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6 Steps to Assess Your Small Business’ Readiness to Export

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: November 1, 2012 Updated: March 2, 2014

export plannerBetween 2009 and 2011, U.S. exports grew by 40 percent and the federal government is pressing to provide programs and resources that help U.S. companies succeed internationally.

Making the decision to export, however, is significant. Is your product marketable overseas? Can your business tolerate the benefits versus the trade-offs of exporting?

To help you assess your exporting readiness, take a look at SBA’s Export Business Planner. This invaluable, hands-on exporting guide provides a roadmap for creating an export business plan, discovering foreign markets, developing a marketing plan, exploring financing, costing your product and more.

Here’s what the Export Business Planner has to say about assessing your business’ readiness to export – backed by a series of useful worksheets to help you work through this important exercise.

1. Determine the Benefits and Trade-Offs of International Market Expansion

Start by brainstorming a list of benefits and trade-offs for expanding your market internationally. For instance, one benefit might be a reduced dependence on domestic markets. Trade-offs? You may need additional financing, or be willing to use short-term profits to ensure long-term goals, or hire additional staff.

Your list of benefits and trade-offs should be based on your current assumptions about 1) your company, 2) your company’s products and 3) market knowledge.  

2. Perform a Business/Company Analysis

Next, you’ll need to perform an in-depth analysis of your existing business to determine the feasibility of growth. This entails evaluating your company and its attributes. Check out page 32 of the planner for a worksheet that can help you with this exercise.

3. Conduct an Industry Analysis

Once you have examined the status of your own company, the next area for consideration is your overall industry. How is it currently involved in the global marketplace? This review will help you to capture key aspects of your industry that will affect your exporting decisions. Again, check out the worksheet for this exercise on page 34 of the planner.

4. Identify Products With Export Potential

Part of the overall analysis of your current business involves identifying products that may have export potential. These have sold successfully domestically or maybe have had marginal success in the U.S. but potential for high demand overseas. Many small businesses make 100 percent of their sales in foreign markets.

Start by listing the strengths and weaknesses of products/services you believe might have export potential. Then, select the most exportable products/services to be offered and evaluate them. The worksheet on page 36 can really help you narrow down your product focus.

5. Marketability: Match Your Product/Service with a Global Trend or Need

Once you’ve identified products/services with export potential, the next step is to identify the most profitable foreign markets for those products. This means gathering foreign market research. Work through the worksheet that starts on page 39 to narrow your choices to the three most-penetrable markets. Ask yourself:

  • Which countries are best-suited for your product?
  • Which foreign markets will be easiest to penetrate?
  • How does the quality of your product compare with competing in-market goods?
  • Is your price competitive?
  • Who could your major customers be?

To help you with this exercise and to continue to explore these top three markets in-depth, pages 25-27 of the planner provide links to essential resources that can help you determine your product’s marketability overseas. There is also information about regulatory and political considerations that can affect your exporting decisions.

6. Define Which Markets to Pursue

Once your research has revealed the largest, fastest-growing and simplest markets to penetrate for your product or service, the next step is to define which markets to pursue. Here are some tips to bear in mind (and refer to the worksheet on page 42 of the planner for guidance):

  • It’s best to test one market and then move on to secondary markets as your expertise develops. SBA data shows that new-to-export businesses often tend to choose too many markets at first. For most small businesses, choosing one to three foreign markets initially is recommended.
  • Focusing on regional, geographic clusters of countries is more cost effective than choosing markets scattered around the globe, especially when you undertake trips or marketing events.

What’s next? Once you’ve determined your export readiness and investigated foreign market options, refer to the SBA’s Export Planning Guide for more tips and worksheets to help you plan, finance and execute your small business exporting strategy.

Additional Resources


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

7 Holiday Marketing Tips on a Limited Budget

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 25, 2012

When we think of holiday marketing – which can be critical to your business success – we often think only of promotions and discounts. But you don’t have to cut your margins or break the bank to stand out from the crowd any more. Here are seven budget-friendly steps you should consider to promote your small business while meeting the needs of your customers this holiday season.

Host an “Open House”

If you operate a retail business, restaurant or any gift-oriented business, why not plan an open house event in mid-November? Use it to showcase holiday season gifts, menus and merchandise. Offer up a glass of warm cider or mulled wine, and really get people into the spirit of the holidays. This will give customers an opportunity to check out your merchandise or holiday menus in advance. You could throw in a special offer or coupon that customers can redeem anytime up until December 24.

Work the Holiday Magic for Your Faithful Customers

Think of ways to generate repeat holiday business from your existing customers. Special offers, sneak previews, free shipping, or secret sales are all great ways to make your faithful customers feel special without breaking the bank.

Feature Product/Services of the Day or Week

I love this low cost marketing idea from Ivana Taylor at SmallBizTrends: why not create 12 days of “your product” or a product or service of the month? Feature and market a product or service every day or every week during the holidays. Think about focusing on high margin products or items your customers don’t know about. “Companies in the food business use this strategy a lot,” explains Ivana. “Think beer of the month, cheesecake of the month, or coffee of the month… Maid service companies could feature an extra cleaning detail each month, trainers or consultants can offer featured webinars, reports or newsletters.”

And don’t forget to communicate this themed promotion on your website, social media, email, posters, and flyers.

Offer Gift Certificates

Whatever your business, selling gift certificates, gift cards and e-certificates is a great way to give your customers a convenient gift option. They also help you generate sales well into the New Year, with recipients often spending more than the value of the certificate.

Partner With Other Businesses

It’s likely that many of the businesses in your community also rely heavily on the holidays for a good chunk of their income. Is there a way you can partner with complementary stores or restaurants to cross-promote each other’s businesses? For example, a cosmetic store and a hair salon might develop a promotion that offers a time-limited discount off each other’s respective goods and services, if the customer frequents both. SBA guest blogger Rieva Lesonsky offers more tips in her blog: Forget Competition It’s Time for Co-Opetition.

Get Involved in Community and Charitable Events

Getting out there and supporting charities or sponsoring or getting involved in community events is a great way to generate awareness for your business during the holidays. Even if you don’t have the budget to donate large sums of money, think of other ways to get involved, such as offering volunteer services, equipment or even space.

Use Your Website and Social Media to Promote your Holiday Activities

Your online presence, email marketing, and social media networks are a great way to target and connect with local consumers through timely updates and compelling calls-to-action. Develop holiday themes for your email templates and update your website and Facebook profile picture with a festive look.

Then be sure to channel any offers or promotions through social media. You can even offer deals or events exclusively to your social media fans to help drive foot traffic and generate leads. And don’t forget to engage in two-way dialogues. Ask your fans about their holiday activities. For example, a restaurant might highlight a holiday dish of the day on Facebook and ask fans to chime in on their favorite dish or items they’d like to see on the menu.

What lost-cost holiday marketing tips and tricks have worked for your small business? Leave a comment below!

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Are the Holidays Your Off-Season? Stay on Top of Business Seasonality With These 7 Tips

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 22, 2012 Updated: September 28, 2016

All indicators point to a solid 2012 holiday season for retailers. The National Retail Federation points to one key indicator, its Global Port Tracker report, which showed a strong increase in imports for August, September and October – the three key months of the year when retailers buy the bulk of the merchandise they will sell during the holiday season.

Good news! But what if the holiday season is not your big selling season? For many businesses, particularly summer-seasonal businesses, the winter holiday season can bring a dive in sales and cash flow issues.

Here are seven tips for making the most out of the holiday season by effectively planning and managing cash flow – while ensuring your business stays top-of-mind as well.

Have a View of Cash Flow

If you operate a seasonal business, it’s important to include a cash flow projection template as part of your financial planning process. If you can, plan your cash flow over a year.  Use historical reports from previous years to forecast your revenue, your busiest months and your estimated sales for each month. You’ll also need to consider your fixed expenses (rent, utilities, etc.) and your variable expenses (salaries, inventory, taxes, etc.) as well as when these variable expenses will be expended.

This blog offers some quick tips for simplifying the process: Projecting your Business Cash Flow, Made Simple.

Once you have a view of your revenues and outgoings, you can develop strategies to manage cash flow throughout the year.

Optimize Your Invoicing Process

Unfortunately for small business owners, the wait to get paid is only getting longer. According to a 2012 Wall Street Journal survey, 64 percent of small businesses had unpaid invoices over 60 days old while 20 percent say the problem is worsening.

Modifying your invoicing policies will help ensure off-season cash flow. This blog offers tips on how to do this: How to Get Paid Faster with a Better Invoicing Process.

Get Help Financing Your Seasonal Working Capital Needs

If you need help meeting your short-term and cyclical working capital needs, you might want to consider a short-term loan or line of credit such as SBA’s CAPLines Program, which provides advances against anticipated inventory and accounts receivable to help businesses with seasonal sales fluctuations. The program was streamlined this year to make it easier for small business owners to get financing even if collateral is tight. Read more about the program or talk to your local SBA Office to learn more.

Negotiate Flexible Payment Terms from Your Suppliers

Just as you want to expedite the flow of cash in, you should also consider negotiating extended payment terms from your suppliers. This is especially useful if your busy season ramps up again after the holidays because you are likely to be incurring most of your variable expenses (inventory, marketing, etc.) now. The trouble is, you won’t see any immediate returns on those investments until your revenues kick in, so an extended payment plan can help ease the pain of these pre-season costs.

Continue to Market Your Business

If you run a seasonal business, your off-season should be one of your busiest marketing seasons. Capture customer emails (use drawings, surveys, and other sign-up incentives), send updates year-round (entice them to come back next year) and use social media to put out teasing content and updates all year long!

Offer time-limited promotions or incentives that drive customers to sign-up for your services now, and secure a percentage down-payment in advance.

Find Alternative Sources of Income

Earning income from alternative sources or diversifying your products or services to include ones that will be popular during your off-season is a great way of keeping cash flowing and your business on customers’ minds. Don’t forget to check whether you need any additional business licenses or permits.'s  Business Licenses and Permits Tool can help you find the paperwork you might need.

Use Your Downtime for Planning

Use your off-season wisely. Regroup, review and plan ahead to ensure a profitable busy season. How did your business perform against its plans? Did your marketing campaigns pan out as well as you’d hoped? What new products and services can you introduce in the new season? What’s the competition up to? How can you position yourself against them? 


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Planning and Managing a Business Retirement Plan – Government eTools That Can Help

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: October 17, 2012 Updated: September 8, 2016

Are you self-employed and trying to understand your retirement savings plan options? Are you perhaps an employer who wants to offer your employees a retirement savings plan program?

There are many ways to fund a retirement plan. In some cases, employers contribute. In others, employees or both (employer and employee) contribute. If you have no employees, your options are different again. The program you choose may dictate which options are available.

Even after you’ve chosen a plan, it will take more work and diligence to maintain it. Plan requirements change and it’s your responsibility to know when they do. That’s why reviewing your retirement plan each year helps ensure it’s compliant with current tax laws. Like routine physicals, retirement plan check-ups can help you prevent problems or detect them early.

The good news for employers and the self-employed is that the government offers very useful online tools to help you choose a retirement savings plan, maintain it and even make corrections to your plan to protect participants’ benefits and keep plans in compliance with the law.

Determine the Right Retirement Savings Plan for Your Business

If you are interested in offering your employees an employer-sponsored plan, then you need to understand your options. The Department of Labor’s online Small Business Retirement Savings Advisor is a useful first stop to finding the right plan for you.

The Advisor is part of the DOL’s wider elaws Advisors program that gives both employers and employees easy-to-understand information about a number of federal employment laws. 

Simply answer a series of Yes/No questions and the Advisor will suggest retirement plans appropriate to the number of employees you have, whether you want to have a plan funded by employer, employees or both. It also offers links to the required IRS reporting forms for each plan.

Navigate Your Retirement Plan and Stay Compliant with IRS Laws

Another useful online resource for employers is the IRS Retirement Plans Navigator. This glossy tool not only helps you understand more about plan options, it also helps you manage a well-run plan – both for the benefit of your employees and in line with current federal tax law.

Giving your business retirement plan a check-up, whether it’s a 401(k), IRA, SEP, or 403(k), can also help you save time, money and paperwork, and increase tax return accuracy. Some of the common mistakes the IRS looks out for in retirement plan examinations include:

  • Not covering the proper employees
  • Not giving employees required information
  • Not depositing employee deferrals in a timely fashion
  • Not following the terms of the plan document
  • Not limiting employee deferrals and employer contributions to the proper maximum limits

These errors can have an impact on the tax benefits accrued from operating a business retirement plan and expose you to audits and penalties, so it's a good idea to continuously monitor and review your plan. The IRS Retirement Plans Navigator is an essential tool for keeping your plan compliant and includes useful plan check-ups that can help you prevent problems or detect them early. You can even make appropriate plan changes without having to notify the IRS.

Related Resources

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Do You Copy?

By Rieva Lesonsky, Guest Blogger
Published: October 16, 2012


We learn in grade school that it’s not right to copy others, and even as adults we know copying is usually frowned upon. But when it comes to business marketing, there’s nothing wrong with being a copycat—in fact, it’s downright good business. Looking at how your competitors market themselves can teach you what to do (and what not to do) with your own marketing strategy. Here’s how to be a successful marketing copycat.

Start by determining your major competitors, and include both big companies and small ones. Pay attention to their marketing campaigns—including print, radio, TV or cable TV, outdoor advertising and online advertising. (You may want to put someone at your business in charge of gathering and maintaining this information, since it will be an ongoing job.) Create a database or record of where each competitor is advertising, ad size, frequency and any other information you think is important. 

Next, assess the actual ads themselves. Start from a consumer or customer standpoint. If you were looking for this product or service, what would you think of this ad? Be objective; if you can’t, enlist a friend or family member to look at or listen to the ads for you.

Then assess the ads from a business standpoint. What benefits and features do the ads highlight? Do they rely on special offers and discounts, or are they touting luxury or premium products? What types of customers are they targeting (Moms? Seniors? Teens? Businesspeople? Value shoppers)?

Don’t forget social media. It’s easy to keep tabs on what the competition is doing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest—just follow or like your competitors, then regularly check out their posts and how customers respond. You’ll get a window into exactly how successful their marketing is and what customers like to see.

Once you’ve got all this information, you’ll need to do some serious thinking. Ask yourself (and brainstorm with your team):

·         What do I like and dislike about my competitors’ ads? If something in an ad bugs you, it probably bugs potential customers, too. Conversely, if something resonates with you, it’s likely to hit home with prospects as well.

·         What tactics could I copy or learn from? Of course, you shouldn’t directly copy your competitor—and if your ads are too similar, it could even cause confusion among customers. But you can do things like advertising in the same places your competitors are or promoting similar benefits in your ads. 

·         What can I do differently to make my business stand out? Is there a media outlet your customers care about that no competitors are advertising? For instance, if you’re targeting teens, maybe you could advertise on an Internet radio service like Spotify.

·         What weaknesses do I see that could create opportunity for my business? For example, if all the competitors in your community are promoting their low prices, you could take the opposite tack and promote your personalized service, premium products or other benefit that differentiates your company and makes what you offer worth a higher price. If no one else is advertising out-of-home, but your target consumers frequently use public transportation, there’s opportunity for you to advertise on bus stops or in or near subway stations.

Of course, marketing isn’t all about ads. If possible, visit your competitors’ stores or offices (or have a trusted friend or family member do so) to get a feel for how customers are treated and other elements such as signage, window décor and employee uniforms. Ask yourself the same questions about what you like and dislike as a customer, what’s missing from the marketing, and what opportunities you see.

Once you get the hang of copycat marketing, you’ll be able to apply it outside your immediate competitors. Start paying attention to ads you like (or don’t like) for companies in your industry, even if they’re not directly competitive with yours. Create an “inspiration folder” with ads that help you generate ideas. You’ll soon find that learning from others takes your marketing to new heights.

About the Author:

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky

Guest Blogger

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO and President of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Follow Rieva at and visit to sign up for her free TrendCast reports. She's been covering small business and entrepreneurial issues for more than 30 years, is the author of several books about entrepreneurship and was the editorial director of Entrepreneur magazine for over two decades


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