Five reasons to escape overseas

July 24, 2014, 11:35 AM UTC
Illustration by Frazer Hudson
Illustration by Frazer Hudson

1 Get closer to the action

It’s easy to slip into an isolated worldview—and miss exporting opportunities—if you always have to jump on a plane to take advantage of those possibilities. Living six to nine time zones closer to international clients, even on a temporary basis, makes it much easier to communicate. Plus, if you’re in Europe or farther east, you’ll have an uninterrupted stretch of work time in the morning while the U.S. sleeps.

2 Eliminate distractions

To develop an overseas market for his San Diego firm Event Network, which runs stores for museums and cultural attractions, Larry Gilbert moved to Florence, Italy, from 2011 to 2013. Far from his company’s day-to-day demands, he jogged through Piazza della Repubblica and promptly hatched an idea to reorient his 1,600-employee team around a new purpose: being “a cultural events retailer.” After dividing his employees into teams focused on specific types of attractions, he says, “we’ve had our best summer ever.”

3 Build new relationships

It’s hard to pull off two-hour lunches with clients in the U.S., where we’re all glued to our phones and devices. Not so overseas. Since moving from Virginia to Barcelona in 2009, I’ve taken Never Eat Alone author Keith Ferrazzi’s advice— and gotten more connected to my market than ever. “Living overseas, you are almost forced to meet new people all the time,” says Vernon Menard, who has run $2-million-in-revenue Choice Translating (headquartered in Charlotte) from locations as disparate as Peru and France.

4 Uncover best practices

Traveling through Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere for six months in 2012, serial entrepreneur David Niu got inspired by the fresh ways his overseas counterparts were building their company cultures. When the Wharton MBA returned to launch Seattle tech startup TINYpulse, he put the “people” side of the business front and center, highlighting the firm’s values in recruitment ads. As a result, says Niu (who wrote a book about the trip called Careercation), “we haven’t had any unwanted attrition.”

5 Beat burnout

The demands of expanding a business can leave you feeling like roadkill, but it’s hard to revive yourself when you’re within driving range of the office. I’m a firm believer in taking a sabbatical every seven years, as New York designer Stefan Sagmeister advocates in a TED talk video that went viral. Gilbert, whose firm, founded in 1998, has $160 million in revenue, can attest that creating physical distance works. “I felt a huge sense of reinvigoration and reconnection that came from being surrounded by different influences,” he says.

Verne Harnish is the CEO of Gazelles Inc., an executive education firm

This story is from the August 11, 2014 issue of Fortune.