Over the past few months, we have presented a series of blog entries with information and resources for small-to-medium-sized businesses interested in importing and exporting. While we haven't collected all the links we've shared into a single exhaustive resource, we would like to devote this week's blog post to a more broad-based sampling of tools that can be useful to a trade professional - these are things that you could incorporate into your day-to-day toolkit if they aren't already part of it.
1. The social media sites you might not have heard of
While tweets and status updates can sometimes feel like a firehose of information, there are still places where users can interact and share expertise on specific topics without feeling constant pressure to tune in. Quora has forums on Import/Export, specific markets, and more. For those who haven't visited before, Quora is set up around users posting questions in topic-specific forums, where they receive moderated input from community experts. Users can also promote their questions to garner more attention, or post them to specific experts. Concerned about the quality of advice? Answers have sometimes come straight from public figures ranging from Senator Cory Booker to CEOs like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and entrepreneur Mark Cuban. To control quality, readers are responsible for up-voting or down-voting answers, and "flames" or overly promotional responses are typically removed in short order. It's a far cry from message boards that you may have visited ages ago.
While virtually every professional is familiar with LinkedIn (and we're happy to answer your questions in our PIERS LinkedIn group), for those seeking to do business abroad, consider non-U.S. professional networks. Viadeo is a business networking site based in Europe, Xing is focused on Germany, and Ushi.cn is a top Chinese site. Take advantage of these resources to grow your network internationally.
2. Free eBooks
You might be quite frankly amazed at the number of free business and management books available in the public domain, many of which can be downloaded as free eBooks from Google or from sites like Project Gutenberg. If you have the time, there's very little that can beat a reference manual, textbook, or well-written book-length analysis to keep with you offline. A quick search on relevant topics turned up any number of books on import-export topics that would be worth loading onto your tablet for your next flight.
If you're new to eBooks and don't have a tablet or similar device, try Calibre - free and open source e-Reader software. And speaking of eBooks: watch this space for some new eBook publications by PIERS over the next few months.
3. Automatic translation software
Ever wished you could read more about a specific foreign market, but don't speak the language? While it sometimes leads to awkward translations, software like Google Translate or Bing Translator can consume web pages or do on-page translation in your browser. Find out which publications are key for doing business in your target market, and feed the pages into translation software.
4. The world time setting on your PC
OK - we're kind of kidding here, but it's amazing how much the time differences between countries can affect our ability to do business effectively. Any of us with overseas partners or customers know that global trade often means early morning or late night phone calls. Short of knowing all the time zone offsets in your head (and admittedly, if you work consistently with one country, you will), don't forget that you nearly always are just two clicks away from knowing the time in Delhi or Dublin. For those of you who live on your mobile devices, iOS, Android and Windows Phone will all allow you to show a second clock on your home screen.
Any other worthwhile day-to-day suggestions for getting business done internationally? Leave them in the comments.
5. Free eBooks and Whitepapers from PIERS
At PIERS, we regularly publish whitepapers and other content related to specific markets (NVOCC, Chemicals, Agriculture) as well as how-to guides for our users and for businesses looking to get the most of our U.S. import and export data. Our latest offering is "Selling Overseas: A Beginner's Guide", offering 4 chapters of detailed advice on topics from marketing to finance from Journal of Commerce contributor Frank Reynolds. You can register to download the book below.