If your company is headquartered outside of the US and you’re looking to expand your company into the US market, there are five things to consider to ensure that this new office is a successful expansion of your business:
If you are based in a non-US country and want to open an office in the United States, it’s important to focus on what talent is needed in the beginning. This is usually a go-to-market team, including sales, marketing, client success…anything customer-facing or brand-facing.
We usually start by focusing on an experienced leader to run the sales organization. We then build a team of salespeople, account managers, client success reps, or perhaps marketing for communication and brand. This go-to-market team should have a variety of skill sets, but it does need a specific focus.
As you start to think about what is needed, begin with leadership. Interestingly, leadership often winds up as a lower priority or gets left out completely. It often seems logical at the time to conserve investment in salaries, especially if it’s not yet determined whether the expansion will involve a large team or a small group.
When investing and expanding a business into another country—or sometimes even just a different state—it is common for leaders to start with junior or mid-level hires. However, what we’ve seen is that if we don’t have leadership first, there is really no decision maker in place. There is also no one to motivate others and no one to teach. There’s no one able to bond the relationship between headquarters and that new office. Non-management roles have a different focus—they’re there to get the job done, but aren’t thinking about building a team.
These leaders don’t have to be a part of the core C-suite, but it should be someone that’s managed, held people accountable, able to make decisions, and able to have tough conversations. Those skills require a certain level of people skills because they also bridging the almost inevitable gaps of communication and leadership alignment with corporate headquarters. These gaps are where many new location expansions fail. There ends up being no point of contact for someone to engage with and understand what’s happening in the overall business. If you don’t have that leadership function in place, the build-out and the investment you’re making may have to be redone. Once a leader comes on board, though, they’re going to quickly discover what’s not working. This may include prior hires for that location that aren’t prepared to scale to the next level. Bridges may have been burned, credibility may have been lost, or they might have lost faith in the company.
So if you are going to expand into the US market, start by choosing leaders. When you’re looking for leadership roles, though, it’s important to recruit the right level of candidate and not go too senior. While you do want to recruit a leader, it’s likely that in the beginning it will be hands-on to some degree. Don’t expect them to be the only person doing all those roles, because that person probably won’t accept in the first place. And if they did, then you’re going to have someone who likely isn’t able to do the leadership portion of it and would just become another “worker bee.” There are people in their career development that have leadership experience but would also find it exciting to “get their hands dirty” and build out a brand new team.
Let your candidates know that this is an early-stage company, and they may have to “roll up their sleeves.” By doing this, though, they will get to know the business well. It will also help them build and coach an effective team. So when creating their first round of deliverables, I recommend making it a recruiting objective of adding one to two people to the team instead of revenue targets or enhancing marketing. It also creates an opportunity to evaluate if you have the right leader, and if they are hiring the right people for the team.
As you think about the strategy of expanding into the US, talent should be the top consideration. The second consideration is reconciling with the topic of a remote environment. No matter how much we’ve all grown and excelled at virtual work and communication, there is still no replacement for getting people together in a room at the same time. This is especially true if they’re strategizing as a brand new team and working on messaging. You’re going to want to have a place where people can actually get together.
When you’re considering the location for this expansion office and the people you will hire, think about team alignment. Whether your location will be in-office, hybrid, or fully remote, it’s still worth making it conveniently located. It doesn’t have to be a high-priced office in the middle of a major city, but you do want to make it an actual office that people can get to and expect that they’re going to actually see each other, even if it’s not every day. Choose a location that is convenient to your talent pool, and a place people would want to go to. It’s also worth considering locating near your client base. The more people get to see one another, the better the efficiency and results.
When you create an expansion office, it can be a challenge to infuse culture in this new, smaller office. It’s separate from headquarters, there are fewer people, and not as many leaders present. It’s important to consider how to create good morale and a strong culture that aligns with the overall company values.
One key strategy is to have people travel. I do think it’s really important that the key leadership members—C suite, senior leadership team, co-founders—are all making visits to those offices. It demonstrates to the remote site that this office matters, and the people you’re hiring for that location matter as much as people that work at the headquarters.
Also consider sending internal subject matter experts to the office as it aligns with what the team needs. If it’s a go-to-market team, send someone from sales or marketing. If it’s a development team, send someone with a technical background.
Conversely, consider sending your new team to the headquarters location. It will be inspiring for them to see the larger organization and meet many of the people. It could be a trip just for this purpose, or it could be joining everyone at the company at a town hall meeting. You could even consider holding some town halls at the new office to make a statement about the importance and viability of this location.
This doesn’t just apply to multicultural companies, by the way. We’ve all seen new ways of working, and that remote work can be efficient and effective. Unfortunately, though, this effectively puts each individual in their own private office! To address this, more companies are planning strategic on-site meetings to address big company discussions. It’s an investment in travel and time, but it’s well-planned and highly orchestrated. This puts more weight and priority around these meetings as well. With a multicultural team in different locations, it can really enhance understanding and team chemistry when they aren’t always in the same office.
Having worked with so many different companies across so many different countries and cultures, there is a uniqueness to each of them. For example, some cultures are more emotional, some are more direct, and others are particularly focused on discipline and operations.
Build time in these trips for people to actually do fun, casual, social, interactive activities. When you create the space for non-work discussions about sports, kids, hobbies, or whatever…that helps everyone get to know each other. It helps the team see each other as real people just like them, which humanizes interactions when they get back to the office.
When non-US companies are considering expanding to the US, it is often easier said than done. It’s a large market, you are seeking many potential clients, and those clients are also seeking you. That’s the easy part.
The people in the new office can feel left out very quickly. As a matter of fact, most expansion offices feel left out from the minute they start. It’s not because of something you’ve done, but perhaps the things that were not done.
The challenge is to build an effective team that not only produces results, but follows your ground rules, policies and procedures. Many times when executive leadership decides to expand to the US, they haven’t considered the time and effort needed to manage that growth from afar and how to generate the right type of alignment in both communication and decision making.
It’s not unlike deciding to have another child. You think you know what’s required, but everyone is different, and requires different types of attention. So if you are going to have another child, you have to factor in how your world will change as you accommodate this new person. It’s no different when you’re expanding your business into a new location. It’s going to look very different. Build in that attention to detail, the patience to be available, and the willingness to support them—even if you might not have all the answers in the beginning.