By Rieva Lesonsky

Seeking new markets for your small business? Then consider one of today’s biggest growth areas: selling internationally. A whopping 80 percent of small and midsize businesses that sell globally say their revenues are up compared to one year ago, reports a survey by American Express. Companies surveyed say international trade accounts for about one-fourth of their annual sales.

They’re optimistic about the future, too. Over three-fourths (76 percent) expect their international sales to grow in the next five years, by an average of about 30 percent. And nearly 40 percent plan to increase their international sales efforts in the next six months.

The decision to start selling internationally may arise from a well-thought-out strategy or simply an unexpected opportunity. Whichever path you take, selling internationally is a smart move. Expanding your market globally can help insulate your small business from economic ups and downs here at home, diversify your business and provide more stable income.

Are you interested in exploring international trade? Here are four tips for success:

  1. Start close to home. More than four in 10 companies in the American Express survey concentrate their sales efforts on Mexico or Canada. Choosing an international market that’s relatively close geographically, one with a similar culture and business climate, and one with a high percentage of English speakers will make your first attempts at international trade much easier. Selling internationally to China or India, on the other hand, introduces more difficulties, unless you already have connections in those countries.
  1. Choose the right trading partners. It’s important to select your vendors, partners and customers wisely when first getting into international trade. Make sure to meet potential partners in person. Investigate the background, reputation and reliability of any company you’re considering doing business with. The right connections can make all the difference.
  1. Educate yourself. Learn all you can about the marketplace, culture, customs and business practices of the international markets where you want to do business. You can get information online, from your networks and contacts, from market research, and from publications or websites covering international trade.
  1. Get help. Entering the global marketplace is a lot easier if you have experienced assistance at hand.
  • The American Express Grow Global program provides resources and networking opportunities to both novice and experienced small businesses involved in international trade.
  • Get help online at, which provides market research, advice and tools for U.S. exporters.
  • The business experts at SCORE can help you decide if exporting is right for you, conduct market research and develop a plan for international success.
  • Alibaba is an international marketplace where you can find global suppliers and trade with confidence using their Trade Assurance

(Disclosure: SCORE is a client of my company.)