If you think small, importing/exporting becomes just a mouse-click away. As early as 1985, we started to view markets outside the United States as the future of our business. We even put "global," "trading" and "sourcing" in our company name (Global TradeSource, Ltd.).
That kind of vision, along with a facilitator called the Internet, has broken down every imaginable barrier to growth and prosperity and has transformed how the world does business. The moment you create a Web site, blog or Facebook account, your point of contact with consumers becomes global.
The use of technology, especially social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, along with the advent of smartphones and tablets, makes finding opportunities in the world marketplace a breeze for small business owners and executives who might like the idea of going global. And as a result of these advancements in technology, these same individuals can create opportunities (not just look for them!) and even launch whole new enterprises in a heartbeat based on unmet needs and interests expressed by consumers.
My theory is that one no longer operates in a vacuum because social networks enable us to extend our connections rapidly worldwide, increasing our ability to identify more opportunities. Here are two specific examples of how technology helps businesses go global.
An Import Business is Born
Mary Smith (not her real name) travels to Indonesia with her husband for a vacation. She spots a magnificent piece of pottery that she immediately falls in love with. She not only buys it but thinks about how she could import it for resale to local stores in her neighborhood. She checks the outer box and is happy to see the name of the manufacturer on it.
When she returns home to Australia, she places the piece of pottery at the top of her fireplace mantle in her home, stashes the empty box in her closet and forgets about the idea of importing it. She’s too busy! As the holidays roll around, she hosts a series of parties at her home, and each time, someone admires the pottery.
Several months go by and suddenly, when she has some spare time, she revisits the idea of importing the pottery. She pulls out the empty box from her closet, tracks the company name and finds their website on the Internet. She emails the company and within 30 days has pricing, samples and a small trial order on the way. Mary has launched an import business.
An Export Business is Born
Tom Jackson (not his real name) goes to food fairs morning, noon and night. Although he works full time in the automotive industry, his real passion is food. He's always seeking novel food items to try. At one local trade show he attends in Chicago, he falls in love with a specialty item that tastes like cheesecake, caramel, chocolate, and butter crumbs all rolled into one scrumptious cookie the size of a hockey puck. He chats with the person at the booth and asks if they export the product. They say “no.”
With that, he expresses interest in working with the company in his spare time as an independent contractor to export their products to a select few countries. Lo and behold, they say “yes.” After making sure the ingredients in the cookie can hold up in transit and pass regulatory laws, a contract is drawn up.
Via the Internet, Tom contacts the International Trade Administration to conduct a partner search for agents located in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Oman – areas of the world where he thinks there are significant demand and wealth to purchase gourmet food products.
Within three months and with the help of ITA (all done via email), Tom lines up two agents in two different countries. He sends a test shipment of cookies to each market to ensure the cookies make it to their final destination unbroken, and he discovers in the process that the cookies are enjoyed by everyone who samples them. He receives his first order by the Dubai agent for 10,000 packages of cookies. Tom is now in the export business.
Both of these businesses got their start with the help of technology that most of us use every day, illustrating the point that what we really have on our hands now is a new paradigm for world competitiveness and a new sense of information-intensive business. So while nothing beats a good face-to-face encounter to help deepen your knowledge of a country and the customer, making the most of technology should also be a priority.