Alyssa Tracey, MEDC International Business Program Director, talks to Josh Billington, Deputy State Director of Strategic Innovation Operations at the Michigan Small Business Development Center, about how small businesses can succeed by expanding into the 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 4th nationally. Overall, Michigan businesses made $55 billion in export sales in 2021.
So how can Michigan connect with export partners in international markets and experience an average 17% increase in profitability? Alyssa Tracey, director of the international business program at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and Josh Billington, deputy director of strategic innovation operations at the Michigan Small Business Development Center (SBDC), discuss how small businesses can get ready to export and get ready to successfully access new markets around the world.
See below for key snippets and insights from the conversation, and watch the full 20-minute conversation to learn more.
Prepare to Export with the Michigan Small Businesses Development Center
Alyssa Tracey: How can your SBDC team help companies determine if they are ready to take the next step and export?
Josh Billington: Here at SBDC, we have consultants statewide, serving all 83 Michigan counties. The first place to start is to register on our website www.michigansbdc.org. We provide an initial online export assessment to determine where your business is at to begin the export journey. We have developed an online training module packed with resources to help companies explore and better understand what their company’s commitment to exporting entails. The training module contains good templates and resources. From there, we connect you with one of our 10 Certified Export Consultants and help you start developing a business plan and marketing plan to get you ready.
Tracey: What are the steps your team takes to help businesses through the module?
Billington: We discuss developing an export business plan, reviewing your business finances and profitability, if you are well placed to start expanding into different markets. Then we start to expand the expenses, or how much it would cost, to help you explore what it would cost to ship to certain countries. We help companies get to the point where they will be in a good position 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 might be helpful to other small business owners?
Billington: As a consultant, we find that a lot of people will be very busy selling the product, releasing the merchandise, and letting go of the business side of things a bit. Some of the best advice we’ve found is that when people really sit down and dedicate some time to working on their business, they’re much more successful.
On top of that, knowing your numbers is huge. Understanding financial statements and keeping a good track of all of your company’s financials helps give a good idea of what is actually going on, as opposed to how you think things are going. Quantitative analysis in 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 main export projects we carry out is our international SEO. We have a team of graduate student assistants at Grand Valley State University who help assess your website and prepare it for overseas markets. From there, the best next step is usually to refer to MEDC for MI-STEP grant funding.
This makes for a smooth transition from preparing your website and marketing materials, reviewing your products, pricing, export costs, and associated fees. Then, prepare the client to refer them to our partners at MEDC.
Find the right resources with MEDC’s international trade team
Tracey: Do you have any questions for me, Josh, about exporting or our MEDC international trade program?
Billington: Yes, could you tell us about the services offered by MEDC and the place of exporting in the Michigan ecosystem? Also, what kind of products can MI-STEP work with?
Tracey: Our International Trade Managers are your first step to accessing all things MEDC International Trade Support. We offer a wide range of small business services, from legal assistance to understanding some of the intellectual property protections your business might need before exploring a new foreign market, to marketing and visibility. your business in up to two different markets. We have a program that helps companies create a micro version of their website that is translated and targeted to specific international audiences.
MI-STEP is our grant program that allows companies to tap up to $15,000 per year in grants to offset specific export-related costs. This can cover everything from physically going to a new country for a possible sales trip to Poland to a trade show in Germany. Or it could be used for all national sales and trade shows.
We also provide STEP financial assistance for non-travel activities. If you are in your home office and not ready to step back into the world, grants are available to support website development, e-commerce, product sample shipping, international certifications and compliance testing. All the things that may not require physical travel, but are still expenses you incur when trying to launch your product or service in a new foreign market.
Businesses interested in exporting and learning how you can take your business to new international markets, or businesses already exporting and wanting to learn more about support opportunities, please visit https://www.michiganbusiness.org/export.
To contact a business development specialist, click here or call 1.888.522.0103.