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Web Help for Cracking China

You've decided that the time might be right for your company to start moving into the Middle Kingdom. So now what? Unless you have a healthy appetite for risk, you probably won't just wade into the fray all alone. And luckily, you don't have to. As more small businesses look to China, a growing array of online resources are becoming available to help you get started -- and stay successful.

The Web, of course, isn't called "worldwide" for nothing. What follows is a tiny sampling of the resources small-business owners can tap when seeking to get into China. So before you jump into the mainland, be sure to shop around for the best advice you can find -- both online and off.

U.S. Government: One of the first places you'll want to check out is the Commerce Dept.'s Beijing-based U.S. Commercial Service. In an effort to help American small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) succeed in China, it publishes Contact China, an annual, downloadable resource guide with market information on the most promising industries for U.S. businesses. There's also a listing of in-country service providers and an overview of successful business strategies.

About once a year the agency translates into Chinese a catalog of American-made products, where small-business owners can be listed for a fee. The department also partners with other government agencies to maintain the China Business Information Center Web site.

You may also want to find out whether your state has any special programs. Many states sponsor scouting and investment trips to China. Others have their own trade groups, such as the California Association of China & Hong Kong SAR. Florida has its own office in the mainland.

Associations: A growing number of trade groups, including the likes of the American Soybean Assn. and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, have operations in China as well. You might want to check the U.S.-China Business Council, university groups such as Central Connecticut State University's U.S.-China Business Center, and news resources like the China Business Info Center.

The U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce has its own small-business assistance center that provides advisory and sourcing services, and AmCham-China posts videos that address SME-related concerns such as taxation, distribution, and human resources.

If you're interested in getting involved in China but aren't sure you're ready to go full-throttle just yet, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council helps businesses form strategic alliances with Hong Kong companies that work on the mainland.

Business Resources: As record numbers of U.S. companies move into China, there's no shortage of consultants looking to give them a hand. Firms like SmithWong Associates, China Corp., and Maple Tree Business Solutions offer advice on outsourcing, partnering, strategic planning, and more.

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