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The International Entrepreneur – Best Practices for Entering American Business Markets

ConfidenceAmerican businesses buy trillions of dollars’ worth of products and services every year. If your company is not American but is looking for a piece of that marketplace, what are the best ways to break in to the American market?

Balancing Money vs. Time

Ideally we would all have limitless capital resources. If that were true, then you could acquire the company with the largest American market share. Or, you could quickly expand into every major American geographic market with local representation. On the other side, there are low-cost ways to enter the U.S., including distributors, local reps, strategic partnerships with companies selling related products and e-commerce. These channels do take time to establish and develop, so will not bring success as quickly as capital-intense approaches will.

Don’t Settle on the First Representative Option

The American market has many freelance sales representatives, distributors and business services professionals. If one learns that your company is looking to enter the American market, you will likely be approached for your business. This may or may not be the right resource for helping you enter the American market. Instead, talk to several potential partners, reps, distributors and suppliers. Ask the same questions and see where the differences exist. In many business cultures, new business relationships require an introduction from a mutual colleague. This is not the case in the U.S. The goal is to find the right resources that will make strategic sense and reinforce your company and products’ brands in terms of quality, values, and service.

Art of the American Fast Deal

Compared with the rest of the world, Americans make buying decisions and business deals very quickly. It is not necessary to have a previous relationship or even a current one to sell to American clients. This can make many non-American companies uncomfortable since they are doing business with a company and its representatives who are unknown and untested. When doing business in the U.S., you need to hire a local business transactions lawyer to write and review any contracts. Americans will expect any signed contracts will be enforceable in an American judicial court. Your American lawyer will help to keep language out of your contracts that increases your business risks.

Business Loyalty has a Price

I was recently talking with a client about possible companies that could acquire them. Since this is my client’s exit plan, we rolled through several names. But the most likely buyer was also a company that might shut the company down after purchase and eliminate the current staff. My client wanted to avoid this option until I asked him how he felt if he walked away from such an acquisition with US$3 million. His answer immediately switched. The truth is that American business leaders are heavily motivated by financial returns. For companies doing business with Americans, this means that if another supplier comes along offering a lower price or other incentives, you may lose that client before you ever knew that the relationship was in peril. The way to keep clients and business partners loyal is to periodically stop and ask them how the relationship is going. If someone is trying to underbid your company’s prices, your partner/client is likely to tell you when asked. Also, keep track of competitors in the American markets as to what incentives they are giving potential clients to switch away from your products.

I hope this article helps you in your business expansion. If your company needs assistance to expand into the United States and you have technical products or services, please feel free to contact me.

Best wishes,

The International Entrepreneur: Business Presentation Advice for Non-Native English Speakers from Nancy Vason (Part 1)

Nancy Vason_SpeechworksThis month I am pleased to share advice on preparing and delivering business presentations as a non-native English speaker from Nancy Vason of Speechworks. Nancy coaches business leaders on how to connect with their audiences. She also teaches at Georgia Tech University where most of her students are non-native English speakers. For those of you who struggle with presentations given in a second language, I think you will appreciate Nancy’s insights. This is the first of a two-part interview series.

The International Entrepreneur (TIE): When you must deliver a business presentation in a language other than your own, why is this especially difficult?

Nancy: The primary reason and challenge when you’re presenting in another language is that quite often you are thinking in two languages at once. Not only are you formulating the ideas you want to convey, but you are also mindful of expressing them in English, having correct grammar and choosing the right words to express your meaning. Often, your mind is racing and you can not speak in your non-native language fast enough to keep your mind and mouth aligned. Unfortunately, many non-native speakers fill those split second delays with filler words. However, instead of trying to fill the time, you should simply pause.

TIE: Are there any universal communication fundamentals that can help speakers of any language better prepare?

Nancy: The first step is to craft a clear, concise message. For non-native speakers, less is more! Decide on the core ideas you want to convey, preview them for your listeners, explain them in more detail with stories and supporting data, then summarize. Repeating your key ideas and stating them the same way each time helps your listeners understand your message even if they miss a few words in your delivery.

Second, if you use slides, keep the content brief and simple. Use visuals that are interesting, and minimize the number of words on each slide. Including all your notes on your slides is a terrible idea! Not only does it distract your listener from looking at you, it also tempts you to read your slides which will cause you to lose eye contact with your audience. Instead, use the slides to reinforce your core messages.

The last fundamental is practice, practice, practice! Rehearse your presentation out loud, multiple times. Those rehearsals create muscle memory and give you confidence.

TIE:How can international entrepreneurs best translate their passion into their communication?

Nancy: Always be yourself, but be the most animated version of yourself. Imagine that you are having an intense conversation with a friend at the dinner table. Your eyes, your face, your gestures, and your voice would all reflect your enthusiasm and passion. That’s the level of engagement and intensity that helps you connect with your audience no matter what language you are speaking.

TIE: What is the most important step non-native speakers must do to truly be prepared for a presentation?

Nancy: Rehearsing the presentation out loud is the most important step. You should not memorize your presentation because one mistake may cause you to go blank and panic. Work from an outline and rehearse enough so that you are comfortable with the information and can perform well, even with distractions. When you practice, focus first on content, then on your speaking style. Remember to speak with energy and passion!

The other key step is to plan and prepare for the Q&A. You can be a great presenter and still lose credibility if you can’t answer the questions well. Q&A is more difficult for the non-native speaker because you worry about having to “think on your feet”. But in reality, you can predict about 80% of the questions you”ll be asked. If you take time to write down those questions, think through your answers and practice them out loud in advance, you”ll be more confident and effective.


About Nancy Vason

Nancy Vason is an executive coach at Speechworks, an Atlanta-based communication skills coaching firm that helps business leaders connect with audiences and get results. Through global clients like The Coca-Cola Company, Novelis and Jabil, Nancy helps executives from many different cultures become confident communicators. She also teaches Business Communication in the Georgia Tech MBA program, where most of her international students are non-native speakers. For more information, please visit www.speechworks.net.



The International Entrepreneur – Building Trust with Americans

This week’s article is about building (and destroying) trust with Americans. This is an important issue for anyone choosing to enter the American market. If you don’t understand how Americans use trust, it will likely sabotage your business dealings. Here’s what you need to know:

Trust is Easily Given

In world business, Americans often have the reputation as being extremely friendly immediately upon first meeting. Americans are also typically friendly even to those they have just met. This is culturally expected in American business culture, although further observation can tell you whether the American is being sincere or not. Typically, they are interested in getting to know you and doing business with you. American business relationships are built on average more quickly than relationships and agreements in other parts of the world. The advantage is that a business relationship begins quicker and hopefully generates positive results quicker. The disadvantages are that these relationships are not typically built on a solid foundation of knowing each other well. They are instead built on mutual financial benefit on the short-term. Another disadvantage is that the trust that the relationship rests on can be undermined easily and quickly if the American’s expectations don’t match with reality.

Trust is Easily Lost

While Americans give trust easily, they also revoke it just as quickly. Americans expect openness from their business relationships. They expect people and companies to do exactly what they agree to do even if the situation has changed. And they expect their business relationships to be profitable. Sometimes other cultures see Americans as naive for trusting so quickly. It has often happened that someone working with an American for the first time sees this early trust and tries to use this to gain advantage. But the Americans have an expression: “Fool me once, shame on you. But fool me twice, shame on me.” Once the deception is discovered, the American will never trust that person again. They will also go out of their way to warn others about your negative business practices. Some cultures also use an aggressive approach to put an American on the defensive to respond to a problem in the relationship. This will also turn out badly. Recently this happened in one of my business dealings. It was clear that the other party was at fault, but they tried to reassign blame to the American side. If someone makes a mistake in American business, the responsible party is expected to acknowledge the mistake and work to fix it. To accuse someone of fault where there is none will remove all trust by the Americans. And once trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain.

Regaining the Trust

Even though trust lost is challenging to recover, it can be done and in some cases is critical to build back. If the relationship is a minor one, I would advise you to let the relationship die a timely death and move on. But if this is an important relationship as a business partner or client, then here are steps you can take. First, insist on speaking about the break in trust. If possible have this conversation face to face or over Skype. Even if the Americans seem uninterested in talking, be very assertive about confronting the issue. Be ready to talk about what your side did wrong to lead to the break in trust. Once you have admitted your part, then you can also talk about other factors that contributed such as a weather delay in shipment or a change in government trade policy. Listen without interruption for the Americans to react to what you have said. Then plan together how to move forward in the relationship. Be patient with trust building back over time because this process may take weeks or months. Follow up with communication about the relationship?s progress back towards trust.

For more information about the American business culture, please read my other articles on this topic:

For help breaking into the American market, please contact Becky DeStigter.

The International Entrepreneur – How Marketing REALLY Works in America

The Energizer Bunny – One of the Most Famous American Brands

With a title like that one, you might think that I will share tightly guarded American secrets. Actually, marketing your product or service in the United States is probably more similar to marketing in your home country than it is different. But here are some marketing trends that may affect how you approach the American market:

Traditional Advertising is in Steep Decline

Quite honestly, many of us are relieved to see advertising de-emphasized in America. There is less money going into both TV and print advertising. Online advertising has increased, but like in most places the click-through rates plummeted several years ago. What has taken its place is BRANDING. Branding includes the customer’s entire experience and impression of a product or service. Branding starts with a customer’s first impression of the product/service and continues through the use of the product and sometimes long after its use. Brands in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) are carefully cultivated. Smart companies work hard to provide a consistent brand experience to customers (high quality, premium pricing, excellent customer service, value-add reselling, etc).

Technology Usage is High, But Not as High as Elsewhere

Most Americans assume that technology in the United States is the most advanced in the world. Media helps keep most Americans sheltered from the reality that plenty of other countries have passed us up in terms of mobile technologies and various areas of social media. In planning your marketing in the U.S., keep in mind that many people still don’t use social media regularly, particularly men in their 50’s and 60’s who may be part of your decision-making demographic for B2C or B2B. You may want to consult with an American marketing specialist in your industry to seek advice on how to get the most out of technology-related marketing while not confusing or missing key market segments.

Humor Isn’t Always Funny

One of the least translatable cultural communications is humor. One only has to watch Japanese game shows to understand what I mean. I am always reminded of the Mentos breathe mint ads, which ran for many years on American television. Mentos is a Dutch brand and the commercials were the same ones run on Dutch TV because they used situational comedy. Dutch commercials follow a fairly standard format, which always seemed off beat of the American culture. I’m sure our commercials would seem awkward to the Dutch TV watchers as well. Humor can be a useful tool in marketing -it can catch someone’s attention and it can also “break the ice” (American expression meaning to get passed the uncomfortable feelings of being introduced for the first time). You may always just want to run your humor idea by an American before using it in your marketing.

The Best Marketing Tools Generate Qualified Leads

I recommend judging most marketing options based on their ability to both generate qualified sales leads and also to work symbiotically with the rest of the marketing program. The American market offers many marketing options, including distributors and representatives, trade shows, direct mail, email, sponsorships of key non-profit organizations, social media, promotions, events, and yes, even advertising.


I hope this article was helpful.

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park


Read more articles on American Market Entry from The International Entrepreneur site.


The International Entrepreneur – How to Make American Business Contacts

For those business professionals wanting to expand into the American market, I offer the following advice for making and keeping American business contacts:

Contact Americans Directly

Unlike in many cultures were formal introductions must be made, Americans need no middle person. If there is a person you would like to meet, you can:

  • Introduce yourself in person at a trade show or other event
  • Call the person on the phone. It is best to plan out ahead of time what you plan to say who you are the reason for your call.
  • Email the person, again with an explanation of who you are and the reason for your contact.
  • Social Media – you can tweet or Linkedin message a person you wish to contact.

One note about introductions – if you do have a mutual connection with the person you want to meet, a well-placed introduction could increase your importance in the eyes of your new American acquaintance. But this depends on how highly the American regards this mutual friend.

Skip Directly to the Intended Benefits

In American business, time equals money. If you have an idea of how your relationship with this person would be mutually beneficial, you will want to state these benefits at the start of your conversation. This is especially true if there are direct financial benefits you think are possible. For instance, if you are interested in a marketing partnership where you could market the American’s products in your home market and the American could do the same for you in the American market, then talk about the market potential and expected revenue generation in both countries. Nothing gets an American business person’s attention faster than talking about financial opportunities.

Make Progress towards an Agreement

Americans feel more comfortable with a business relationship that is progressing quickly. If momentum slows down, an American will often assume that the relationship is not going to happen because one or more of the sides is losing interest. If you feel that the Americans are losing interest for any reason, I would recommend asking openly if something is wrong. If there are reasons why the American is hesitant to finish formalizing a relationship, then look at each issue to see if it is a “deal breaker” or if it can be overcome. Never feel like you need to solve all of the issues and take on a larger share of burden to satisfy your American counterpart. You can always appeal to the American sense of “fairness” in working through issues.

The Americans are serious about creating a business relationship when there is a drafted legal agreement that is specific to your relationship (not just a template agreement). Legal agreements are taken very seriously in American business. Before you ever sign an American agreement, be sure to have an American business transactions lawyer from that specific state look through your agreement and explain the implications of the legal terms. The American legal courts will follow that agreement later if there is a dispute.

I hope this helps to guide you as you make American business contacts. If you need further assistance in entering the American market, please contact me. Also, I have written additional articles for those wanting to enter the American market:

The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on the United States

The International Entrepreneur: Variations in the American Business Culture

The International Entrepreneur: The American Obsession with Financial Reporting

The International Entrepreneur – How to Work with an American Employee

The International Entrepreneur: Think you know American values?

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park

The International Entrepreneur – Cultural Tips on the United States by Becky Park

This week, I am featuring my home business culture, the United States.

What do you see as unique cultural characteristics of Americans that comes out in the United States’ business culture?

There are many cultural characteristics that color American business. First, Americans are the most individualistic culture on the planet. In business, this surfaces when Americans seek individual achievement instead of group success. Individuals are responsible for their own actions, including how we evaluate an employee’s job performance (Management by Objectives). Second, Americans have a special relationship with time. Most of the world views
Americans as very rushed in all activities, including closing sales. This view of time causes Americans to seem highly directed and single-minded. And third, Americans extend trust to others early in a relationship and then typically watch to see if that trust is well-placed. Most other cultures are slower to trust, but then continue to trust long-term. The risk with an American is to lose their trust. It is hard to regain once lost.

What are the United States’ most competitive industries in world markets?

There are a lot of different ways to measure, but from my perspective I would say aerospace/defense, high tech (software, bioscience, alternative energy, etc.), professional services (finance, accounting, legal, etc.) and higher education. Now that said, competition in all of these industries is growing stronger. Without government support I fear that the US may continue to comparatively drop in some of these fields.

What’s the best way to find potential American business contacts?

American businesspeople are often approachable in a variety of settings. I suggest going to in-country industry trade shows, if possible. In this environment, businesspeople are looking for new contacts and meetings are easily arranged. Unlike in many business cultures, Americans do not require an introduction from a trusted source. In fact, many business relationships are forged after one party contacts the other after finding them in an Internet search. If you do this, make sure to include information about who you are and why you are contacting this person. Introductions can also be made through your country’s official consulate or trade organization with an office in that location.

What do you wish people knew about doing business in the United States before they arrive in country?

I wish that people understood how diverse we are as a people. There is not one business culture, but many. I find that especially Africans and Middle Easterners expect that all Americans live a lavish lifestyle with many servants and lots of disposable income. In fact, only a very small fraction of Americans have employed servants. And while Americans may proportionately have more disposable income than many other populations that does not mean that they spend it in similar patterns to especially Africans and Asians.

Lastly, American business expects a larger than normal amount of record keeping, especially of financial data. This means that Americans also expect foreign partners to track similar information and be able to provide that information in reports.

From your perspective, what’s the business climate like for entrepreneurs (supportive vs. unsupported, culturally accepted profession vs. not accepted, etc.)?

American flag

Image via Wikipedia

The United States has a relatively friendly and open business climate towards entrepreneurship. There are many university, government and non-profit programs supporting entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship is particularly prevalent in population segments that traditionally have had a difficult time getting fair treatment in more established companies (women, minorities, etc.). Americans tend to idolize highly successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Meg Whitman. While the American government is trying to figure the best ways to encourage and support entrepreneurship, it often has policies that inhibit it. Countries like Israel have government programs which are much more effective.

The Cultural Tips Series has now been to Israel, Uruguay and the United States. Where would you like us to explore next? Please comment and let me know!

Onward and Upward,

Becky Park

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The International Entrepreneur: Think you know American values?

American culture values doing business internationalLike most of my readers, my business focus is on the world. As an American doing business internationally, I see my fellow countrymen sometimes make assumptions about other business cultures and fall flat in business relationships. The American cultural traits listed below all have implications for Americans doing business abroad.

The world keeps changing, but I think it is important to note that cultural values tend to remain steadfast over time. The United States does not have a long cultural history compared with cultures like in China or India. But its cultural characteristics have been present since before the American Revolution. These traits may be applied in new ways to work within our changing environment, but understanding them gives key insights into how Americans approach business.

Caveat: These are culture generalizations and all traits to not necessarily apply to all Americans in all situations. They may be more or less pronounced in specific regions of the country.

Mainstream American Cultural Traits

1. A high value on “Material well-being”.Anyone traveling through one of the American suburbs can see this cultural trait in action. In its more extreme form, it is materialism. While some cultures share this trait, there are many cultures that rank this as a lower priority. Americans are often willing to sacrifice leisure time for work time, meanwhile all of France goes on vacation in August.

2. 2-fold judgment based on principle. Americans often look for the simple answer to complicated questions. This may be a reason why American businesspeople conduct business so quickly. We don’t always spend the time to understand the fuller context of a situation. Most international situations are nuanced and complex because of culture, business environment and customer preferences. We jump in based on a quick decision we’ve made about a potential partner or an opportunity. It is much more difficult getting out of sticky situations when we are wrong. This cultural trait explains a lot about American politics too. But that is a whole different subject.

3. Tendency of moralizing.In the American culture, we often judge based what is perceived as morally right or wrong without first understanding the context of a situation. For those wishing to do business with Americans, it may help to explain a situation when Americans throw down their opinion prematurely. For Americans, this means ask questions about a situation to understand context & don’t verbalize your conclusions.

4. Distinction between “work” and “play”. Americans do not usually socialize with colleagues and clients as much as in countries like Japan. In Latin America this distinction is blurred too. As Americans doing business abroad, you may be expected to be on call after work if the local culture expects it. For those doing business in the U.S., while there may be occasional dining together, do not expect that your American hosts will always see to your schedule outside of normal work hours. Also, do not necessarily expect to meet an American colleague’s family or friends.

5. Special attitude towards time. Americans focus on “Time Management” the ability to carefully plan our time in order to produce the right outcomes. A common expression in American business is: “Time is money.” The emphasis is on completing the task, the sales transaction, the hiring of new staff, etc. as quickly as possible. For Americans, please understand that the rest of the world knows about this trait and frequently uses it against us. That long, drawn-out negotiation in Thailand may actually be stretched out to encourage Americans to give more concessions. Americans, don’t share your actual timeline with international contacts. For those doing business with Americans, understand that when you feel Americans getting impatient with your long story, it may be time to make your point and move on to the next task or topic.

6. High value on Individual Efforts and Optimism. The American culture is supposed to be a meritocracy people’s fortunes rising and falling based on their individual efforts. This fuels the famous “American Dream” where anyone is supposed to be able to succeed with enough hard work. Americans want to be judged on their efforts, instead on the basis of their family name, socio-economic class, race, age, or gender. At work, we want to be compensated based on their efforts and results relative to their peers.

7. High value on Individualism and Individual Freedom. As Americans, we often focus on the “I” before the “we”. Others may see us sometimes as selfish and disconnected from the group dynamic. We need to be mindful of group context in order to be most effective internationally. When doing business with Americans, it is helpful to know that when the American decides to leave the group early to go do something they prefer, it is not necessarily considered rude in our culture.

8. When it’s man vs. nature, man wins. As Americans, we feel that we should have control over our physical environment. We can design structures to withstand most natural disasters. With medical procedures, we hope to avoid death. This trait also plays a role in some American’s view of Global Warming and our desire to find technologies that allow us to continue current energy usage with less environmental consequence.

9. Avoid uncertainty through legal process (courts, contracts, etc.) and goal setting. For Americans, a legal system should protect individual and business rights. Once someone signs a contract, they are legally obligated to follow its provisions. The contract serves as the foundation of most business relationships. In contrast, for many cultures a contract is not legally enforceable. The business is based on the relationship forged with individuals or enforceable by having friends in power. While such a foundation is much more flexible over time, it is difficult for many American businesspeople to adjust to relationships being more important than contracts.

10. Egalitarianism and Fairness. This value is part of the work environment as access to opportunity. While Americans have a wide range of socio-economic status, we at least try to give equal access for those with talent and drive to success in business. Women now get most of the same opportunities as men. Young people can lead older colleagues if they have the right skills. As a culture, Americans don’t like what they perceive as being unfair. Other cultures may feel that there is no way to be completely egalitarian, so there is little point in trying.

11. Importance of “belonging” – membership. While I believe that more “group-oriented” cultures stress “belonging” more than Americans do, I think Americans associate with others based on shared values. This could be by religious affiliation, hobby or interest, shared education, a passion for a cause, etc. Examples include: Methodists, Harley bikers and those raising funds for cancer research. The important aspect is that Americans decide for themselves what groups with whom they affiliate.

12. Humanitarianism and generosity. Americans are not the only culture to emphasize individual generosity and humanitarian traits. But we do expect that people and companies take social responsibility for issues around them. As an American, realize that not every culture expects similar actions. As someone doing business with Americans, consider contributing to or at least acknowledging a cause championed by the American company.

13. Nationalistic and patriotic. Again, Americans are not the only culture with this characteristic. But Americans need to be mindful that with our country’s relative size and might. Overt nationalism needs to be toned down in the international business environment or be perceived as arrogant and ignorant. And anyone still convinced of America’s exceptionalism should do their homework (education, healthcare, economic opportunities, best countries to do business, etc.) and join the 21st Century.

14.Religiosity (very religious). Religion does play a significant role in many Americans’ lives. It can provide structure for “belonging” to a same-values group. A religious organization often provides ways for its members to donate money and time to help others. Generally, it is wise for those doing business in the U.S. to avoid the topic of religion all together.

(Source of the original cultural trait list: Cross-Cultural Management by Dr. Kang-Rae Cho at the University of Colorado Denver)

I hope you found this article helpful as a perspective on doing business culturally as an American or as someone wishing to do business in the United States.Best of success to you in all of your international business dealings,

Onwards and Upwards,

Becky Park