Marieke Witjes

Making the American dream work: 5 considerations for expanding to the USA.

Making the American dream work: 5 considerations for expanding to the USA.
Marieke Witjes

Marieke Witjes

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Thinking about expanding to the US? With a vast market and potential for growth, the US can be an incredibly attractive new region, but as always there are some things to think long and hard about before taking the plunge across the pond.

Think your company is ready for the jump?

Start dipping your toes in the water with a few of our lessons learned before you say ‘Howdy!’ to the American market.


1. There are as many market differences as there are similarities, you just need to know where to look. 

Expanding your business to the US often comes with sticker shock. Let's break it down: in Europe, you've got high input costs but high efficiency; in Africa, costs are lower but so is efficiency. But in the US? Brace yourself. Input costs can be sky-high, from labor to rent to utilities. And it doesn't stop there. Complex value chains, middlemen galore, and sneaky fees add up fast.

Navigating this mammoth market can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. That's where consultants and brokers swoop in, offering to be your guide—for a price. While their expertise can be invaluable, it's an added expense many European entrepreneurs struggle to swallow. Take importing goods, for example. Customs and duties can be a minefield, and without a customs broker, you may be inadvertently making things harder on yourself.

Knowing when to go in it alone and when to call in the experts is key. And don't forget to pad your budget—unforeseen costs are par for the course in the US.


2. In the US, the saying “it's not just what you know—it's who you know.” is at next level. 

Picture it like a tangled spider web: without the right connections, you might get yourself stuck. Building and leveraging relationships is the name of the game. These connections act as your guide through – what can sometimes feel like - the maze of the American business landscape.

Why reinvent the wheel? Understanding the lay of the land and tapping into existing networks can turbocharge your entry. It's not just about the relationships themselves; it's the referrals they bring to the table. In the world of brokers, each player has their specialty, and knowing who's who can give you a leg up. 

It's not just about who you know—it's about how fast you can navigate the maze, and how much value you can soak up from weaving it.


3. The US market is a behemoth — Start small to think big.

Picture this: nearly half of the global market resides right here. Even capturing a fraction of it can spell mega success, fueling expansion worldwide. But don't be fooled by the potential—navigating this market requires precision. 

Sure, you could throw your product or service into the mix and hope for the best. But strategic planning pays off in spades. Here's why: it allows you to learn, refine, and avoid catastrophic missteps that could cost you dearly. Think of it as risk management on steroids.

So, how do you do it? Start by identifying your product-market fit. Then, zoom in on a sub-market—whether it's geographical or otherwise—and craft a roadmap. But here's the kicker: stay flexible. The beauty of a roadmap lies in its adaptability. Shift gears as needed, capitalizing on opportunities as they arise.

Think of it as building your brand one tier at a time. Focus on tier 1 before expanding to tier 2, leveraging your successes to fuel further growth. With the right strategy in place, conquering the US market becomes a manageable—and immensely rewarding—endeavor.


4. The price needs to be just right.

Pricing is a delicate balancing act—one that can make or break your success in the US market. Here's the lowdown: while underpricing is a common pitfall among European players, overpricing can be just as detrimental. With the hefty expenses of doing business in the US, it's crucial to price your product right from the get-go.

Understanding market dynamics and homing in on your brand's positioning is key. Americans are savvy consumers who appreciate both value and quality. In some cases, price serves as a proxy for quality. What might seem like a competitive price in Europe could come across as cheap across the pond.

The bottom line? Be strategic. Take the time to understand your buyers, your competition, and the nuances of pricing in your industry. By striking the right balance, you'll set yourself up for success while keeping your costs and margins in check.


5. Customers want to know your brand.

In the vast and intricate landscape of the US market, credibility reigns supreme. Buyers are on the hunt for reassurance: How do they know a product is trustworthy? Who else has vouched for it?

American consumers are no exception—they demand confidence in their purchases. This means showcasing a track record of quality, forging partnerships with reputable entities, and providing customer references. Moreover, leveraging existing relationships can be a game-changer. 

In essence, credibility is your currency in the US market. Ignoring its importance could mean missing out on a wealth of potential.


Final note

Opportunity abounds in the US market, spanning both established and emerging sectors. If you've got a high-quality product, unique design, or innovative offering, this market is ripe for the taking. But here's the catch: success requires investment—investment in research, planning, and execution.

Partner with the right people who can support your company to navigate this territory successfully, price your product accordingly and establish credibility in the market. And the growth opportunity is endless.

About the author

Marieke Witjes is a strategy and transformation professional based in New York City. She recently joined Egon Zehnder as a consultant; before, Marieke was a Sweav member and worked for almost 13 years at Kearney, across different global offices. In 2023 she founded MW Strategy focusing on US market entry, helping companies map out the landscape, understand their market and build a tangible go-to-market strategy and roadmap.

Marieke Witjes

Marieke Witjes

Strategy and transformation professional

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