“Where do I even start?!”
If you’re new to the export process, you may have uttered this phrase under your breath a few times. Beginning exporters have a lot on their plate, and it’s not always easy to know who (or what) to turn to for reliable information.
Here are seven resources that can make completing your export documents easier. With these sources, you’ll be able to finish your paperwork more quickly, get answers to many of your questions, and learn information to help you in future exports.
1. Your Customers
When it comes to identifying which export forms you need to complete and the type of information you need to include, you should start by talking to your customers. Working with your buyers from the very beginning of your business relationship will help you be ready to complete the required paperwork when your goods are ready to ship. Here are some specifics to consider:
- Ask your customer outright what documentation they need, what they expect you to provide, and what they will provide you.
- As part of the sales and negotiation process, come to an agreement about what kind of documentation you will supply and what your customer is responsible for. That way, there is no question about who is responsible for what, and you can meet your obligations in a timely manner.
- Your customer may need special documents for importing the goods into their country, or there may be documents required by their bank or government.
2. Your Freight Forwarder
Your freight forwarder is one of your most important resources for preparing and completing export documents. A good freight forwarder will assist you by sharing their experience and expertise about the export process including paperwork. That's why it's so important to choose a good forwarder, a topic I've written about before.
One thing to keep in mind. While a freight forwarder is an integral part of the export journey, your forwarder doesn’t know your products as well as you do. For that reason, we don't recommend that you pass the entire paperwork process over to them. Instead use your forwarders as a resource with whom you can ask questions about their specific procedures or the export process in general.
3. Your Bank
It should come as no surprise that your bank is an important resource. A good partnership with your bank will make it easy (or at least easier) to understand what you need to provide to support a letter of credit or whatever option you wish to use to get paid.
- Bankers should know the details about each type of document and supporting information you need in order to facilitate a smooth letter of credit. They also should know the sticking points regarding letters of credit and any other payment type, and can advise you regarding the best payment methods for your exports.
- Investigate and interview several banks to determine a good fit for you. The international department of a bank will have experience with exports, and a good banker will be eager to answer your questions about getting paid for your exports.
- Make sure you understand the 10 Terms You Need to Know to Help You Get Paid for Your Export.
4. Your Local Export Assistance Center
If you haven't done so yet, make an appointment to meet with a staff member at the U.S. Commercial Service office located nearest you. As the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration, the 108 Commercial Services offices in the United States provides export counseling, market research, business matchmaking, participation in trade events, international partner searches, advocacy and more.
In addition to helping you find answers to your documentation and compliance questions, the Commercial Service provides an incredible array of services to help U.S. companies analyze new international markets and find potential customers and partners in those markets. Read more about how these Export Assistance Centers can help your company.
5. District Export Councils
Working closely with the Export Assistance Centers, the District Export Councils (DECs) are groups of local business leaders, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, whose knowledge of and expertise in international business provide a source of professional advice for their region's local firms.
One of those DECs, the Minnesota DEC (of which I happen to be a member), has published the ExportAssistance.com website, which includes a wealth of information about exporting. At this website you'll find samples of a variety of export documents, advice for completing these forms, and links to a variety of other resources important to exporters.
6. A Basic Guide to Exporting
There are a variety of available books and manuals that explain export documentation requirements, but one resource all exporters should have on hand is A Basic Guide To Exporting written by the staff at the International Trade Administration.
This reference book is a resource you can access online, but I’d recommend also keeping a hard copy nearby—being able to thumb through the pages is a convenient way to find and annotate topics that are important to you. You can read sections of A Basic Guide online, and you can purchase the hard copy here.
7. Shipping Solutions Software
We created Shipping Solutions export document software because we heard so many exporters in small- and medium-sized businesses expressing a need to spend less time doing their export paperwork.
Shipping Solutions takes the headaches out of the export paperwork process by giving you the power to create your forms five-times faster than traditional methods. No matter what level of sophistication you need when completing export documents, Shipping Solutions can help—from filing through electronic export information through AESDirect to the Document Determination feature available in the Shipping Solutions Professional version that will tell you what documents you need to complete based on the country you’re shipping to and the products you’re shipping.
There’s nothing else like it for helping you complete your export forms. Sign up now for a free online tour of the software.
Goodbye BNA; We Miss You
When I first got into the export business about 25 years ago, I quickly learned that the go-to resource for export document requirements was published by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). I would visit the library in the Minnesota Trade Office to review the immense Export Reference Library filled with stickers that pointed readers to pages of addenda as trade requirements changed.
BNA was purchased by Bloomberg LLP in 2011 and the company recently announced they have discontinued the resource. Goodbye BNA; we miss you.
These seven resources can help you get a strong start on completing your export paperwork, but there is so much more available to you. Take a look through the more than 700 articles related to exporting on the International Trade Blog, which provides detailed coverage of all pertinent issues for exporters, including tips and tricks for completing export documents.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback. What resources do you find helpful when completing export forms?
This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been updated to include current information, links and formatting.