Exporting for small businesses doesn’t have to be a riddle

Small U.S. businesses are beginning to discover that they can export.

“Small business owners have thought for so long that that exports are only for the big businesses. What we’re saying is that’s not necessarily true anymore,” Small Business Administration District Director Terri Denison told the AtlantaJournal-Constitution.

Rising standards of living in other countries, easing of trade restrictions, online marketing strategies and government assistance are contributing to a rise in U.S. small business exporting. U.S. exports have risen 40 percent since 2010 and were worth $2.2 trillion in 2012, according to U.S. government figures.

“It’s a new frontier for most businesses,” said Donna Rockin, Director of the Illinois SBDC/Duman Entrepreneurship Center. “Less than one percent of U.S. businesses export, the smallest percentage of any industrialized country  – but it’s such a huge market, that means that close to 300,000 U.S. businesses are exporting, most of them small or medium size.  Many more small businesses should be exporting.”

U.S. food exports are especially attractive in other countries, where families have to spend a much higher percentage of their income on food than in the U.S.  According to UN figures, the French and Italians spend twice the U.S. percentage of income on food, the Chinese triple, and the Russians spend five times as much.  

Free trade treaties signed in recent years have opened up foreign markets, which used to be protected by notoriously high tariffs, and the Internet has given small businesses a new pipeline into other cultures eager to spend their new affluence on more convenient products.

A beauty of exporting, according to Rockin, is that it creates a place to sell products when the U.S. market is saturated.

An array of government programs help the small business owner begin to export with minimized risk. The federal Export-Import bank offers loans and trade insurance.  The SBA offers loan guarantees for private banks’ loans to small businesses that are exporting, including funding to cover working capital while shipments are headed for distant ports.

Federal Export Assistance Centers are being operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce in conjunction with the SBA and Export-Import Bank. The Illinois center is located at 200 W. Adams Street.

However, the trick to exporting is getting started the right way.

The “Riddle of the Exporter” workshop offered by JVS Chicago debuts in January and offers local small businesses a clear path to successful exporting, Rockin said.  An intensive, all-day seminar, the “Riddle of the Exporter” takes an eight-step approach to exporting and covers market research, the legal and regulatory requirements, shipping, financing and marketing.

“Attendees will come away with a workbook full of practical concepts specific to their business and a clear path to exporting,” Rockin said.

“Riddle of the Exporter” is a one-day, all-day seminar on Jan. 30. Early bird registration discount is available through Jan. 17. To learn more or to register, visit here.

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