Ohio exports have grown from around $22 billion in 1996 to around $31 billion in 2004, and there’s room for that growth to include you. The types of products being exported range from cars to toilet paper to chemicals, and the destinations range from Canada to South Africa.
The size of your company is irrelevant.
“There’s one small company with under 50 employees that does 85 percent of its business overseas,” says David Yen, executive director of the World Trade Center in Cleveland. “You just have to have the will to do it. It’s about investing the time and effort into the learning curve to be able to do it and do it right.”
Doing it right entails having the entire organization committed and involved with exporting. It is not something done only at the executive level.
“It’s actually a companywide project,” says Yen. “It involves everyone from R&D to shipping. There needs to be a broad base of participation and understanding in the company. They need to know that exporting is a priority, not just a side business.”
Taking the time to think through the entire process is crucial. You will have to think through issues ranging from packaging to whether the receptionist prepared to handle foreign-speaking callers.
Yen recommends getting into exporting by first examining your business and finding out where the best opportunities are by talking to experts available through federal, state or local agencies.
“They’ll talk about how your business operates, who your customers are and how competitive you are internationally,” says Yen. “You’ll work with them to determine what the best markets would be and do some research on where your type of products are going right now.”
It’s important to identify key markets at the beginning of the process and stay focused.
“Don’t take on the entire world at one time,” says Yen. “Look for something in common in the markets so you don’t have to learn everything at the same time. For instance, maybe go after Spanish-speaking countries first rather than Brazil, China and France because of the linguistic differences. You will have to modify your product and marketing materials for each.”
One of the easier ways to enter a market is to find a reputable agent or distributor to represent your company. Another way is to simply attend foreign trade shows or participate in inbound or outbound trade missions in the area. In either case, due diligence is required to ensure you end up in a fair business deal. Never assume anything.
“International business is no different than domestic business,” says Yen. “It’s just that you have to be aware of presuming anything that works here will work there. Getting paid on time is an issue when doing business in the U.S. or overseas, but it is much harder if you are working with someone who doesn’t pay on time who is overseas. The issues are the same, but the systems are different.”
An easy market to start in is Canada, which absorbed $16 billion in exports from Ohio last year.
“You don’t have issues with logistics or language, and the currency is easily understandable and some companies can operate in U.S. dollars,” Yen says. “The legal systems are compatible. There are a lot of reasons to look at places like Canada.”
Regardless of what country you target, keep an open mind.
“I think the biggest recommendation is to be intellectually and philosophically open to other ways of living in other cultures and other ways of doing business,” says Yen. “You have to be adaptable.”
How to reach: World Trade Center Cleveland, (216) 592-2447