Many businesses explore the US when they’re scaling internationally – and with good reason. Firstly, the US is the world’s largest economy and has a lucrative market for international businesses to tap into. The tech landscape in the US is also more geared towards risk-taking and has greater access to funding through a much larger pool of investors.
Conventional scaling wisdom says that you need to establish a physical presence in the US. Key members of the leadership team should relocate there. People need to be employed. That may be the case for B2B businesses where meeting in person is important, but for B2C we have proven out another, easier way.
For TrustedHousesitters, based in Brighton, UK, and staffed by Europeans, expanding into the US market hasn’t come without its challenges, principally: allocating scarce resources towards making the expansion a success, acknowledging and understanding the cultural differences and taking a US- first approach.
Fast-forward 12 years, TrustedHousesitters has its biggest customer base in the US – now representing about 45% of total global revenue, having achieved 81% business growth in the last 12 months.
Every business will find its own journey towards mastering international expansion, but based on leading TrustedHousesitters’, here’s my five-point plan for scaling in the US without directly employing a single person.
1. Become ‘US-first’
It starts with laying out your ambition and plan. We set out very clearly our objective of “US-first growth” and closely monitor our delivery against this. Our marketing is built on a US-first mindset, and our language includes American language nuances. For example, while the UK refers to ‘pet owners’, Americans typically say ‘pet parents’ – these cultural differences are important to pick up and replicate in any collateral.
2. Build an agency network and localise essential tasks
Find and retain professionals who are going to support you in your key activities, such as content marketeers, customer relations, who can do this without you needing to be there, after training and bedding them in. They’re your feet on the ground, feeding back insights and “doing the doing”. For example, we recently contracted a Canadian customer service team in the region to ensure we can provide 24/7 care to our customers based there.
3. Pick your key regions, it’s a big place
If California was a country, it would be almost two times greater than the UK – you really can’t expect to take on the whole of the US from the start! Spend time on research to find out where your biggest market will be. For us, it was the West coast which we settled on by sifting through large volumes of data to see which areas we were getting traction in. Then the next step is to be very targeted in your approach. There is time to add other markets down the line, rather than stretching yourself too thin from the off!
4. Bring somebody with US expertise onto your Board
Supplement your leadership team with someone that has the specific market knowledge that can help you plug the knowledge gaps. It also shows those in the region how seriously the company takes understanding the area and its nuances, alongside the regional networking opportunities they bring.
5. Build customer advocacy
When you get your first US customers, make them count by making them advocates and enlisting them to spread the word. For example, we have a community ambassador programme where our customers market our business on our behalf and run events. Communication is key here, ensuring regular relevant content is available across channels, even for those who aren’t part of an ambassador programme.
For our business, these five steps helped to find our feet in a new – and often overwhelming – market without a physical presence.
Mathew Prior is CEO of TrustedHousesitters, a pet-sitting platform.