Although concerned about the economy, small- and medium-sized business exporters are confident about their companies' futures, especially when it comes to international sales, according to a recent survey commissioned by UPS.
Of the small- and medium-sized business exporters interviewed, 85% say the economy is their top concern, far exceeding their worries about any other issue. However, most respondents indicate they remained positive about their businesses and their international sales opportunities. More than three-quarters (78%) say they are confident international sales leads will materialize.
"Entrepreneurs who export are self-assured, adaptable and resilient so it doesn't surprise me that the survey shows exporters are confident about meeting their business goals," says Laurel Delaney, owner of small-business consulting firm Global Trade Source.
The survey found that most small- and medium-sized businesses (61%) that had expanded into foreign markets did so with a sound plan. And, exporters are quick to learn about the in's and out's of exporting; more than half (53%) say they do not find the process of exporting frustrating. However, those who were newer to exporting say documentation and customs requirements are the biggest barriers to expansion.
"Talking to current exporters reveals that for many small businesses, the most difficult thing about exporting is just getting started," says Dan Brutto, president, UPS International. "But with the administration's new export initiative, there's never been a better time for small businesses to give exporting a try. The right partner can serve as a bridge to help businesses ease into global trade and, in turn, find new revenue streams."
More than one-third (35%) of small businesses say exporting has a significant impact on their overall sales. And when it comes to international sales leads, four in five businesses follow up on all leads. Those that don't follow up indicate that a lack of trust with the prospective customer is their biggest concern.
The survey also found that small- and mid-sized businesses already exporting are looking to further expand globally. Respondents indicate they most prefer to expand their business in the future to Europe (36%), followed by Asia (22%) and North America (22%).
For small- and medium-sized businesses not yet engaged in global commerce, the study recommends they focus on:
● Taking advantage of the recently created National Export Initiative, which helps small businesses grow overseas business by overcoming common barriers to exporting.
● Working with trusted partners, such as consulates, the U.S. Commercial Service and the Small Business Administration.
● Boosting their online presence to increase visibility with overseas customers.
In addition, companies looking to expand globally should make a long-term commitment as exporting has long-term benefits. The survey found that long-term exporters (those exporting more than five years) say it has had more of an impact on sales growth than those companies newer to exporting, indicating that companies who have committed to making exporting part of their long-term expansion see the most benefit.
The survey also reveals that despite the entrepreneurial nature of small and medium business owners, they may not be making the most of social media. About one-quarter (24%) of respondents said they've received sales leads from social media, far behind word of mouth (84%), the company's website (74%), networking events (50%) and sponsorships or advertising (41%). And just 1% cite it as the factor that, besides marketing communications, has helped their business grow the most.