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The export business can feel like a risky move for entrepreneurs who have never sold their products and services abroad. But, expanding internationally can help U.S. small businesses grow their sales and lessen the risk that a local slump will throw their financial health into a tailspin.
Approximately 70 percent of all U.S. exporters have 20 or fewer employees, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). To help these companies succeed in the global marketplace, the U.S. government provides training and mentoring, helps facilitate business loans, helps them obtain shipping insurance and provides direct introductions to potential customers.
"The U.S. Department of Commerce (DoC) is a fantastic resource for international business," says William Haynes, owner of Sabai Technology in Simpsonville, S.C., a maker of custom routers.
— William Haynes, owner of Sabai Technology
Sabai Technology has eight employees and exports to 109 different countries. Haynes works with Denis Csizmadia, manager of the Greenville, S.C., U.S. Export Assistance Center of the DoC, who helped him navigate the world of international shipping. "We began by first apprising Sabai of available export marketing and finance resources, and then recommending appropriate marketing venues and trade opportunities," Csizmadia says. "There is no fee for U.S. companies to receive export-assistance counseling from the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, as their taxes pay our salaries and available programs. That said, there are very modest fees for those programs that entail a U.S. Embassy proactive efforts, such as the Gold Key Matching Service, which facilitates one-on-one meetings with foreign agents and distributors."
Currently, Csizmadia is helping Haynes identify grants for travel to the Middle East so he can further expand his business. He's also helping Haynes find website translators and making introductions to potential distributors in that region through local embassies.
"If you just ask them for help, it's amazing the breadth of assistance the Department of Commerce will provide," Haynes says.
The U.S. Commercial Service, a DoC agency, is a worldwide network of international trade and commercial specialists in 100 cities across the country and 75 countries worldwide, notes Csizmadia. The Commercial Service offers education and mentoring to small business owners, linking them with experts in their industry who can advise them on the legal, logistical and financial issues they can expect to face when exporting their products and services.
The Commercial Service also helps business owners secure export credit insurance and loans through the Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank of the United States, says Amy Thomson, senior international trade specialist, Commercial Service, in Columbia, S.C. "A lot of people don't even know these resources are available," she says. "We are one of the best kept secrets of U.S. exporting."
The SBA is equally eager to help small companies get started as an export business, says Dario Gomez, associate administrator of the Office of International Trade for the SBA in Washington, D.C. "Our goal is to demystify international trade and exporting for U.S. companies," he says. "Most SBA services to small businesses are free of charge. Some services offered through resource partners may carry some nominal fees mostly to defray costs, but that is not the case with direct assistance by SBA through our Office of International Trade. No special membership is required."
Along with offering training, mentoring and support finding grants, the SBA can help an international business secure three different kinds of export loans:
· An Export Express Loan of up to $500,000 to support export development, including trade shows and travel.
· An Export Working Capital loan, through which the SBA provides lenders up to a 90 percent guaranty on export loans up to $5 million to help an export business finance orders from purchase order to collections, basically to produce products and services for export. Such financing will allow greater flexibility in negotiating international payment terms.
· An International Trade Loan for fixed assets and working capital for companies beginning or expanding export sales, with up to a 90 percent guaranty to lenders on loans up to $5 million.
"A lot of risk can be mitigated on the financial side through these loan programs," Gomez says.
Companies interested in these resources can find information, training programs and downloadable guides about exporting at the SBA, National Export Initiative, International Trade Administration and DoC. Exporters can also take advantage of relevant resources and insights provided by a trusted online foreign exchange service. Relying on an online foreign exchange provider's expertise in the form of articles and explanatory graphics can help business owners understand strategies to secure preferred exchange rates when sending and receiving international payments.
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