More and more small business owners are paying attention to the unlimited potential of the growing, global economy. There was a time when exporting products to foreign countries was simply not practical for most small businesses. But today, exporting your products may be just the ticket for your company.
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Here are some things to consider before you decide to send your products abroad.
1. Domestic sales
The first question you need to ask is whether or not your products are selling domestically. Exporting is not a panacea to boost sagging sales. If your products aren't selling here, then they probably won't sell anywhere else, either.
Next, you'll need to decide if your products are "exportable". Do your products fill a niche that is exclusive to the U.S. market? Are they packaged in a way that can be understood by non-English speaking consumers? Do they violate cultural taboos or contain ingredients that are prohibitive to their sale in a foreign context?
These are all questions you will need to answer before you invest time and money in a costly export venture.
3. Foreign partnerships
Once you have decided that your products are both saleable and exportable, you'll need to find foreign partners who are willing to either purchase or distribute your products.
Unless you are planning to establish a retail operation of foreign soil, you are going to have to establish business to business sales relationships. You can either sell your products directly to foreign retailers or to foreign distributors who sell to those retailers.
A secondary advantage of establishing foreign relationships is that your foreign partners will be able to provide you with valuable, local insight about import regulations, product marketability, and local customs.
Even though establishing foreign relationships can be difficult, you do have several resources at your disposal. The U.S. Commerce department sponsors two websites, www.export.gov and www.buyusa.com, that contain directories of foreign buyers.
Another resource is the U.S. embassy located in the country where you would like to sell your products. The embassy should be able to assist you in identifying indigenous companies who buy the kind of products your company sells.
4. Legal issues when exporting products
The last step in establishing an export component for your business is to research the legal issues involved in exporting your products to certain parts of the world. Some products, such as technology and agricultural products, are subject to severe export limitations. There may also be import restrictions depending on the countries you are dealing with.
Additionally, the post 9/11 world has created heightened sensitivities about exporting products that can even remotely be used in a military or terrorist capacity.
Since you can't possibly be aware of all the restrictions and licensing requirements you may or may not be facing, your best advice is to consult an attorney specializing in international law to make sure you are in compliance with the appropriate domestic and foreign regulations.