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Trade Routes: U.S. Exports Are Booming; Are Yours?

By: Michael Wynne
Posted: April 2, 2008, from the April 2008 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Select the right markets. Not all markets are right for all products and services. You need to determine what kind of consumers would be potential buyers of your specific products and services. Is there a certain income level segment of the population that would be more likely to buy your products and services?

According to Kenichi Ohmae, author of The Borderless World, when the average gross personal income of a population exceeds US$10,000, that population becomes a consumer market. So don’t underestimate emerging markets as potential export opportunities. Africa, for example, is becoming a growing consumer of a great variety of products, including cosmetics. India, too, where the middle class population is larger than the entire population of the U.S., spelling a huge opportunity.

Do your homework. There are many things you should check out about every market before you take the plunge, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so. On the left side of a sheet of paper, list, in order of importance to your business, the qualities that you would hope to find in the perfect market. For example, size of market, ease of access, nature of local competition, preferred distribution channels, typical disposable income and so on. In the next five columns, list the names of the countries you are considering across the top. Then rate each quality or criteria for each country on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. By the time you are done, you will have a reasonable idea of which countries might be best for your business.

These figures are fictitious, but they do give an idea of how you might compare the different countries and rank them based on the criteria that are important to your product or service.

Get free advice. The U.S. Department of Commerce provides a wealth of information at no cost. Check Export America,, the official magazine of the International Trade Administration in the Department of Commerce. A Basic Guide to Exporting,, is another source. For a relatively low cost, the Department of Commerce also offers a wide variety of very useful services. It is a good idea to also check state agencies and their Web sites—program and guide names may vary state to state, but information is usually listed as International Trade Centers. It also pays to visit the embassies and consulates of the countries you wish to export to, and contact the Commercial Attaché for specific information. While there, you may also want to check the home country’s phone book or directory listings to see what brands and companies are represented. Sometimes, you can even get specific names of contacts in that country who could be possible clients or distributors. And, of course, get on the Internet and visit each country’s Web site.