Position your company to take advantage of the vast global marketplace.
Thanks to the Internet, even the smallest businesses suddenly have instant global visibility, as well as access to services and information that have never been so readily available. Yet according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, fewer than 1% of the United States’ 30 million companies export–a percentage that is significantly lower than all other developed countries. And while small and medium-size companies account for 98% of U.S. exporters, they represent less a third of the nation’s export value.
“There are a number of reasons for this,” says Laurel Delaney, founder of Chicago-based management consulting and marketing firm GlobeTrade and author of Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably. “Chief among them are lack of knowledge, fear of the unknown and the assumption that exporting isn’t applicable to their business.” But Delaney and other experts suggest that these obstacles shouldn’t deter those who could benefit from new overseas markets. Here’s how to get started:
Know where you’re coming from–and where you’re going.
“Before you can consider exporting, you have to assess yourself,” Delaney says. “Do you have a global mind-set? There are several aspects to that. First of all, you have to be fearless in dealing with the unknown.” Americans tend to rush right into business and be very direct and blunt, while that is not the norm in most other cultures, she notes. You may have to step back and be patient, handling the unknown and unanticipated with a certain social grace and rebound from the inevitable gaffes and misunderstandings. “You have to be comfortable in your own skin and [be able to] stay that way in any given situation,” Delaney continues. “You have to be adaptable and sensitive to people in every walk of life.”
Know your business.
By the same token, you should have a clear understanding of your business’s value proposition. “Of course, you should also be successful in your local market and be well positioned for growth,” Delaney adds. She recommends taking the export questionnaire on the U.S. Department of Commerce’s website to gauge how prepared you are to move forward and to find areas for improvement.
Do your homework.
Export.gov is just one of the many resources available to small businesses interested in the global market. Others include U.S. Export Assistance Centers, located in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Each center is staffed by professionals from the Small Business Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Export-Import Bank and other public and private organizations. The SBA itself offers not only abundant information but also a number of loan programs that can help finance exporting operations, as does the Ex-Im Bank.
Delaney suggests that other critical resources may be right in your network. “Your banker is a great place to start,” she says. “He or she can introduce you to people inside and outside the bank who can help. Also, when it comes to logistics, start with the obvious: shippers such as UPS, DHL and FedEx, who might have programs that suit your needs. The important thing is to ask questions to build your knowledge and demystify the process.”
Build your export dream team.
In addition to bankers, Delaney recommends developing relationships with attorneys and accountants versed in international trade. If your company is large enough, consider delegating your export research and operations to a single point person. If you’re starting off small, it may even make sense, she adds, to hand operations to a third party that will handle the duties on a commission basis. Additionally, look into the many online services available, such as Pitney Bowes Global Ecommerce and Shipwire for fulfillment. Many big shippers offer a list of approved vendors who integrate their technology into your business applications and software solutions to manage export regulations and generate export documentation.