First, is your Website ready for prime time? Consider adding a section for international buyers which might contain a currency calculator, shipping options and prices, a statement about the buyer paying for customs duties and taxes, and even sample duty and tax calculations using your most common commodity classification codes (call 1-800-usa-trade for assistance with this). This is purely good customer service and will reduce misunderstandings across the miles.
Second, what do you need to know about documentation and regulations? At minimum you’ll need to know the commodity classification number or Harmonized Code for your product. Then you’ll need to calculate the landed costs to your customer, including applicable duties and taxes applied by the buyer’s country. Some countries have labeling requirements or may want proof of where the product is made. This information is readily available online at export.gov, through freight forwarders and customs brokers, or by contacting your local Export Assistance Center of the Department of Commerce. Export.gov also has notices of upcoming webinars on export basics and you can buy the ultimate resource A Basic Guide to Exporting. How and when to acquire this information, and what to do with it afterwards, should occupy about a page of your export plan.
Third, how do I find the buyers? Once you’ve selected the target countries, you can compile a mailing and phone list of industry and business associations. You can advertise for the cost of translating your product information on U.S. Commercial Service Websites in the countries. You can buy an inexpensive ad in Commercial News USA, which is distributed in key markets worldwide. You can go to a foreign trade show or a domestic show which attracts foreign buyers. The U.S. Commercial Service can help you at countless shows throughout the world, and they can find buyers and distributors for you. Their sister organization, the Foreign Agriculture Service, can do the same if you’re selling food products. Depending on which marketing tools you use, they will go into your plan with tasks and timelines added as appropriate.
We work regularly with small U.S. companies that have entered multiple foreign markets in relatively short time periods. One such firm ProStuff, LLC, makes bicycle racing starting gates. The company is eight years old, has seven employees, and sells to more than 40 country markets. The export plan is one page, is heavy on vision and values, favors speed in execution over extensive planning, relies on government and other low-cost expertise. No one can ever accuse them of being passive exporters.
I’ll leave you with this link to the interview I conducted recently with one of the founders, Pierce Barker. As Pierce would probably say, “If we can be in 40 plus markets, so can you.”
Doug Barry is a trade specialist with the Trade Information Center of the U.S. Commercial Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org