Small business owners aiming to expand should strongly consider tapping into foreign markets, experts say.
But where to start?
On Friday, Washington Post Live hosted an “Exporting for Growth”event featuring commentary from Charles Tansey, SBA Export Solutions Regional Manager Bill Houck, and Citi Commercial Bank Vice President of Trade Finance Peter Moriano. A second panel featured firsthand accounts from successful exporters Amy Frey, founder of D.C. based warehouse and distribution business ATC International, and Katie McCroskey, Partner Community Manager at Thycotic, a D.C.-based information technology security software company.
Here are the five take-aways:
Find partners overseas: Instead of spending time and money setting up shop overseas, McCroskey said she has been “leveraging the partner system,” to spread Thycotic’s business across 25 countries, she said. A good partnership will connect your business to your partner’s established customer base abroad, she said.
Take advantage of government resources: The SBA can connect firms with lenders and it offers loan guarantees, Houck said. The Ex-Im Bank provides export insurance. Tansey noted that the Commerce Department can help small firms conduct research overseas and locate potential buyers.
Don’t overlook emerging markets: Canada and Mexico have long been the most popular exporting destinations for small businesses, but Houck said many previously underserved countries now have rapidly expanding middle classes ready to spend money on American goods.
Do your homework: The biggest mistake, Frey said, is sending products overseas before adequately gauging interest. She explained that many new exporters think the product should be deployed immediately to anticipate large orders, but they don’t always have a realistic understanding of the demand.
Humor doesn’t always translate: When dealing with foreign partners, “keep the message clear, conservative and on the mark,” Frey said. She recalled a time she received foreign business partners in America on Halloween, and decided to conduct the meeting in costume to introduce them to the American tradition. The foreigners, she said, didn’t quite understand her gesture.
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