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In case you haven’t heard, the world population just surpassed 7 billion. Contemplating such a scale of humanity boggles the mind.
If you’re a U.S. small business owner hoping to grow your business aggressively, here’s an even more intimidating number: 96 percent of your prospects live outside of the U.S.
There was a time when small business growth meant expanding to the next county or state. But these days, new technology and changing demographics have made growth outside the U.S. increasingly feasible for small businesses. Indeed, today’s small business export strategy is likely to be both offense and defense: a plan for growth and long-term survival.
When you sell products or services that can be delivered anywhere, the two basic considerations of your export strategy are:
- Who are my prospects?
- How do I find, serve and collect from them?
Answering “who” requires breaking the universe of 7 billion people into elements around which a plan can be built. Thanks to a National Geographic piece (January 2011), we have a good starting point. Here are a few macro statistics uncovered by their research team, with a bit of my editorializing sprinkled in:
- Of Earth’s population 19 percent are Chinese, 17 percent are Indian and only 4 percent live in the U.S. By 2030, the top two positions will switch places. But remember, that still leaves 4.5 billion prospects elsewhere.
- Demographically, males barely edge out females around the globe by a ratio of 1.01 to 1.0. Additionally, many industrialized nations have aging populations. (Both statistics should provide insights for your product and marketing strategies.)
- In a historical switch, slightly more than half of all Earthlings are now urbanites. Remember: city folk have different needs than their country cousins.
- Forty percent of humans work in services, 38 percent in agriculture and 22 percent in industry. These numbers mean different things to different businesses, but they mean something to every business.
- English is the first language of only 5 percent of Earth’s population—the same percentage whose preferred language is Spanish. English may be considered the international language of business, but U.S. exporters need to be prepared for, and patient with, the translation process.
- Global literacy has risen to 82 percent, which helps explain the increasing middle class of many emerging markets. A growing global middle class means more affluent prospects for U.S. exporters.
- According to National Geographic, computers and Internet use are still luxuries for most of the world. Many observers, however, look to the next statistic as evidence of a paradigm shift for the online marketplace.
- Mobile phone usage is exploding across the globe, especially in areas where it’s more reliable and scalable than landlines. When smartphones become the default mobile device, imagine the export opportunities created by an exploding adoption rate of mobile apps.
Where and who you export to is much more complex than what’s revealed in the National Geographic research, but their statistics provide a better perspective on your global prospects. Knowing more about how prospects live their lives allows you to connect with them on a more informed basis and perhaps gain a competitive advantage.
Despite the current high visibility of India and China, U.S. small businesses should consider export opportunities in their own hemisphere first, especially where trade agreements are in place. Doug Barry, director of marketing and communications at the Commercial Services division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has shared many small business exporting stories over the years. My favorite is about a small Tennessee business that makes salsa. Guess where one of their big grocery store customers is located? Mexico! Honest.
As you focus on strategic sales growth, start looking beyond the U.S. borders for opportunity. Now more than ever before, the information and resources that are available and affordable will help you develop and execute a successful export strategy.
In my follow-up article, I’ll address the second basic exporting element: How to get your export strategy started.
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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