By Daniel Kehrer
In 2006, total sales were just $64,000 at Loudmouth Golf, a small golf clothing company based, well, nowhere in particular. (The company has no official headquarters; Founder Scott Woodworth still works out of his house in Sonoma, CA.) Now sales have topped $10 million at the 32-employee firm thanks to an approach of sourcing materials and selling finished goods globally.
Loudmouth has clothing made in China and sells it in golf-happy countries all over the world. Employees are widely disbursed and all of them have Skype addresses on their business cards because international video calls are routine.
And Loudmouth isn’t alone. Thousands of other U.S.-based small businesses are busting into global markets thanks to a bevy of new tools, tactics and resources that are helping small American companies gain an edge overseas. They include all types of businesses, from family-owned hops farms in Washington, to a small Michigan-based firm that makes steering components for cars.
One major source of both money and advice is the Export-Import Bank of the United States. In 2011, the “Ex-Im Bank” (as it is known) launched a new Global Access for Small Business program that aimed to provide $9 billion per year in small business export financing so small firms can export more goods and services produced by U.S. workers. Over 1,000 small businesses new to exporting joined the program in its first six months.
The two Ex-Im Bank products most used by small business exporters are export-credit insurance and working capital loan guarantees. The insurance protects the business from risks of an overseas buyer not paying, and helps small U.S. firms extend credit to international customers. Working capital loan guarantees cover 90% of the outstanding balance of working capital loans to exporters, backed by export-related inventory and accounts receivable.
The Export Business Planner, a free online tool developed by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is also helping small business owners who are interested in starting or expanding overseas sales.
The Export Business Planner can help with these key tasks:
- Determine if your business is really ready to start exporting, and how to get ready if you’re not.
- Learn about export training and counseling services.
- Access global market research and trade data.
- Connect to export financing opportunities.
- Create a customized export marketing plan for your business.
- Tap into other exporting resources.
You can access Export Business Planner at www.sba.gov/exportbusinessplanner. It’s a PDF file that you can download, customize and update regularly as you develop your own export plan.
The SBA website (www.sba.gov) also has a wealth of helpful information on importing and exporting for small business. Click on “Find exporting opportunities…” on the home page for access to these topics:
- US Export Assistance Centers.
- Export Loans.
- Explore Exporting.
- State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) Grant Pilot.
- Export Success Story Videos.
- Contact SBA Exporting Staff.
For details on how your small exporting firm can benefit from Ex-Im programs visit Ex-Im’s small business website (www.exim.gov/smallbusiness).
Another good resource is the export.gov website which is dedicated to helping U.S. companies export goods and services of almost any kind. This site is packed with export info, including extensive sections of export opportunities, licenses, regulations and logistics, problem solving solutions, basics of documents and paperwork, foreign market overviews, state and regional trade groups and an FAQ. You’ll find opportunities broken down by industry, along with trade leads and lists of international trade events.
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