How to Go Global Without Going Abroad

Discover how you can grow your business through global exports without leaving home.
February 13, 2012

The United States is certainly home to a robust contingency of consumers, but you’re missing out if your company focuses on selling only within U.S. borders. With 95 percent of the world’s buyers living outside of the States, there’s ample opportunity around the world for growing your business.

Going global is really not as hard as most people think. More often than not, you can stay in country to get your international business up and running. And the extra effort it takes to break into foreign markets will be more than worth it.

“It’s a proven growth strategy, maybe the only one that’s available to [business owners] in the existing economy,” says Doug Barry, international trade specialist with the United States and Foreign Commercial Service and author of A Basic Guide to Exporting.

“The profit margins for international sales tend to be better than the United States, and it’s a proven job generator,” Barry adds. “Once you get started, you’ll go from one or two international markets to double figures and do it relatively quickly once you get the hang of it.”

Here are some tips for getting sales started around the world without ever leaving home.

It all starts online

On your homepage, state that your company welcomes inquiries from any country in the world and that you’re willing and able to ship outside of the United States. That will help foreign consumers, buyers and distributors find you and your products. If nothing else, it can start a discussion about potential sales.

Website 2.0

Make your website even more enticing by putting together versions in different languages, Barry suggests. And then when people send inquiries from other countries, be sure to reply! A recent study found that only half of businesses responded to international requests on their websites—a wasted opportunity, he adds.

Turn to the experts

Many businesses avoid global trade because of concerns about securing payment or following the rules and regulations. But you just need some due diligence when it comes to the buyer, using a cash advance, wire transfer or letter of credit to offer your company some protection, says Barry. Or consider using a freight forwarder—a service provider or shipper who knows all the ins-and-outs of getting goods to countries around the world.

Help is on the way

Take advantage of numerous services available through the federal and state governments—many of them free and very high quality—that will walk you through all aspects of selling overseas, advises Tom Travis, an international trade and customs lawyer who is also chairman of Sandler & Travis Trade Advisory Services in Miami.

The U.S. Commercial Service keeps 109 offices across the country staffed with experts on global trade, and the agency’s hotline (800-USA-TRADE or 800-872-8723) serves businesses with answers to their questions. It also offers market information via webinar to address common trade issues. The Commercial Service also maintains 128 offices in U.S. embassies and consulates staffed with boots-on-the-ground experts who intimately know the 75 countries where they operate.

“Making use of the free help is certainly a winning business strategy, and it also determines a modest success from a terrific success,” adds Barry. “It takes the mystery out of international business and international sales.”

Trade shows

Another option for finding prospective buyers comes through the hundreds of domestic trade shows held across the country each year. Some are industry-specific, while others are vertical shows involving numerous business sectors; they attract worldwide buyers eager to distribute American-made products in their countries.

The U.S. Commercial Service also runs an international buyer program in which embassies’ staffs recruit and vet potential foreign buyers, then bring them on buying trips to trade shows in the States. For the price of a booth, you can meet face-to-face with buyers without ever leaving the country. Significant business and relationship building get done at these shows, Barry notes.

Internet marketing

The Internet is a powerful marketing tool in the United States, and the same applies to most foreign markets. Use the Web to your advantage for marketing your products around the world. Paid search advertising (otherwise known as pay-per-click advertising) and multilingual search engine marketing are ways to reach out more proactively to the global consumer. Services like Google even offer country-specific analytics to help you see which search terms and phrases your targeted consumers use, Barry notes. Then you can craft your message to include those words contextually.

Try these easy strategies, and before you know it you’ll gain customers from all over the world. “There is significant gain from global trade,” says Travis. “[Exporters] have been trading since Marco Polo, and the Venetians are still trading.”

Suzy Frisch is a Twin Cities–based freelance writer. She’s covered business, politics, law and many other topics for a range of publications, including Twin Cities Business magazine, the Star Tribune and the Chicago Tribune.

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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