This is the first of three installments of an interview with export consultant Laurel Delaney in which she gives advice to small business owners and discusses the growth and challenges of the import-export industry.
What was the climate like for small businesses that wanted to expand internationally in earlier years?
A couple of months ago I came across a book at a flea market entitled "Field Guide to the Global Economy," by Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh with Thea Lee and the Institute for Policy Studies. It was a buck, so I snatched it up to see how things have changed since then (2000). Further, my own first book, "Start & Run a Profitable Exporting Business," had been published right around the same time (1998). So the question of what the climate was like for SMEs back in earlier years is an easy one to answer. But first, I thought you'd get a kick out of reading what the "Field Guide" states on the outside back cover:
"People the world over need a handbook to guide them through the muck and myth and propaganda that surround globalization. This book offers a clear map. Read it, learn, and engage." ~ William Greider, author of "One World, Ready or Not"
Well, there's still muck and myth and propaganda, but it is a whole heck of a lot easier to go global now versus in earlier years thanks to technology and the Internet. In the old days, you had to look long and hard for customers and markets. You had to literally trudge to a local SBA office and scour industry directories, compile a list of leads, send a letter of introduction via a telex machine, and wait months - or forever! - to hear back. What you were looking for was basically a single BIG customer in a single country.
Today, the Internet allows anyone anywhere to become instantaneously global, from an eight-year-old in the U.S. to a large conglomerate in Ireland. Each of them can connect virtually, collaborate and share information via email, a Website, blog or wiki. The Internet is the glue that holds the universe together and levels the global playing field without discrimination. This cyber planet, comprising of more than two billion Internet users, is greater than any single country or even the extended European Union. For the first time in human history, you have a good shot at making the world your business.
As a result, customers now find you instead of the other way around. If you are doing things worth talking about, worth buying, worth telling other people about and so on, you'll be found and the business will come rolling in from all over the world!
And by the way, here's what the back jacket of my book says:
"Reap the rewards of international business!
Over the past three decades, the importance of international trade to the North American economy has grown dramatically. As a result, opportunities for exporters to profit in the global marketplace have also significantly increased. This book demonstrates in an accessible and informative way how to tap the unlimited potential for growth and profitability in the changing face of the world economy."
Based on my own experience running a successful global business and serving as a consultant to countless global small business owners, my observations indicate that entrepreneurs must condition themselves to be Risk-oriented, Innovative and Proactive (RIP) in order to achieve any reasonable level of success in the global e-marketplace. They must become ready both mentally and operationally; have run a successful local business; and have a business with export potential. If all that is in place, they have a much greater chance of success ahead.
I still feel very strongly about the importance of international trade for SMEs, and we even adjusted our company's slogan to adapt to our new mission: We making going global easy.
Four significant business developments are taking place in the global economy of the 21st century: the flattening of our world through the global Internet (Friedman, 2005), advancing technology, newfound interest in globalization and fears of how to thrive, not just survive in a very competitive global environment. Combining these four drivers creates a powerful force that contributes to economic growth, development and prosperity in our world. In addition, these imperatives are producing a new business dynamic around the world. The timing has never been better for businesswomen and businessmen to get out of their own backyards and transition from local, regional or niche market players into global players.
Some stats pulled right out of "Start & Run a Profitable Exporting Business" (1998):
"According to the U.S. Census Bureau (Department of Commerce's reported economic data for August 1997), in 1992, the identified U.S. exporting community consisted of only 112,854 companies that exported $349 billion in merchandise to 226 foreign countries. These exporters accounted for 78% of total U.S. exports of $448 billion."
Now, take a look at international trade data from a historical perspective (1960-2011): http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/historical/gands.txt
Check out all Foreign Trade Stats here: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/index.html
Annual Trade Highlights here: http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/statistics/highlights/annual.html
Harvey Bronstein, senior international economist for the U.S. Small Business Administration, once indicated the following to me in an email:
"On small business and exporting, 2007 will be a record year with small businesses racking up over $400 billion in exports. While in the third quarter of 2007 the economy grew 5%, exports grew by 19%. So long as the dollar remains weak and other countries' economies strong, the outlook for exports is bright."
To give you an idea of just how much growth the industry has seen, we now have about 281,000 companies exporting versus 112,854 back in 1992.