|image via stacie chan|
When I was teaching English, it seemed like each one of my colleagues was working on a side-business scheme. Several guys boasted about export ideas that never seemed to come to fruition. Others wanted to sink their money into a guesthouse or souvenir shop, or hire a legion of semi-anglophone locals to act as tour guides for their new travel company.
Remote freelancing is a newer trend that brings more-reliable second income streams to many expats. But as far as brick-and-mortar businesses, there are a couple that stand out..if you can keep them simple.
In countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, street cafes still rule. Yes, Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts are making inroads in SE Asia, but the right kind of independent street cafe, in the right location, can be extremely profitable.
What is the equation for turning coffee beans in cash? Most people in the world just want basic coffee. They are seeking out nothing more than a pleasant flavor to go along with their caffeine fix. So most local shops keep menus simple and overhead low. The same goes for decor: a subtly pleasing atmosphere (call it minimalistic if you want) beats out expensive designer furnishings.
And the ideal location: That fits into the low cost model as well. Anything close to the street works, and, since caffeine addiction knows no bounds, any neighborhood will do - you don't need a prime piece of "downtown" real estate to be successful in the cafe biz.
How much can you expect? An extra $1,000 per month with the right local partner to help with red tape. Maybe more if you can hire a few attractive staff members to entice members of the opposite gender to become "regulars."
The biggest attraction for this time of business is the lack of risk: because overhead is low, your risk is limited and any initial investments can be made up quickly.
A similar dynamic works for restaurants.
|image via basil strahm|
When it comes to eating, quality wins the day, every day. Location and ambiance are a distant second. If you've been to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, or Malaysia, you know that some of the most popular eateries are located on the sidewalk, in simple storefronts, or in atmosphere-less cafeteria-like hawkers' centers. So rent can be very cheap.
You just need the right cooks to create the kind of menu that will earn local word-of-mouth buzz. Restaurants can bring much higher profits than coffee shops, but they are more expensive to run because of the cost of ingredients and the need to hire talented chefs (and perhaps share profits with them).
I know of established eateries in Vietnam and Malaysia that bring in $300-$500 per day for their owners after expenses.
I've seen a number of expat businesses fail, mostly because the owners paid too much attention to creating the kind of menu and ambiance that they wanted, raising their overhead and lowering the attractiveness to locals.