so she does not require an office premise; besides apps and tech, her main expenses are mortgages for the properties.
She said, "I contract/subcontract with people or work with niche suppliers rather than take on employees. When I have knowledge gaps or want to improve my skill in an area, I also work with experts or mentors to help me learn or enhance skills and support me when I implement them."
"I'm learning from someone who has done what I am trying to do, it does have a cost to it, but it means that I'm learning from someone else's mistakes. Over the years, this has helped me de-risk what I am doing. It also saves time as I have someone telling me what I need to know when I need to know it and helping me solve problems rather than me worrying about things and trying to solve problems alone."
For working remotely, I had to spend on apps to enable virtual working and be able to run the business from my phone.
Tip #3: Set rules for how you balance being a stay-at-home businesswoman.
Talbot didn't want to fly back to the UK to make it work and didn't want her phone to ring during kids' dinner time, bedtime etc. She said, "I wanted to be available to make every school pick up. Being clear about my goals helped me see what I had to find solutions for and decide how things got done."
She learned that not everyone could handle working with someone who wasn't physically present. "Some people need you to be face to face. That's okay, but if you're out of the UK, and they're in the UK, they're probably not the best person for you to be interacting with. It's okay to move on and find suppliers or contractors who can handle working with someone who isn't in the same room or town as them."
• Spontaneous - be free to say yes to ideas from the family or things she wants to do
• Sustainable - by creating sustainable income.
After overseeing 28 UK property purchases in the last four years, she considers, "I'm learning every week."
Her advice to others who desire time and location freedom is to make it a daily habit to work on the goals. "My time is mainly spent with my family, especially after we left the UAE in January this year. My husband retired, and we set off on a slow world trip whilst homeschooling the children and carrying on growing the UK property portfolio."
"I’m in Malaysia at the moment, we’ve been here since July. We’re going to Thailand in a couple of weeks. Then probably Vietnam in December, although not sure, that may change," added Talbot, as she detailed her current nomadic lifestyle of her family of four.
Her experience shows it doesn't need much time, but only a little time daily, to move things forward and follow up. "Make sure the tasks you are doing in your business are ones you love - and partner, contract, work with others or bring virtual assistants (VAs) to do the rest."
Money rule: Focus on creating different streams of income.
"My income comes from the property, but I choose to have different tenants and a mix of property types. I generally focus on one style, repeat it a few times to learn, and systemise. And then diversify into something similar but a bit different.
"I focus on our property portfolio and creating a diversified income from property, and my husband focuses on our other investments."
How do you train your children to learn money skills?
Being a mother of twin girls of age 9, she teaches them to learn about money and how to earn differently, not just exchange time for money. They don't pay kids for chores, but the girls have learned to invest some of their money in property, which they get on different occasions.
"When they were younger and got some money from the tooth fairy, they negotiated a loan note with me, whereby they gave me their tooth fairy money, I used it in one of our houses, and they get a return every month when the rent was paid and still do three years on. They negotiated an interest rate and monthly payment (which was very favourable to them).
"When their room was tenanted, they'd get their share; when it was empty, they wouldn't. That helped our kids understand the business and also learn to negotiate. They even held us to ransom one day when we needed some change to pay for some milk, and the girls had it, but before they handed it over, they negotiated an interest rate, and monies returned the next day."
She said property income would fund their studies when she discussed future financing education for the children. "Our strategy is to hold long term for income and flip a few along the way. History shows over the long term, UK house prices increase in value; on average, UK house prices double every 10 years. So property income, capital appreciation from the property, and other investments will fund future higher education."