In pursuit of the American dream

Starting afresh in New York is a challenging prospect, but could prove to be a valuable experience, says David Chamberlain

Fourteen months ago, I had the good fortune to leave London to open a brand new office for Gyro International in New York. The position of first and only employee is only for the intrepid, but, if you are ready for the challenge, it could well be the most valuable experience of your professional career.

So, assuming you are willing to risk the unknown in order to achieve the dream Big Apple life, what are the practical things you’ll be faced with on the ground, both personally and as a business? There is plenty to think about as you hit the ground running, from salary considerations and obtaining a visa, to building your creative dream team.

Exchange rates

Don’t be fooled by the glorious sterling to dollar exchange rate. London is certainly not a bargain town, but the amount of money that flies out of your wallet on a daily basis in Manhattan can be incredible. The bottom line here is that before you accept a ‘compensation package’ from your employer, make sure you have done your homework.

The cost of housing will be particularly important to bear in mind. If you are not planning on living in Harlem, then be realistic. Set a budget and use resources such as the New York Times real estate section (www.nytimes.com) and Craig’s List (www.craigslist.com) to get a picture of the type of apartments that exist within your target.

If possible, negotiate preliminary travel costs to and from the UK into your compensation package. Three to four transatlantic peak season flights quickly add up, and you’ll easily need that to get set up.

It can help to enlist the services of a financial planner to develop a personalised plan of action and tie up any loose ends involving your pensions and so on. Yes, this help comes with a charge, but the small upfront investment could save you thousands in the long run.

Immigration

If you want to save time and, ultimately, money, as well as avoid a lot of hassle, do not be blasé about obtaining the services of an immigration lawyer. It is imperative that you have someone who understands the design profession, as well as your specific skill set.

You must make sure that the type of visa you are after correlates to your new occupation, relationship with your employer and length of stay abroad and is actually available for the date of your planned departure. A great immigration lawyer will take all of the legwork out of the process and present you with your best options, given the aforementioned criteria. He or she will also process all of your paperwork and coach you through your critical American Embassy interview. Paying particular attention to this step will help you obtain a visa within three to six weeks.

Day one in your new office: bring a hat stand

During my first six months in New York, I wore many different hats. In addition to being the creative director, I was also the office manager, plumber, IT guru, interior designer and receptionist. In fact, I still keep a power drill under my desk for emergency purposes.

Once you have established an office support network and an operations methodology, it is also a good idea to create and publish a calendar of your office deliveries, and share vendor and maintenance contact information with anyone and everyone.

Recruitment

Even under the best of circumstances, finding good creative talent can be challenging. By contrast, trying to build a team in a new country when you have not yet established local industry contacts can seem impossible. The first thing to recognise is that the process is taxing for everyone, but that finding the right team member is well worth the effort.

The second thing is that if you are going to develop your portfolio of clients and still have time to accomplish your daily tasks, you are going to need some help. Enlist the support of local recruitment agencies. If you are in need of an immediate solution and have the time to pour through dozens of responses, create a job description and post it on-line. Yes, you will have to spare the time to pour through dozens of responses, but at least you will be able to keep the 20 per cent to 30 per cent finder’s fee in your recruitment budget.

The first year will be tough – there is just no way around it. However, my final piece of advice is not to let your new job take over your new life. Make sure you remember to enjoy your experience at every possible opportunity, and make extra sets of keys for all your friends, as they will use your place like a hotel.

David Chamberlain is creative director of Gyro International’s New York office

FINDING CREATIVE STAFF IN NEW YORK:

Recruitment firms

• RitaSue Siegel Resources

• Roz Goldfarb Associates

• The Creative Group

• Aquent

On-line postings

• creativehotlist.com

• AIGA.com

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