Where will your next customer come from?

Did you know that 96 percent of the world’s customers live outside the United States?

You may have products sitting on the shelves at your place of business that are no longer of use to your local customers, but they could be to someone in a foreign country. You may have products that are beneficial to all markets, domestic and foreign. With the ability to communicate and market your products via the Internet, you could benefit financially by exporting. Companies that are more service-oriented also find niches and markets outside the U.S. So just because your “product” is a service, don’t assume there is not a market outside the U.S. for your service.

Tapping into these customers results in increased sales and profit for U.S. companies. Exporting also helps businesses weather downturns in the domestic economy by seeking foreign markets. Free trade agreements in Australia, Chile, Singapore, Jordan, Israel, Canada, Mexico and Central America have opened up many new markets and access to potential customers.

But my business is small and located in West Virginia? Guess what? Exports from West Virginia topped more than $11.3 billion in 2012. Of all the companies that exported goods from our state last year, 77 percent were small and medium-sized businesses. Location and size should not keep you from exporting in today’s global economy.

Is your business ready to explore the possibility of exporting?

Exporters will tell you one of the keys to exporting is that it requires a commitment from management. Exporting is not a 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday Friday function; foreign customers are doing business, AND expecting to do business, when it’s their regular work hours and workdays. This means a customer in Australia may be calling you at 10 a.m. sitting in his/her office on a Friday morning and it is 8 p.m. Thursday evening in West Virginia. Do you have a process in place to handle this change to your business day?

There may be some start-up costs to get ready to export. You may need to translate some of your promotional materials into the language of the country you are exporting products to. Some foreign markets may have packaging and license requirements so do your homework about your potential customer’s country.

How will you transport your product to your new customer? The great thing about exporting is this is not a new concept; businesses have been exporting for years and you can tap into the best practices without having to re-create the wheel every time. There are many companies, state agencies and federal resources available to new exporters to assist with shipping, customs, compliance and regulations.

One perceived risk to exporting is the fear of not getting paid. Experienced exporters will tell you there are many processes available to reduce this risk, such as payment in advance, letters of credit and special EX-IM banking relationships. Most customers are expecting to pay in U.S. dollars so don’t let currency risk keep you from exporting.

To find out if your company is a good candidate for exporting, check out the Export Business Planner offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) at www.sba.gov/exportbusinessplanner The Export Business Planner is a free, customizable tool for any small business exploring the possibility of exporting a good or service to a foreign market.

At the SBA’s export website www.export.gov/begin, you will also find:

* A free Export Readiness Self-Assessment

* On-line or local training to meet your specific export needs

* Guidance on developing an export business plan

* Market research

* Help in finding buyers for your products/services

* Financing, insurance and grant programs to manage risk of exporting

In addition to the SBA, the MOV Chamber also has relationships with the West Virginia Development Office and state reps with the U.S. Commercial Service. The International Trade Representative, Caitlin Ashley, at the West Viginia Development Office coordinates trade missions to foreign countries and trade shows. Diego Gattesco is an International Trade Specialist with the U.S. Commercial Service who provides guidance on exporting to businesses in the Mid-Ohio Valley through the Wheeling, W.Va., office.

Take advantage of these tools and resources to find your next customer.

Upcoming Events:

* July Business After Hours hosted by Le Colour Bar, Tuesday from 6-8 p.m., 811 Grand Central Ave., Vienna. Free for Chamber members. Register on-line at www.movchamber.org

* Chamber Public Relations Workshop, speaker Karen Facemyer, Lobbying Elected Officials, Wednesday from noon-1 p.m., WV Central Credit Union, 809 Division St., Parkersburg. pen to all Chamber members. Register on-line at www.movchamber.org

* July Lunch & Learn with the Red Cross, Friday from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Free for Chamber members. Seating limited to 30 attendees, so register on-line at www.movchamber.org

Visit this space every other Sunday for more Chamber news. We also invite you to call us at 304-422-3588, email us at info@movchamber.org, or stop by the Chamber office at 409 1/2 Market St. in Parkersburg.

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Jill Parsons is president/CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Mid-Ohio Valley.