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For decades, big businesses have cultivated global relationships, invested in off-shore infrastructure and successfully taken their business model around the world. Indeed, earnings releases by many U.S. Fortune 100 companies reveal substantial sales revenue and profits from business conducted outside the country.
While the foregoing is not exactly breaking news, it’s time for small businesses to start paying attention to what their big-business cousins are doing around the world. As noted in a previous article, every U.S. small business should keep in mind that 96 percent of their prospects live outside the U.S.
That statistic is at once exciting and intimidating. It’s exciting for any entrepreneur to imagine a prospect base of more than six billion people, but it’s intimidating for a small business since most are unsure how to plan and execute an export strategy. Two of the most vexing questions are: 1) How do I learn what I need to know? and 2) How do I make sure I get paid?
The good news is that there are two government agencies standing by to answer both of these questions. Each can provide you with information, human assistance, global networks and invaluable resources designed to help a small business maximize its opportunity to create and execute a successful export strategy—including getting paid.
U.S. Commercial Service
The Commercial Service division of the U.S. Department of Commerce should be your first stop for education on finding and converting foreign prospects into customers. When you combine the content on Export.gov—a phone number that puts you in touch with a real person, and over 100 offices around the country where you can walk in and ask for help—the Commercial Service is almost a one-stop-shop for your export strategy.
In addition to their domestic offices, there are dozens of Commercial Service locations around the world—your local representative can connect you with them for help prospecting in virtually any country. At the appropriate time, they can even arrange a video conference for you and your prospect so you save on travel costs.
Doug Barry is the director of Marketing and Communications of the Commercial Service and one of the export experts in my brain trust. If you’re planning to start or grow an export campaign, making Doug Barry‘s acquaintance should be high on your checklist.
Now let’s talk about getting you paid.
The second agency that is important to your export strategy is the Export-Import Bank of the United States (ExIm.gov). The president and CEO, Fred Hochberg, has a small business background and has often joined me on my radio show to talk about the multiple resources his organization offers small businesses. Ex-Im Bank can take the hassle and worry out of funding an export sale, from working capital before delivery to ultimately getting paid upon delivery—even helping your customer fund their purchase.
In an export transaction, two critical things have to happen: 1) an arbiter determines when acceptable delivery has been made so that payment can be released, and 2) funds have to be transferred from a foreign banking system to yours, including converting the currency. Ex-Im Bank can help with both.
Ex-Im Bank works with your bank and your customer’s financial institution to not only coordinate the funds transfer at the right time, but also help you both with loan guarantees to the banks on both sides of the transaction—including pre-delivery working capital for you and post-delivery financing for your customer.
Okay, there is a lot more that these agencies can do to help you plan and execute an export strategy, but what you’ve learned here should be enough to let you know that it doesn’t have to be as daunting or financially prohibitive as you may have thought when you started reading this article.
So go to Export.gov, get educated and talk to the folks at the U.S. Commercial Service about how they can help you. Then go to ExIm.gov and find out how to eliminate the worry of funding your export transaction and, ultimately, getting paid.
Hopefully the realization that 96 percent of your prospects live outside the U.S. is a lot more exciting, and a lot less intimidating. Good luck.
Jim Blasingame is one of the world’s leading experts on small business and entrepreneurship. He is the creator and host of the weekday radio program “The Small Business Advocate Show.” Jim is also a speaker, a syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of “Small Business is Like a Bunch of Bananas” and “Three Minutes to Success.”
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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