When it comes to international business, the world is flat. Just ask Doug Barry.
“The world is flat in regard to the ease you can move internationally and the relative ease in which you can sell a product in different countries,” Barry says, “but there are a lot of individual differences and idiosyncrasies that disturb the flatness when it comes to the business world.”
Barry, formerly a senior trade specialist in the global business solutions unit of the Department of Commerce, is now vice president of international accounts at the business strategy firm Conover Gould in Washington, D.C. And he’s eager to share his knowledge of international trade with businesses.
He finds that business owners new to exporting are often confused by customs processes and conflicting trade rules and feel impeded by limited resources. But there’s a simple solution, Barry says. To successfully export their products, companies need to do two things well: Plan and adapt.
Do your research
The planning part doesn’t need to be overwhelming, Barry says. Plenty of free information is available on www.export.gov, a website managed by the U.S. International Trade Administration.
The first call should be to your local U.S. Export Assistance Center. Export specialists are located in more than 100 U.S. cities. “They have all kinds of market research on countries all over the world. You can get export data that will help you fill in a picture on how to direct your efforts in other countries,” Barry says.
Talking to a specialist also gives you an opportunity to learn about international trade agreements in the countries you’re exploring.
“We’ve hashed [international trade agreements] out and simplified them because we want to generate trade and not reduce it,” Barry says. “The rules and regulations have been standardized and harmonized. They’re often straightforward and easy to access. You can avoid a lot of headaches by reviewing [U.S.] free trade agreements.”
Part of your research is to make sure you can legally export the item. “Most manufactured goods can be exported without an export license,” Barry says. “But some do require a license from the U.S. government, depending on where the goods are being shipped and for what purpose.” If in doubt, contact your local Export Assistance Center.
Of course, there may be scenarios when an unexpected obstacle to doing business comes up. That’s when a specialist might need to be called and when flexibility among the parties is encouraged.
Today obstacles can take many forms. For example, “U.S. businesses are dealing with the high value of the dollar, which makes products and services more expensive,” Barry says. “On the other hand, cross border e-commerce is booming, providing new opportunities. Look hard and you’ll find a silver lining.”
It can also be tricky for U.S. companies to protect their brand integrity while at the same time catering to the country’s local needs and local tastes with a service or product, he says.
“Companies need to adapt and adjust [to other countries they’re trading with],” says Andy Molinsky, award-winning author of Global Dexterity: How to Adapt Your Behavior Across Cultures Without Losing Yourself in the Process. “I often see that there’s cultural awareness and flexibility at the top but when you go down to the lower levels, people don’t have the experience or the opportunities to interact across boundaries and borders. When they hit the ground they find it much harder than they imagined.”
One solution is to align with a local company or interested party in the country where you want to do business, Barry says. “A local partner can take care of a lot of the permits and regulatory requirements, and the U.S. company provides the training, the equipment, and the products, and that becomes a good business model.” The local advisor can also help explain cultural and custom differences, interpret idioms and assist with proper etiquette.
Take a good look at yourself
Before you consider shipping internationally, ask yourself: Are you ready to sell your product in a foreign market? Have you met that country’s regulations and testing requirements? If so, good.
Then ask: Do you have a business strategy for this new market? Have you gathered intelligence from the U.S. Export Assistance Center? If not, read on.
Use your resources
Barry suggests downloading sections of the country commercial guide on export.gov. Guides are available for more than 100 countries. “It will give you a summary of some of the major things you need to do to be allowed to bring your product in the country. You can find export data that will help you fill in a picture on how to direct your efforts in other countries,” he says.
ExporTech is another useful resource. The national export assistance program helps small businesses expand into global markets. It connects companies with experts to develop a written export plan. In addition, FedEx has developed an Export Roadmap to help you navigate through each step of creating an export plan.
Also, spend some time learning currency differences as well as shipping and tax requirements. It can be tricky stuff, so take your time. It will be worth it in the long run to do it right. You can get this information at export.gov and in the FedEx International Shipping Resource Guide.
And don’t be afraid to call for help. That’s what these resources are there for. “We can help with the complexities,” Barry says. “You need someone to curate this information for you, and your local U.S. Export Assistance Center can help.”
In the coming months, leaders across the world will be discussing modern U.S.-led free trade agreements that reflect the rise of e-commerce in a global digital economy. Completing and passing these trade agreements will cut tariffs, increase regulatory cooperation, and streamline the customs process, providing small businesses greater access to new markets and new global customers.
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Source: FedEx Small Business Center, https://smallbusiness.fedex.com/content/articles/fedex/SBC/us-en/2016/02/11/top-tips-from-export-specialists.html