The First Steps of Exporting

By Kenneth Surbrugg, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Missouri Southern State University

According to the U.S. Commercial Service:

  • More than 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power is located outside of the United States.
  • The United States is known for high quality, innovative goods and services
  • Most companies that export have an easier time riding out fluctuations in the U.S. economy and are more likely to stay in business.

So why aren’t more U.S. small businesses exporting? What are the perceived roadblocks small businesses face when exploring export opportunities?

I believe that there are several hurdles and roadblocks when exploring any export initiative. From country selection, buyer identification, payments and shipping, small business owners and managers face many different issues when thinking about exporting. So, where does a business begin?

First, it is important to understand the products and services that you sell – the actual product or service that you provide to customers. This may appear to be very simplistic, but to a potential foreign buyer, your product or service may be unclear to them. Make sure that you can clearly communicate product features and benefits. This simple step will help you in the long run as you begin to explore international markets.

A business will also need to have a reliable website. Your website is accessible by any consumer from anywhere in the world. Your website is your 24/7 salesperson. So, is the information on your website accurate and up to date?  How easy is it to navigate the different pages on your website? Are your pictures and videos current and relevant? Are they easy to see? Do you need to add descriptions on your pictures or include a transcript for your videos?

Finally, you need to understand that you don’t have to do this alone. There are state and federal agencies that exist to help small businesses export. These agencies help new-to-export businesses and they also help the veteran exporter explore new markets.

For example, the Missouri Department of Economic Development (MO DED) International Trade & Investment Office assists Missouri based businesses with a wide variety of export assistance. Suppose you receive an email from a foreign buyer looking for a quote on one of your products. The MO DED International Trade & Investment Office can help you by conducting a background check to evaluate the foreign company’s qualifications. The office also assists with export finance (Missouri STEP=UP grant program) and conducts several foreign market sales trips and trade missions. The MO DED International Trade & Investment Office has “boots on the ground” in 14 different countries to help grow Missouri exports to those countries and regions. You can explore more of what they do at

The U.S. Commercial Service (, housed within the U.S. Department of Commerce, assists U.S. based businesses when looking to export goods and services.  The U.S. Commercial Service has international offices all over the world to assist U.S. companies in business matchmaking and to provide market research. The U.S. Commercial Service also advocates for easier access to foreign markets, offers trade counseling, and other market intelligence reports to assist in U.S. businesses exporting goods and services.

The Export-Import Bank of the United States ( provides financial and non-financial resources to assist small businesses with exporting. You can find solutions on how to protect against buyer nonpayment, sell to international buyers on credit, and find solutions on how to increase cash flow to help with exports. The Export-Import Bank also assists businesses in exploring other export related business needs to help businesses discover export markets and solutions.

There is a lot to take in when considering exporting. Whether you are new to it or you are a savvy veteran, there are roadblocks and unchartered waters to consider. When exploring any export opportunity, remember to do your due diligence first before signing a contract. Talk with the experts. Investing time, energy, and money in exporting can provide positive returns to your bottom line.

Take the next step and look into exporting.

Keep innovating.

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