If you are in the process of expanding your business to the USA, you most likely conducted some research and/or discussed with your professional network about the various service providers you will need to hire to make it a success. Good job!
Now, let’s make sure that your checklist is accurate. And more importantly, let’s make sure that you understand why and when you need some specific expertise and “sherpas” at your side should you aim for a smooth landing in the USA.
In this article, we list the 10 types of business sherpas that will help you prepare, manage, and improve your business activities in the USA. Of course, feel free to contact us and to request introductions to such sherpas: we’ll make sure that they match your expansion project’s specifics.
In the USA, lawyers usually focus on their specialties whether it is corporate law, intellectual property, immigration, labor laws, or customs laws. Leading law firms often offer a comprehensive range of expertise, but they are hardly ever the best fit for SMBs expanding to the USA as they are costly and less flexible than boutique firms.
You need to find a good match for your specific project: affordable lawyers who have experience working on cross-border matters, who will be reactive and available on demand, who will be able to handle sophisticated topics, and who will help you make strategic decisions as you grow. Smaller, boutique law firms will also provide top-notch expertise in specific industries (fintech, medical, food & beverage, manufacturing, etc.).
You need to onboard lawyers during the very early stages of your expansion project.
The corporate lawyer will help you with commercial agreements, the creation of the entity, employer-employee agreements, and negotiations with business partners
The IP lawyer will help you with the trademark registration, copyrights, and patents
The immigration lawyer will help you with visas and work permits
The customs lawyer will assist you in understanding and complying with the intricate Federal regulations governing international trade (e.g. U.S. customs laws, FDA laws, import regulations, export compliance, etc.).
2. Registered agent
Each U.S. state in which you registered to do business requires that you provide a designated contact person, the “registered agent” with a local, physical address. You must have a registered agent as soon as you have created your U.S. entity and start field business activities on the U.S. territory.
The registered agent is usually a 3rd-party company and is responsible for receiving service of process notices, correspondence from the Secretary of State, and other official government notifications (usually tax forms and notices of lawsuits) on behalf of your company. The registered agent also assists you should you want to register your company in other states (qualification to do business).
The registered agent receives legal notices and administrative documents from the various states on your company’s behalf and will directly forward you all the paperwork. A good sales agent should of course provide you with clear guidance for processing these documents.
3. Sales support
No matter how much progress you already made so far in generating leads or even contracting with U.S. clients, you are facing fierce competition and you need to grow fast to hit the profitability threshold. Getting help from a U.S. sales agent will give your company the opportunity to leverage an existing business network in your target market. However, as it might be difficult to find a sales agent and/or secure a reasonable agreement [See Working with a Sales Agent in the USA], you should consider outsourcing part of your lead generation efforts. Not only will it save you precious time that you can then dedicate on closing deals, but it will also help you show an American “face” from the very first interaction with your targets and thus increase your conversion rate.
In any case, someone in your team – or yourself – will have to be involved in the selling process. U.S. leads usually expect to discuss with the company’s top executives quite soon in the process. It helps them gauge the viability of a potential collaboration, especially as you will be considered as a “foreign” company and a newborn baby on the U.S. market.
The U.S. sales agent will perform selling and representation activities on your behalf along with leveraging an existing business network and providing valuable insights on your industry.
The lead generation provider will alleviate the legwork consisting in reaching out to your target audience to secure meetings and demos. Its scope should also include market intelligence as insights are gathered from preliminary interactions with prospects. You can thus focus on closing deals.
One main contact person (sales director, CEO, etc.) must be appointed at your company and will be used to build trust with leads, coordinate sales agents and outsourced lead generation services, and structure all market insights to improve your solution and adjust your strategy.
4. U.S. bank
When your U.S. clients process international wires to your bank in your home country, they usually pay between $35 and $65 bank fees per transaction. Therefore, U.S. companies often ask foreign vendors/suppliers to open a U.S. bank account… which you cannot do until you create a U.S. entity of course! Be careful as you select a U.S. bank: you may waste a lot of time if you try to open an account at one of the major U.S. banks [See Opening a Bank Account in the USA: Process].
The U.S. bank will help you receive payments from U.S. clients as well as manage your U.S. operations and pay taxes.
5. Insurance broker
As soon as you start selling to U.S. clients, you must enroll into a calibrated insurance program that will cover your liabilities. The first step is to discuss your U.S. expansion project with your insurance company back home and to check the extent of your current coverage: will you be safe on the U.S. front? Quite often, insurance companies that provide worldwide coverage exclude the U.S. market, or significantly limit their coverage for this territory.
In that case, you need to work with a licensed U.S. insurance broker that will guide you through the application process with insurance companies. Indeed, insurance companies in the USA do not deal directly with their clients. Good brokers usually spend time with you to dig into your business model and expansion plan: the objective is to assess your immediate exposure and to anticipate future needs.
The insurance broker helps you adjust your current coverage based on the U.S. market’s specifics, your business model, and your growth forecast for the next 24 to 26 months. He negotiates the insurance coverage with insurance companies on your behalf.
6. CPA (Certified Public Accountant)
The CPA is a tax expert. Tax regulations in the USA are very complicated and you will have to navigate multiple layers of taxation at the international, federal, state, county, and city levels. You therefore need to discuss with a CPA during the very early stages of your U.S. expansion to make sure that you identify all tax obligations that apply to your business model and to get organized to properly handle the various tax filings and payments. [See How to Build a Tax Calendar for Your U.S. Entity]
The CPA will help you understand your tax obligations in the USA and will prepare, sign, and file the corporate tax return for the U.S. tax administration.
7. Go-to-market strategy consultant
It is not unusual to see companies expanding to the USA overlook a necessary step: building a robust marketing strategy. Very often, these companies expect that their initial success at closing specific deals will naturally generate sustainable and profitable growth, they tend to believe that marketing consultants are a waste of money compared to field sales initiatives, and / or they hold their nose so hard to the grindstone that they forget about the necessity to step back and think about what they are doing from a strategic perspective. As a result, they realize after 1 or 2 years in the USA that they are stuck: sales are stagnating and most of the budget has already been spent (in activities such as recruiting, tradeshows, sales outreach, PR, etc.).
Save time, money, and energy. More importantly, give yourself the means of securing ROI in the long run. Affordable, yet calibrated consulting companies do exist in the USA, and many of them do provide expertise in your specific industry (manufacturing, food, software, biotech, medtech, etc.). A good go-to-market strategy will go beyond identifying low-hanging fruits for your company: it will identify and select profitable and sustainable growth pockets, with volumes and margins in mind, and it will determine and prioritize marketing and sales initiatives based on anticipated ROI.
The go-to-market consultant will work with your sales and marketing team to build a ROI-centric, strategic plan to enter the U.S. market: growth pockets, positioning, inbound and outbound initiatives, as well as needed resources (budget, people, timeline).
8. If you have employees: outsourced payroll & benefits provider
If you plan to hire employees for your U.S. entity, you will have to comply with the various labor and tax laws that govern the job market at the federal, state, and city levels. Since the regulatory landscape is quite complicated in the USA, most U.S. companies outsource their payroll processing and have specialists (“payroll providers”) complete the various reports, filings, and payments to the tax and social administrations on their behalf. [See Outsourcing Your Payroll in the USA]
Also, the competition to hire talents is so intense in the USA that you will have to implement benefits packages (health insurance, vacation policy, retirement plan, etc.) to attract employees, even if such benefits are not mandatory for companies that count less than 30 employees. Employees benefits is another complex topic that confuses foreign entrepreneurs, and it is recommended to hire a “benefits provider” to make sense out of it and to prevent discrimination.
The payroll provider will withdraw funds directly from your bank account and pay all the tax & social administrations at the federal, state, and local levels along with providing them with the required documentation. In addition, the payroll provider will be in charge of paying your employees’ salaries along with issuing paystubs and other mandatory documents.
The benefits provider will assist you in selecting, implementing, and maintaining the health insurance plan you will offer to your employees, as well as the retirement plan, the vacation policy, and other benefits (commuter plans, life insurance, etc.).
9. If you have employees: coworking space or real estate broker
Now that you are all set with your payroll & benefits providers, you need to find a workplace for your employees. Many companies opt for a coworking space for it is a flexible and affordable solution. Moreover, options are legion in most U.S. cities: you can even decide between different work environments, rental programs, neighborhoods, perks, etc.
For some reasons related to your U.S. project, a coworking space might not be the best solution. In that case, a real estate broker may be necessary to find the exact space you need according to your criteria and constraints. Some brokers will also be able to help you relocate if you plan to move to the USA (you may even get support to find good schools for your kids!).
The coworking space is an option should you want an affordable and flexible space to accommodate employees, visiting clients, or visiting executives from the HQ.
The real estate broker will help you target the right office and neighborhood as well as build your application, should you be ready to sign a lease. Brokers are usually paid by landlords, so the service is free of charge for you!
10. If you sell products: 3rd party logistics (3PL) and customs broker
If you plan to sell products to U.S. clients, you will most likely be responsible for shipping them to your clients’ doors. As your clients might have offices and warehouses in different states, you need to know about the freight companies that are licensed to do business in these states… and maybe Fedex or UPS will trim margins. To ease the process, companies usually work with a specialist such as a 3PL that will also deal with the U.S. customs’ requirements. If for some reasons, the 3PL does not manage the communications with the U.S. customs, you will have to hire a customs broker to deal with U.S. authorities on your behalf.
Working with a foreign 3PL that has operations in the USA is a great asset for your entire logistics chain: no need to start from scratch, and you do have one trusted partner for all your business activities.
The 3rd party logistics (3PM) will help you manage all U.S. operations from American borders to clients’ locations, including products receiving, pick & pack operations, as well as domestic transportation.
The customs broker will help you prepare all the documentation that is required by U.S. customs to release your products at the border. The broker’s role also consists in assisting you with handling any additional requests or investigations from the U.S. authorities.
NEED HELP TO FIND CALIBRATED SHERPAS?
One size does not fit all. Contact us so we can prioritize and plan each step of your U.S. expansion, introduce you to the right experts, and assist you in coordinating them for your specific project!
Disclaimer: The materials provided in this US Toolbox are for general information purposes only and are not intended to constitute comprehensive or specific legal, accounting, tax, marketing, or other advice. These materials may not reflect recent developments in the law, may not be complete, and may not pertain to your specific situation and circumstances.TradeSherpa, Inc. assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions in the materials, or for any losses that may arise from reliance upon the information contained these materials. Because these materials are intended to provide only general advice, specific advice should be taken from qualified professionals when dealing with specific situations and circumstances.