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Have You Crossed a Border Today?

May 24, 2010

(This post contains external links.  Please review our external linking policy.)

Doug Barry is a Senior International Trade Specialist within ITA’s Commercial Service. He has helped hundreds of U.S. companies of all sizes find success in overseas markets and produced a number of instructional videos and webinars that help firms navigate the path to successful sales.

Do you have to be a big company to be a successful exporter?  No.  In fact, the majority of exporters have fewer than 100 employees, and many have fewer than five.

Take Pro Quest, a maker of automated starting gates for bicycle races.  The company has 8 employees but is in more than 40 country markets, including some unusual ones like Zimbabwe.

Vellus, Inc. is another successful small exporter, selling hair care products for, well, household pets.  Vellus sells to more countries than it has employees.  A buyer in Latvia was just added to this mini United Nations.  Heck, most of us would have a hard time finding Latvia on the map, let alone selling doggie shampoo or anything else there.

These companies have achieved something special because 58 percent of the 263,000 U.S. exporters sell to only one market, mainly Canada.  So how do you go from none or one—to two?

First, respond promptly and thoughtfully to inquiries you receive from non-U.S. buyers.  Foreign buyers often complain, quite justifiably, that their emails aren’t responded to.  Hard to seize today’s opportunity if you don’t answer the phone.  You may be wary at first, especially if the inquiry comes from Prince So and So of Nigeria, who is offering to share his millions with you if you’ll just hand over your bank account number.  Screen the request using common sense but don’t automatically reject anyone, even from Nigeria, which despite unfavorable publicity is a good market for all kinds of U.S. goods and service.  Remember ProQuest and the bike racers in Zimbabwe?  One person’s red flag is another person’s checkered flag.

Second, make sure your Web site is international friendly.  Consider adding some welcoming text such as “we ship international” or “we gladly accept international orders and will quote you shipping rates.”  Offer them shipping options including via the U.S. Postal Service which has very competitive rates on international shipments weighing less than 70 pounds and that may take a few days longer to reach the buyer.  It’s also helpful to inform the international visitor upfront that they will be responsible for applicable duties and taxes applied by their country’s government.  These charges can exceed 30 percent of the value of the item purchased.  Better yet, help Web buyers estimate these charges by giving them sample charges for a range of countries based on the Harmonized Tariff Code number for your products.  To learn how, view this series of short videos.  http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/aes/exporttraining/videos/

Once you’ve made a few international sales, gather some testimonials from happy buyers and feature them on your site.  Evidence of success begets more success.  The next logical step after the onezys and twozys is to look at the pattern of where the sales are coming from and set a goal to find a distributor in one or two countries who will purchase sizable volume from you.  How do you find them?

That brings us to our third way of increasing the markets you sell to from one to two to 20:  the U.S. Government.  Like most of the small exporting clients of the Commerce Department, Vellus and ProQuest have customers in far more countries than average.  The reason for this success is that the Commerce Department, with its network of domestic Export Assistance Centers and experts at U.S. embassies, is good at finding buyers for U.S. companies, whether online, at trade shows, via teleconference or face-to-face. Learn more about these services by viewing this video.

It’s appropriately titled “Going Beyond Borders,” and it gives you good reason to cross one today.

55 comments

  1. Quiet helpful post. Yes I like the idea of gathering testimonials from the buyers as it helps in future for customer response analysis. I think it should be focused more to get success in business.


    • I fully agree and the further suggestion in the article about placing Internationally friendly messages on your site, such as “we ship internationally” is also a further incentive to buy.
      Unfortunately there are many websites which do the opposite in that they won’t ship tangible products to countries south of the equator such as Australia and New Zealand.


    • While going global may expand a companies reach, it doesn’t actually mean it will be successful in the long run of the business. A company can still be strong without going global if it’s target market has been nailed downed nationally.


  2. I remember, Tri-M, 26 billion dollar company from USA talked about this at the conference held several months ago. Going international helped them become the world’s biggest TiO2 suppliers for USA market.


    • Crossing the borders and expanding the horizons of the business is something all the countries should be following since the world has become a global village.


  3. however it’s not easy for a small company to reach international audience. same careers give the possibility to ship easier in Europe but certain areas of the globe are more difficult to penetrate.


  4. I agree, small business is hard. But somehow everyone begins who are trying to do it.


  5. I have to agree too that for a small business it’s hard to reach international audience even though there is the possibility to offer his products on the internet. But if you have THE brilliant idea and a good marketing strategy everyhing is possible.


    • Speaking of marketing strategy, don’t forget the importance and effectiveness of reaching across borders via social media. Surprisingly, the US doesn’t make up the majority of people on Facebook for instance. A “foreign marketing strategy” could easily be accomplished.


  6. Reaching an international audience with a small company is quite easy, if you know how. The internet opens a global audience for business large or small.

    With the right coach, anyone can learn to harness the power of the internet.


  7. I’ve ofter seen the phrase “experts at U.S. embassies” but to be honest, haven’t had much success just calling and asking for “an expert” to help me. Can you follow up this with perhaps an “tips” or “faqs” as to the best way to locate and reach an expert – especially for countries not no the top-ten list.


  8. I think buyer testimony gathering will help us better result the analysis. The customer response analysis will definately help in business.


  9. great insight! this is truly remarkable. I didn’t know that going global with business is as easy as the steps you mentioned above :)


  10. You must start first from scratch, that means you need to start from a small business in order to upgrade to a bigger business. I agree with the previous comments about starting out a small business.


  11. Your credibility is a key to your global success. Even if you run a small company, you should present yourself internationally as a solid and reliable potential partner. Exporting your firm’s products or services can provide you a valuable opportunity for growth. It takes a special approach, however, to successfully access foreign markets.


  12. The power of online marketing’s ability to make money is probably best demonstrated by the recient collapse of several book stores in Australia that had either minimal or no online presence and as a result couldn’t compete with Amazon. A physical store tends to limit the amount of traffic that can be accomodated at any one time. With an online store the number of customers is virtualy unlimited and comes from a world wide audience not just your local area.


  13. Thank you for the guidance on doing business overseas – especially working with the government. We need to be exporting more products to help strengthen our economic infrastructure.


  14. “First, respond promptly and thoughtfully to inquiries you receive from non-U.S. buyers. Foreign buyers often complain, quite justifiably, that their emails aren’t responded to. Hard to seize today’s opportunity if you don’t answer the phone. You may be wary at first, especially if the inquiry comes from Prince So and So of Nigeria, who is offering to share his millions with you if you’ll just hand over your bank account number. “
    Interesting information about exporting to other countries. The Internet connects us globally and opens up millions more potential customers than if your company is limited to only shipping nationwide.


  15. Do you even need any employees? Virtual fulfilment services can pretty much handle anything thrown at them, from handling orders, paying suppliers, shipping etc.
    Has there ever been a better time for starting and growing a successful business?
    Thanks for the info.


  16. I agree that getting testimonials from the buyers along with a picture if you can is a really goiod way off building up credit. Credibility can make or break any business no matter how big or small


  17. I know this may sound funny coming from a wedding hair and makeup Las Vegas style but I have concerns about regulations and import/export. One of my contacts shared with me some of the requirements for export now for some very simple products and found that there was more paperwork needed to complete the deal but was unaware of these requirements. Does anyone know of a place up to date with inter agency requirements?


  18. I’m a great believer in not over complicating business and trade especially when it comes to marketing on the internet. Global ecommerce is a great leveler for both small and corporate business. Find the right business mentor and learn how to market online and you have the tools necessary to compete effectively.


  19. The world just keeps getting smaller and smaller. I’m a wedding photographer, yet international wedding photography is not just something some of us dream about, many brides go around the world to get married.


  20. It is true that we do work with many people from various countries now….
    The world is getting smaller everyday and this is a good thing…


  21. Just bringing this post back again since today’s new posting…Californian company success going abroad.

    The thrust of the story was it’s use of solar power to power 30% of it’s manufacturing.

    However, buried in the article was the bit about using new mechanical processes to compete with the Chinese on the global market.

    So the knowledge to succeed in exporting is truly out there.


  22. Reaching out to the international marketplace can be very rewarding provided you have a solid business organization to handle the logistics and a firm financial foundation to support your marketing campaign. Small domestic companies would be well served to find a marketing consultant familiar with their target market to help with formulating a marketing plan.


  23. I don’t fully agree with this post. It’s a good start, but I think it leaves lots of gaps in the equation. I think building a website is just one step to building the business. To be trully effective, you’ll then need to actually get people to your site. Nowadays, it’s real easy to build a website. I think where people fail is actually not having a marketing plan that includes things like SEO, email marketing, social media marketing, and others to actually get people to notice their business. It’s no different than the offline world. It’s one thing to open a store, it’s another to actually get people into the store.


  24. It is really amazed the fact that you mention for instance the company Pro Quest that has only 8 employees, however it is expanded in more than 40 countries. How that can be possible, if you have not an office or someone in a specific country where you expand your market? Just, this makes me confused a little bit..


  25. Yes i totally agree, it is always as hard to find customers on the international market than in the local town.
    However, it is always easier to find the right market when you have millions potential customers than few dozens, so i will definitly agree with this article.


  26. The world is an oyster. Why would you restrain yourself to doing business nationally when you can export your products worldwide? This article has opened my eyes.


  27. A small company can reach international audience with the help of internet. If you have a marketing strategy and the help of SEO Company nothing is impossible. Thanks for this by the way.


  28. As long as technology continues to simplify and take over our lives, how is a large part of the retail world going to survive? Sell online to a larger and equally as hungry of a market, a major part of the costs gone. How much more incentive to sell online.


  29. Global ecommerce is a great leveler for both small and corporate business. Find the right business mentor and learn how to market online and you have the tools necessary to compete effectively. Thanks!


  30. It’s the whole package, the website, the products, the marketing, shipping and handling and and and, it is a lot of work to be #1


  31. What advice do you have for small photography businesses, or single photographers, on getting business from outside the us? currently, my website brings in occasional clients, but i wonder if it could be revamped a little to lure in foreign clients, or show up higher in foreign search results.


  32. The part about just responding back to emails and answering the phone is so true. I am the owner of a small Dallas photo booth rental company, and you wouldn’t believe how many people call me and say “You are the first person to answer my call today, you’re hired!”


  33. I can really relate to this article because I company I use to work for had to deal with international sales. This aspect was new to the company, since it only dealt with domestic sales.


  34. I agree with the wedding photographer above. What would be the best way to attract more international sales? I am currently providing destination weddings as an option and would love to do more wedding photography internationally, but I am not sure of how I would go about getting the word there to attract more clients. Thanks for any input you may have!


  35. Yes, international sales can be tricky. However, here is an illustrative example of how we sell one product in 14 countries. While our website services brides accross the USA, we sell specific lighting for wedding cakes to bakeries in 14 countries. In other words, we don’t manufacture the lighting, but since we are in the wedding cake industry, we have the contacts for bakeries. The bakeries would rather buy from us than a lighting manufacture. They can buy in smaller quantities and they are buying from someone in the same industry who they see as someone who understands their business.


  36. Another helpful tip: If you can get a referral from a business that the buyer in another country is already doing business with that will go a long way to help you get established in that country.


  37. International business is one of several goals for any company that want a big bite from the cake. Although it has to be done right, good information here.


  38. It has never been easier to export or import products internationally and with the Internet it is easy to establish a web presence that people can view from anywhere. First, I would design a good website that is established on the best practices in the SEO industry. Second, develop good content that specifically describes your activities. Third, get this content into the hands of people who find it useful.

    Participate in discussions around your topic and use blog posts and other forms of social outreach to drive customers to your site. Also, use keywords that highlight your business objectives and design your content around these words. These techniques will not work overnight, but as part of a long term strategy they will help your business to establish a presence anywhere in the world you would like.


  39. Trading internationally is key to small business growth in the current economy. In the UK the domestic market is stagnant.


  40. Nice read on this one! But what about if your to simply deal in import and export, will your services be looked upon for network purposes? This is how e-commerce sites operate with their “ship internationally phrase” the major companies relly on Big names like DHL, UPS, FEDEX, REDSTAR, etc


  41. Nice posts…. Thank you for sharing…Trading internationally is key to small business growth in the current economy.


  42. Interesting article, it would be quiet interesting to see some information on the resources for actively seeking new markets


  43. Amazing post. Thanks for sharing this great post.Trade for America represents a wide range of companies and trade associations from virtually every sector of the U.S. economy, all dedicated to continuing U.S. economic growth and prosperity. I really appreciate your work Doug Barry .keep posting.


  44. These are very helpful tips. Quite frequently foreign buyers are overlooked but in this era of social media tools where word is spread quickly, it is almost a sin to believe USA is isolated from the world.


  45. Your credibility is a key to your global success. Even if you run a small company, you should present yourself internationally as a solid and reliable potential partner. Exporting your firm’s products or services can provide you a valuable opportunity for growth. It takes a special approach, however, to successfully access foreign markets.


  46. Your credibility is a key to your global success. Even if you run a small company, you should present yourself internationally as a solid and reliable potential partner. Exporting your firm’s products or services can provide you a valuable opportunity for growth. It takes a special approach, however, to successfully access foreign markets.


  47. Trading internationally is key to small business growth in the current economy. In the UK the domestic market is stagnant.


  48. Your credibility is a key to your global success. Even if you turn a small company, you should present yourself internationally as a solid and reliable potential.


  49. Trading internationally is key to small business growth in the current economy. In the UK the domestic market is stagnant.


  50. Nowadays there are no excuses not to be out there making connections in order to spread the word. It does take time and hard work but nothing comes easy.


  51. Great post on cross border initiatives. Being part of an international business myself I really found this post to be very insightful and confirming many Ideas I have been discussing with some colleagues these past months.

    Thank you for sharing this.



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