Advice on expanding into the US


Having successfully established a US arm to his business, Tony Martino, MD of Tollring provides his top tips for those considering international expansion:I’d encourage working internationally but caution that it is not a task to be taken lightly. The investment may take some time to match the results, so there needs to be board level agreement and a long term financial commitment to take full advantage. But if you can see an opportunity, it is certainly worth the risk since it’s a huge market with the potential to deliver significant revenues.

Good advice
First off, get some good advice. Find a local partner who understands your needs but be wary of the many companies that offer assistance setting up in the US – they often charge heavy fees and may lack the necessary understanding of your specific product or service.
The UKTI offers lots of sage advice and assistance – all free of charge. They introduced us to Export Action in Florida – a small company run by a UK ex-pat who understood our specific needs and were able to provide a managed service to get everything off the ground. This type of organisation was able to deliver an off-the-shelf package for setting up the US with guidance into local tax laws, incorporating a company, licencing, export implications, liability insurance, etc. All these areas need to be considered and having local knowledge is vital.

Local office
Many US companies like to host big conferences in their sector – this is particularly prevalent in the technology and telecoms industry.  Identify the main ones in your field of business is an excellent starting point and I’d suggested attending one or more before investing in a stand and associated marketing.
If you decide to kick off your US debut by attending one of these big conferences, I’d recommend setting up a US-based company address and phone number. This has a hugely positive impact since Americans like dealing with American companies.

East Coast or West Coast?
To state the obvious, the US is a very big place and there is a noticeable East Coast versus West Coast mentality. So the big question is how many offices and people do you need?  For Tollring, we selected Clearwater in Florida as our first base because it was in the right time zone for our earliest partners.  As the business expands it will be necessary to have a presence on both coasts to service both areas. Determine a location based on proximity to existing clients and ensure good travel links to the UK.

Geography and timezones 
Location and working hours are probably the main issues. Where possible, try to maximise your use of technology such as webinars. Tollring’s service is based in the cloud, which makes things a bit easier. If you can, try to make your partners and their customers as self-sufficient as possible using a train the trainer perspective.  Look for ways to set-up and provision customers in an automated way, using all the tools the internet has to offer, to minimise any delays.

Expect to travel on a bi-annual basis, at least, with a week spent with clients either at an event or in face to face meetings.

If you are able to recruit locally and then send them over to the US, you will be able to ensure they have a full understanding of your business and you will minimise any miscommunication due to the different cultures.  Your initial person can then look to local resources to find the appropriate personnel.

Article published in Fresh Business: