Coming to America – A land of opportunity and risk.

For staffing companies, the USA is a land of opportunity, but few understand the extent of the complexities facing their business, says Joris Verbeek.

One of the standard presentations I give uses the poster for Coming to America, the 1988 comedy classic starring Eddie Murphy as a hapless but well meaning African prince who arrives in New York from the fictional nation of Zamunda. The Prince, though wise beyond his years, is entirely clueless of the perils and pitfalls of life in America. I use it because it’s an entry point to this conversation that everyone recognizes. Above all else it’s a good film. Or as we should say, a good movie. I was old enough to see it at the Cinema. Or rather at the movie theatre. It’s difficult to get through a single written paragraph without proving George Bernard Shaw’s view that Britain and America are two nations divided by a single language.

Mostly, this language gap is not significant. Sidewalk is a perfectly logical word for pavement. Its on the side of the road and you walk on it. Personally, I prefer zucchini to courgette, and vacations to holidays. Why would anyone want to go to a chemist, when they can go to a drug store? Although I do draw the line at sport. I’m not saying ‘soccer’ for anyone.

When it comes to business, that’s when the linguistic fun stops.

For companies embarking on an American expansion, there is a lot more to learn. One of the things I realize in conversation with my friends and colleagues outside the US is how low awareness seems to be of exactly how different America is. This is particularly true of the recruiting industry. For two countries that may seem to resemble each other quite closely from a distance in working culture, the reality is that we could barely be more different.

American and European firms have worked together all over the world with stunning success. This is particularly true in the engineering field, where giant projects from power plants to high-speed rail links have required close collaboration across continents and real language barriers. But ultimately the Americans worked for American companies and the French for French companies. HR departments scurried around in the background ensuring compliance and those of us who worked on projects like these, or recruited for them, simply played our position as we always had. Nobody would believe, if they lifted the lid, exactly how differently two people who shared a cubicle space were being treated.

As you plan your move to America, you’re going to need to need to understand every varying detail of the landscape you’re moving to. Finance is a different world. Employment law is a different solar system. No business acumen, operational experience overseas or application of logic is going to help you get this right once you’re here in the US. You’re going to need people who understand the actual reality and you’re going to need them immediately.

What SBPM offers is a place to get started, and a team – immediately available to you – that can not only implement your back office set-up, but can consult with you about everything you’re planning. We can give you the guidance you need because we’ve been where you are, we’ve been here for years and we’ve learned everything about operating a staffing company in the US that you need to know.

You can make assumptions about the right way to do things but you may find yourself, like the Crown Prince of Zamunda, possessed of all the intelligence and skills required to succeed in your new environment, but hampered at every turn by a lack of local knowledge.

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