Industries Ports/Trade

Getting started

To get started in exporting, consider the following advice:

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  • Expect a slow process. International business takes time to develop, notes Ed Huffine, vice president of humanitarian services and international development for Bode Technology Group. It took his company nearly a year to get its first international contract.
  • Be patient. “Something that is very counterproductive is to try this for six, eight, 10 months and then, when you don’t see any revenue, decide that it’s not worth the investment,” Huffine says.
  • Take advantage of resources. Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) representatives can help you identify the right market and develop a step-by-step plan. The U.S. Department of Commerce and overseas embassies also offer help with identifying potential clients and understanding regulatory, cultural and logistical barriers.
  • Commit to education. VEDP offers a number of programs for potential and existing exporters.
  • Research, research, research. The most important task on a budding exporter’s to-do list is to get on a plane and visit targeted markets and potential clients, says Mary Schellhammer, president of Spice Rack Chocolates in Fredericksburg.
  • Foster relationships. The trust you’re able to develop with a potential client is one of the greatest assets an exporter can bring to the table. As a result, companies that hard-sell their products or try to run their international sales without ever meeting their clients are likely to fail.
  • Prepare for cultural differences. Not only are the rules and behaviors different but so too are attitudes towards work. “By taking the time to develop relationships, you learn about the culture, and you learn how business is done, and it gives you time to adjust accordingly,” says Fred Stewart, director of international development for VSD LLC. 
  • Keep your chin up. Schellhammer’s first distributor was a flop, but she says she soon realized that her situation wasn’t rare. Ninety percent of exporters she’s met are no longer with their first distributor. “It was a setback but you’ve got to push through just like any other challenge,” she says. “The key is to not get discouraged.”


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