Expanding your Company's Horizons
Doing Business in the USA
While the American economy and its stand in the global market may not be as strong as it once was, the U.S. is still considered an economic powerhouse, and breaking into the U.S. market is still a top priority of businesses around the world. The American way of doing business is based on a very particular work ethic, one that you’ll need to know when heading to the U.S. to conduct business. One well-worn phrase drives much of the way that business is done in the U.S.: Time is money. It sounds simple, and on one level it is, but the way in which this mantra affects American business is layered. To understand more, keep reading:
Points worth understanding
- Americans like to get business done quickly. The more time a deal takes to close, the more wasted money they regard it as costing them. Americans like to get things done, and then get on to the next opportunity.
- American culture puts the individual at the forefront over the group, and encourages independence. As a result, a person’s rank in a business will generally not be based on age and years spent at a company, but on skill and accomplishments.
- Americans regard straightforward thinking as valuable. Expect your U.S. counterparts to be direct in their communications and quite linear in their expectations.
- Americans focus more on the business at hand than on developing a personal relationship with business partners. This is not to say, however, that they aren’t friendly and inviting.
- The belief that everyone should be treated equally runs deep in U.S. culture. This is why most people use first names instead of titles. When meeting someone for the first time, however, it is better to use a title and/or last name first, until the person invites you to call them by their first name.
- Being punctual reflects positively on your character with Americans. Arriving late to a meeting, especially a first meeting, may create a negative impression of you and your company.
- As seniority in the U.S. workplace is connected to achievement and not age, you may find younger employees supervising older ones. Make sure you know who the highest-ranking staff member is in the room before a meeting.
- Some small talk may happen before or after a meeting. Stick to neutral topics like weather or sports.
- Americans often handle their own and other people’s business cards casually. It’s not uncommon that an exchanged business card goes straight into a wallet.
- Meetings in the U.S. may have a relaxed atmosphere, but don’t mistake this for a lack of seriousness.
- Americans prefer statistics and data, so support your business proposal with facts.
- Americans are comfortable debating and will not think twice about saying no if they do not agree with something. Don’t take offense at their directness.
- Most meetings will end with an agenda of action steps to be taken.
- For the most part, business negotiations have the goal of a signed contract. Everything in your dealings will be about moving toward this goal swiftly.
- Shake hands briefly and smile when greeting an American. Handshakes happen at the beginning and often also the end of business meetings.
- Eye contact is important in American culture. People feel they can trust you when you are looking at them while speaking.
- What to wear for a business meeting will depend on where in the U.S. you are. In the west, it’s common to dress in business-casual attire, such as slacks and a dress shirt, while those on the east cost are known to dress more formally in suits. Note, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
More to Keep in Mind
- Work culture can really differ per company and region in the U.S. so take the lead of your counterparts. Watch and learn how they do things and do it the same way.
- Doing business over the phone is perhaps more acceptable in the US than in many other countries.
- Deadlines are important in U.S. business and should be strictly adhered to.
- The legal side of business is taken quite seriously in the U.S.
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