‘Two great nations divided by a common language’ is a much used and highly appropriate phrase which reinforces how the Americans use of English differs dramatically from our own.
America is the UK’s number one export partner. We have, in the main, enjoyed and shared a long history with each other, a common tongue and similar lifestyles. However there are core differences linguistically – not least with spelling, culturally and legislatively which can raise potential issues for UK businesses who export to the USA.
UK companies approaching the US market need to immerse themselves and make sure they don't make the assumption that undermines so many - that the US is the UK with a different accent. Don't make the assumption that the language is the same, which it's not, or that there's still British DNA left, which there's not.
Understanding these differences 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 and so 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 can make life very complicated.
3. Understand the legalities of each of the different states you export to – you are not dealing with one nation as a legal entity and state laws can vary dramatically – impacting on key areas such as Intellectual Property and disputes.
4. Remember, the clock is king: be on time for meetings and treat deadlines seriously. For Americans, neatness and attention to detail are important, so make sure you dress appropriately and, if necessary, ask what the dress code for the day is.
5. 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 will impact on your final profit figures.
6. 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.
7. Connected with the above, Americans do not always get irony! As a nation we use this style of communication and humour, but it is often difficult and confusing for some countries, including America, to understand.
8. From a marketing perspective, recognise that this vast country has many different regional characteristics, so be prepared to modify your collateral accordingly.
9. Americans develop relationships through business, but the business comes first. However, that doesn't mean that relationships aren't important. You should treat everyone - whatever their rank or age - as an equal and you shouldn't be surprised if, after only a brief introduction, you are addressed by your first name.
10. 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 – with 76% of the adult US population identifying themselves as Christians.
11. 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 can have an impact on your margins.
12. Give plenty of notice to your US counterparts regarding your 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.
13. Americans use outside advisers as a regular part of their business lives, so, if lawyers or consultants are included in a meeting, don't be offended or anxious.
14. US markets are extremely keen on intellectual property, far more than they are over here and you will find a lot of people who you are going to do business with will ask much more searching questions about people's trademarks, patents and design rights than they would over here.
15. Don't be surprised if you are asked to describe your market entry plan, your training plan, your plan to increase revenue, or even where you plan to go on holiday. The assumption is always that you will have a plan. However, despite this emphasis on planning, Americans can often seem to make decisions on impulse, and, in their rush to get things done, will decide quickly and worry about the consequences later.
A final piece of advice is to go for the US market wholeheartedly. The Americans are passionate and enthusiastic about business and expect the same from people they are dealing with.