Going Global: Overcoming the Top Five Obstacles

Aug. 7, 2008
Tips on how to navigate customs and mitigate risks.

The combination of a weak U.S. dollar and rapidly growing economies in Asia favoring exports mean the time is now for U.S. businesses small and large to take advantage and sell their goods and services overseas.

In our view, the top five obstacles small- to medium-sized business owners face in doing just that include navigating Customs regulations; not having enough time or money; handling international returns; taking on more risk; and overcoming language barriers.

Sounds daunting, right? The good news is there's lots of great transportation and logistics technology available to help U.S. business owners clear these hurdles and go global.

Here's an overview of the top five obstacles to going global and how to overcome them:

  1. Navigating Customs regulations: The complicated documentation required for getting goods through Customs may seem overwhelming to SMBs. In fact, the No. 1 reason a package gets delayed in Customs is missing or incomplete paperwork. But help is available. The right logistics or transportation partner can help you understand what goods can be exported to what countries or individuals and how much it's going to cost you -- including taxes and tariffs -- to get there. UPS has a Web-based management tool, UPS TradeAbility, that lays it all out for you. In addition, some new technology offerings enable you to submit paperwork electronically to prevent your business from submitting incomplete paperwork to Customs -- preventing shipments from being held for clearance.
  2. Not having enough time or money: A common complaint we hear from small business owners is that they simply lack the time and money to invest in going global. But we always tell them they don't have to go it alone. By partnering with an experienced logistics provider from the get-go, you can be equipped with the tools you need to get started. For instance, we offer a service called UPS Paperless Invoice that integrates order processing, shipment preparation, and commercial invoice data, cutting down on cost and time spent on all of the documentation required for global trade. Using the service, PBD Worldwide Fulfillment Services says "what was taking 20 seconds is now down under five. When you look at a peak volume of over 3,000 pieces (per day) and saving 15 seconds on each, that's a lot of time, that's a lot of money. That's a couple people."
  3. Getting your stuff back: Think it's challenging getting your goods overseas? Try getting them back. UPS research shows seven out of 10 businesses don't have a formalized process to handle international returns. In fact, some companies simply abandon international returns because it's not worth the money or the trouble. But new technology-based services like international UPS Returns allow a business to easily send customers international return labels and commercial invoices via e-mail, local post, or their UPS driver. Bingo! You're happy, your customer's happy, and your stuff is on its way back to the U.S.
  4. Taking on more risk: Cultural issues, government regulations and restrictions, local and other foreign competition, and underdeveloped distribution systems in some countries all add up to a lot of risk for the small business owner who wants to go global. Knowledgeable resources can help you mitigate the risk. The U.S. Commercial Services are a great resource for small business owners looking to expand outside the United States. UPS offers the Global Advisor on ups.com to help small businesses navigate international shipping. In addition, an experienced logistics or transportation provider, and the right technology, can minimize the risks associated with global trade -- including the risk of angering a key customer with poor customer service. The right tracking technology will help improve your customer service by proactively notifying your customer via e-mail about shipment status, and reduce the number of phone calls you receive on the topic.
  5. Overcoming language barriers: It's hard enough to get your product in front of the right customers in the global marketplace. Add the fact that you're working with customers who are thousands of miles away and speak different languages, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Or so you thought. If you work with partners who have built-in distribution channels and can serve as the communication hub for you and your customers, you will be much better off. For example, UPS provides shipping systems that support multiple languages. So you can use a UPS shipping system and, for example, specify the language in which you would like a ship notification to be sent. In other words, you can ship something from the U.S. and the recipient of the shipment in Japan will receive the electronic notification of the shipment in Japanese.

Jordan Colletta is vice president of customer technology marketing at UPS, the world's largest package delivery company and a global leader in supply chain services. For more information on UPS, visit www.ups.com.

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