Small Businesses Can Succeed in International Markets
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Q: My business is doing well and I’d like to expand, however I’m reluctant to add another brick-and-mortar location and additional employees. What other opportunities exist for small business owners like me?
A: Where’s the next market opportunity for your small business? It may well be overseas. Two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is outside the US, along with 96 percent of consumers. Doing business overseas can provide a measure of insulation against fluctuations in domestic markets and enhance your overall competitiveness.
Bill Cairns, president of international business development consultant BCM Group, says small businesses are well-suited to join the global marketplace. “They are more flexible to adapt to market demands, and to different regional and cultural needs,” Cairns says, adding that close relationships are as important—and sometimes more so—in certain countries as in the US. “A small business is better able to cultivate that kind of relationship than a large company.”
Thousands of U.S. small businesses are already exporting their products and services to other countries. Your business can too by thinking globally and doing proper research to make informed decisions.
A good first step is to take the free export readiness self-assessment at Export.gov. You’ll get a better idea your current level of preparation, and learn about counseling and training courses to help address specific needs.
Map out your exporting strategy much the way you developed your business plan. That means doing research on specific markets, consumer habits, existing competition, regulations legal issues (both in the U.S. and the areas you’re exploring), distribution channels, etc. Some good information sources include:
- Local trade organizations and exhibitions
- U.S. consulates
- U.S. industrial organizations that do international market research
To explore market- or product-specific opportunities, consider these sources:
- U.S. Department of Commerce Advocacy Center - helps U.S. companies in various industry sectors win government contracts across the globe.
- U.S. Trade and Development Agency - provides the latest information on contracting opportunities with grant recipients in host countries.
- Trade Mission Online - maintains a database of U.S. small businesses that can be searched by foreign firms and U.S. businesses seeking a domestic partner or supplier.
- EC21 - a business-to-business marketplace that facilitates online trades between exporters and importers from all around the world.
- Global Sources - creates, manages, and delivers information that international trading partners need to meet and do business.
- Tradeeasy - an international trade enabler that incorporates both on- and off-line marketing solutions to sellers.
As you develop your international business strategy, Cairns cautions that the decision-making process in other countries differs from that in the U.S., and that developing overseas relationships requires a personal touch. “You can’t do everything by email or telephone,” he says. “Some kind of regular face-to-face contact is a must. SCORE Mentors are available to help you develop your trade strategy. Call 1-800/634-0245 for the SCORE chapter nearest you or visit SCORE at www.score.org.