While it’s easy to equate the idea of exporting with higher revenue, an increase in sales may be just the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential growth for your company. “Exporting tends to have a domino effect,” says Elizabeth Helsley, founder of Global Luxe, a full-service international consulting firm that helps companies navigate the Mexican market. “Once you export to one country, surrounding countries will often be interested in carrying your products.”
Helsley, a San Diego, Calif. native, launched Global Luxe in 2010 to provide services such as business matchmaking, product sourcing, and translation and localization. It also acts as a manufacturer’s representative for U.S. companies that want to delve into the Mexican market.
Here, Helsley offers five tips for small businesses that would like to start exporting products.
- Research your target market. Is your product a good fit for a foreign market? Head online to dig through information about the country you want to break into. Consider who your typical buyer in that country would be, and how much that consumer could afford to spend. Visit the U.S. Commercial Service Market Research Library, where you can access more than 100,000 industry and country-specific market reports. And be aware of the possible need to market your product under a different name in a foreign country. Case in point: the word “Gerber” means “to vomit” in French.
- Tap into government resources. The Export Working Capital Program is set up to help provide financing for small business owners to cover production, inventory, or working capital during long payment cycles. The low fees and quick processing times are a huge benefit to first-time exporters, notes Helsley. Your local SCORE office can assess your company’s “export readiness” level and guide you through the first steps of the export process. Also check out The National Export Initiative, which is designed to help small and medium-sized businesses export.
- Keep an open mind. Trying to do business in a foreign country the same way you handle your operations in the U.S. can lead to problems such as lagging sales. “A new market requires a new approach,” Helsley explains. In Mexico, for instance, sales are most often done through meetings in person, rather than a series of emails or phone calls. “A lot of companies won’t even give you a quote unless you meet them face to face.”
- Stick with it. Breaking into a foreign market – especially one you’re unfamiliar with – can involve a lot of trial and error. While the amount of time it takes to get a product off the ground varies from industry to industry, Helsley suggests allowing a full year to get adapted to the market and start seeing the benefits of your exporting efforts.
- Focus on a product’s features. In some countries, U.S. products are equated with high standards. In Mexico, for instance, apparel from the U.S. is seen as a symbol of quality and high status. Look for differentiating factors that can set your product apart from the competition — and let the selling begin!