Alyssa Tracey, director of the MEDC International Trade program, speaks with Josh Billington, Assistant State Director of Strategic Innovation operations with the Michigan Small Business Development Center, on how small businesses can gain success by expanding to global markets.
International trade supports Michigan’s economy more than almost any other state in the country. 33% of Michigan’s GDP comes from inbound and outbound trade, ranking No. 4 nationally. Overall, Michigan businesses achieved $55 billion in export sales in 2021.
So how can Michigan connect with export partners in international markets and experience the average 17% increase in profitability? Alyssa Tracey, director of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) International Trade program, and Josh Billington, Assistant State Director of Strategic Innovation operations with the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), discuss how small businesses can get “export ready” and be prepared for success in accessing new markets around the world.
See below for excerpts and key insights from the conversation and watch the full 20-minute conversation to learn more.
Getting Export Ready with the Michigan Small Businesses Development Center
Alyssa Tracey: What are some ways that your team at SBDC can help companies determine if they’re ready to take this next step and exporting?
Josh Billington: Here at the SBDC we have consultants all throughout the state, servicing all 83 counties in Michigan. The first place to start is to register on our website www.michigansbdc.org. We provide an early export online assessment to determine where your company is in starting the export journey. We’ve developed an online training module packed with resources to help businesses explore and get a better grasp of what’s involved in getting their company involved in exporting. The training module is packed with good templates and resources. From there we connect you with one of our 10 export certified consultants, and help you start developing a business plan and a marketing plan to get you ready.
Tracey: What are some steps that your team takes to help businesses along within the module?
Billington: We discuss starting with developing an export business plan, reviewing the financials and the profit worthiness of your company, if you’re in a good spot to start expanding into different markets. Then we start to develop expenses, or how much it would cost, to help you explore what it would cost to ship to certain countries. We help guide companies to get to the point to where they will be in a good spot to export.
Tracey: In your experience working with small businesses, do you have any examples or lessons learned that small business owners have shared with you, that could be helpful to other small business owners?
Billington: As a consultant, we find that a lot of folks will get very caught up in selling the product, getting the merchandise out, and let the business side of things go a little bit. Some of the best pieces of advice that we’ve come across is that when people really do sit down and dedicate a certain amount of time to work on their business, they’re a whole lot more successful.
In addition to that, knowing your numbers is huge. Understanding financial statements and keeping good track of all the financials in your business helps give a good measurable to what is really going on, as opposed to how you feel things are going on. The quantitative analysis in the numbers is extremely important to learn.
Tracey: Can you tell us a bit more about the work your team does to help small businesses with website SEO?
Billington: One of the major export projects that we do is our international SEO. We have a team of graduate student assistants at Grand Valley State University that help evaluate your website and get it prepared for foreign markets. From there, usually the best next step is to refer you to MEDC for MI-STEP Grant Funding.
It makes a nice transition of preparing your website and marketing materials, reviewing your products, pricing, export costs and fees all associated with that. Then getting the client ready to refer them to our partners at MEDC.
Finding the Right Resources Through the MEDC International Trade Team
Tracey: Any questions you have for me, Josh, on exporting or our MEDC International Trade program?
Billington: Yes, could you tell us about the services MEDC has to offer and how exporting fits into Michigan’s ecosystem? Also, what kind of products can MI-STEP work with?
Tracey: Our International Trade Managers are your first step in accessing anything regarding MEDC’s international trade support. We’ve got a wide range of small business services that include everything from legal support, helping you understand some of the IP protections your company might need to have in place before scoping out a new foreign market, to marketing and the digital visibility of your company in up to two different markets. We’ve got a program that helps companies create a micro version of their website that is translated and targeted to specific international audiences.
The MI-STEP program is our grant program that allows companies to tap into up to $15,000 a year in grant money to offset specific costs related to exporting. That can cover everything from physically going into a new country for a prospective sales trip to Poland, or a trade show in Germany. Or it could be used for any domestic sales and trade shows.
We also provide STEP grant assistance for non-travel activities. If you’re in your home office and you’re not ready to step back into the world, there are grants available to support website development, e-commerce, shipping sample products, international certifications, and compliance testing. All things that may not require physical travel but are still expenses that you incur when you’re trying to initiate your product or service into a new foreign market.
Businesses interested in exporting and learning how you can take your company to new international markets, or businesses already exporting and wanting to learn more about the support opportunities, please visit https://www.michiganbusiness.org/export.
To contact a business development specialist, click here or call 1.888.522.0103.