Export Opportunities for Small Businesses and Help for Getting Started


Professional jugglers often start out by keeping three balls sailing through the air at once. Then they start adding balls.

That’s not a bad picture of the current state of U.S. global trade negotiations. For a while it seemed like we were trying to cut new deals with every nation on earth. Fortunately, some of those have been settled—more or less—including Mexico and Canada by replacing NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) with USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), and a new deal with South Korea.

The balls still in the air include Japan, the European Union (EU), and the United Kingdom (UK), and the elephant in the room watching all of these negotiations is China. I won’t venture a guess as to where we currently stand with China on a trade deal—that’s above my pay grade.

I mention these shifting sands of global trade, because exporting is one of the best ways to grow any business—small, medium, or large. Further, one of the trading partners mentioned earlier—the UK—may be on the cusp of presenting U.S. businesses with some fantastic opportunities.

Current events junkies have probably been following the drama around Brexit, the British exit from the European Union. Will it be a “soft,” fully negotiated exit, or will it be a hard Brexit, that leaves many of the t’s uncrossed and the i’s undotted with respect to trade and relations between the British and the EU?

Keep a close eye on Great Britain

I’m singling out Great Britain because we have so much in common with the Brits that it makes exporting there easier than, say, South Korea, where the language, culture, tastes, and styles are often radically different than ours. For example, if the Brits wind up with a hard Brexit, cheese from the continent could increase in price by as much as 74%.

That certainly creates some opportunities for the U.S. dairy industry, including smaller artisan cheese makers. The problem for many small business owners is they don’t know how to get started. Fortunately, there is help for the wannabe exporter.

FedEx has been pretty aggressive in developing the information and systems small business owners need to start exporting. The company has created a significant “How to Export” resource on its website that includes videos, interactive guides, webinars, assessments, and more. The FedEx guidance drives home the fact you need to have a complete plan before you start packing boxes and sending them overseas, or across the borders.

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More resources for your exporting aspirations

One of the best and least expensive ways to get moving on that plan is to turn to resources like SCORE, Export.gov, and the various Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) located around the country.

We all know SCORE as the organization that teams up business owners with mentors. The group also has workshops, webinars, and a large library of advice articles, some of which cover topics related to exporting. However, connecting with a local mentor who has exporting experience, could be the single most powerful way to give you the confidence and know-how required to jump into selling outside the United States.

Export.gov is, as the name says, all about helping U.S. companies get into the business of exporting. Along with a wealth of information and “how to” guidance, the site links to the U.S. Commercial Service, which for a fee will identify contacts, arrange meetings, and even attend those meetings with you. You’ll find contact information for U.S. Export Assistance Centers here.

SBDCs are “powered by” the Small Business Administration and they offer services in more than 900 different locations around the nation. Check with your nearest SBDC to see what kind of help is available to facilitate your entry into exporting. SBDCs offer a lot of information in exporting, including the nitty-gritty details, and ins and outs of financing.

And, speaking of financing, there’s one more important resource many of you will want to become familiar with: the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). Its mission is to support job creation by facilitating the export of U.S. goods and services. Since many banks are reluctant to lend money to new exporting ventures, the EXIM assumes credit and country risks.

I suspect business growth is going to be a major concern in the coming years. We’re currently enjoying a short “sugar high” from the tax cuts, but what comes next? See if selling outside the United States might be your “next big thing.”

RELATED: Planning to Go International? Tips for Setting Up a UK Business Presence

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