At one time or another, many small businesses have toyed with the idea of going global. But just understanding the paperwork and bureaucracy associated with exporting can be daunting. Information is hard enough to come by. Even though the Commerce Dept. is more supportive of small business these days, it's still widely viewed as an advocate of big companies. And many entrepreneurs have given up in sheer frustration. Joel Krieger, head of marketing for Taub Floor Coverings Inc., a $3 million company based in Staten Island, N.Y., put his global plans on hold three years ago when he realized he didn't have the time or the staff to devote to coping with the complexity of foreign markets. "Just gathering the information available was staggering," he recalls.
Yet for small businesses willing to do their homework, there are a number of excellent resources to help them get started. They are relatively low-cost services; many are free of charge. In the long run, the guidance these services offer can speed up a new exporter's entry into foreign markets while helping to sidestep many of the most common--and costly--blunders. Here are just a few places to go when developing an export strategy:
-- COMMERCE DEPT. HOT LINE A good starting point. Specialists can provide details on different federal programs that will help new exporters tap foreign markets, as well as general information on state export promotion programs. The Commerce Dept. can also offer guide sheets on a number of tricky exporting problems, including how to handle the paperwork required to qualify for the low tariffs under NAFTA. Consultations and information are free. Call 800 USA-TRADE.
-- EXPORT OPPORTUNITY HOT LINE Run by the Small Business Foundation of America, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. Calls are handled by trade experts. Tips include how to find a foreign distributor and cheap ways to test-market a product overseas. Companies that are exporting for the first time can also get advice on how to research potential markets. And exporters who have hit snags can get help in solving their problems. No charge. Call 800 243-7232. In Washington, call 202 223-1104
-- SERVICE CORPS OF RETIRED EXECUTIVES Working in conjunction with the Small Business Administration, SCORE serves to match up small businesses with mentors who have experience in foreign trade--at no cost. These volunteer business veterans can assist new or troubled exporters in putting together a strategy for succeeding abroad. SCORE has 370 chapters throughout all 50 states and roughly 500 seasoned exporting counselors. Call 800 634-0245.
-- ACCESS TO EXPORT CAPITAL The AXCAP program is run by the Bankers' Association for Foreign Trade, a trade group. Small exporters who don't know where to go for financing can contact AXCAP specialists. Searching their national database, the group provides a small business with a list--usually within 24 hours--of banks in its area that handle various types of transactions. The searches are all free. Call 800 49AXCAP.
-- EXPORT LEGAL ASSISTANCE NETWORK Like it or not, small exporters will probably need a good attorney. A lawyer with experience in foreign trade can give new exporters advice on everything from protecting patents and trademarks to drafting contracts with new partners. This network provides free referrals to local attorneys with trade experience who provide one free counseling session for new exporters. Contact either the Commerce Dept. hot line or Judd L. Kessler, the national coordinator for the network, at the law firm of Porter, Wright, Morris & Arthur in Washington. Call 202 778-3000.
-- AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR QUALITY CONTROL This not-for-profit trade association offers free advice to companies that want to meet manufacturing standards set by the International Organization for Standardization, a group representing 91 countries. While the standards are fairly general, companies hoping to win substantial overseas business may have to adjust their operations to pass a certification test conducted by an accredited examiner. The society can also put callers in touch with other companies that have already gone through the process. Call 800 248-1946.