Once upon a time, the global marketplace was an arena reserved for the big players-companies that could afford access to the information and communications necessary to do business around the world. Today, the power of the Internet and communication technologies has made the global market just as accessible to the homebased entrepreneur.
"The Internet is an unbelievable tool," says Abby Shapiro, co-founder and CEO of International Strategies Inc. According to Shapiro, small businesses can access a wealth of country reports, market information and international business directories online, often at no cost. "With a few good sites and a directory of folks to contact outside the United States, you can do a lot just sitting in your living room," says Shapiro, whose Boston-based firm offers a wide range of reports and materials for import/export businesses. "Using e-mail and faxes, you don't even have to pick up the phone."
For many homebased businesses, a Web site is the first portal to the world. Steve Veltkamp, president of Biz$hop, a homebased publishing company in Port Angeles, Washington, that produces business guides and newsletters, points out that you don't even have to translate your site into another language. "English is the language of commerce, and the dollar is the currency of commerce," says Veltkamp, who began assisting other companies in developing foreign markets through Biz$hop in 1986. What matters, he says, is making your site "friendly" to international visitors.
Shapiro believes your Web site can also be an important source of leads if you're thinking of developing an import or export business. "Analyze where [orders] are coming from. If you have two dozen bids out of Canada, that tells you you have leads in that area."
Still another option for the homebased entrepreneur who wants to explore international markets is to act as an export intermediary, connecting U.S. suppliers and international buyers. According to Dennis Hessler, whose homebased Pensacola, Florida, company, Spyglass Point Productions , offers import/export and international business advice, all you need is sweat equity-and an understanding of the edge you bring to the marketplace.