Developing an international market isnt something reserved for large companies. With careful planning, you, too, can be shipping products overseas. When youre ready to explore new horizons and push your products into foreign lands, there are several things to consider.
- Identify your product. There are a lot of companies that think they know what their product is, but they really cant describe it easily, says Gerrie Kautz, president of GWEM Systems Ltd., an international market development consulting firm.
You have to be able to describe in a few sentences what it is you do to someone who has very little knowledge of English. If you can do that, then you really know what it is that you want to sell.
- What is your customer profile? Who buys your stuff in the U.S. now? says Kautz. Its not necessarily the same type of person that will buy it overseas, but its a starting point.
Identify regions of the world which have customers similar to your current client base and come up with a market entry plan. The direct sales you normally do with your current customer base doesnt work in too many countries, says Kautz. Youre going to have to get an agent, and this is a key factor in international business. It has to be someone in the country. In some cases, your agent might also be your distributor or some sort of business partner on a joint production project.
The person should know the territory, the language and the laws, says Kautz, also the author of Developing International Markets, (Oasis Press). The U.S. government can help you find an agent and identify problems you may run into. There are also state and local exporting programs.
- Prepare for a long commitment. Once you select a country, you may have to make several visits and invest time and expense.
This is where a lot of small companies blow it, says Kautz. Developing a relationship takes a long time. You are not going to fly into a country like Kuwait and come away with a contract. It might take two or three years. You have to have the staying power and the budget to do that.
A lot of companies see an ad for exporting or a booth at a trade show and say, Gee, why dont I try that. You can really waste a lot of money if youre not careful.
The U.S. Department of Commerce is a good starting point. It has a lot of information available on exporting, including country profiles, and can offer advice, but be careful before making any decision.
Sometimes you meet with an enthusiastic government official who hasnt sold a thing in his life, says Kautz. They are very well meaning, but take any advice with a grain of salt and make your own decision.
Dont forget Canada
When looking for a foreign destination for your products, dont forget our northerly neighbor, Canada. Its proximity, shared language (with some exceptions in Quebec) and similar culture make it a good place to learn how to export. Canada is the United States No. 1 trading partner.