Elena Darmenko entered a man’s world when she started working in international cooperation as a young professional. Darmenko faced discrimination from her older male peers who didn’t take her seriously, though she ultimately worked her way up the company ladder by being, “twice as good.” Eventually the Moscow, Russia based-entrepreneur decided it was time to time to shift gears and begin her own project, thus Global Expats Therapy was born. Darmenko utilizes her knowledge of the international world and her training as a psychologist to work with expats who are struggling to adapt to their new foreign homes – especially pregnant women and introverts. Today she’s continuing to expand her client base while also learning to charge what her time is worth.
Darmenko’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
I’ve been working for sixteen years in the field of international cooperation and once I decided to start my private practice I wanted to help the most vulnerable part of the expat community, pregnant women and introverted people, by teaching them to create their own comfort zones and how to have a meaningful and happy life.
How do you define success?
First of all, progress I see while working with clients is success to me. The main principle I follow and try to covey to all my clients is, “Whatever happens, I’m always on your side. No matter what decision you make, know that I will always understand your point.” And when I see people feeling happy, relaxed, satisfied or when they have a clear purpose and strategy in their new expat home, that’s my personal success. In my work supporting pregnant women, I receive a huge emotional response from them and that’s also a measure of success. Working with introverts and watching them becoming good at public speaking or just becoming more open is also a success. Another success for sure is receiving adequate payment for my services as I’ve spent a lot of time and money to educate, learn, and develop my skillset as a highly qualified professional.
Tell us about your biggest success to date.
I’ve developed a method I called “DARE” which I use with introverts. With DARE we work to discover and develop their superpowers to make them become successful without leaving their comfort zone. For expats expecting, I’ve also created a program which is kind of a combination of stress and anxiety management and cross-cultural training to help them deal with two problems simultaneously – adaptation to the new culture and adaptation to their new physical state of being pregnant.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
The main challenge I have is marketing and sales – and to be honest I’m still struggling with it. I have to push myself to speak about prices and remind myself that I sell something that has value. But the more experience I get, the better the result. I think that all solo-preneurs should adapt to this mentality and learn how to say “I am remarkable.” This attitude has really helped me become better at sales.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
When I started my career in internationals relations, I was the only women in the department and no one took my ambitions seriously. To them I was just a young woman. Traditionally, international cooperation is a man’s world and I needed to be twice as good to achieve my goals. But when I finally left my job, I was the international relations advisor to the head of the organization.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Have a good lawyer and make sure all your papers, i.e. contracts, terms and conditions are very clear. This protects you and your rights. And think of self-care. Working 24/7 is not effective for your clients. The more you care about yourself, the better you will serve others and the more you can give to your family.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I remind myself the word of Winston Churchill, “If you go through Hell, keep going.” This alway helps me.
Who is your most important role model?
That’s Lawrence of Arabia. As a teenager I was really impressed by his extraordinary ability to find the keys to people’s hearts, despite their nationality, beliefs, etc. And in my own family I have a great man to follow – that’s my grandfather. He was one of the pioneers of space medicine and bioastronautics and he taught me the most important lesson of my life – “Everything is possible if you have your big idea and the strong will to realize it. And never give up! Try again until you’re succeed.”