The Road Less Traveled

Make No Mistake

The moment you've hoped for has finally arrived, and you're ready to export your product. Now what?

Your first order of business: Take heed of the hard lessons learned by those who have gone before you. Many have blundered, but that doesn't mean you have to. Below are some of the most common exporting mistakes, according to John E. Cleek, director of the Center for International Business at the Bloch School of Business at the Unversity of Missouri in Kansas City.

  • Failing to plan your strategy. "Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to this problem, but larger ones are often guilty of the same mistake," says Cleek. "It takes far more time to extract yourself from problems created by lack of planning than it would to do it right the first time."
  • Chasing inquiries the world over. Just because dozens of countries show interest doesn't mean you're ready to market your product everywhere. Patience is key. "It takes discipline to respond to an inquiry from a country about which you know very little," Cleek says.
  • Assuming if it works in America, it will work anywhere. Not true--you need to tailor your sales and marketing efforts to each country. Don't ignore the cultural differences shaping the marketplace. The same goes for pricing, shipping, payment terms and packaging.
  • Assuming business will be done in English. Familiarize yourself with the local language. Says Cleek, "It is the height of ignorance to expect other people to learn our language in order to buy from us."

Contact Sources

Bloch School of Business, e-mail:,

Cascade Clear Water Co., (360) 757-4441, fax: (360) 757-3534

Smith Brandon International, (202) 434-8790, fax: (202) 393-7719

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Road Less Traveled.

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