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The Antiques Diva™

Toma Haines

Expat Women's Interview with Toma

Expat Women: Toma, your business brand is very catchy. Please tell us more about your business.
Toma: Sure. The Antiques Diva™ is a business that I set up in Holland, Belgium and France, offering exclusive, private, guided, antique shopping tours. It was originally for expats, but quickly expanded to anyone looking for a diva–licious antique shopping experience. We also offer a decorating service to go with the tours, visiting clients' homes, offering interior decorating advice and staging private, personalized tours to help purchase those elusive perfect pieces.
Expat Women: Can you please share with us your story of how you became an expat?
Toma: The last twelve years have been a whirlwind, proving each year to be more exciting and more romantic than the year before. The journey started as college–sweethearts in a small town in Oklahoma. As a child, I fantasized about living in Venice and while other kids drew pictures of a house with a back yard and swing set, I drew pictures of gondolas and men in striped shirts.

In university as an English Literature major, I decided to study abroad spending a semester in London. My husband, who was then my boyfriend, was a pragmatic man and proposed to me a few weeks before I departed for the UK, ensuring that he "sealed the deal" before I crossed the pond. Before long, my dream of living overseas became his dream as well and from the very beginning of our marriage, we followed a plan that would give us an international lifestyle. We moved around the United States, building our skill–sets (my husband in finance, and me in advertising). Then thanks to my husband's career, we got our big break with a chance to live in Paris. We then lived in Paris for 4½ years, before moving to The Netherlands in May 2005 – where we have lived ever since.
Business Ideas: Toma Haines
Business Ideas: The Antiques Diva™
Business Ideas: The Antiques Diva™
Expat Women: How did you become The Antiques Diva™?
Toma: When my husband was transferred to Holland in 2005, I joined the International Women's Club and worked my way from Vice Chairman to Chairman. In the meantime, I shopped: I researched the number of antique shops in Holland and Belgium and systematically began visiting them and making relationships with the best dealers and most interesting stores. I also worked on writing a series of antique shopping books which are currently under publisher consideration and hopefully will find their way to a bookshelf near you in the not–so–distant future. In August 2007, I started The Antiques Diva™ blog as a supplement to the series of books in order to generate reader and publisher interest. Within a few months of starting the blog, I had subscribers on every continent (except Antarctica) and in a couple more months surpassed the 20,000 visitor mark. Readers living in or visiting the area began asking for private and group shopping tours and new expats looking to decorate their homes quickly emailed seeking personalized tours to show them where to shop for decorative antiques.
Expat Women: What would be your Top 5 Tips for starting a career in your suitcase?
Look towards your passions and pursue them with an intensity that is startling to those around you. As an expat wife living overseas my first 5 years in France, I legally was not allowed to work for profit. Rather than viewing this as "a sacrifice to my career", I looked at this opportunity as an incredible gift which allowed me to evaluate my passions and interests and to ultimately parlay them into a career. During this time, I toyed with many career ideas, throwing myself with a passion into ideas like:

(a) teaching gourmet cooking lessons;

(b) becoming a certified picture framer; and

(c) teaching English as a second language
Sometimes it's okay to give up. To try a business idea and then decide you do not enjoy it does not make you a failure. I struggled with this concept for years – thinking that starting a plan meant I had to finish it. I have thrown myself into many of the ideas only to discover, for example:

(a) that my recipes never come out the same more than once (irritating to students wanting to recreate my un–recreatables);

(b) that I hate measuring things (a disaster for a professional picture framer); and

(c) that while I love chatting with foreigners, I am more likely to pick up their grammatical habits than to correct them.
Eventually, you have to grow up. I have watched several friends decide they are going to start a business, delve into the "research with passion" phase and never move beyond that point because they were striving for perfection. There will always be someone who knows more than you. With that in mind, do what many a President does – surround yourself with people who are smarter than you! For my tour business, I hired guides who were older and wiser than me – and who were coincidentally, European.
Along the lines of surrounding yourself with people who are strong in areas you are weak – the most important thing you can do for your career is find someone to be your mentor. Meet with them regularly to discuss growing your business and to get their input on your ideas. The second most important thing you can do for your career is to be a mentor – find someone who is starting a business and aspire to be someone they can look up to. By aspiring to be their mentor, you hold yourself to a standard higher than you might otherwise as you try to become someone worthy of their respect.
Once you have found a passion you want to make into a career, look to see how you could adapt this career to fit your lifestyle. If you are a serial expat who will move from country to country, determine how you can keep a loyal customer base when you are no longer around. The internet is a wonderful thing that makes all things possible! You can continue your sales online by establishing a website, blog, podcast and/or webcasts. You can also consider finding a partner for your business, so that you can keep and grow your client base with each move.

The first thing a person who wants to write a book is told is to write about what they know – I took this sentiment and applied it to my target audience for both my tours and my proposed series of books. I am first an expat and I write first and foremost for expats. I then expanded the idea to increase my target audience and tourists wanting to tour like locals benefit from this. My guerrilla marketing efforts are targeted first at my community – expats, internationals and women's clubs. I then expand my efforts to include national tourism websites, hotel lobbies and publications for trains and planes. A third wave of marketing efforts extends toward American and UK Travel, Home and Lifestyle publications focusing on international living. By utilizing the market I knew, I was able to capture a base level of clients using the expat market as my bread and butter and am able to grow my business from here.
Expat Women:  Thank you very much Toma. Your insights are invaluable and we will watch out in the future for some best–seller books from the now–famous, (The) Antiques Diva™.
August 2008
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