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When going global, don't go it alone

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In 2016, global exports from New Jersey companies totaled about $32.1 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The global sales market can be a lucrative one for companies of just about any size, but it can also be intimidating for smaller business. State and federal agencies, though, can help to make sense of it all, from researching markets to giving a hand with financing.

Such was the case with Adsorptech, a company that provides industrial gas separation technology and services, which a few years ago wanted to get into the international market but was frustrated when it tried to find out about the process.

“Our biggest hurdle was a lack of human resources to devote to researching the ins and outs of it,” said Jim Flaherty, CEO of the Middlesex-based business, which recently topped $1 million in annual revenue. “But then it all suddenly came together.”

Flaherty was at a conference at The College of New Jersey, where Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno was speaking.

“She gave out her cell number and said to call if we needed any help,” said Flaherty. “A few days later I called, she picked up the phone herself, and within 10 minutes after we hung up, the state’s Business Action Center called me back.”

Housed within the New Jersey Department of State and reporting to the lieutenant governor, the BAC’s core mission “is to help create and retain jobs while encouraging private capital investment in the Garden State,” according to the agency. Its advocates work to encourage entrepreneurship by supporting businesses of all sizes, advancing the global competitiveness of New Jersey companies and promoting the state’s attractiveness here and abroad as a vacation destination and business investment location.

Flaherty soon had an in-person meeting with a BAC representative where he laid out his company’s case, “and within a week, the agency delivered a market study identifying the countries that have historically, and recently, bought products like ours,” he said. “It was very valuable, because if someone’s buying equipment that’s similar to what Adsorptech offers, they’re a potential customer.”

Since then, Adsorptech’s international customers have included an oil refinery in Italy and a fish farm in Israel. The three-owner company is currently working with graduate students at Rutgers University on a project to identify countries for additional expansion, says Flaherty.

A sampling of state and federal help

New Jersey’s U.S. Export Assistance Centers: Part of the U.S. Commercial Service, its offices in Newark and Lawrenceville are part of an international network of global professionals, with offices in 70 countries prepared to help local company grow through exports.

Their staff of international trade specialists can help with identifying and evaluating international partners and navigating international logistics; documentation; and financial, legal and regulatory issues. They also can assist in creating market-entry strategies by accessing country-specific market research.

New Jersey Business Action Center (BAC): A “one-stop” shop for businesses, the BAC’s suite of services includes international business advocates from the Office of International Business Development & Protocol. They can help a company access free export consulting, identify buyers and new international markets for its products or services, and find partners for joint ventures and strategic alliances.

The International Trade Administration (ITA): This federal agency promotes trade and investment, and enforces U.S. trade laws and agreements. It provides export assistance and market research, and fosters level playing fields for American businesses around the world. The ITA’s Global Markets business unit helps U.S. companies export goods and services and resolve market barriers, while promoting foreign investment into the United States. It also prepares U.S. companies to succeed in business with foreign customers, advocates for U.S. bidders in foreign government tenders and provides expertise on international trade, investment and export promotion across a range of industries and sectors.

U.S. Small Business Administration: The SBA’s Office of International Trade helps small businesses compete in the global marketplace with a variety of funding and other programs.

“Until now, although I’ve made some contacts at trade shows and other events, we’ve primarily been marketing on a reactive basis, putting information out on the Web and waiting for clients,” he said. “Now we’re working on a proactive strategy to identify distributors in other countries that can connect us with the market.”

Businesses that take a global outlook can find a range of markets for their goods and services, but common misconceptions often can hold back companies, according to Roger S. Cohen, the lead international trade consultant for the New Jersey Small Business Development Centers (NJSBDC), and president of Nyack, N.Y.-based Cohen International, an international business development and government contract proposal consulting firm.

“For one thing, small business owners often think they don’t need customized advice, but in fact they do,” he said. “Each situation is different. Also, they think they don’t have the funds to travel overseas and make and maintain the necessary contacts, but there are workarounds. For example, even a five-person shop can use overseas distributors as agents to increase their reach without having to take on more employees. Finally, some of the business owners that do try to go global think they can do it fairly fast, but that’s just not the case. You need to allocate enough time to get into a market and develop it.”

Cohen’s currently working to increase the global sales of a New Jersey-based light-manufacturing company that makes electronic controls.

“The company had a minimal amount of international sales, but wanted to sell directly to China and increase its distribution in India,” he said. “We conducted a market survey in both nations that identified distributors, sales agents and networks. It took about six months, but the company recently got an initial order from China.”

Some of the necessary information about overseas opportunities is public “if you know where to look for it,” he noted. “Besides commissioning a market study, a business can attend trade shows, and find distributors that go to trade shows.”

But identifying the markets is just the first step, Cohen noted.

“Even if your products are in demand, you may have to customize them to meet local needs,” he suggested. “You may need to get your sales and other literature translated, too. Throughout the process, it’s imperative to involve top management, and the chief executives should also be prepared to go on some sales calls. I usually advise clients to start with sample order from an international customer. It decreases risk, and lets the supplier and the buyer get to know each other.”

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