To increase your chances of global success, follow these best practices:
Do your homework.
Market research is critical to finding the best global market for your business as well as the best product/s for that market. Research current and projected demographics of the countries you’re considering, as well as legal, financial and logistical issues involved in selling to those countries. Export.gov, The Market Research Library, the International Trade Administration and Trade Stats Express offer free market research reports prepared by experts.
Keep it simple.
For a novice exporter, it's best to start small. Look for a country that has many English speakers, business practices similar to those in the U.S., and well-established legal and banking systems. Mexico and Canada are geographically close, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) linking the countries simplifies trade with these nations. The U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are also good starting points, with similar cultures and a common language.
Decide on a distribution method.
If you want to wholesale to other businesses overseas, the easiest approach is to find a sales representative or distributor in your chosen country—someone who’s familiar with your market and has plenty of contacts. You can also approach potential customers directly at international trade shows (find them at Trade Show News Network), or connect with buyers in global online marketplaces such as Alibaba.
Consider selling online.
Ecommerce enables targeting consumers directly and starting as small as you like. One easy way to sell internationally online is with Amazon Global Selling. Good search engine optimization is essential; make sure your site is optimized for search terms foreign visitors are likely to use when looking for your product. Clearly state shipping, tax and return/exchange policies. Then use social media—Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—to promote your brand to a global audience.
Investigate labeling and packaging requirements.
Depending on the regulations of the country you’re targeting, your product packaging and labeling may need to be modified for foreign sale. Your nearest U.S. Export Assistance Center can help you find out more.
Understand tariffs and import restrictions.
Countries may put restrictions on what can be imported into their shores, especially in the case of food, cosmetics or skin-care products. You’ll also need to understand tariffs and how they affect your pricing and profits. Find out more at the World Bank Group’s website.
Focus on relationships.
As you interact with your foreign partners or customers, be patient and invest the time to develop trust. Communicate frequently—using email, videoconferencing and in-person visits—to ensure that you and your overseas partners are on the same page.
Price it right.
Your products will be competing with lower-priced items made in the foreign country. Be sure to take tariffs, duties, shipping and other additional costs into account when setting your prices. You’ll need to strike a balance between prices appealing enough that prospects will pay them and prices high enough for you to make a profit.
Plan for shipping.
If you will be selling large quantities to resellers or distributors, hiring a freight broker or freight forwarder is your best bet. These companies handle shipping and customs issues for you to ensure your goods get to foreign customers without a hitch. If you’ll be selling directly to consumers online, you can use FedEx, UPS or the U.S. Postal Service to handle your shipping. Whatever shipping solution you choose, look for one that can grow with your business.
Make sure you get paid.
If selling to individuals online, you can accept payments via PayPal or credit cards commonly accepted in that country. Selling to other businesses can be a bit trickier. Your bank’s international trade department can help you verify a foreign business’s reputation before you ship products. You can lessen transaction risk by using a letter of credit or obtaining a down payment in advance of shipping.
Get professional help.
International trade can get complicated, so don’t try to go it alone. Enlist an attorney familiar with international trade to prepare standard contracts for you, find a bank experienced in handling international payments and take advantage of services offered by the U.S. government such as trade missions and matchmaking events.