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Illinois is the largest exporter of goods in the Midwest, and one of the most active states in the US. Our terminals, airports, harbors, rail yards and foreign trade zones move billions of dollars annually. Over 300,000 jobs are sustained by exports. The number of Illinois small and medium-sized exporters is nearing 25,000. World trade is imbedded into our state and most importantly, we are very good at it. These tips provide guidance for Illinois businesses working to drive foreign trade:

1. Get Ready to Export: Start with online tools such as , the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the Illinois Department of Commerce. These entities offer webinars and trainings that will help you define the scope of your project, set appropriate goals, and grasp commitments necessary for success.

2. Develop an Action Plan: Locate trained advisors to guide you. The Illinois International Trade Center Network is a great starting point. They provide guidance on a variety of topics, including marketing, contracts, documentation, compliance and much more. Trade facts by industry and country are generally part of the ITC's resources. The need for a plan is more acute as you grow your business. An action plan should include marketing, operational, and administrative topics.

3. Open International Doors: The state's Office of Trade and Investment serves both the administration and Illinois businesses in the pursuit of international opportunities. With personnel located in Chicago and around the world, quality matchmaking and marketing can be arranged. A good starting portal for federal help is the US Commercial Service, part of the Department of Commerce. These organizations provide valuable, hard-to-obtain research, in-country networking and high quality trade missions.

4. Move Cautiously with Trading Partners: Once outside US borders, international law, courts and customs change the complexion of "standard" business practices. Terminology and terms of sale are not the same as domestic practices. In most cultures, durable relationships are built over time, not by a single transaction. Reach out to trusted subject matter experts, such as law firms having foreign trade experience and major commercial banks offering specialized customer service.

5. Cross Borders with Intention: Start with the US Customs and Border Protection to understand your role in securing our commercial borders. You will learn about foreign trade agreements, duties, and geo-politics. Shippers, including small package services, provide helpful guidelines and can alert you to trade issues. It is your firm's responsibility to comply with requirements.

6. Ship the Goods: Freight forwarders are often the unsung heroes of international commerce. From factory to truck and from ship to air, the forwarder keeps things moving across countries because of their attention to detail. Forwarders generally specialize in certain regions, making long-term relationships with your trading partners an essential component of your success.

7. Manage Your Risk: Insurance and bonding services are heavily involved with international commerce. Loss, damage, and theft are realities of the large distances involved. In addition currency rates add challenge. Do your research and explore federal resources, like the Small Business Administration and US Ex-Im Bank to minimize risk.

8. Sell Your Services: Technology and information transfer to foreign countries is certainly of keen interest to the US government. Export controls regulate the transfer of items out of the US, including software, technology and services. This is a continually evolving area since travelling with a laptop or smart phone, storage on a cloud-based server, or the transfer of information to any foreign national can require an export license. Start with the questions and answers found in the Governmental Guide to Exporting IT Equipment and Services.

9. Protect Your Brand: For marketers, international trade is still a pretty wild frontier, despite improvements in global enforcement. Start with the US Patent and Trademark Office to gain some insights about risk and recourse. One useful strategy is to limit information, such as a recipe or product specifications, that you divulge.

10. Become Well Versed in Local Languages: Translating information into a target market's language is a sign of respect and commitment. Translation services are easily found online, but it is still wise to have translated documents vetted by more than one source so that you can ensure any vendors you work with are providing reliable and accurate services. 


By Steven Groner, Community and Economic Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension