How I Made the Most of the Hungarian Mindset to Grow My Business

Despite the attitudes I grew up with, I became an entrepreneur.
How I Made the Most of the Hungarian Mindset to Grow My Business
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Digital Branding Strategist
8 min read
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"Anyone who can keep their head above water in the Hungarian market can make it anywhere," I always tell my foreign friends. They never understand. Then I begin to tell them how I developed my way of working and their eyes open wide. That's because up until that moment, they had only seen Hungary through the eyes of tourists, thinking of the gulyás soup, the ruin pubs and the pálinka drinks. All the while there is another side, which you can only understand if you grew up here, or at least spend a significant amount of time in our country.

If you grew up in Hungary, you most likely heard your parents talk about how entrepreneurs steal and cheat and always look for loopholes. You may have heard your neighbor gossip about how a certain entrepreneur had purchased the latest luxury car, and must have been an ex-communist who had misappropriated money. You may have heard about all the money that was embezzled on construction projects, where the managers chose to buy inferior materials just so they could pocket more money. It's even possible that you heard your own mother mention, at least once a day, that you cannot count on anyone.

If you grew up in Hungary, you may have seen that under the right circumstances, people could buy factory buildings for pennies, using them to make businesses worth millions. In fact, you would have sat at the same school desks with kids who were born into families with the right connections, and whose fate was secured for life. Successful family businesses rely on the idea that after earning their diplomas, the children will take the place of their aging parents and manage the companies.

Related: The Differences Between Eastern and Western European Startups

Many of us native Hungarians were raised on the idea that entrepreneurship was negative. "Don't do it, my child -- just get a normal job," it was often said. But, the advent of the internet, social media and startup culture, along with the possibility to explore other cultures through low-cost airlines, has done much to change things, and more and more people are smuggling in the mindsets of other countries.

For some reason, even though I grew up with the mindset that capitalism and entrepreneurship were negative pursuits, I didn't want to believe that it's not worth trying to start a business to improve myself and my financial standing. I wanted the freedom to do what I liked more than anything else.

I first started to delve into the world of the internet and online marketing 10 years ago. From the beginning, I encountered the attitude of "We don't have any money, show us what you can do without it." A marketing degree didn't help, and neither did the textbook knowledge from 20 years earlier in grade school. I had a certain mindset, and I had to figure out how to take advantage of it somehow. I couldn't believe that there was no advantage to living here, that it was not possible to build a close-knit community, and I also couldn't accept the idea that everyone who was starting businesses was malicious.

Mindset: "I won't share my knowledge."

"They'll just end up stealing it!" I heard regularly when I first started trying out business ideas. Today in Hungary, it's just as easy to stand out with simple, high-quality, rich and informative content as it was three to four years ago, since most people are still warily guarding the knowledge they have. Sometimes they sit across from me in personal branding consulting sessions, showing off their new content in which they speak only in generalizations. Then they wonder why people don't read what they write.

The answer is obvious to me. To this day I'm a good content producer because I'm not afraid to share my knowledge. The reason my calendar is filled with consulting sessions is because my blog is full of know-how, which people can start to use even without direct help from me. Not to mention the fact that their appreciation of this free content will make them more likely to buy from me in the future. 

Give away as much as you can, in a way that your audience can feel the information is enough to get started, while always making sure they know that they will achieve the biggest results if they buy your program, or meet with you.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Starting Up in Italy Is a Nightmare

Mindset: "I only need to watch out for myself."

Eventually social media came onto the scene, and the Hungarian "I don't care what the buyer thinks" mentality could no longer be used for engagement. If I wanted customers, I needed to test and find the solution as quickly as possible. I needed to use my common sense, because one-way communication was no longer working. 

I started to communicate with the community, and I wanted to understand what they needed, so that I could give it to them. Many people didn't understand why I had coffee with my audience members, or why I stayed the next day and had breakfast with my followers after I gave a talk in the countryside. In my mind, this is when I was laying the foundation of my community.

It is the same story with content: If I want to sell books or a consultation, first I have to give a lot. Suppose that my personal brand is about how to help small business entrepreneurs who have built something, but don't know how to reach more people online organically. In that case, I am not going to communicate about how to earn money from your blog, which is a subject that would target bloggers who are just starting out. My target audience will be interested in why a Facebook closed group is good for their business, or what to do if they don't want to be impacted by Facebook's latest algorithm changes. It is important for me to figure out what they're really good at, and then what problems and difficulties they might face, and then use these insights to create worthwhile content.

Mindset: "Don't show how much money you have or how successful you are."

In my experience, if you're successful in Hungary, many people are sure to think that you got rich through dirty money, or that someone is paying your way. When the Hungarian press first wrote about me, I saw comments saying that I must have been in the right place at the right time, and someone "placed" me at the top of the list of successes. In 2013, there were still very few women on social media sites who were building brands using their own resources. At that time, many people couldn't even imagine how it was possible to make money doing this.

Related: Eastern European Startups Often Struggle With Marketing and Sales. Here's How to Overcome the Challenges.

To tackle these comments, I started to communicate consciously. I showed the whole process: I wanted them to see that I held three talks per week in rural communities, how I boarded a train with two suitcases (one of them full of books), then held a talk, then dashed off to the next stop, then home to work on the sponsorship agreements, and then worked on my own content, all while writing my next book. And all of this without help or financial support.

Once they saw how much I worked, they were able to accept me and my lifestyle. They saw I lived in a sublet instead of buying an apartment, but I traveled around the world gaining knowledge to share when I returned home. If they too could profit from this in some form (e.g. knowledge, gifts), then they supported me 100 percent of the way.

Mindset: "Get something for something." 

There is one thing which I think will never change: We don't like to pay for things if we don't have to. Trading value for value in Hungary has always meant figuring out a way to pay less for something, or not to pay at all. I soon got the hang of bartering, and over time it got so that I could use my personal brand to hold six-month-long workshops at a five-star hotel if I would just post about it. Without any advertising, I reached 200,000 people per month, which was worth more to my brand partners than if they had billed for the room.

To conclude, it is not in spite of the Hungarian mindset that I was able to stand out, but because of it. This is the only market in the world that was able to give me the experience and knowledge to build brands out of nothing and make connections in places where you would think that only money talks. What is the mindset that surrounds you?

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