How to successfully expand your small business to the US

You have customers, revenue coming in, and things are going well. What happens next? Expansion, as Lobster founder Olga Egorsheva explains

In the world of business, the focus is very much on evolution.

Standing still isn’t an option, and it’s important to elevate your company to the next level. For many, that involves expanding into international markets.

But how do you successfully transition into an international market if you want to expand on your current success?

Here are some tips to help you get started and build a solid foundation for your increase your presence in the United States of America…

Know your market

Many UK-based businesses choose the United States to expand their operations.

One of the reasons for this is because of the lucrative appeal involved with such a large market. Other factors include the convenience of sharing the same language and similar working cultures.

Having an understanding of the US market might sound obvious, yet many companies have felt the impact of poor judgments. Methods that work locally aren’t guaranteed to translate across the pond. It’s vital that you do your due diligence.

Find a [second] home

It’s unrealistic to think that you can take on the whole of the US in one go. Plus, many states are vastly different.

New York is the most obvious place for many as a starting point, but it might be worth looking at other dynamic markets to start of with.

Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin are still up-and-coming markets, especially for tech-related business. Companies in these cities tend to be more receptive to new technology and are keen to hear about forward-thinking ideas.

New York, on the other hand, can be more process orientated, a harder place to set up meetings in and with a single-mindedness focused on profits. Lobster started exploring the LA market and gradually moved to New York , where we now have NY-based staff members.

One of the key differences between LA and New York is the interactions. In LA, people are more open about business and show encouragement towards your ideas.

Ultimately, though, that encouragement might not translate to a deal. They are arguably more friendly in LA, but that isn’t always a good thing.

In New York, people are more upfront and don’t beat around the bush. There are negative effects, but it’s also helpful to know where you stand. If someone likes your product in the Big Apple, you know they’re genuine.

Use your resources

The UK has plenty of resources to help create a smoother transition to an international market. The Department for International Trade (DIT) has plenty of information that you will find relevant for setting up shop in another country and London & Partners also have programmes to help you grow internationally.

The DIT offer advice on trading between the UK and US, as well detail orientated specifics in regards to doing business in the North American market. The information is also broken down into cities and includes LA, New York and Washington DC.

It’s also a good idea to participate in current events in the UK that are linked to the US. Social Media Week (SMW), for example, has shows on both sides of the pond. Attending SMW, or hosting your own talks, is a good way to make US connections.

Working with any UK-based companies that have operations in the US is another good starting point. They can offer advice and act as a doorway for your entry into the US market.

Have your strategy prepared: This includes pricing and hiring

Make sure that you’re visually ready for a US audience. This means having your pricing in US dollars, using American-English in your copy, and even consider forwarding mail addresses to a US address. The US market likes everything to look and feel American.

Depending on the your strategy – whether it’s a gradual move to the US or a full-on assault – you should assemble a team capable of making the transition as smooth as possible. Perhaps you favour testing the waters, gradually building up to hiring staff based in the United States. Or maybe your aim is to have a team in place from the get-go, who are ready to hit the ground running.

The importance of having staff members who know the market shouldn't be understated. And it’s much more beneficial if they’re based in the US and can interact with new clients face to face.

Make sure you’re insured

Having business insurance specific to the US market is vital. You need to have your business risks and public liability insured.

UK insurers usually exclude cover in the US because of the high legal costs involved. It’s important to find an insurer in the UK who will cover you in the US, or find insurance directly in the United States.

If you’re a tech company – although all companies should take note – it’s important to file patents for your work. There is a high level of people suing over patents they claim to have created. The process is lengthy and expensive, so it’s important that you’re covered to minimise the chances of this happening.

The US: The land of hope and glory for small businesses?

The US market is like no other. They call the United States of America ‘the land of opportunity’ for a reason.

Many cutting-edge marketing practices were born out the US, along with the whole concept of branding.

If done correctly, venturing into such a vast market reaps many rewards. It is the world’s largest economy and is at the forefront of technological advancements. Winning over a US audience will propel your company to the next level.

So, if you want to expand your small business to the US, you should:

  • Undertake extensive market research of the US.
  • Connect with government bodies and industry organisations who can help you to expand your business to America. Also attend relevant events and networking opportunities linked to the US.
  • Secure a US headquarters; this could be a co-working office or your own private office. Have a second home in place before you look to expand overseas.
  • Optimise your website, social media channels and all marketing materials for a US audience. Consider a US forwarding address.
  • Have a hiring strategy in place.
  • Secure business insurance that will cover you for the US.
  • Where relevant, file patents for your work.
  • Finally, don't ignore the opportunities that expanding to the US can bring for your small business!

Olga Egorsheva is co-founder and CEO of UK-based content marketplace Lobster. The company recently announced that it is expanding its global reach into the US. With many existing customers based in New York and Los Angeles, the expansion aims to grow Lobster customers as well as brand awareness in the US, and from there – Latin America.

Find out why Egorsheva is an inspiring woman in business here.