Updated: Dec 10, 2017
View of Boston from Cambridge
Recently I won a place on a Trade Mission to Boston with InnovateUK and Digital Catapult with support from the British Consulate in Boston. Throughout the trip it was easy to see why Boston was recently voted the best place for start-ups in the USA. It was a fantastic opportunity for us to make connections for future collaboration.
The whole week was filled with meetings and presentations, networking events and pitching. I loved the buzz during the week especially going to HUB week, Boston’s entrepreneurial week long festival, and visiting Harvard University and getting a tour around MIT. One of the biggest cultural differences I noticed during the trip, was the positivity and unwavering belief that you could change the world with your idea if you worked hard enough, compared with the more measured and cautious attitude to entrepreneurship in the UK.
Our cohort having a tour around MIT
One of the most useful events organised by the British Consulate was a candid chat with 3 UK businesses who set up offices in Boston to share with us what it’s really like and what to expect if you were to decide to move here. It can seem quite attractive to move to the US when you hear the amounts that can be invested in your business can be 10X bigger than the UK, but having offices on two different continents and time zones can be logistically difficult and costly to manage.
Here are my biggest take aways and tips so that it may help you navigate the challenges and be aware of any pitfalls if moving your business to America is the right decision for you.
First Things First
1. If you are thinking of opening an office in America (or any other country) don’t forget to get in touch with your Consulate and Department of International Trade, who have dedicated teams to help businesses get acclimatised and have great contacts including accountants (called CPA’s) and lawyers to get you started.
2. Be aware of the small differences in the language beyond the known spelling differences and don’t make assumptions that words mean the same thing just because it is English. You will need to make changes to the language on your website and any printed materials.
3. Don’t rely on thinking American’s love a British accent to get you through; you need to know your stuff and prove that it works.
Finding New Employees
4. Be aware that salaries are on average 3X higher than the UK and property is about 4X more expensive for offices.
5. It is commonplace for people to work from home and there is a strong work ethic so you can generally trust that work will be done without supervision.
6. When you are employing new members of your team in America you need to be very clear about how the time difference would impact the working day. But this maybe of benefit for some people, so you could attract those who would like to finish work earlier.
7. To attract good talent when you are a start-up use incentives rather than money like applying British holidays which are far more generous than the US and the option to work from home with UK time meaning they work 7am-3pm EST
8. Be aware that employers and employees only need to give 2 weeks notice with no ramifications, which can be either beneficial when you need to remove someone who isn't a good fit, but not so good when a key team member leaves suddenly.
9. You will need locals to sell effectively in the US who know the nuances of the culture and understand what people mean and can read between the lines. For example people are generally very polite and won’t want to hurt your feelings so won’t say no, which may mean that you waste lots of time chasing leads that won’t go anywhere.
10. Having great connections is really important, so make your first US hire someone who has the right connections. It makes a huge difference to have a local connection that knows the town who has a good reputation.
11. Be aware of specific employment laws in the area, for example it is now illegal to ask what salary prospective employees are looking for, which is aimed to reduce the pay gap and bias between male, female and ethnic minorities.
12. Invest in good quality communication and regular video conferences to improve the culture between your two offices and make sure you work really hard to keep your core brand aligned.
13. When you have teams in multiple locations make the effort to bring the whole team together with things like company retreats or awards to help everyone feel like they are apart of the team.
14. Make sure you hire people based on your core values and who believes in your mission rather than skill set.
15. Be based near and make connections with top universities that specialise in the skills you need and build a reputation to be the best place for top graduates to work. Although be aware that competition for graduates from places like MIT and Harvard are going to be high from companies who are much bigger than you, so research other colleges that will have students with the skills you need.
16. Go to local events which attract graduates and do the research so you know what skills you will need.
17. There are not the graduate schemes in the US like we have in the UK so you have a greater chance to attract great students.
18. Graduates might not understand the implications of working in a start up as the word "start up" means something different in the US, where you are considered a start up until you sell your business or IPO. So make it clear what your expectations will be.
19. Visa’s for founders are getting much more difficult to get with founders needing to prove they have an investment of at least $1m.
Statue of John Harvard, Founder of Harvard University
Banking and Finance
20. You will need to meet with a bank in person to open accounts and get set up properly.
21. If you are working internationally the Santander Bank was recommended as their systems are more joined up than other banks if you want to be able to walk into a branch to get things done.
22. You don’t have to have the same bank in the UK and the US as they will be operating separately anyway and there will still be charges for changing currencies etc.
23. Choose your bank based on how easy their digital banking system is, if they say they have lots of customer service in branch be cautious as it might be because their online banking is a pain to use!
24. Be aware of transaction fees and set up systems so currencies say within the same country, so that if you get paid in US$ pay any bills in US$ with it.
25. Reduce the number of transfers you do between currencies, try quarterly if possible to keep fees low.
26. Paper chequebooks are still used frequently and it is commonplace for people to send large sums of money via the mail in a cheque rather than BACS transfers like we are used to in the UK.
27. Make sure your US invoices use the US date system so for example the 1st of November 2017 would appear 11/1/17 rather than the UK version of 1/11/17.
28. Factor in the cost of travelling between countries on a regular basis.
I hope you have found this a useful list to get you started on thinking about the practicalities of setting up a business in America, before jumping into the deep end. Everyone I met genuinely wanted to be of help, very welcoming and keen to share their knowledge.
Good luck on your next step on your entrepreneurial journey.
Have you thought about setting up a business in a different country? Or have you already done it? I would love to hear your tips in the comments below.
Nicole Blyth - Founder, RelocateGuru