Before launching an export initiative, it is essential to plan and prepare. Selling a product or service overseas means doing business in a new environment where language requirements, export documents, and payment options all may be different.
To deal with these challenges, here are 7 tips for success:
Tip #1—Make a Commitment
Businesses new to exporting can expect to face numerous challenges such as redesigning packaging or establishing a new distribution channel. The whole process usually takes time—often two to three years to establish a foothold. No matter how prepared businesses are to enter an overseas market, they initially will make mistakes. It’s important that top management understands this because, without that strong backing, there may be a tendency to pull back at the slightest sign of a setback.
Tip #2—Do Your Research
Many companies spend more time and money researching how to expand their existing domestic market than on how to sell in another country. To be successful overseas, do some research on potential markets. Which countries are leading suppliers or leading importers of your products? Which countries have the lowest duties? Write an international marketing plan, but whatever strategy you choose, address a range of potential issues from unique labeling requirements to new competitors.
Tip #3—Focus Your Efforts
In creating any new process, it’s best to focus on one area first. Likewise, many successful exporters began by selling in just one overseas market, learning from that experience, and then applying that knowledge to new international markets. For example, first-time exporters in Minnesota often target Canada as the first international market to enter. The proximity of Canada and the benefits of the reduced North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) tariffs are advantageous for new Minnesota exporters ramping up on their export knowledge.
Tip #4—Set Aside Resources
Entering new markets requires resources—primarily time and money. Companies in the best position to export already have an established track record of domestic growth and a steady revenue stream. When you enter an overseas market, you’ll have a steep learning curve. Often, new requirements and in-house procedures can range from how goods are packaged to how sales orders are processed. For many companies, gearing up a business to export means having to reallocate resources from domestic business opportunities.
Tip #5—Increase Your Company’s Export Knowledge
Look for opportunities to develop and expand the export knowledge of your staff. Work toward credentials to ensure you develop a baseline of skills. For exporting companies, encourage staff to attain the Certified Global Business Professional (CGBP) credential. The CGBP credential is a nationally recognized professional designation that demonstrates an individual’s practical knowledge in conducting international trade including supply chain management, international marketing, and trade finance.
Tip #6—Line Up Experts
It’s unlikely that one person will know all aspects of the export process in full detail. As you prepare to export, establish a network of specialists with expertise across a range of issues such as export documentation, letters of credit, or international contracts. You will want to develop some expertise in-house; others you will want to outsource.
At a minimum, you will want to identify a freight forwarder, banker and attorney who can assist you. A good starting point for new exporters is your state’s District Export Council, an organization comprised of local business leaders who act as consultants to small- and medium-sized businesses that want to export.
Tip #7—Leverage Government Resources
The U.S. Commercial Service, which has Export Assistance Centers located across the U.S. and offices in many American Embassies and Consulates overseas, is a global network of trade professionals who can provide ground support in many overseas markets to assist U.S. exporters. Services include helping U.S. companies find new business partners overseas, exhibit at international overseas trade shows, research opportunities in new markets, or address market access issues.