Selling into foreign countries need not be solely the province of major multinationals, nor limited to commodity products like oil and grains. Plenty of small — even tiny — companies export things like animal vaccines, packaging, computer technology and manufactured goods. The needs are endless since in many developing countries free trade is goosing up industries that lack competitive suppliers. You can be the source for buyers big and small abroad — if your company is ready for the risks and pressures of making the deals and moving the products.
Take a quiz - seriouslyThere are a lot of initial questions to ask, and the U.S. government is here to help.
Export.gov has an excellent readiness assessment that rates your company based on just nine questions. Once you know where you stand, move on to the detailed guide to exporting basics by Unz & Co.
Work with resellersEven large, established companies with resources use in-country resellers, often called a channel, to build a presence first. You'll make less, but with less cost, too. Some never shed their channel partners.
The U.S. Department of Commerce operates BuyUSA.gov, a site dedicated to matching U.S. exporters to foreign buyers and distributors. Check the U.S. Commercial Service Web site for a list of contacts by embassy abroad; it's their job to connect you with the right people in each country.
Discover customs for beginnersA small slice of U.S. exports, like defense technology, is subject to regulation. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to get an export license in advance.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the clear starting point. The Bureau of Industry and Security maintains a list of which federal agencies regulate what exports, with contact telephones.
Line up your financingUnless you are sitting on a pile of cash, be prepared for more than the usual 90-days net from your business partners abroad. Often, it's better to spread the risk and protect your own cash-flow.
Many local lenders will buy your receivables, and the U.S. Department of Commerce can find you a good source of such funding through its export finance matchmaker program.
Find and negotiate shipping servicesDepending on where you live and what you will be exporting, the company with which you will be dealing can vary.
Freightquote, and Freight Dynamics offer shipping quote services online, wile uShip matches shippers to carriers with space. Fairplay publishes has an extensive online shippers directory with address and phone contacts.
- You will end up selling the most in a country where people have money to spend. Beware exporting to places with notoriously unstable economies; a rapidly changing currency can quickly make your product ludicrously expensive in local terms.
- Take a trip before you jump into a relationship with a local buyer. Meet his or her customers. Exporting can be a lot of trouble, so the opportunity should be lucrative and blindingly obvious.
- One way to sell in a country is by striking deals with units abroad of U.S. firms. Wal-Mart, for instance, is quickly growing in foreign lands.
- Big companies generally don't consider exporting until they have exhausted their local market. Even then, they often fail - distributors are unprepared, or customs is too complex. Your expansion plan might be better off looking inward for a few more years.