America is the UK’s single biggest export destination, accounting for 14 percent of our export trade. The two have, in the main, enjoyed a long history with each other, a common tongue and similar lifestyles. However there are core differences – not just linguistically, but also culturally and legislatively which can raise potential issues for UK companies who want to expand their business by exporting to the US.
Understanding these disparities is key to forging and sustaining successful US exporting relationships.
1. Be aware that the US business culture is very strict – success is almost exclusively defined by financial reward, meaning that the work ethic is often more intense than it is in the UK.
2. Ensure that the literature you produce is checked by a native speaker – seemingly small differences between our two languages can make life very complicated.
3. Understand the legalities of each of the different states you export to and know that you are not dealing with one nation as a legal entity. State laws can vary dramatically, which can impact on key areas such as Intellectual Property and disputes.
4. Account for the expensive cost of insurance. Product Liability or Professional Indemnity cover will start at £5000 – before any risk has been identified and quoted. This cost will impact on your final profit figures.
5. Avoid using humour in business meetings – whilst Americans are famed for their quirky comedy shows, this does not extend to the work place and you may be viewed as flippant, unreliable and not seriously minded if you present a jokey demeanour.
6. Be aware that Americans do not always get irony! As a nation we frequently use this style of humour, but it is often difficult and confusing for some countries, including America, to understand.
7. From a marketing perspective, you need to understand that this vast country has many different regional characteristics, and you must be prepared to modify your content accordingly.
8. Respect the fact that religion is taken very seriously in America. It played a starring role in the founding of the nation and remains central to the beliefs of many Americans today.
9. Ensure you get your paperwork right – following the security issues post 9/11, the US tightened all of its security processes for cargo – submitting incorrect documents will lead to delays, which in turn can have an impact on your margins.
10. Give plenty of notice to your US counterparts regarding planned holidays – Americans tend to only take 2 weeks holiday a year, whereas the UK has a more generous system – this can be frustrating for US importers, especially if they are left waiting to receive goods.
With over 50 states, an improving economy and a large and diverse population, America remains an attractive proposition for many expanding UK businesses. For those who succeed, it is a land of opportunity, but success is not easy and any firm looking to do business state side should be under no illusion as to the time and financial investment such a move will cost them.
Lesley Batchelor OBE, Director General, Institute of Export
Image: USA via Shutterstock