The world beyond our borders is a vast marketplace, but without proper planning the allure of new markets could undermine your whole business if you jump in too fast and without focus. Yes, 96% of consumers live outside the U.S and yes, 97% of U.S. exporters are small and medium-sized companies. But these statistics paint only part of the picture. Too many companies of all sizes approach international markets anticipating big short-term gains and can be blinded by the glamour of the world stage. While some undoubtedly achieve success, it is generally as a result of putting significant time and resources into planning their international growth. Those who skip over this step often end up undermining their core business through resource mismanagement and non-strategic thinking.
As part of the National Export Initiative/NEXT, trade agencies at the federal, state and local level have an “all hands on deck” approach to promoting free and easy access to comprehensive exporting resources. But how does a small business, new to export, begin to make sense of the vast amount of webinars, case studies, market research, tools and tips? Many companies don’t have the bandwidth to manage their day to day operations , let alone learn the ropes of international trade ‘on the fly’. And while so much of this information is available for free and is very encouraging, what is missing is a guide to managing your expectations as you look to international markets.
As part of our firm's support for the National Export Initiative, ISI Consultants presented a training workshop at the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation (AEDC), for small business owners interested in starting or expanding into international markets. The focus of the workshop was to point participants to the vast array of free exporting resources and help them successfully navigate to what is relevant to their business. Ian Oliver, ISI's Client Services Director, who led the training has trained and counseled countless businesses on exporting and has seen the mistakes many have made. He delivered an overview of strategies and resources for those new to exporting and challenged the companies in attendance to think about the potential of their products and services abroad. And at every turn in his presentation he injected a healthy dose of realism with stories of success and failure he had seen with his clients.
Mr. Oliver also explained the key benefits of a solid plan to achieve exporting success:
Benefit #1 Go Beyond the Cult of Personality
Many business owners, especially start-ups, are driven by one person’s vision for that product or service. So while the ideas may be genius, they are living in one person’s head and nothing has been downloaded into any sort of plan, let alone a strategic exporting plan.
Benefit #2 Companies Don’t Know What They Don’t Know
Buy-in at all levels of a company and from its stakeholders is critical as exporting will affect every aspect of your business. The best tool to get those commitments is a strong export business plan. Without an export plan it is impossible for a company to begin to figure out what it doesn’t know about exporting. Companies with domestic success often assume they can package their model ‘as is’ for other markets only to face frustration when unforeseen international variables start eating into their profit margins.
Benefit #3 Avoid Costly Missteps
Create an export business plan and strategy before you get drawn into your first overseas deal. This will not only save you time and money by helping you identify areas where you need outside help, but can protect you against expensive missteps and costly exposure to risks, by taking into consideration all the variables of export that can affect your bottom line. And an export plan is a required document for any export financing or guarantees!
Benefit #4 Set Realistic Expectations
An export plan also provides you a measured approach to international markets and helps you sell your plans internally while continuing to serve your customers domestically and abroad. Just because you attended a trade show and left with dozens of international contacts does not mean that tomorrow you will have your first overseas project or be shipping pallets of your product to other markets. And your first few deals may barely break even as you get your feet wet in exporting. A good plan will take into consideration the time and money you will need to 'stay the course'.
ISI is ramping up its educational series for Economic Development Organizations such as AEDC, that focus on small and medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs with the belief that by increasing the capacity of these business owners they will increase export successes. As Mr. Oliver stated, “An export business plan isn’t rocket science but it is the most critical piece for a company to be successful in the international marketplace.”
ISI Consultants assists U.S. companies to enter or further expand their business in Middle East and African markets. From small projects to longer-term engagements, we put our knowledge and experience to work for you, saving you time and money and minimizing your risk. And our results-oriented approach means we don’t just advise you on what to do to be successful – we work with you to get it done.
As part of our commitment to the National Export Initiative (NEI), ISI Consultants offer a limited number of COMPLIMENTARY STRATEGY SESSIONS each month to qualified U.S. companies.