How to Get the Government to Help Your Small Business Go Global

CHICAGO ( MainStreet) -- In one piece of positive economic news, government figures show that exports of goods and services have been increasing this year, up 4% in the first quarter and 6% in the second. From July 2011 to July 2012, the total value of exports from the U.S. was almost $5 billion, up nearly 3% from last year.  

Looked at through a global lens, however, that output isn't quite so impressive. The World Bank ranks the U.S. almost last among industrialized countries in exports as a percent of GDP (only Japan and Brazil export as little, percentage-wise, as we do). The good news? There's plenty of room for improvement -- especially within the small-business community.  

Large U.S. corporations know overseas sales are the key to maintaining profits despite the uncertain domestic business climate. While many small businesses have stagnated, multinational corporations have kept their balanced sheets balanced thanks to overseas sales. In its third-quarter earnings report, released this summer, Apple ( AAPL) revealed that international sales accounted for 62% of the company's revenue. Just three years ago, 44% of revenue came from overseas.  

Of course, large companies have far more resources to call on when it comes to expanding in a new country. For a small-business owner, dealing with language barriers, cultural differences and all that red tape is daunting. The good news is that there is an entire government agency, the U.S. Commercial Service, dedicated to smoothing the way for companies that want to make that leap, with offices in more than 100 cities offering services specifically targeted to small businesses.  

Heather Ranck, office director for the U.S. Commercial Service in North Dakota, can point proudly to a track record of success in her state. In the first half of the year, exports were up 24% over 2011.

She describes her work as a form of matchmaking.  

"People here are inherently conservative," she says, "but we tend to look outward in terms of market opportunities. What I've found effective is to do lots of due diligence. What country is best for your products? What would your ideal market have? We narrow it down to five factors, then I can produce a ranking of countries based on those factors."  

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