This excerpt is part of Entrepreneur.com's Second-Quarter Startup Kit which explores the fundamentals of starting up in a wide range of industries.

In Start Your Own Import/Export, the staff at Entrepreneur Press and writer Krista Turner explain how to start and run a successful import-export business. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer details on the government programs the U.S. has that can help you launch your export business.

If you're hoping to export goods out of the United States, a mind-boggling array of resources is available at your fingertips. Because exports give the economy a big charge, our friendly government agents are happy to help you sell just about anything to foreign markets. Here are sources that can help:

International Trade Administration. Arguably the largest clearinghouse of information for finding foreign buyers is the International Trade Administration (ITA), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The only mission of the ITA's Commercial Service is to help you develop and flex your export wings, which it does by providing some phenomenal services--everything from country-specific market analyses to trade leads to setting up and chaperoning personal meetings between you and interested foreign businesspeople.

The group employs trade specialists in 107 cities and more than 80 countries to help you meet your importing/exporting goals. Services include market research, trade events that will help you promote your product, introductions to buyers and distributors, and counseling and advocacy services.

USA Trade Online. This service is a terrific source for export market research. Provided by the Foreign Trade Division of the Census Bureau, it offers current and cumulative U.S. import and export data, with over 9,000 export commodities and 17,000 import commodities. Videos demonstrate how to tackle the following tasks, among others:

  • Identify top and emerging markets
  • Monitor foreign competition
  • Obtain values and growth rates

Subscription rates are $25 weekly, $75 monthly and $300 annually.

Country Commercial Guides. These guides furnish every piece of information you could ever want to know on the countries of your choice, including:

  • Market potential and demand trends
  • Market size and import statistics
  • Competition
  • Market access
  • Regulations and standards
  • Best sales prospects
  • End users
  • Key industry contacts

The complete set of guides are free for the viewing. Type in export.gov/Germany (or whatever other country you're interested in). Select "Country Commercial Guides" or "Doing Business In . . . ."

Export Assistance Centers. Country Commercial Guides aren't all the Commercial Service has to offer. Experts at its Export Assistance Centers will write up a Customized Market Analysis specially tailored to your product or service. You choose your target country; specialists then conduct interviews with in-the-know local sources--importers, distributors, consumers or end users, and manufacturers of comparable products. In about 60 days, bingo! Your custom analysis is sent to your door. The cost for this service ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the country.

If you just have a few specific questions about your market, you can also pay for Flexible Market Research, which runs you anywhere from $200 to $3,000.

You can order a Customized Market Analysis and determine cost specifics for your area of interest through your nearest Export Assistance Center. How do you find a center? Go to export.gov/tradeleads or call (800) USA-TRADE.

Matchmaker Trade Delegation Program. If you prefer to get even closer and more personal, you'll want to check out the Commercial Service's Matchmaker Trade Delegation program. For this one, you'll need to have your market research already complete and be ready to implement sales. Then you simply contact the Matchmaker people and they do everything (and we mean everything) necessary to introduce you to the right business contacts at trade delegations that target two or three countries with strong sales potential for American products.

"The U.S. Department of Commerce staff will have completed all the legwork by the time you arrive in country," the Matchmaker people explain. "The hotel reservations, meeting facilities, interpreters and appointment schedules are all arranged for you. All you have to do is arrive in country ready to interview your potential business prospects."

As a Matchmaker delegate, here's what you get:

  • Market analysis of your merchandise or service
  • Two days of prescreened business appointments in each country
  • In-depth market and trade finance briefings by both American government and local experts
  • "Logistical support," including hotel reservations, interpreters, and meeting rooms
  • Embassy receptions and site visits (with selected Matchmakers)
  • Counseling and follow-up from your local Export Assistance Center

The sites and topics of Matchmaker Trade Delegations are set up about two years in advance, so you have plenty of time to get your product or service research done before you make your "date."

Gold Key Program. The Commercial Service offers its Gold Key program for exporters who want more personalized service. While the Matchmaker service sends you globe-trotting with 10 to 20 other company representatives and sets you all up with a booth and display, the Gold Key option finds potential partners for you and you alone--in the country you want. (With the Matchmaker program, you must choose from pre-set country formats.)

The basic charge for an agent distributor search will set you back $250. If you want star treatment--a car, an office, a driver, and interpreter--the bills grow from there. All you need to bring is your product or service literature. "Gold Key," says an Export Assistance Center spokesperson in Florida, "is our best program."