If you’re not currently exporting, you should be. That’s the advice of Sara Hradecky, director general of International Business Development Policy at International Trade Canada. “Canada is a small market,” says Hradecky, a panelist at the recent annual convention of the Women Presidents’ Organization held this year in Toronto. “The benefits of exporting are higher profit margins, less competitors, a chance to get your products in a country first and the opportunity to diversify your customer base. If one market tanks others may be profitable.”
Hradecky, together with panelists Leslie Schweitzer, a senior trade advisor with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Mary Joyce, director at the U.S. Department of Commerce, offered tips and tricks to help women entrepreneurs expand into foreign markets.
- Leverage your management style. Women are typically great networkers and adept at cultivating relationships, says Hradecky, traits ideal for finding and cementing the right contacts and partners in foreign markets.
- Do your homework. Understand your target market before you enter the international arena. Find your niche and learn how to adapt your products to meet the local market demand.
- Start small. Begin with one or two markets to see whether they work for you, then gradually expand.
- Take advantage of available resources. Put your tax dollars to work by accessing the many government services that can help you evaluate whether you are export ready, identify markets and even set up meetings with potential customers in the countries you target. Industry Canada, for example, has trade centres in every province to offer assistance to small and medium-sized companies, and International Trade, Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service, employs hundreds of people in foreign markets.
- Be committed. Don’t expect to fly in and have a contract overnight. It can take up to two years before you get a sale, says Hradecky.
- Get on a plane. Building business relationships is best done face-to-face. Phone calls, e-mail and faxes are great for follow-up, but nothing beats meeting in person.