Talk to the experts
The U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) District Offices and local Resource Partners deliver SBA programs and services nationwide. Contact a local business counseling center to make an appointment for personalized one-on-one assistance with your small business plans and training.
U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs) can help you develop an exporting strategy. Each center is staffed by professionals from public and private organizations with experience in assisting small- and medium-sized businesses to enter and succeed in the global marketplace.
Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) are another great resource. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies and partially funded through a partnership with SBA. Their advisors offer free business consulting and low-cost training services.
The International Trade Hotline can help U.S. small businesses facing barriers in accessing international markets or seeking referrals to SBA and U.S. trade government programs. Discover the small business benefits of U.S. trade agreements and assistance going global. Contact the toll-free trade hotline at 855-722-4877 or reach out by email at email@example.com.
The following SBA and other federal resources provide additional help with international sales:
Start developing your export plan
Whether you are starting to trade overseas, or you are looking to expand your global sales, consider SBA and SBA’s Resource Partners for business counseling. We can help connect you to market research as you develop your export plan. SBA’s Small Business Development Centers offers business counselors who can review your business plan and provide market data and export resources.
Additionally, SBA’s ASCENT online learning platform includes a “Growing Globally” journey, which provides six on-demand modules to help design your international trade strategy.
Business registration and research
SBA’s Office of International Trade (OIT) is your first point of contact for trade-related resources and referrals to other government agencies who provide valuable small business trade information.
There are many resources available to help you research where to target global growth, including:
- The Census Bureau’s Global Market Finder
- The International Trade Administration’s Market Diversification Tool
SBA’s federal partners, including the International Trade Administration, also offer a wealth of resources tailored for businesses that are starting to trade or want to expand. Discover which federal resources can be combined with SBA counseling and assistance, such as:
- Services to promote and expand your business
- Country commercial guides
- Global trade events
- USDA trade resources
Developing a strong international business strategy based on data can help your business grow faster. Explore the resources of industry teams available from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration.
Take a step further and explore how your business fits within industry clusters and regional business environments in the United States and abroad.
To increase your competitiveness and resilience, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s MEP Supplier Scouting program connects you to contract manufacturers and new suppliers to help meet rules of origin for free trade agreement eligibility.
Stay up to date on trade and investment events by visiting:
Find international customers and partners
SBA Resource Partners and your local U.S. Export Assistance Center can connect you to services to help identify foreign buyers.
Through the International Trade Administration, U.S. small businesses can access for a fee customized market research, an initial assessment of the market potential of a product or service in a target market, matchmaking services including virtual introductions, in-country promotion services, and due diligence assistance to determine suitability of foreign parties and companies.
Trade delegations and investment
Small businesses can follow and reach out to the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, SelectUSA, the International Visitor Leadership program, and foreign embassies and consulates to discover opportunities to connect with foreign traders and investors closer to home or virtually.
For information on outbound investment in development financing and insurance, visit the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation.
State Trade Expansion Program (STEP)
STEP provides financial awards to state and territory governments to help small businesses with trade expansion. Most states receive STEP support. Find out if your state does, then contact your local office to learn more.
Get smart on how to finance and insure your exports
Exporters and aspiring exporters often find it is harder to get loans for things like day-to-day operations, advance orders with suppliers, and refinancing for existing debts related to international buyers. That’s why SBA created programs to make it easier to serve small business customers by providing lenders up to a 90% guaranty on export loans. SBA has a suite of three export loan guarantee programs:
Export Express lenders can directly underwrite a loan without getting prior approval from SBA, allowing you to get capital quickly. Loans are typically approved within 36 hours and can be up to $500,000.
SBA export lenders also offer Export Working Capital loans, which allow small business owners to apply for loans in advance of finalizing an export sale or contract, giving exporters greater flexibility in negotiating export payment terms. These loans can be up to $5 million, and the turnaround time is usually five to 10 business days.
Additionally, small businesses can apply for International Trade loans for help entering international markets and making investments to compete with other foreign sellers globally. These loans offer a combination of fixed asset, working capital financing, and debt refinancing with SBA’s maximum guaranty of 90% on the total loan amount. The maximum loan is $5 million in total financing.
Should you need one, SBA can also help you get a surety bond from an authorized agent.
If you are looking to learn more about SBA export loan programs, contact your local SBA Export Finance Manager for trade finance counseling and referrals or apply directly at a participating export lender.
Additionally, the U.S. Import Export Bank (EXIM) offers multi-buyer credit insurance that protects an exporter’s accounts receivable and provides significant benefits. Often used in tandem with SBA’s products, the protection of an EXIM insurance policy equips businesses with the confidence necessary to enter new markets and chart a path forward with margins that they can depend on.
To learn more about trade finance, please review the Trade Finance Guide: A Quick Reference for U.S. Exporters, which explains the basics of trade finance, including terminology, trade financing practices, and government assistance.
Learn more about federal trade financing, insurance, and investment financing from SBA federal partners:
Protect your intellectual property internationally
When selling internationally, it is important to protect the authenticity of your products and brands abroad. Intellectual property rights are unique to each country. Your first step is to register with USPTO or the Copyright Office. This will domestically protect your intellectual property in the United States and you can then record trademarks and copyrights with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. At the same time and within applicable deadlines, you should consider where to apply to register your rights in other countries.
International treaties, like the Patent Cooperation Treaty, Madrid Protocol and the Hague Agreement, may be helpful in meeting deadlines and filing for rights in several countries. Learn more about these agreements and taking proactive steps internationally from SBA OIT’s Learn to Trade: Protecting Your Intellectual Property in Trade video.
The USPTO Contact Center helps with referrals for legal assistance through domestic patent application preparation and information about reduced domestic and international USPTO fees for U.S. small business.
Learn more at Stop Fakes or USPTO, or call 800-786-9199 for answers to questions about how to secure patents and trademarks in the United States. The U.S. Copyright Office uniquely provides answers and registration information on copyright registration and protection.
Explore digital trade and e-commerce
Every day, more and more people around the world go online for the first time. Many of these people are potential customers, looking for quality products and services. E-commerce allows you to increase your brand awareness; conduct business 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and utilize data and technology to tailor your marketing strategy.
If you are beginning to sell online or want to incorporate it more into your business plan, consider SBA business counseling services and training. SCORE offers volunteer mentors skilled in social media marketing and e-commerce. Additionally, STEP awards can be utilized for internationalizing, translating, or optimizing your website for international sales. These actions can help you ensure your business and products:
- Appear in international searches in target markets
- Are mobile-friendly
- Are able to provide options for delivery
- Are able to calculate total delivery costs, tariffs and any VAT fees
- Provide digital payment options
When looking to modernize your e-commerce international approach, the International Trade Administration’s E-commerce Innovation Lab offers information on e-commerce channels and how to find and reach potential overseas clients. When importing or exporting e-commerce purchases no matter how small your package, ensure that your business is compliant with all the applicable laws in the United States or the destination country.
SBA's fact sheet Increase Your Online Sales in the Global Marketplace: E-commerce and Digital Opportunities for Businesses summarizes the key resources available across federal agencies to help small businesses explore e-commerce and digital trade.
Once you have decided when and where to start trading, it's important that you consider the logistics of the process:
- Importing and Exporting Business Samples
- Find a Licensed Freight Forwarder (Ocean Transportation Intermediaries List)
The International Trade Administration provides a helpful toolkit with 12 Export Solutions, including information on shipping and logistics. For ocean shipping, the Federal Maritime Commission provides a list of bonded ocean transportation intermediaries for individual or consolidated shipments. Express courier services are also options for smaller shipments and products that must arrive quickly.
Whatever online platforms you use for e-commerce, explore what delivery options the customer can select. Regardless of the mode of delivery for small packages, be sure to explore whether your shipment is eligible for any minimum threshold programs — and that you can prove it meets those program requirements — and whether a Value Added Tax (VAT) will be required for the customer to receive your goods.
Office of International Trade Hotline
Contact the Office of International Trade Hotline
For additional help, please contact SBA’s Office of International Trade Hotline: 855-722-4877 or firstname.lastname@example.org.