Once upon a time, the typical small business had a relatively limited, largely local customer base. Sure, we had mail-order catalogs and the like. But it was challenging for small companies to extend their market reach. Then this thing called the internet came along and the global business landscape began rapidly changing.

 

Fast forward to present day: Selling your products and services in other countries is more accessible than ever thanks to global online tools and other factors. Exporting is on the rise among small businesses after a recession-related dip, according to the National Small Business Association’s 2013 Exporting Survey. The top benefit of going global, according to survey respondents, should appeal to just about any entrepreneur: Increased sales and profits.

 

Entering international markets may seem like a daunting process. Here are some ways to find help:

 

Bone up on the nuts and bolts

 

Obviously, there are some key differences between doing business locally or nationally and doing business in other countries. Your Uncle Sam can help you get up to speed on the mechanics of entering foreign markets. Start with Export.gov, which encompasses 19 federal agencies offering programs and services for U.S. exporters. Also check out the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) free Export Business Planner tool.

 

Do your due diligence

 

As with any new product development or new marketplace, you’ll want to do your research to ensure your global strategy is viable. Check out the U.S. Commercial Service’s market research library or the U.S Department of Commerce International Trade Administration’s TradeStats Express tool as places to begin.

 

Start with your neighbors

 

Small businesses entering foreign markets for the first time may do well to start close to home, notes UPS International president Dan Brutto. He points to Canada and Mexico as prime examples, not for their physical proximity to U.S. businesses but because the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) helps streamline exports. Learn more about NAFTA and other U.S. free trade agreements here.

 

Check out a U.S. Export Assistance Center

 

Want some face-to-face help? The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) runs U.S. Export Assistance Centers through the country, staffed by exporting experts from agencies such as the Export-Import Bank. Find a center here.

 

Get a crash course in trade finance

 

Selling internationally comes with specific considerations for payment terms and methods, as well as other financial topics. Check out the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Trade Finance guidelines for exporters.

 

Crank up your international marketing

 

Preparing to do business with international customers is great, but those customers still have to be able to find you. Power up your international marketing and customer support efforts with critical tools like a well-designed ecommerce website (ideally optimized for a wide variety of mobile devices), international toll free numbers in the countries where you plan to do business, and active social media channels.