A group of Canadian business owners, looking to create and/or grow business in Seattle (and beyond), hosted a networking function which I attended in Seattle recently.
Being American, and 1/4 Canadian, as well as being married to a Canadian, I notice things that many Americans would miss, and I notice things Canadians might miss as well. My advice to Canadians wanting to do business with Americans is blunt and based on my direct experience over the past 20 years traveling between the U.S. and Canada. Your thoughts welcome, wherever you are located – U.S., Canada, or elsewhere.
1. Americans (like me) are pretty focused on, well, America. Most Americans cannot name three provinces (or one) nor do they know what a postal code is. You need to deal with this.
2. Try not to take it personally, or be defensive when an American does that thing that I always hear Canadians talking about – thinking that Canada is just one big place, and everyone is the same.
example: “Oh, we loooooove Canadians!”, or “Do you know Joe Smith? He’s Canadian.”
It’s hard to believe that my American colleagues really DO do that. Then they say, “eh??!!”
3. Use U.S. examples when you are talking about client references. A gentleman told me last night that he was working with Shaw, and a few other companies. I happen to know who Shaw is, but generally many of my associates here would not.
4. Keep the perspective – There are more Californians than all Canadians together. Because of this, Canadian friends, expect some differences in how we do business.
5. Get some local input before making assumptions. I heard someone last night make a comment that is not true here in Seattle. He based his comment on what he knows back home.
6. Know also that, with some folks, there is an element of wanting to know that you are following the rules. I personally don’t do business in Canada, but know that if I did, I have a whole new set of taxes to account for. There are people who want to make sure that when you do work here, you are also paying the taxes Americans are paying as well. For those who are not in an “abundant” frame of mind, there may be competitive issues.
7. Ask lots of questions before you have lots of answers. We’re more similar than different, and those differences can be celebrated or picked apart – I vote for celebrated.
This list applies to anyone doing business in another culture or geographic location. When I worked in Boston and made phone calls to companies in Texas, I changed up my style, and slowed down my pace. Be a great observer, and verify your assumptions.