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ASK Priority: Buy/Start U.S. Business, Get Visa?

Posted on Monday, July 11th, 2005 by

Buy/Start U.S. Business, Get Visa?

Q. I live outside the US and am not a citizen but I have family members who are citizens in the US and they want me to start a business with them. I would only feel comfortable putting up the large amount of initial capital for the business if I could oversee its day-to-day operations. Can I live in the US if I start a business there?
—MS, San Jose, Costa Rica

In this period where obtaining a US visa is increasingly difficult, the answer, surprisingly, is yes. An investment in an active, commercial enterprise based in the United States qualifies you as an E-2 Treaty Investor, which allows you to obtain an indefinitely renewable, nonimmigrant work visa that has no maximum period of stay. You will have to return to your home country every two years to renew your visa, though. The provisions for the so-called E-visa do not spell out a minimum investment amount, specifying only that “a substantial amount of money” must be involved. However, immigration lawyers experienced with E-visas said the US State Department typically expects a minimum of $50,000 to $300,000 to be invested before it would consider your start-up legitimate.

Additionally, any spouse or unmarried children up to 21 years of age, regardless of nationality, would also qualify for derivative E-visas so that they could accompany you here. These visas do not provide them authorization to work in the United States, however The only caveat for E-visa qualification is that you must be from one of the 49 countries that have a Bilateral Commerce and Navigation treaty with
the United States. Since Costa Rica has such a standing treaty, you qualify. (For a complete list of eligible countries, go to state. gov.)

Mailer Response Rates?

Q. I’ve just started a home business and I spent a good amount of my start-up capital on mass mailings. I’ve sent out 200 letters a week for the past three months to potential customers, but I’ve only received back two dozen responses. At this rate, I’ll be out
of cash soon and I am wondering if I’m doing something wrong. What can I do?
—AF, Pascagoula, MS

A. Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for mailer response rates, but if you used a pre-selected mailing list you
should normally net about a one to two percent return. So, a rate of 24 responses out of 2,400 to 2,600 mailers is not surprising. In fact, it could be a lot worse as blanket mailings to every address in a zip code can sometimes net a response rate around one in a thousand or even lower. But to further improve your chances of response, there are a number of strategies you could try.

The first step toward improving response is personalize, personalize, personalize! Get as specific as you can about who should receive it, even if it means investing the time to call each
potential customer to find the right person’s name. (After all, how often do you open your own mail when it is addressed to Occupant or Dear Office Manager?) This tactic is particularly important if your target is a large business where bulk mail typically ends up in a slush pile in the mailroom, never to be opened.

Next, you should have someone thoroughly proofread the copy in your mailer. He or she should not only check for obvious typos and grammatical errors, but for overall clarity as well. After reading it, your proofreader should be able to answer some key questions about your business, including what services you offer, why potential customers should choose your business to provide these services, and, most importantly, what prospects should do next if they’re interested in becoming a customer. If your proofreader can’t answer those questions, you mailer needs to be rewritten or redesigned. Also, you might consider enhancing your mailer’s attention-grabbing power by adding a color or glossy brochure. (See “Special Delivery” on page 12 for more creative strategies from the USPS.)

Additionally, you can increase a mailing’s impact by following up a couple of weeks later with a postcard or a phone call (a step now made much easier if you’ve already called your targets before the mailing). Recency and frequency at this stage are critical, but try to limit contact with potential customers to once a month to prevent the appearance of constant pestering. Be sure to refer back to your mailing in your phone call or in the copy on your postcard and ask your target if you can provide them with any more information. These follow-ups are less expensive than continual mailings and many times gentle persistence through these less formal, more personal contacts makes the difference between failure and success.

Q. I run a small manufacturing company and to cut costs I’ve shifted some of my tool and part production to Asia. Periodically, I send members of my engineering staff overseas to inspect these new suppliers for quality control purposes. Because these trips necessitate flying on weekends, though, my engineers are now asking about receiving comp time for every weekend they are away from home. Is this commonplace in the manufacturing industry? If I can’t afford to offer comp time, what else can I do to keep them happy?
—DI, Mineola, NY

A. With an increasingly strapped-for-time
workforce tying to balance complex demands from both work and family, efforts to provide employees more flexibility with their time are becoming more and more popular. During this past year alone, Congress passed two significant bills expanding comp time benefits in both the public and private sector. The first of these, a major overhaul of the nation’s overtime laws, now allows hourly employees to choose either overtime pay or comp time for any work done beyond the standard 40-hour week, including travel. The second piece of legislation, passed in late November, made comp time for weekend travel official U.S. government policy, affecting millions of public sector employees and setting a broad precedent that some large businesses are starting to voluntarily adopt as well.

In the private sector, however, comp time for weekend travel is still very much the exception rather than the rule, with just over one in five companies offering it, according to a recent Society of Human Resource Management study. But rather than base your decision on what others in your industry are doing, as you suggest, it might be a better idea to use the size of your business as a guide. That same SHRM survey found small businesses provided weekend travel comp time at a rate almost twice that of larger companies—27 percent versus 15 percent, respectively. HR experts explained this discrepancy by noting that in small offices, there is often no travel policy, or even if there is, human nature plays a much larger role in shaping it. The prospect of facing a haggard, jet-lagged employee at the water cooler on Monday morning may be reason enough for some small business owners to approve comp time.

But if you decide your small business’s productivity would take too great a hit from a comp time policy, there are other options available. Many HR managers recommend that if you’re going to mandate travel with no comp time at least give the employees more say in how and when they schedule their trip (within a certain cost range, of course). Letting individual employees, rather than your company, keep the frequent flyer miles accrued during business trips also offers a relatively painless way to reward employees. In fact, if they know their quarterly business trips to China will translate into a free flight on their next family vacation, some employees may quickly forget about not getting an extra day off.

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