From the November 2000 issue of Entrepreneur

Five years ago, a friend asked Karen Hamilton for a favor, and that request snowballed into a business. Hamilton and her husband, Gary, own The Hamilton Group Ltd., a Whitefish, Montana, firm that sells truck parts to private companies abroad. This past May, she and Gary went to the Netherlands, France and Germany with a Women In Trade Business Development Mission. We asked Karen to walk us through her experience.

Evaluating Possibilities
"I got literature on the mission and had to determine if [it] was the best avenue to get new business," says Karen. "I had to analyze the required money and how long it would take to make it back."

Karen sent information to the U.S. embassies in the Netherlands and France to help the commercial officers uncover potential business partners she could meet. She also detailed what she expected from the mission, including drumming up new business.

The trip seemed worth the expense, which Karen now estimates to have been about $8,000. She suspects it will take 12 to 18 months to recoup the investment.

Day One
Up at 4 a.m. to catch a flight from Whitefish to The Hague in the Netherlands for a get-acquainted party the next day.

Day Two
To an 8 a.m. group briefing, which included an overview of the Netherlands' economy and culture, with a U.S. Embassy representative.

Then a one-on-one meeting with the senior commercial attaché followed. "He gave us a study on military business in the Netherlands," says Karen.

Following the meetings, the group took a VIP streetcar tour from The Hague to the city of Delft. There they attended a cocktail party with the mayor of Delft and Dutch entrepreneurial women.

The Next Half

Day Three
Left at 8 a.m. for a meeting at a truck repair plant. "We discussed exporting several different types of products," says Karen, "and left with an opportunity to bid on merchandise."

Then came a last-minute meeting to discuss the couple's water purification system. "We met with the father-and-son owners of a 125-employee company," Karen notes. "We didn't have samples, but we did have literature."

Then the Hamiltons attended a reception at the home of the U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands.

Day Four (side trip)
The group took the train to Paris, while the Hamiltons flew to Frankfurt, Germany, for meetings with customers, buyers and finance officers.

Day Five
Up at 4 a.m. for Karen's flight to Paris and Gary's trip to another location in Germany to sign a new business contract. While in Paris, Karen met with U.S. officials and several potential customers. Plus, the editor of Femme d'Entreprise magazine interviewed Karen for an article on the group.

Day Six
Karen and the other woman entrepreneurs had lunch at the home of the U.S. ambassador to France. Then back to the hotel for a coveted rest.

Day Seven
Up at 6 a.m. and to the consulate for truck- and auto-parts sales meetings, from which the Hamiltons obtained another bidding opportunity. A private lunch at the U.S. Embassy followed, and this event ended the business portion of the mission.

Worth The Cost?
"We'll garner about $100,000 in business from the mission this year and about $1.5 million within the next 18 months," Karen guesses. "This isn't an easy way to make money, but if you're professional in business, it's another way to find customers."


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