This past week, I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Creskoff, a lawyer and a leading expert on international trade. And Steve has just published a new book called “What You Need to Know to Go Global: A Guide to International Transactions.” The best part about this is he’s written it specifically for small and medium businesses that want to explore their options in the international market.
Laurie: Steve, I’m excited to talk to you, because in our SMB Group surveys and the research we do, we see that only a small percentage of U.S. SMBs do business outside of the United States. So, first of all, why do you think this is?
Steve: Well, this is just what the case is today, and it’s unfortunate because small and medium businesses are very competitive internationally. They need to think more about their position in global markets. The statistics tell us that, in terms of trade and goods, only about 23% of U.S. GDP is in trade and goods, and about the same for trade and services, and this is very low. The lowest for any developed economy. So, our small businesses often are not aware of the international opportunities for them.
Laurie: That is very similar to what our data says. But I didn’t realize that the U.S. is the lowest.
Steve: For a developed economy, we’re by far the lowest.
Laurie: So why should more small and medium businesses think about doing business beyond U.S. borders?
Steve: Well, first, let me talk about services. Our economy is about 80% services, and a lot of those services are tradeable, and we’re extremely competitive internationally with our services businesses. We export more services than any other country in the world by far and we have a very favorable surplus in trade and services, so this is important. The politicians don’t talk about that, but this is an area of international trade where we’ve been very successful. And then, of course, about 94 to 95 percent of world population is outside the U.S., so there are all sorts of opportunities for small businesses, whether it’s services providers or if they have a tangible product. So, there are great opportunities that should not be ignored.
Laurie: What are the risks to ignoring the potential?
Steve: First, what you don’t know can hurt you. If you’re not aware of how your product is situated internationally, an international competitor can come into the U.S. market and eat your lunch, so to speak. So, you have to be aware of… You have to evaluate your product or service for the international market and for the global economy, no matter how small you are. For instance, I’m a very small service provider, but most of my work is international, and that’s the case with a lot of businesses that I know.
Laurie: Yes, but many business owners don’t see a ready opportunity to extend their business overseas. Do you have a couple of examples you could share of creative ways that SMBs have gone into new markets.
Steve: Well, first of all, it’s like domestic business. It’s all about people. It’s about meeting people, developing a personal relationship, and telling them about your product or service. You can do this at international trade shows. You can do this through visits, as you do, of course, for domestic clients. And, of course, there are government resources, which are valuable. The U.S. Commerce Department and Small Business Administration have excellent resources. And last but maybe most important are the new internet platforms that have been developed that open up all sorts of potential for international business. Probably it’s an exception about my point about meeting the people, because now you can actually put up your goods or services on an Internet platform and start engaging with prospects in new countries through that.
Laurie: Right. The Internet definitely makes the world smaller. Do you have a favorite business story about a particular business that did something innovative in terms of going to market in another country?
Steve: Well, I’m legal counsel to the Trade Association of Fencing Manufacturers, and one of the members makes equipment to manufacture fencing. They’ve sold in more than 60 countries around the world. They’re located in Southern California. It’s a small business, and it’s not a new technology, but the services component is very important because they send people to their customers to train them on how to use the equipment, and that’s been very significant. So, there are many, many examples of small businesses that have been extremely successful.
Laurie: And you can differentiate yourself with customer service.
Steve: Yes. We think in terms of products and services being separate, but they’re not really. Maybe you’re selling a tangible product, but the services might be critical to that product. Conversely, you may be selling a service, but there may be certain tangible products that support that service
Laurie: So, once a business owner says, “Hmm, I think I do have an opportunity to compete in this market. I can differentiate on either innovation, my product, or service, or whatever,” some of the key financial or regulatory or other kinds of considerations that a business really needs to understand to be successful?
Steve: It’s not really rocket science. There’s a great deal of uniformity around the world in terms of the regulations that apply to international trade and goods and services now, whether it’s a World Trade Organization agreement or a different type of international agreement. Because our businesses are so successful in the area of technology, export controls is one issue I would identify. Not that many goods and services are subject to export controls, but anything that is a so-called dual use item that might have a military application, the commerce department is responsible for that regulation here in the U.S. But businesses can very quickly find out whether there may be an issue or not. Only about 10% of exports are subject to export controls. As far as import controls and taxation and so forth, there are a lot of advisers that can be helpful, whether they’re freight forwarders, customs brokers, trade consultants. And, of course, the commerce department and the small business administration also provide advice. And my book–I’ll be shameless and promote my book!–has a great deal of detail and provides an overview of these various regulations so that a business can have an idea of when they should be talking to a consultant or a lawyer and when they’re probably okay.
Laurie: Absolutely. This has really been interesting, and starts to lessen some of intimidation about expanding a business internationally. But we’ve only just touched on just the tip of the iceberg. As you said, business owners that want to learn more can find a wealth of information about key considerations in your book, “What You Need to Know to Go Global,” which is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, both in paperback, and for Kindle and other ebook formats.
Steve: Thanks. Businesses can also check out my website. And I’m happy to say that the World Trade Organization in Geneva has taken an interest in my book, so my official book launch is going to be September 28th in Geneva. I’m very happy that they like the book and they’re going to be joining me in promoting it. The book isn’t t intimidating in terms of a lot of technical detail, and you can skip chapters if you’re not particularly interested in a given area. It’s like a travel manual. You read the parts that are of interest to you and relevant to your business and you can skip the other parts. So, I hope that many of your listeners will take a look at my book and start exploring their options.
Laurie: Thanks again, Steve, and best wishes for the book launch.