Top tips to turn US opportunities into business successes

Enterprise Ireland’s Ambition North America event last Thursday was an opportunity for those thinking of exporting to the US to get tips and advice from those who have already done so.

Business owners and senior managers from around the country converged on Dublin's Aviva Stadium recently. No matches were on. Instead, what was at stake was a chance to win big in business.

Enterprise Ireland's Ambition North America event last Thursday was an opportunity for those thinking of exporting to the US to get tips and advice from those who have already done so.

Speakers represented a range of sectors, at varying stages of the business cycle. These included old hands such as Kerry Group founder Denis Brosnan and Irish Breeze chief executive Edward McCloskey, and earlier stage entrepreneurs such as Julie Currid of Initiafy and Niamh Barry of the Irish Fairy Door Company.

The appetite to hear "Stateside" stories was doubtless whetted by Brexit. Where generations of first-time Irish exporters traditionally cut their teeth in the UK, the uncertainty surrounding its departure from the EU is encouraging business owners to look further afield.

There are some very good reasons why many will find the US to be their land of opportunity. For a start, it's our next-nearest English speaking market. It's also a market very many Irish companies have already proven themselves in: Irish companies enjoyed export sales of some €3bn in 2015, a figure estimated to have grown since.

A continuing strong dollar, good economic growth prospects and the fact that the US is the largest market in the world all help. And very many Irish businesses already have links with North American multinationals based in Ireland, connections which they can now leverage.

Of course, everything is bigger in America - including the scale of the opportunity. The US spans four time zones and is the third-largest country in the world by size and population.

To stand out in a large, mature, developed market like this, you really need to know what differentiates you from the competition, speakers at the conference said. And, they warned, it's not a market to take on without first ensuring you have enough resources back home to cover it.

One US exporter told me that every US sales trip takes four days and around €4,000 when flights, accommodation and the cost of entertaining clients is all included.

On the other hand, the potential payback is immense. If California were a nation, it would rank 6th in the world in terms of GDP. Texas would be the 12th-largest economy. No wonder the mood on Thursday was bullish.

Of those already successfully selling in the US, many said that, as ambitious companies looking to make their mark globally, the US was a market they simply they had to be in. Others had looked at the US as part of an export strategy that saw them explore a number of alternatives, but found they had gained traction there first. And, of course, for software technology companies, the US is a first export market almost as a matter of course - the US spends more on innovation per capita than any other country.

Those wishing to "go west" were told to first identify clearly the buyer needs that their solution addresses. They were also told to hire well - the wrong person can prove disastrously expensive both financially and in terms of opportunity cost. If you're serious about the States, then a founder or at least a C-level executive should move out there. This is particularly so if you're looking to raise investment; US investors "like to keep you within kicking range", delegates heard.

Enterprise Ireland can help. In the US we have offices in New York, Boston, Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas. We'll help ensure your marketing is properly localised, put you in front of the right people and prep you so that your pitches are, well, pitch perfect. Together we can turn the land of opportunity into a successful business reality.

Ross O'Colmain is manager of Enterprise Ireland's New York office

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