This post is part of a series based on the research report Winning in the Americas by the National Center for the Middle Market in partnership with FedEx and Nextrade Group. Download the full report here.

If your middle market company ships materials or products abroad, or if you’re thinking about international expansion any time soon, turns out you’re not alone. According to the National Center for the Middle Market’s latest research, 54% of U.S. middle market companies export to foreign countries.

So, how do these companies ensure exporting success? We used our study to help uncover best practices and lessons learned, and we talked with successful middle market exporters, like Paulson Manufacturing Corporation of Temecula, California, the 2011 Small Business Administration District Exporter of the Year.

Following are some key takeaways that can help your business realize greater exporting success.

  1. Don’t think it can’t be done. According to Roy Paulson, CEO of Paulson Manufacturing and chair emeritus of the National District Export Council, “I have never seen a U.S. manufacturing business that could not export.” Paulson started his own exporting business from scratch 15 years ago, and the company currently ships over half of everything it makes to foreign markets. Although going abroad may seem like a daunting task at first, it’s clearly a viable and profitable option for many middle market businesses looking to expand. Especially if you’re in search of new customers or new markets to tap, considering opportunities outside of the U.S. is an option well worth exploring.

  2. Look north and south. You don’t have to travel across oceans to find lucrative exporting opportunities. In fact, the most common destination for middle market exports is Canada, followed by Mexico. Right now, Latin America is one of the hottest markets for developing exports. Paulson has fond that Latin American markets need and want his company’s products, yet there is little domestic competition in the area. What’s more, the market generally accepts U.S. manufacturing standards, making it easier to enter.

  3. Develop strong relationships with local distribution partners. Or consider building your own facilities. Working closely with the local distributors that will handle your products on foreign turf, and treating them with the respect you’d give any important business partner, can go a long way toward ensuring your success. Your partners will represent you well and invest in the distribution of your products if you have a positive working relationship.

    You may also want to consider investing in your own warehousing and distribution facilities in your major export markets. Paulson did this in Frankfurt, Germany. As a result, his European customers find that doing business with Paulson is just like doing business with any other German manufacturer.

  4. Stay in touch. Try to visit with your foreign customers at least once a quarter, and communicate with them every week. Like any customer, their needs will change, and it’s your job to stay on top of those needs. It’s important to stay focused on the solutions customers need, not just on the items you want to sell them.

  5. Give it time. Developing an international business doesn’t happen overnight. Be sure to give yourself the time you need to develop your partnerships, relationships, and customers abroad. But don’t forget to stay reactive as you establish your business. If you can’t respond quickly to the needs of your foreign customers, they will likely find another source that will.

  6. Leverage trade deals. Stipulations of trade agreements can help your business succeed in various markets around the globe. For example, after the Columbian Free Trade Agreement came to force, business quadrupled for Paulson in that country. Get familiar with existing trade deals and stay on top of those that are in the works, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has the potential to open doors and present opportunities to do business in new markets like Japan.

Keeping these tips in mind can help you shape a successful exporting strategy. For more details on middle market exporting, see the Center’s full research report, Winning in the Americas.

Next in this series
Post 3: Barriers to Internationalization: What Keeps Middle Market Companies Home?

Others in this series
Post 1: Comings and Goings: A Snapshot of Middle Market Trade
Post 4: Harnessing Opportunities for International Growth: Why Look to Latin America?

This post is part of a larger research project by the National Center for the Middle Market. Get the full picture through the resources below: