Guest Column: Tips to get started with a global business

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Guest Column by Dean Swanson

In the past few weeks, our SCORE chapter has gotten requests from a few folks who are either wanting to start doing being business globally or are already doing so. I thought this was a little out of the ordinary until I did some digging and was reminded that thousands of small businesses, which account for 99.7 percent of all employers (according to 2011 U.S. Census data) in the United States, export products and services to other countries. According to the U.S. Trade Commission in 2012, small and mid-size businesses comprised nearly 98 percent of U.S. companies in the international trade arena. In fact, they accounted for 33 percent of goods exports.

As the internet and social media continue to bolster our ability to collaborate with others across the globe, it’s not a stretch to predict more small businesses will embrace the opportunities to reach customers beyond the U.S. Small businesses have opportunities to grow and thrive in a large, diverse global market. According to the website, 96 percent of consumers and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power comes from outside of the United States. Doing business internationally offers advantages operationally and competitively via the potential to increase revenue and gain some protection from fluctuations in domestic markets.

Dean Swanson

Dean Swanson

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That doesn’t mean doing business globally is easy, though. Therefore, I decided to give a few thoughts about this prospect. Entering markets in other nations requires attention to details you may not have had to concern yourself with before. In addition to its many opportunities, doing business overseas poses some risks and obstacles.

• Issues in getting paid

• Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)

• Corporate income tax in certain countries (Some charge extra taxes upon receiving goods.)

• Lofty shipping costs and unreliable postal services in other countries

• Trust issues with the partners or agents you’re working with

• Cultural expectations when conducting business

• Rules, restrictions, and license requirements of destination countries when shipping products

• Language barriers (e.g., in marketing materials, avoiding words and terms that may be unfamiliar or inappropriate for other cultures)

According to SCORE mentor Jim Han, who has over 20 years of global consulting experience, “If you’re interested in going global, be sure to understand the local culture, and be sure to account for extra costs, be it in the form of tax, tariff, delivery costs and other costs.”

For additional insight about doing business globally, you can tap these resources that specialize in providing information and programs in support of international trade:

• SBA’s Office of International Trade: This office works with other federal agencies and public and private groups to encourage export opportunities for small businesses.

• U.S. State Department’s Direct Line to American Business program: This program gives small businesses direct access to U.S. ambassadors, mission teams and foreign government officials to explore market opportunities in their respective countries. The State Department also provides the Business Information Database System, a portal to help U.S. businesses learn about international projects that may offer commercial opportunities.

• U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Matching Service: This service can help small businesses find potential overseas business partners, agents, distributors and sales representatives.

•’s links to information about doing business in specific countries: These links offer insight and data about various countries’ cultures, business climates, market research, service providers, trade events and other information. The breadth of information available varies from country to country.

“Doing business globally can be immensely rewarding, both financially and culturally,” shares Han. “However, there is also an added learning curve in order to reap the benefits, so be sure to perform due diligence, and seek advice where possible.”

Since 1964, SCORE “Mentors to America’s Small Business” have helped more than 9 million aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners through mentoring and business workshops. More than 11,000 volunteer business mentors in over 320 chapters serve their communities through entrepreneur education dedicated to the formation, growth and success of small businesses. For more information about starting or operating a small business, visit SCORE at