Expats in Slovenia: Annie Karmel

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Annie Karmel is an expat in Slovenia. She has been living in Slovenia since January. She is an expert in the field of marketing, business development and social media.

Explore the expats living in Slovenia here.

COULD YOU TELL US WHERE YOU ARE ORIGINALLY FROM? WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO SLOVENIA?

I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there for many of my younger years, in 2004 I moved to South Africa. As I have spent many years in South Africa and hold its citizenship I tend to go by “I am from South Africa.” We all have our different reasons as to why we see the “grass being greener on the other side.” For me personally it was because I met a wonderful and passionate Slovenian man with whom we built a great foundation together. In other words, I moved here because he asked me to. However, before my move here I had to put the “pro’s and con’s” down and truly take my time to think of the challenges I could face and how I would overcome those.

WE READ YOU HAVE PLENTY OF EXPERIENCE IN THE FIELD OF MARKETING, BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT, AND SOCIAL MEDIA. WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY WORKING ON? HOW ARE THESE FIELDS DIFFERENT IN SLOVENIA IN COMPARISON TO YOUR HOME COUNTRY?

Over the years even from a younger age I have always had a strong interest in strategizing. As a teenager I experimented with various small projects of which some failed and some had a great amount of success. I think I was extremely lucky and privileged to have the resources and support of my family, especially my father who is one of my biggest inspirations. When ever I had an idea in the making or something, I should try I always went to him because he has so many years in business himself. Even to this day if there is something that I want to try experiment with I call him and say “Hey, so I value your input and I would like you to look over my idea and criticize where you think I am going wrong?”

What happens a lot with people who start something out is that they think their idea is great, take it to people who have little to no interest in their idea. Thereafter they try their business without getting key critical points and working on those points. What is most important with all three aspects of marketing, business development and social media is to have those strategies in place.

When starting out we focus ourselves on the “how to make money quickly” idea, instead of asking “how am I going to create a long-term standing business?” I never want to discourage people from doing what they want, need or desire to do. My goals are focused on others, finding the best solutions to the problems they face, teaching them techniques to improve their ideas and working with their end goals. Once you focus your business models on your client’s needs you will have the upper advantage in the market of that industry.

Back home in South Africa, I found that there was more of a challenge for businesses to try new ideas and adapt to an ever-changing world. These challenges made me have to adapt my strategies, to give them a good understanding of the service they would need to improve on their business.

The great thing about the Slovenian market is that they want more than just the “traditions” of their business. Most of the business types here already see the need to implement new and improved methods to their companies. Which of course leads to question my strategies and asking the questions of “who, what, where, how and why.” Businesses here already know the demand of their industry and many of them don’t know how to implement these.

DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW PROJECTS COMING UP?

This is probably the toughest question of them all because there are many factors that go into this question. I have been coming to Slovenia for two years on and off, facing many different challenges of which (the law) has specific parts, that actually prevent you to operate in specific ways. As I am driven by my passions for people and growth, I found quite a few gaps here in the market that a business model could fulfill. My only focus at this point, is to share knowledge to those who need it, on a volunteer basis and without compensation. Currently I am holding very basic training specifically targeted to what these businesses need either as start up’s or functioning businesses.

If I were to get hired by a company, I am very specific to exactly I would need as an employee because I know my value. Yes, I have been in the job market but I have also turned away job offers because I know that there would be little room for improvement for both the company and myself. There is a very fine line between just “having a job” and “having a career.” In South Africa I started my company from the ground up, always learning new methods to do things, expanding on how I could benefit my clients and what sacrifice am I willing to make it work?”

My first training I did in Ljubljana which was pretty in depth I did a lot of focus on business development. I gave them insight into what is marketing, advertising and branding. One of my key points which I believe was my unique selling point for that training was “The difference between a bad marketer and a good marketer.” I wanted to point this out so that they can look at problems better and find the best possible solutions for their business layout. If a business is stagnant, impulsive, unknowledgeable (with their services or products) and plays it safe, they will be standing in the same place a year from now. Eventually they will give up, close up and be back to square one doing something they don’t enjoy doing.

YOU ARE FAMOUS FOR YOUR CATCH PHRASE “A BUSINESS WITHOUT MARKETING IS LIKE A CAR WITHOUT AN ENGINE”. COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?

Yes, this is one of the best examples I could use to explain the importance of what we call a “push” method in marketing. You see the function of a car is to take you from A – B, the car its self has many different functions. You have the tiers to get the car on the road and to make that movement. You have the starter motor/switch to turn the car on, and you have all the other part of it which give specific functions to get that car working. You could have everything you can possibly think of in terms of the design of the car, how fast it will go and its main purposes. If you don’t have an engine in your car that actually puts it altogether then you just have a standing model idea of the car.

These same functions work with your business and marketing is taking that first step in starting your engine. Many people who start a business or struggle with their business don’t consider the basic fundamentals of the business. You could have all the connections you want in this world and try “over sell” your idea, but that doesn’t mean you are going to actually sell or focus on a strategy that works for you. Marketing doesn’t mean “selling.”

There are many various other parts to marketing that actually fall under the topic. A few good examples are understanding the consumer’s needs, planning your promotions, planning which promotional platforms you will place your service/product, preparing your product or service, knowing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (we call this SWOT analysis.) When it comes to marketing you have to think out the box and categorize where to start first. This is something I deeply dive into when doing my trainings. It is vitally important that a business understands the difference between marketing, branding, and advertising just as they understand, the different features that make their car work.

ANNIE, I WANT TO GET AN INVESTOR HOW DO I DO THIS?

This is what so many people who start out ask me because most likely the have watched too many YouTube videos. I have two words for you and yes, they will shock the sock right off your feet “get real.” Investors are going to look at many different things about your business and they will only invest if your product/service is up to their standards of business. I urge you to not use the keywords “how do I get an investor for my business?” and rather look up “What do investors look for within a business?”

To the reader: you know this, it is something you come across at many times in life. Why are you not implementing it, learning from it and growing?

You need to be able to present a working business that actually makes sales monthly, that is proactive within the market and what will benefit them to invest into this business. If you are just starting out and have no capital to start out then you need to start looking into marketing techniques that will help you establish that capital. My advice to you, phone up a few investors and buy them a coffee. Sit down with them take a pen and paper and ask them what makes them tick. Please don’t discuss your business plan and model without signing an NDA agreement with them, keep your questions about them, what will meet their needs and stick to the “why, what, where, how and who.” If you need to get capital for your business speak to someone in marketing, a business coach or business development. Again, I can’t stress this enough make sure you have an NDA in place. Those with money can possibly take your plan as their own because they have the money. That NDA (non-disclosure agreement) will help you if they take your plan as their own. If you really have something unique get it copywritten/ patented in your name. Don’t make rookie mistakes and fall out the one who lost in the end.

IN TERMS OF WORKING AND LIVING IN SLOVENIA. WHAT IS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE FROM YOUR HOME COUNTRY AND SLOVENIA?

The first biggest difference and what was extremely, important to me when considering my move was the safety of the country. You see in South Africa the crime rate for serious crimes is pretty high (murder, rape, house entry and possibilities of being attacked in your own home.) We all have large fences around our home, we triple the amount of security by having cameras, safety gates at our front doors, bars on the windows.) The unfortunate thing about this is that we live more in a prison in our own homes than I think any Slovenian would ever try to understand. This is not to discourage those who still want to travel there for holiday’s because the country has many beautiful, safe and tourist friendly spots. As a tourist you would need to be vigilant, aware and not take this lightly. If you are making plans to go there you need to stick to your travel plans and have someone local who can guide you. There is a lot of corruption in South Africa and if anyone reading this who is planning to open a company there, I urge you to always take everything with a pinch of salt. South Africa has a lot of development to go through before the country would ease out, and they do need the business there.

When I came over to Slovenia the first time honestly, I was so scared but yet very optimistic on learning. The first month I had some struggles to sleep and was always waiting for the “what if someone breaks in tonight.” This was a mentality of fear I have had installed in me from a very young age. I didn’t see the bars on the windows, the extra security, didn’t know where were the “high crime areas.” I basically stuck to what I believed would be “safe” for me. As soon as I started to truly engage in the culture of Slovenians, their welcoming nature, their honesty and how they don’t mind to help you, I started to adapt and feel a sense of security. With regards to business from both countries there are many differences to list them in one interview could be pretty long. I feel life here is more consistent, relaxing and easier in both personal and business aspects. I have always learned to adapt to my environments as I have lived in different countries, studied and travelled to different places. It is all about finding balance within yourself first, getting to know the people, becoming proactive and establish where you fit within that society.

DO YOU FEEL EXPATS IN SLOVENIA ARE TREATED DIFFERENTLY? HOW ACCEPTING ARE SLOVENIANS IF EXPATS LIVING IN SLOVENIA?

Again, this is another very diverse question with so many different out comes. I have found it doesn’t matter where you go in this world you are always going to have good and bad experiences. What I feel and have noticed from when I started to come here to eventually living here. When I first came here because of the language barrier and being English I saw that many people I approached got “scared.” Not because I am from Africa, but because they themselves could understand what I was saying. As an expat I can relate to that on many levels due to not knowing the language myself. This changed for me on day while deciding to not drive around town but to try out the bus systems. I was standing at the bus stop trying to figure out where I need to go. The first lady I asked couldn’t understand me what so ever. She asked the person next to her is she could help me and it was pretty amazing, because that person who helped me also asked questions. Through this specific person I have actually met so many new people and feel more welcomed because of this. I feel Slovenian’s are truly accepting to expats, they have a lot of empathy and understanding of your position here as an expat. Slovenians are in many ways traditional, and as an expat you always want to learn these traditions which shows respect to locals.

WHAT DO YOU MISS MOST ABOUT YOUR COUNTRY SINCE YOU HAVE BEEN LIVING IN SLOVENIA? IS IT THE FOOD, PEOPLE OR SOMETHING ELSE?

The three main things I miss that South Africa has that I can’t get here are biltong, chutney (Mrs. H Balls – yes this is the name of the brand) and being a sweet tooth Fizz pops. I have always made plans with those coming to and from the country, websites in other countries and DHL to get the things I miss the most. As I am very much a foodie’s type of person, I miss the South African Masala, curry and hot/spicy foods. Of course, I do miss my friends and family back home, but plans can always be made.

WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE SLOVENIA?

Musical, traditional, stunning, exotic and emerging. Plus, your president is pretty active on Instagram, I think that is awesome. 

WHAT ARE YOUR MUST-VISIT DESTINATIONS IN SLOVENIA?

I have not travelled that much in Slovenia aside from just the major cities. What is great that every time I have taken the weekend to go somewhere, I am always surprised. That is why Slovenia is the hidden gem in Europe.

IF A VISITOR ONLY HAD ONE MEAL ON THEIR TRIP TO SLOVENIA, WHAT AND WHERE SHOULD IT BE?

The Slovenian dumplings (gnocchi, covered in buttery breadcrumbs and fruit/jam in the middle.) I don’t know exactly which restaurant they could find this. I was privileged enough to have a friend teach me how to make this.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SLOVENIAN SOUVENIRS TO GIVE AS GIFTS?

Coffee, the coffee pot that you make it in, wine, truffles, t-shirts, Vagetta and pumpkin seed oil. This I feel truly gives them the taste of Slovenia, and I know my family back home love trying new foods.

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO SPEAK SLOVENIAN? IF SO, WHICH WORD THAT YOU LEARNED SOUNDED THE WEIRDEST OR SILLIEST TO YOU? WAS IT PERHAPS A CURSE WORD LIKE THE “THREE HUNDRED HAIRY BEARS”?

The first thing I learnt about Slovenian language was the fact that you have curse words and then swear words. That apparently saying these curse words is actually worse that to say swear words. Naturally as we do, we love to start off learning the “bad words” or basic words (Hello, goodbye, beer.) My favorite curse words are “Kristus sovogate” (Not to sure on this spelling.) Which as far as I understand the translation to be “Christ’s underwear.” I have tried many times to say “three hundred hairy bears” in Slovenian, but everyone laughs and says the way I say it sounds like I am talking about “the president of Russia.” I can say a few things in Slovenian but it is very basic, I am not able to put many sentences together at this point. Of course, a big part of moving into a new culture is adapting to pay respect to the locals. With this being said I am 100% on board on learning the language.

WHAT‘S THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LIFE HAS TAUGHT YOU?

We all take different paths, we make good choices, we make bad choices and sometimes we actually don’t know what choice to make. We live day in and out to achieve maximum happiness and strive for success. Even though sometimes we convince ourselves that we are not here to get approval but it is a simple human nature to seek it. You can get yourself out of any negative mindset or position in your life, if you set your mind to it and you focus on the value of who you are. As people we under value ourselves because we live in a society where “perfection” in everything is advertised to us from a young age.

Don’t hold the bad things too deeply into your heart and mind, this will only make you unhappy. Understand what the meaning of “success” truly means to you. Success is defined to each and every person to suit their own happiness. Success is not about having money, owning a mansion or living the “high” life, you could have all of that and still feel lonely. If you are not happy where you are in your life then have a pep talk with yourself. Everything takes time so don’t have expectation that it will happen overnight. Breathe, set goals, keep determined, open your mind and let go or face your fear. Most importantly don’t judge others for their situations or where they are in their lives. We are all trying extremely hard to work on our happiness and your words and actions could mean someone else’s life success.

WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL MOTTO OR  PHILOSOPHY ON LIFE?

I value myself, I value my life, I value my family, I value my relationships both personal and in business. I will not let this break me today or tomorrow or ever. I am a warrior and can overcome anything life throws at me. I am here to help others and if I can’t then I can listen, people don’t always need advice. You have to let go of those “yesterday’s” because they are not going to matter today or tomorrow. Anger and pain are a temporary feeling so work towards spreading love, light, happiness and forgiveness. If you don’t know then ask, don’t be afraid to say what needs to be said because honesty is more appreciated than hiding behind fear. If I let this run my happiness and success then why don’t you? How can you not value who you and those around you are? Have empathy not sympathy.