Sure, a closer-to-home market would be a bit easier to work with. On the other hand, the US and Canada account for over 55% of global software spending. And that’s a tough number to ignore.
In spite of that, in the beginning we weren’t really thinking about entering any foreign markets at all, including North America.
After all, Kickresume began as a student project when we were still in college. It was only natural that we would target our home Czech and Slovak markets first. Only after Kickresume became popular back home, we decided to enter the US.
It was a difficult decision to make and even more difficult to make it a reality because our budget was more than tight so we couldn’t buy ads. But after 3 years, over 90% of our customers come from the US.
The best part? We managed to do it all without a US based office, sales team and nearly no budget for advertising.
Here are my tips on how your company can enter the huge US market without huge costs. But remember, each company is different. What you’re about to read worked for us. There’s a chance it won’t work for you, but then again, it might. It’s all about trying.
When you’re entering a mature and competitive market like the US, your product should be equally mature and competitive.
This is where building your product for a smaller market first comes as an advantage. It gives you a chance to validate and refine it in a relatively safe environment. You can nail your MVP, get feedback from customers and see if your product is a market fit.
Only once you’ve verified that people love your product, it’s time to expand to new markets.
But of course, some products are quite market specific and impossible to validate in your home market.
Entering any new market can be quite expensive. That’s why you should do your research before spent a penny on an expansion.
In our case, the reason for entering the US market was that nearly 30% of employed people switch jobs every year. That’s nearly 45 million potential customers with an average income of USD 60,000 per year. Moreover, the recruiting industry in the US alone is worth USD 200 billion.
On the other hand, we were also thinking about expanding Eastward into markets like Russia or India. Our research revealed that wouldn’t be a good idea. Low income, lack of internet connection, underdeveloped job markets and huge cultural differences would all prove a challenge.
Fun fact: Did you know that people in India use resume builders in their pre-martial negotiations? To show their wealth, education, etc.
This shows that expanding to foreign markets isn’t always a good idea. Sometimes it’s better to focus on your home market and get a bigger market share instead. In your home market you have more connections, partnerships and know all cultural nuances of your home country.
In a foreign market, you’re starting from scratch. So do your homework. Good market research can easily take up to several weeks.
Entering a new market is almost like building an entirely new company. You have to re-arrange and customize all parts of your product to meet the expectations and requirements of the US customers.
That might sound like stating the obvious. But I bet you’re going to find a plethora of small things you never thought could be an issue.
For example, we forgot about converting our pricing to dollars. It took us a whole week to find out why our conversion rates dropped so low. Americans have no idea how much is euro.
It was the same with figuring out the payment methods — PayPal and American Express cards are a must in the US market.
You’re going to encounter many small things like these after launching into a new market. The best way to figure them all out is to ask for feedback from your customers.
From my experience, partnerships are the most effective way to enter and grow in the US market. Sure, it’s going to take a while before you manage to close a win-win partnership with a US company. But ultimately, it’s more than worth the effort.
These companies know their home market really well and have many customers/users. The main idea is to find a win-win partnership, in which both sides get something they want. This will help you minimize the costs.
We set up a partnership with Pymetrics, which is a company launched by a group of MIT neuroscientists. Their app for measuring innate cognitive abilities can help our users discover their ideal career. On the other hand, our users help them test and improve their product.
That’s a perfect win-win situation.
Localized & viral content
Another of our secret weapons for entering the US market was producing great content.
Everybody agrees that career and HR articles are usually the definition of boring. We didn’t want that. Instead, we took a different approach and launched our career blog which populated with short and simple articles.
We also made a resume infographic which got viral and was featured in major media outlets in the US (Business Insider, Yahoo, etc.). Even Elon Musk’s own PR team contacted us once to correct one minor detail in his infographic resume.
I understand that creating viral content is anything but easy. But as you can see, it’s possible even with a niche as boring as ours.
Localized keywords & SEO
Everybody knows about how SEO greatly impacts your traffic. But no one ever talks about localized SEO. Here’s an example.
One of our best SEO hacks for Kickresume was to share real resume examples made by our users (with their permission, of course). That’s when we discovered that while “resume sample” is a common expression in the UK, in the US people search for “resume example” instead.
It might sound like a minor difference but the impact it had on our traffic was huge.
Focus on your target audience and channels
You need to use the right channel to reach the right kind of a buyer.
For example, in Europe we don’t use Twitter or Pinterest that much. On the other hand, in the US, these channels are pretty useful.
Also, your target audience in Europe can often be very different from what it is in the US.
To be honest, I’m not a big fan of paid advertising like Google Adwords, especially not when it comes to our niche. This type of ads is pretty expensive in hiring-related topics.
The good news is that you don’t always need to use paid advertising. In fact, we got our first 300,000 users without spending a penny on it. Instead, we found more effective ways to acquire new users (e.g. content).
But if you have a budget and your ROI is worth it, paid ads can be the perfect way to get your first users in a new market.
People are more likely to use a product or service recommended to them by a friend.
Even with our modern advertising arsenal, word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to acquire new users.
The best referral programs are those that turn users into brand ambassadors. Depending on your product, you can give money towards a service or hand them a free product in exchange for promotion.
Providing perfect customer support is a must these days. People want answers and solutions in minutes, which in turn can help you drive sales.
In Kickresume, we use Intercom for targeted customer messaging. It’s a priceless tool which helped us increase our conversion considerably.
In addition to that, you can leverage customer service to formulate your product strategy. Your support team talks to your users every day, which makes them the best source of feedback and a key driver of product development.
Because the US market is so large and competitive, winning here is a way of proving your mettle.
It’s about trying all kinds of solutions and finding the ones that work. The ones I’ve described here worked for us but there’s a chance they won’t be for you. Every company is different. If you have any questions or stories to share, I’ll be more than happy to see your feedback in the comments.
Feel free to connect with Tomas on LinkedIn.