Although political conditions in many places are tumultuous right now, there are true opportunities abroad for small-business owners willing to be patient and persistent.
It may take a while to put a deal together, but exporting is an attractive way to boost sales during sluggish economic times at home. Fear of the unknown is the major reason most small-business owners shy away from exporting goods or services.
"The reason 70 percent of smaller companies don't export is because they perceive there is no single accessible source for export information," said John Rennie, author of "Exportise: An International Trade Source Book for Smaller Company Executives."
Rennie, a veteran exporter who is also chairman and chief executive of Pacer Systems Inc., a Massachusetts aerospace firm, said there is a wealth of information and support for small-business owners who are willing to invest the time.
There are scores of trade missions sponsored by individuals, states and the federal government that welcome small-business participation. Last year, 100 small businesses went on "matchmaker" trade missions jointly sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Commerce. The SBA provides $500 for the first 10 qualified small businesses that sign up for each trip.
The SBA and the U.S. Export-Import Bank (known as the Eximbank) both offer government guaranteed export financing. Most states also offer financing assistance.
"We have no choice but to jump in and get moving," said Irene Fisher, director of the commission's California State World Trade Commission's Export Finance Office in Los Angeles. "U.S. products are so welcome overseas."
Tim Murphy, vice president of trade services marketing for Security Pacific Bank in downtown Los Angeles, said many business owners are reluctant to sell overseas.
Murphy, also president of the Export Managers Association of California, said it is important to match the method of financing with the preferred means of doing business in that country. Trade specialists working for the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration can become a small-business owner's best friends. The specialists, based in offices around the country, work with their counterparts in American embassies and consulates around the world.
For very nominal fees, the ITA will distribute your company's catalogues or videotapes to customers in distant countries, provide mailing lists or evaluate the financial stability of a foreign company.
In addition to export consultants of all shapes and sizes, some companies skilled in international trade are willing to help small-business owners by investing in the deals in exchange for an equity position.
Write to Jane Applegate at the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.