Despite dire economic situations blossoming in markets around the globe the export sector in the US is one of the few areas of growth. The other, e-commerce, has some significant links to the export industry. Perhaps the most significant development that has resulted from rapid changes in technology is the ease in which small firms can enter the arena of international trade.
In many overseas markets US products and services remain highly sought after and by accessing this demand firms can make themselves less vulnerable to down-turns at home, and also to seasonal variations in demand for their products. Small to medium firms can see particularly good growth through export, whatever their products (see ISO Stainless as a good example.) But where to start in accessing this valuable (possibly vital) source of growth?
Planning and Research
Planning and research are two very important factors which will help you to develop an export strategy. This strategy will form the basis of your export operations and should also be used to measure success once you are up and running. Part of your planning should involve developing a more international image; this can include such low-tech (and low-cost) approaches as simply adding an international dialling code to your corporate stationary (even if the majority of your corporate stationary is email!).
Analyse where your product is likely to appeal; not all products will find a market in all regions. Also assess demand; construction products should be aimed at regions/countries where infrastructure improvements are in progress (for the US market Brazil is an interesting location on this front, as the forthcoming World Cup and Olympic Games have spawned massive investment in infrastructure projects and demand for all manner of construction kit). Africa is another market that has huge potential for green energy and renewable energy generation markets, while India remains hungry for IT products and services. Amazon can provide a useful point for you to research if your own product has a strong or growing market, in any given location, as can other global commerce sites including eBay and Play.com.
With the export market creating such huge potential in the US economy – not to mention the associated growth in the jobs market – it should be no surprise that it is seen as a key area for business support and development. Explore the range of free resources available via programmes run by the federal government. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (the Ex-Im Bank, for short) should be of particular interest to small firms. In addition to being a valuable source of funding it offers specific programmes such as the Women and Minority Owned Businesses programme to encourage businesses run by different sectors of society.
Get to grips with relevant export regulations. Will you require licences to export? Permits and/or certification for certain products may be required by either the domestic authorities or the authorities in countries you intend to trade with. In addition, small firms may consider developing their export markets based on simple, practical issues such as language. For US firms, English or Spanish speaking regions will be easier to conduct business in – at least initially – without additional investment.
One of the simplest ways in which to enter the export market is to do so through established retail sites, including Amazon, eBay etc. There are two significant advantages to smaller firms; firstly they require less investment in order to sell abroad and secondly they offer a higher level of security in terms of payment. There is also one significant factor that should be considered from the customer’s perspective; trust. These sites not only have the huge foot-fall beloved of companies selling on them, but they already have gained the trust of customers world-wide. For small firms, without a massive online presence and brand identity, tapping into this via recognised, trusted sites is a key factor in selling overseas.
Don’t assume that your existing marketing strategy (or even packaging) will work in other jurisdictions. Explore competitors’ approaches to branding, marketing and engaging with customers. What sells in the US will probably not sell in the Far East and there are wide differences in the way consumers respond to advertising and marketing images and techniques in different parts of Europe. Consider starting off small – exporting to only a single region in which your product will sell well, and use this region to learn some of the finer details of dealing with markets that work differently to your home territory.
The Web and That Personal Touch
A web presence will be essential to your success; it’s the place where most potential international customers will research you before contacting you. Even if you’re selling on Amazon only, develop web sites for the regions you are targeting. Regional versions of your site need the tweaking mentioned above as part of your overseas marketing efforts – if you’ve discovered the market you’ve always dreamed of in France then a site in French will be de-rigueur. Don’t skimp here, as your overseas customers will respond better to the personal touch.
About the Author: Sam Mulder is a freelance business and economy writer who believes that the export market is the biggest sector for growth for even the smallest firm.
Photo credit: Scott Robinson