ADVICE: How to successfully expand your business to the USA

Many entrepreneurs and startups have international business expansion on their list of dreams and goals, but not many are able to make the leap successfully. One of the most renowned Australian stories of boom and bust when expanding to the US is of Shoes of Prey, which was reportedly preparing to become worth $100 million in revenue, and then suddenly ceased trading, much to the surprise of the retail and corporate industries.

Trena Blair, CEO of FD Global Connections, specialises in consulting Australian businesses on expanding into North America. In this interview, she shares the common misconceptions, watch-outs, and hurdles of expanding into this competitive market, and how entrepreneurs can succeed.

  • As an expert in helping Australian startups and businesses expand into the US, what are some of the most common misconceptions you work with business leaders to overcome during this process?

There are 3 misconceptions (and the response):

1. Launching in the USA is easy!  

The complexity of the USA market is not well understood; every State is different in terms of tax, legislation, culture, language (written and spoken) and business protocols.

2. Business leaders can launch without expert advice

Those businesses which are successful in the USA have had expert advisors working with them. The best analogy is sailing – you can’t sail from A-B without an experienced navigator and it’s the same with expanding globally. You shouldn’t launch into any global market without having an expert navigator advising you of the steps you need to take to achieve your result.

3. Winning contracts is easy! 

Often businesses feel excited by the positive reception they receive at early sales meetings in the USA. Statements such as prospects are “ready to sign” are common! Businesses struggle when they return to Australia with follow-up emails and phone calls not being returned.

However, what businesses experienced during their trips was the positive, encouraging culture for innovation which exists in the USA. Australian businesses don’t appreciate this is the reception which every business receives when they pitch to USA!

What USA prospects are looking for is a local representative for the business – not somebody who plans to return in 4-6 weeks. So, winning contracts takes time, effort, budget and an existing network – it isn’t that easy!

  • What is the hardest part of expanding into the US, and how do you navigate these challenges with business leaders?

For the majority of Australian business leaders, and especially those who have not lived and worked in the USA, the hardest part is building the required network. Businesses initially “fly-in-fly-out”, which will work for approximately 6 months, but then networks and sales pipelines start to dwindle.

What business leaders require is an expert who has an existing network and who can act as their navigator and local representative. This is one of the reasons FD Global Connections now offers “Growth Runway”, where we virtually connect our clients to our USA based growth business partners who have a local network and resources to represent Australian businesses.

  • International expansion typically involves some kind of business plan. Even for business plans that allow for a certain level of potential changes or market disruption, many businesses are completely throwing those plans out the window in the current times of complete uncertainty. How do you recommend entrepreneurs and business leaders approach ‘planning’ in 2020?

I’ve recently held a webinar on this very topic!

In this webinar, I talk about Managing Business Risk across 5 key areas – Strategic Risk, Financial Risk, Operational Risk, Employee Risk, and Reputational Risk.

Whilst traditional business plans have been completely disrupted, those businesses which review their businesses across each of these 5 areas and have plans attached to each of these are more likely to be successful through 2020. Using this framework also gives business leaders a sense that they are taking back some control – something which we have all felt has been lost given the chaos surrounding each aspect of our lives with COVID-19.

  • What’s a process you recommend entrepreneurs follow when assessing how to scale their business internationally? 

FD Global Connections has spent many years fine-tuning a unique methodology to assess whether businesses are ready to scale globally. Our 10 step framework is rigorous – and always highlights areas for businesses to focus, as well as areas of strength.

When we are asked to conduct the assessment, we find that there are often areas that businesses don’t consider, but which are vitally important such as supplier capacity or inventory management systems. Simple areas such as website domain or local currency pricing are also typical areas businesses fail to have ready.  

  • What has been one of your biggest mistakes when launching a business into the US, what did you learn from that and how has it shaped the way you do business today?

A mistake I made when I first started my business in 2014, was relying on a local professional service firm to advise me on an important USA regulatory issue. At the time, my budget was limited so I didn’t think I could afford to engage a USA based professional service firm, but the result was it cost me significantly more than it should have. The advice I give all of my clients is to spend the extra amount to get the right advice from USA qualified experts the first time!


About the expert

Ms.Trena Blair is an expert in expanding business from Australia into the USA, with New York as their market entry point.” (Forbes, 2018). Ms. Blair is a highly accomplished presenter, global businesswoman and professional speaker who effortlessly transverses Corporate and Entrepreneurial communities Transcontinental. A global citizen, Ms. Blair has lived and worked in Australia and the USA during her 20+ year corporate executive career.

In 2014, Ms. Blair founded and is CEO of FD Global Connections, working with Businesses, Government and Universities to create and deliver unique programs to access the USA. FD Global specialises in developing International Go-to-Market strategies to positively influence the high failure rate of global expansion. FD Global also offers a digital service (“Growth Runway”) to access Interim Professionals in USA, Singapore/S.E.Asia and UK/EMEA allowing Australian businesses to have in-market Sales/Business Development representation. Ms Blair has been featured on Television and across Media for her innovative initiatives to showcase Australian innovation.

As well as CEO, Ms. Blair is a qualified Non-Executive Director, serving on the Boards of Bartier Perry and Trade Advisory Boards of AMCHAM and Minnow Designs. She has previously served as Non-Executive Director for Ability Options (not-for-profit) and the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.