The idea of selling in the global marketplace sounds good to most small business owners. However, unlike their corporate peers, most small businesses don't have the resources to devote an entire department to the task of penetrating foreign markets.
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In their frustration, these small business owners abandon the notion of selling their goods abroad simply because they don't believe they have the ability to tap foreign markets.
To some degree, they're right. Small businesses don't have as many resources to devote to tapping foreign markets as large corporations. But the good news is that you don't need a foreign marketing department to sell your products internationally. No matter how big your company is, penetrating markets outside the U.S. can be a relatively simple transition – if you know how to leverage the right resources.
Finding Foreign Markets
Your first step will be to identify potential foreign markets for your products. Surprisingly, one of the best sources of information about foreign markets is the U.S. government. Much of what you'll need to know is available on the internet at the U.S. Government Export Portal at www.export.gov. Here you'll find industry and country specific market research as well as information about preparing your business for exports, international partner listings, shipping requirements, tariffs, and exporting basics.
Foreign governments are another good source of information about foreign markets. While it's doubtful that a foreign embassy will have the information you need at their fingertips, they should be able to point you in the right direction.
Assess Market Response
Once you've identified a foreign market, your next step will be to assess how the market will respond to your product. One way to do this is by participating in government sponsored trade events and/or trade missions. These events and missions are set up by the government for the sole purpose of connecting U.S. businesses with potential foreign trading partners. For a very small expense, these opportunities will help you network with global partners and give you the ability to determine how well your products will be received internationally.
Develop a Sales & Marketing Strategy
At least initially, the most effective way to sell your products abroad will not be to sell them directly to consumers. Instead, you'll want to target businesses and other intermediaries who are better equipped to market and sell your products in a foreign market.
One way to accomplish this is by creating strategic alliances with foreign business partners. For example, if you produce footwear the best strategy might not be to open a shoe store in Australia, but rather to create an alliance with an Australian shoe store that is willing to sell your shoes. The benefit is that the Australian store is already equipped to market your shoes in the Australian marketplace.
If you have difficulty locating foreign partners on your own, another option is to engage the services of a commissioned broker or export management company to help you market your product. Brokers take a commission, but their experience in marketing U.S. products internationally may make it worth the investment.