How to Overcome Stumbling Blocks to Going Global

yacht at port
••• Photo Credit: Lance Cunningham 

During the course of more than a hundred interviews over the years, media reporters repeatedly ask me: What’s stopping small business owners and entrepreneurs from going global? Is it really that hard? It boils down to five basic reasons. Here they are. Each of these is based on years of experience working in the field of importing and exporting.

There is a lack of knowledge.

Say you need to source herbs to get a more competitive price on your rice medley packaged for retail stores. Where do you go for help, to not only find the best herb supplier in the world but also to prequalify the source of supply and transport the herbs to your factory door?

All of these efforts take knowledge. Thankfully, with a good Internet connection and a digital device, you can find just about anything online, provided you know exactly what you are looking for. Here are some good resources to help you get started:

You can’t find customers.

You can be all set to do something, anything, globally, but if you can’t find customers—or God forbid, they can’t find you—you’re dead in the water. Where do you turn for help? It’s easy.

Start by reading How to Find Overseas Customers, which drills down on a few good websites to visit for help, research intelligence (PIERS, for example) and the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Service. And of course, once you find a handful of reputable customers, you’ll want to determine if they truly are reputable and a good fit for your business. In that case, read How to Find and Pre-Qualify Importing Wholesalers For Your Product Line Overseas, which provides a shortlist to finding good distributors overseas and pre-qualifying them.  

The fear of not getting paid.

Is this fear a myth? Not really. When we asked a small business owner what challenges her the most on exports, getting paid was the No. 1 concern. After all, not getting paid may impact a small business exporter at a far greater magnitude than a large business because the sale will make up a larger proportion of the small business exporter’s overall earnings.

How can we eliminate the fear so more small businesses export or import? It’s simple: give them the information they need to make intelligent decisions about securing payment. The first step is for small business owners to have a conversation with their banker. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. So the “ask” is critical to ensuring the fear about getting paid or making payments is eliminated altogether.

Exporting doesn’t apply to their business.

Jane sells plants at an exotic nursery. Bill sells healthcare services to his neighboring community. Both think exports do not apply to their businesses. Their thoughts could not be further from the truth. They, along with the vast majority of other small business owners, need to rethink what importing or exporting means for their business and how to apply it creatively to their businesses. 

What will shift the mindset of business owners to take a more serious look at global trade? Start thinking outside the border. In the case of Jane, she could offer export services worldwide on the technique used in creating exotic nurseries. In Bill’s case, he could offer e-books or best healthcare practices to individuals or organizations that need an education in this area. The more you stretch your imagination, the greater your chance of creating new opportunities, which may result in exporting or importing activities to grow a business.

It’s too complicated.

This may be true in some instances but not all. Take Gail Adinamis, chief executive officer of GlobalCare Clinical Trials, Ltd., a company that exports its nursing services to North America, Latin America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific through a network of highly skilled and trained clinicians. In “Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably,” she says:

Providing global services has many challenges, but these are welcomed since if it was easy, I would have many more competitors.

If more small businesses took Gail’s attitude, they would be conducting far more global trade, outmaneuvering their competitors and bringing a whole lot more revenues and profits to their business.