By Ed Reeves, Co-Founder and Director of Moneypenny

RIGHT, so after years of blood, sweat, and tears growing your business in the UK, you’ve made the decision to expand into the US.

Firstly, congratulations – it’s a hugely exciting milestone for any company and one that has the potential to be a game-changer. Secondly, get ready to do your homework; and lots of it.

Whether you’re preparing for an all-out launch, or perhaps thinking of beginning with a targeted initiative to test the waters, a well-thought out plan is a must.

So, where to start? There are, of course, so many aspects to consider, but here are four of the first steps you should take to successfully launch your small business in the US.

1. Research. Then research some more

This is nothing new, but it’s important to start at this point. Assume absolutely nothing. Chuck out any preconceptions that it’s a similar market to the UK. It’s not. And if you think it is, you’ll be setting yourself up to fail. Think of the US as being like Europe and you’ll be closer to reality. Each state is a market in its own right and should be researched as such. This is more important for consumer sales, but certainly applies in the B2B arena too.

The same goes for your prospects as well - knowing your market is 90% of the challenge. Practice what you preach: walk the streets and talk to people, pick up the phone, live on the internet. You’ll quickly be amazed by how forward everyone is with their feedback, even if you call them out of the blue. The odds are, you’ll feel like you’ve met a friend for life who just wants to tell you everything. For some reason Americans seem to love talking to us, and take great pride it helping out this little ambitious English bloke with a great accent.

2. US branding

Proceed with caution. You’ll need to speak to a lawyer early on about your brand. Remember that there are approximately 319 million people in the US, which in turn means that the volume of products and services is 10 fold the amount we have. If anyone gets a sniff that you’re treading on their brand toes, it won’t be a friendly letter you find land on your doormat, it’ll be a compensation demand. Do not skimp this area.

Again, head back out onto the streets and talk to people. You’ll find out so much more. For instance, we initially referred to our employees in the same vein that we do in the UK – as Moneypenny PAs. It turns out, however, that PA in the US means Physicians Assistant - a market to which we have no link whatsoever. Had we not talked to people face to face, we’d have made an enormous costly mistake.

One other word of advice - don’t overplay the British card. Americans are incredibly patriotic and loyal. That means if there’s a US alternative to you, they may well plumb for it. There are exceptions, but to assume that you’ll gain any ground because you’re British would be foolish.

3. Government support – use it

There are a wealth of resources you can tap into if you’re going Stateside. The first stop should be the UKTI. They have numerous events, both in the UK and the US, to help you on your way. Exhibitions, forums, advisors, grants - there’s a whole world of people seemingly employed to support UK overseas trade. We even found meeting rooms in major cities that we could use for recruitment, and so on, prior to establishing our base.

Similarly, do the same in America. Once the South Carolina Department of Commerce heard that we were considering basing our office in Charleston, they flew into the UK to meet with us. Whilst there wasn’t a pot of gold on offer, they’re feedback and advice was superb. They opened a lot of doors for us.

4. Get selling

There are a few things that take some getting used to on the sales and marketing front in America:

- Salesmen really are salesmen! This might sound absurd, but when interviewing for sales people you’ll be astonished to find that every single one is the finest sales person in the US. They’ve nailed every target ever set, they know every industry backwards, have a contact book to die for, and will singularly turn you into the biggest sensation ever to hit the land. It can feel nearly impossible to cut through this. Dig, dig, and then dig some more.

- Sales teams are transient. Partly due to the employment laws being so wonderfully employer focussed (which is one of the greatest things about trading in the US), keeping hold of good sales people is hard. There’s a culture of jumping from job to job. Recruitment investment suddenly stands for nothing if you’re not careful. If you find a good sales person, do everything you can to keep hold of them.

- Geography is a barrier. In the B2B arena, sales people expect to travel a lot. That means that your bills for flights, hotels, and car hire will exceed anything you expect. On top of that, expect to introduce a hospitality budget. Sales people (and prospects) seem to expect to do a whole lot more schmoozing than we’re used to here.

Above all, have faith that your efforts will be worth it. You might make mistakes, but that’s fine. It’s all part of the learning process – be bold and go for it.