1. No business without an address
A US address is absolutely necessary when doing business in America. This shouldn’t be an obstacle, though. Thanks to services like Earthclass Mail, it’s easy to set up a real mailing address in America, no matter where you’re located. Received mail is scanned for you and posted online for you to view. This lets you get a jump on some of the organizational details before you make the move to the US.
The same is true for a phone number: you can get a North American number and have it forwarded to wherever in the world you are or sent to voicemail. My personal favorite for online number is Sipgate – but Grasshopper.com and Skype also have good services.
2. Hire a lawyer!
For the paperwork, that is, when you’re applying for a visa or a business license. If you can afford it, hiring a lawyer will save you a lot of headaches: after all, if you make a single mistake on the visa form, your application can be rejected and you'll have to start over from scratch. Laws on registering a business are very different from country to country, so even if you've started a business elsewhere, doing so in the US is bound to be different. An attorney can help you navigate the tricky spots.
3. Get paperwork out of the way as quickly as you can
I had to learn this one the hard way. Instead of getting my visa papers sent in six months ahead of time, I waited. Still on time, officially, but then things started going dramatically wrong. The lawyer didn't receive the most important email with the details of a meeting at the US consulate (it got stuck in the spam filter), so he wasn’t there.
It gets better: the consulate itself canceled the next meeting, because US citizens were being evacuated from Egypt. Altogether, I had to reschedule several flights and fly back to Germany once more than planned. The lesson here: Take care of everything that depends on anyone else as soon as humanly possible. This means setting up a bank account, registering a company, and the like, too.
4. Visit before you move there
Five months or so before I moved to San Francisco, I flew over to get a feeling for the city and met a lot of people, visited co-working spaces, and listened to a lot of people's ideas on handling payroll, banking, and more. I also found a place to stay for the first month (via airbnb.com, of course).
Looking back, all these steps proved to be very helpful. They laid the groundwork for getting started with the business. All the time-consuming details were already organized, meaning we were able to get started setting up a team almost as soon as we arrived. There’s another aspect as well: it just feels nicer to have a comfortable apartment waiting for you. Moving to a new country can be daunting, and having ‘your own space’ is very valuable.
5. Start with a coworking space
In San Francisco, there are all kinds of coworking spaces, and one is bound to meet your needs. The great part about coworking is the flexibility: you can start right away and find spaces on the web. Everything is already set up, and it's easy to start working, even with several people. You can either rent your own dedicated desk, or just pop into whichever one is available (which is cheaper).
Another bonus is that you meet a ton of people – there’s the edifying aspect of that, plus the advantage of setting up a network in SF, which is crucial. Check out these coworking sites:
- You can find even more at the Coworking Space wiki
If you want to read more, I found these websites to be helpful:
I hope that these tips help you out, and whet your appetite for the blog. If you're planning to start a business in the States and have questions - ask away! I'm happy to share what I know.
Co-founder at Jimdo
When Christian was 12, he started his first business, buying and selling Kinder Surprise collectible toys at flea markets. Just a few years later he met up with Fridtjof, and the two started creating websites for small businesses in their hometown. Christian currently takes care of Jimdo's operations and helped start the U.S. office in San Francisco.