6 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Italy

By Su Guillory

Inspiration and ideas for being a better entrepreneur can come from everywhere, not just the business world. I moved to the south of Italy (Calabria) last year, and I’ve picked up a few lessons that I’m now applying to how I do business. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Connecting people is good karma

We’ve all heard the adage “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” and nowhere is that more true than in Italy. It never fails…I mention to a friend that I need a dry cleaner/apartment/driving school, and inevitably, that friend knows someone who can help.

They aren’t doing it for gain. It’s just how they’re wired.

Years ago I went to a networking event and watched a woman machine-gun her business card into the hand of every dumbfounded attendee. I’m willing to bet that she didn’t get much in the way of business from this endeavor.

However, when you connect people in a thoughtful way like the Italians do, you’re building a bond with the person you helped. They trust you. And they’re more likely to return the favor and send business your way.

2. You can’t rush things

In Italy, we say piano, piano. Slowly, slowly. While it can be nervewracking when this applies to getting your Wi-Fi set up (over a matter of a week, not hours), it is also beautiful when you let things unfold in their own sweet time.

Recently I met a business owner who was interested in my writing services. As eager as I was to work with him, I knew better than to schedule a meeting to get things moving. It may not happen this week, or even this year, but the seed has been planted, and I have no doubt that a meeting and maybe even a contract will happen. In the meantime, I’ll connect with him on a personal level to build that relationship.

3. There’s always a way

“Signora, è impossibile.” It’s impossible to [insert activity here], Italians tell me. And yet, they always find a way to make it happen.

As a business owner, you may come up against what feels like a brick wall, with no solution to a problem in sight. But if you step away from the problem (I often go for a walk to clear my head) and look at it from a different angle, you’re more likely to find a way through that wall.

It can also help to talk out the problem with a friend. I have an American friend who also lives in Calabria, and we often talk about business problems. Getting a different perspective or seeing our businesses from the outside is usually enough to get us over the hurdle.

4. All work and no play…

There’s a concept in Italy called la dolce far niente. The sweetness of doing nothing. It’s not just the stuff of movies. It’s how they live, and it’s something Americans could really benefit from.

It’s even more apparent to me now that I’m living in Italy that Americans are working themselves to death. They eat lunch at their desk while powering through another task, and they make themselves available to clients on the weekends and after hours.

Italians, however, place life first. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited a shop during operating hours only to see a sign saying “back soon.” Here, “soon” is a highly variable period of time, and the shop owner might stop to greet a friend at a bar and chat for half an hour before returning to work. Customers aren’t put out. They get it.

And come midday, everything shuts down, at least in smaller towns. That’s because the business owners are at home having a leisurely lunch with their families and taking a nap. They’ll reopen around four and stay open until eight.

As a result, you don’t see nearly as many stressed-out Italians as you do Americans.

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5. Your story matters

Italians are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage. And I love learning about how the local dialect connects to the French language, the origin of a type of pasta, or the history of a small religious festival.

In your business, the story of who you are and why you do what you do matters to your clients. It’s what bonds you. As a spiritual coach, my story of how I ended up on my journey to living authentically (which, for me meant moving to Italy) is what piques people’s interest and spurs them to want to work with me.

6. You don’t need to operate in a bubble

Where I live in Italy—in the toe of the boot—was at one time ancient Greece. There are Greek, Roman, and Byzantine ruins everywhere. And the language and culture have been influenced over the centuries thanks to being ruled at one point or another by the Spanish, French, and many other conquerors. What this does is make for a beautiful melting pot of language, culture, and food.

For years, I didn’t want any outside influence in my business. I thought I could figure it all out on my own. But we’re all better for letting a little light in from the outside.

Read business books. Go to conferences. Talk to other entrepreneurs. Note what others are doing, even if it’s in a different industry. You’ll collect bits and bobs that you can patchwork together to create your own unique imprint for your business.

Italy has shifted how I run my business, and how I live my life. More than anything else, I understand that there is more than one way to succeed.

About the Author

Su Guillory is an expat coach and business content creator. She helps women through the transformative process of moving abroad so they can live happy, more authentic lives. Su has been published on AllBusiness, Forbes, SoFi, Lantern, Nav, and more.

RELATED: Digital Nomad vs. Self-Employed Expat: What’s the Difference?

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