Exporting can be a lucrative component of an online business. But many small business owners shy away from it simply because they have limited knowledge of the process. For these owners, there are two good places to begin. The first is creating an international section on your website detailing your terms and conditions, including a currency conversion calculator. The second is conducting research on international markets.
Create An International Web Section
It is important to communicate interest to your prospective international customers. You can do this by creating a page on your website detailing your export terms and conditions. This section would also detail who you are prepared to conduct business with, such as end-user consumers and/or volume buyers such as distributors and importers. (It may or may not be economical to initially ship low volume items directly to international end-user consumers for a number of reasons, including the amount of paperwork that is required to ship internationally, the time required and not knowing what the true shipping cost is at time of checkout.) The section would also include your shipping terms, payment terms, minimum order requirements, turn around time, the types of shipping companies and freight forwarders that you use, the types of export documents that will accompany the shipments (commercial invoices, packing lists, certificates of origin), a return policy and how to receive a price quotation. A great tool to include is a currency conversion calculator for your customers to determine cost in their local currency. An example is Xe.com/ucc.
Another important component for this section is a “questionnaire form.” The answers from the questionnaire will help you determine whether you should be conducting business with the customer. The form should ask for customer contact information, how they heard about the website, the type of business they are in, the products/services they sell, the markets they cover, the channels of distribution they use, the type of companies they sell to, names of current customers, market size, market share and import regulations for their country. In particular, you also need to determine whether or not they sell to countries or territories that are prohibited by the U.S. government. Complying with U.S. Export Controls is critical and asking the right questions will certainly help you in determining whether or not you should be exporting to that customer. You want to make sure that your product/service will not be re-exported to a country or territory that is prohibited by the U.S. government (for a list of prohibited countries you can visit the Dept. of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control at Treas.gov/offices/enforcement/ofac/programs/index.shtml). Also, consider attending a seminar on U.S. Export Controls by the Bureau of Industry and Security of the U.S. Department of Commerce (Bis.doc.gov/seminarsandtraining/index.htm).
Conducting Research On International Markets
Researching international markets is critical to exporting success, and you must use the proper channels to ultimately make sound decisions. There are a several good resources to choose from.
One of my favorite sources is the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce (Trade.gov/cs). It can assist you with market research, market entry strategies, trade leads, matchmaking and much more. The organization has trade specialists in 107 U.S. cities and more than 80 countries. I highly recommend making contact with your local trade office and see what they can do for you. The trade specialists are very experienced and you will be amazed at the resources you will have at your fingertips. My company has been using these services for a long time now and it has dramatically changed our export operation.
Another reliable source is the World Trade Centers Association (World.wtca.org). It can assist you with networking, database and library research, provide you with meeting space in foreign countries and exhibit facilities. World Trade Centers are located in most major U.S. cities and throughout the world. You can benefit tremendously by becoming a member. One of its many perks is the possibility to reserve and hold meetings in its conference rooms while traveling abroad.
Stats-USA (Stat-usa.gov) is another good source for attaining federal business, trade and economic information. Its GLOBUS & National Trade Data Bank services provide current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, trade statistics, country analysis and a trade library.
International business-to-business trade-exchange websites are also helpful. There are number of these websites, including Kompass.com, Alibaba.com, TradeKey.com and WorldBid.com. I recommend registering with as many of them as you can to gain maximum exposure. You can search for trade leads, post your products and much more.
Exporting to foreign markets can be rewarding, especially with the U.S. dollar at an all time low against other currencies. However, you must first equip yourself with the proper tools. Understanding the mechanism of exporting and learning the lingo can help. Start creating an international online presence by adding an export section to your website. Additionally, in order to make sound export decisions, seek out research assistance from governmental and other helpful sources.