The trade war has made a lot of people aware of just how much business crosses borders. With all the recent attention to trade, you may be wondering if your small company should look into selling its products in another country. Sure, we know how much of the stuff we buy as individuals is made in the US (not much), but a lot of us weren’t aware of all of the niche businesses that bought and sold products in other countries until they were affected by tariffs.
Are you thinking of taking the plunge? Start with a reality check. You don’t need language skills, but your small company has to do something that’s unique. Because the US has such a high standard of living, it costs more to produce goods and services here. Competing on price will be nearly impossible in the long run.
Although the US imports more goods than it exports, we export a lot of stuff. In 2018, the last year with full data, American businesses exported almost $1.7 trillion in goods. If you have something that would be of use to people in another country, why not get a share of it?
Sending goods to another country involves some serious logistics, not only to make sure that they arrive in one piece, but to document that the trade took place. Both the US and the destination country will have customs forms to be prepared. Of course, many distribution companies are more than happy to do this so that they can sell goods that people want. If you sell through distributors now, a quick message to your account rep might be all it takes to go global.
You may think that services are a strictly local business, but they can, indeed, be exported. As a freelancer, one of my long-time clients was a Nordic investment bank. All of their reports and marketing materials were in English because there aren’t that many investors who can read Faroese or Norwegian. As English wasn’t the first language of most of the people on staff, I took advantage of the eight-hour time difference to be an “overnight” editor. The staff turned in research notes at the end of their workday, which was morning in the United States. I prepared them for client distribution during my workday, getting everything set up in time for the next day’s morning meeting in Stockholm. I was self-employed, working from home, and doing my part to reduce the US trade imbalance.
A hotel that has visitors from another country is considered to be exporting travel services. If you have a tourism-related business, the US government’s National Travel and Tourism Office has information on marketing to international visitors. Many consulting and accounting firms have clients in other countries, whether they send people to work on site or send files over the Internet. As long as ideas and people move, there are opportunities for service companies to be exporters.
Resources and advice
The first step to working internationally is helping people find you. Start with a good website. If it helps US customers find you, it will help international customers find you as well. (The Nordic bank and other international customers I had during my years of freelancing all found me through referral or an Internet search.)
If someone in your company has high-level language skills, you can feature that on your web site. English may be the de-facto international language of business, but not everyone speaks it well. Also, people who are fluent in English as a second language often appreciate it when people use their first language. If you decide to prepare a foreign-language web page or marketing materials, hire someone with translation experience. Google Translate is far too glitchy for a professional site.
Promoting trade is in the national interest, so the US government has many resources to help with the next steps. The US Department of Commerce has a huge range of services and reference materials to help companies of all sizes. The Small Business Administration has services specifically for small companies, and SCORE has resources on international business along with their other advice for start-ups. Many university business development centers have trade resources, too.
Before entering into a cross-border contract, get information from a lawyer who specializes in trade. Laws can be very different in other countries. This is not an area to cut corners.
How Bento can help
You don’t need a separate corporate card to do business internationally. Bento cards can be used anywhere Visa debit cards are accepted. Card controls can be set to limit the types of transactions and currencies used. You may have set your card for US dollars by default, but it is easy to change.
One way that many customers use Bento cards for such new projects as an international expansion is to set up one card with a total budget. After all, it may be difficult to know the line items ahead of time. Then, the new project team can spend money as needed within the total budget limit. This keeps spending at a level manageable for the entire company. More importantly, the information can be used to analyze the results and build budgets for the future.