What’s more daunting -- and thrilling -- than packing your bags and moving to a new country? Moving to a new country and starting a business.
America is a land of immigrants and the destination of opportunity, so it stands to reason that those who settle here have a fighting chance at building something meaningful. Just look at Google's Sergey Brin or Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang.
In fact, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants, yet many myths persist about the difficulties of doing business in America. As a Turkish immigrant to the United States and a business owner, I know it’s possible to make it in this country. So I’ll break down a few of the most common fears and pitfalls that keep immigrants from pursuing their American dream:
Dealing with culture shock. People immigrate to the States for many reasons: an education, financial opportunities, an escape from a war zone or a chance at a better life.
Whatever your background, coming to America is a big adjustment. I still remember the sleepless nights of worrying as I grappled with the changes in cultural norms, language and laws of a new country. You can soften your landing, however, by researching the culture and taking a job at a successful company to learn about running an American business before launching your own.
Facing legal challenges. Navigating a new government bureaucracy is intimidating for many immigrants. But when my husband and I started our company, I was surprised to find the process much easier and more straightforward than I imagined. You submit your paperwork, pay the fees and possess a company. Coming from a country of long wait times and unnecessary red tape, I appreciated the simple process.
Contemplating the possibility of failure. There’s no guarantee of success for any business in any country, but getting caught up in anxiety over not speaking the language well or making mistakes gets you nowhere.
I quickly learned there were many other immigrants in the States running their own businesses, just as my husband and I were. We all shared the same fears, but we pushed through the doubts and created successful enterprises.
Worrying about failure to the point of inaction is a waste of time. Be honest about where you are as an entrepreneur, and forge ahead to get your company off the ground.
No matter where you’re from, the following are several things you can do to increase your odds of success in America:
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Educate yourself. Even if you’ve run a similar business in your native country, it’s imperative to know the local culture so you can tailor your strategies accordingly. Research your industry and find out what your company can do differently to meet the needs of American consumers.
Grow your network. Seek groups within your community to help you connect with other small business owners. The U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are great resources for professional support. My husband and I also joined the American Turkish Association in San Diego. It was a small group, but the feedback and support of other members helped us emotionally.
Ask for help. When the going gets tough, reach out to that network you’ve spent so much time cultivating or seek experts who can help you. Coming from a culture where it’s uncommon to ask for help, I had to learn that it’s OK to not have all the answers.
Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish founder of Chobani, grew up watching his mother make yogurt from scratch on his family’s dairy farm. But Ulukaya still enlisted the help of a master yogurt maker to get the Chobani recipe just right.
Love what you do. Entrepreneurship starts with passion. Beto Perez, founder of Zumba Fitness, moved to Miami from Colombia without knowing a word of English. He built a company around his passion for music and dancing and started the Zumba Academy to turn every Zumba instructor into an entrepreneur.
Whatever your preconceived notions of doing business in America are, set them aside and just get down to it. Starting a business is a challenge everywhere, but with the right mind-set, hard work and passion, there’s no reason you can’t be the author of an American success story.