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BuyUSA.gov Offers Online Exporting Services


by Glen Emerson Morris

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As with many government programs, many of the people who need the programs the most have never heard of them. This is probably true for BuyUSA.gov, and extremely unfortunate because this service can make exporting goods and services a lot easier for the small to mid-sized business.

BuyUSA.gov was designed to leverage off of existing Department of Commerce programs, combining them into a comprehensive, and heavily automated, online export assistance service. It's an ambitious idea, and extraordinarily well executed.

About 20 years ago the U.S. Commercial Service of the Department of Commerce began matching small and mid-sized businesses with international partners around the world. The service has grown to over 1,800 trade experts in 105 Export Assistance Centers and 151 posts located in 84 countries around the world.

At the core of the U.S Commercial Service is an IBM mainframe network that collects information from all foreign outposts and domestic U.S. Export Assistance Centers and stores it in a searchable database. This database is accessible to American businesses looking for marketing opportunities, partnerships, distributorships, agents, and capital, and to foreign companies wanting to buy American goods and services.

The BuyUSA.gov site is a real attempt at creating a next generation online export assistance service. It's designed to walk businesses through the export process from beginning to end, and absolutely no previous understanding of exporting is required. The BuyUsa.gov site has about all the information you'd need to know to export to anywhere. In most cases, even the forms needed to export a product can be filled out online. If you don't understand some aspect of the process, don't worry, the BuyUsa site can explain it to you.

The electronic hand-holding is accomplished by an interface described as a "Personal Trade Assistant," that leads businesses through six phases of the export process. Each phase has a Web page that explains what you should be doing in that phase and links to all the resources you need for what you have to do. This is the process:

Prepare for Trade: For starters, the BuyUSA.gov site offers a four-hour interactive multimedia seminar on exporting. This is a crash course overview of the whole export processes, and explains how BuyUSA can help at every phase. There are a number of additional online seminars covering specific types of services, products, and market conditions in specific countries in much more detail. For maximum detail on the export process, there are links to "A Basic Guide to Exporting," the DOC classic, and even live export advice, free, from one of the BuyUSA's many trade specialists.

Research New Markets: In this phase the BuyUSA.gov site offers links to Country Commercial Guides, World Reports by Industry and Country, and U.S. Commercial Information by State. In addition, searchable databases of market research are available, collected at our foreign embassies and outposts. Some of this is information is available nowhere else.

Develop Contacts: This is where the BuyUSA services really begin to take off. The Commercial Service has been building a database of trade contacts for about 20 years, and its contents are searchable for those businesses in the BuyUSA program. This is a good place to find agents, distributors, partners, investors, and other resources. For additional fees, the Commercial Service will provide matchmaker services, personally screening foreign partners and negotiating with them.

Promote Your Company: For promotional purposes BuyUSA members are given a Webpage on the BuyUSA site. This is an Internet based of a World Trade Fair, just limited to American products and services for sale. Basic level members are allowed to post product brochures in digital format up to 20 pages long. In addition, promotions can be staged in foreign countries by Commercial Service outpost personnel, which can prove much cheaper than send staff there.

Conduct Trade Transactions: The Trade Services Directory contains contact and background information for trade service providers around the United States. Services include logistics, finance, freight forwarding, banking and more.

Follow Up on Transactions: Once you've conducted transactions, you can then manage your trading relationships through BuyUSA and the U.S. Department of Commerce. An assortment of services is available.

Basic membership to BuyUSA is $400.00 per year. The advanced level subscriptions range from $1,000 to $2,000 depending on the number of items offered online. To qualify for basic membership, a business must have been in business over one year, and have a product ready for export that contains at least 51% American made components.

As this column has pointed out before, for political reasons the Department of Commerce is prohibited by Federal law from advertising about its programs in anything but Department of Commerce publications. This has left BuyUSA employees in a position similar to that of the Maytag Repairman.

We called the local U.S. Export Assistance Center in Denver (303-844-6623) and spoke with DOC representative Lana Lennberg. She confirmed the impact of the advertising restrictions on operations in Denver. She pointed out that special government financial assistance is available for small to mid-sized businesses wanting to export products that is simply not available to businesses not wanting to export. Literally millions of dollars is available, and few businesses are even applying for it. There are easily hundreds of businesses in Colorado with potentially exportable products that could qualify for loans & funding assistance, and they don't even know it's available. If you think this that number is unreasonably high, look at the number of sales being made daily on eBay by people in Colorado to people all over the planet.

BuyUSA is, in several ways, similar to eBay, except carried to the next magnitude of performance and service. Try getting a trade specialist at eBay to spend ten minutes on the phone with you explaining what a reasonable price for your product would be in India or China. As the DOC puts it, "Your local trade specialist can provide you with the right tools to handle regulations, compliance, logistics, transport, finance, insurance and all other transaction aspects," and they mean it.

As Lana Lennberg candidly pointed out, not all businesses that have a product to export will find BuyUSA the best export assistance available. There are competing services available, and some have competitive prices. However, for most small to mid-sized businesses BuyUSA is likely to be an extremely cost effective choice. For many businesses, the vast resources of BuyUSA may make it the only choice.

To find out if BuyUsa is right for you, and whether your business may qualify for financial assistance, call your local U.S. Export Assistance Center, or visit www.BuyUSA.gov.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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