When I talk to U.S. companies that are looking to begin or expand their exporting efforts, one of the first pieces of advice I give them is to locate and reach out to the closest U.S. Commercial Service office. As part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, it's their mission to help promote and facilitate U.S. exports.
The staff at all of the Commercial Service offices I have talked to are incredibly knowledgeable and eager to help. The basic guidance they provide is free, and their more advanced services like the Gold Key program are a fantastic value. Check out Joe Robinson's series of articles for a more detailed description of their services.
So when I came up with the idea to write a series of articles listing the top advice for exporters from the prospective of various groups of export experts, it made sense to start with the directors of the various U.S. Commercial Service offices.
My question was simple: What's the most important piece of advice you give to new exporters? Here's what they had to say:
1. Plan Ahead
International business will almost always take more time, effort and resources to get started than any domestic business. If you are not patient enough to invest in international, don’t even start.
2. Have an Export Strategy
Take a serious look at your value proposition and match them with market indicators. Look at macro or micro economic conditions, standards and business norms. Review your products to determine if and how you need to adapt them for specific markets.
3. Hire the Right People
Exporting involves more than hiring someone who speaks another language to run your international department. Make sure you have the right people in the right positions to run your operations. Once you’ve hired or assigned the right people to handle your international business, make sure you keep them educated about changing export regulations and requirements. (See the blog post, 8 Free Resources for Training Exporters.)
4. Internationalize Your Operations
Don’t just rely on your current domestic operations to meet your international needs or you might run into trouble and/or miss out on huge opportunities. Optimize those operations for your international business by doing things such as globalizing your website, determining accurate export prices and landed costs, and taking advantage of export tax incentives. (Watch for more details about optimizing your operations for international business in an upcoming blog post!)
5. Start Small
Focus on a small number of initial markets and really do your research. There are a lot of things you need to consider once you make the decision to export. Starting small lets you work out the kinks in your process, helps you find out what you don’t know, and gives you time to build a lean, mean exporting machine.
6. Do Your Research
You are much less likely to run into trouble with your exporting when you research potential buyers and new export markets. The process can be boiled down to three basic steps: identify, assess and sell. Too many companies jump into the deep end of the international pool without really understanding the export process. Your local Commercial Service office can help with that research!
7. Nothing Beats a Face-to-Face Visit
Plan to travel to meet your international partners and customers just as you do with your domestic business partners. There is no better way to understand your foreign markets than to visit them. Business transactions are built on trust, and trust comes by creating personal relationships with your overseas business partners. Here is some advice for making the most of your international trips.
8. Do Your Due Diligence
Part of your research should include due diligence. You can never be too careful in selecting a global business partner. You can use private and public sector resources for getting to know your buyers. This includes international company profiles available through the Commercial Service.
9. Be Aware of Export Compliance
Understanding your responsibilities under U.S. export regulations can keep you out of trouble.
- Do you know which federal agency has jurisdiction over your products?
- Have you properly classified those products?
- Do you know the end use and end users?
- Do you see any red flags?
Learn more about export compliance by downloading our free White Paper: What You Need to Know About Export Compliance.
10. Partner with Professionals
Use the experience of your attorney, freight forwarder, banker, and local U.S. Commercial Service office to grow your business and lessen the chances that you will run into problems while exporting.
11. Network with Other Exporters
Network with your business peers, successful exporters, and export service providers to discover the latest trends and opportunities. District Export Councils (DEC) are great places to start for this. Learn more about the role of the DECs.
12. Get Buy-In from the Top
No matter how skilled and well intentioned your sales and business development staff are, senior leadership must demonstrate their commitment to international trade or your efforts will fail. This is the single biggest reason why less than four percent of U.S. companies export. (See 3 Mistakes Companies Make to Jeopardize International Expansion.)
Bonus Export Basics
For more in-depth advice from a Commercial Service officer who has served around the world, check out the series of four articles written by Chip Peters for the International Trade Blog when he was assigned to the Minneapolis office of the Commercial Service.
For More Information
Thanks to the following U.S. Commercial Service directors and trade specialists for their advice:
- A.J. Anderson, Director, Wichita, Kansas, 316-263-4067
- Jorge Arce, Director, Jacksonville, Florida, 904-232-1270
- Meredith Bond, Director, Omaha, Nebraska, 402-597-0193
- Dylan Daniels, Memphis, Tennessee, 901-544-0930
- Patrick Hope, Director, Rockford, Illinois, 815-316-2380
- Brie Knox, Director, Nashville, Tennessee, 615-736-2222
- Diane Mooney, Director, Seattle, Washington, 206-553-5615
- Jim Paul, Director, Boston, Massachusetts, 617-565-4304
- Susan Sadocha, Director, Old Westbury, New York, 516-427-9117
- Greg Sizemore, Director, Charlotte, North Carolina, 704-333-4886 x229
- Richard Swanson, Regional Director, Newport Beach, California, 949-660-8871
- George Tracy, Director, Atlanta, Georgia, 404-815-1794
- John Tracy, Senior International Trade Specialist, Liverpool, NY, 315-453-4070
- Susan Widmer, Director, Newark, New Jersey, 973-645-4682