Free Money to Go International

International expansion seems spooky and very expensive for a start-up or small business.

It doesn’t have to be.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a start-up you should totally focus on the low-hanging fruit at home before you look abroad. However, if you have good traction and are ready to add some sizzle to your B round, a good international growth channel can dramatically expand the size of your addressable market and be easier to execute than you think.

You just need to know what FCS means.

FCS is the Foreign Commercial Service at the US Department of Commerce. Yep, you heard right, the government can help you. While this may be a shock to some people, the US government helps companies grow overseas, and even more shocking to libertarians: they really know what they’re doing.

The FCS has offices all over the world, and in major US cities, like Austin, taco metropole of the universe. These offices maintain commercial networks and cultivate business ties in the communities where they work. They permit US companies to access these networks, and they even screen and set up appointments for you in the countries where you’re looking to expand.

I’m getting ahead of myself and am clearly over excited about this, so let’s start from the beginning: how can you grow internationally?

First off, the world is quite large (I’m sure you noticed) so you can’t roam around willy-nilly and expect to find customers. You need to do a market study. This means that you survey the global market for demand for your product/services and identify areas where your product/service has the largest demand. You then overlap this with places that are import friendly to the US. Add a dash of channel research to identify the leading companies and paths to the customer in that market, and you should be able to analyze and identify the most promising place for you to export your good stuff.

So how do you do all that research? You don’t! The FCS will do this for you, and it is cheap (like a couple hundred bucks cheap). If you were to hire a consultant to do this for you there are two problems:
1. The consultant will be crazy more expensive, like tens of thousands of dollars
2. The consultant will give you bad advice, because no consultant has the breadth, information and experience of the entire US government at their disposal.

Think of it this way, do you want your intel from the government who also runs the CIA, or Barney the sales blogger who you found on the internet? Yep, no contest there. Get the FCS do to this for you.

Now that you have the research and have identified the most promising market, how do you find partners and expertise to enter the market? If you guessed, “ask the FCS”, then you have a cunning grasp for the obvious, and you may have just read about that when I got over excited earlier.

The FCS will, for a modest fee of a couple hundred bucks (see a pricing trend here?), contact companies in the international markets that you’re targeting and pitch them your company and then screen and identify those who are interested in working with you. Best of all, they have a staff of people in the local economy who speak the language and know the culture. No one will be accidentally offending the prospective partner’s family for five generations because they blew their nose at the wrong time.

Next up, setting up appointments to visit them either directly or online. You guessed it, FCS will do this for you also, for the couple hundred bucks we’re just going to mention again so you remember how this works.

Help you get a visa to travel there, yep, FCS will direct you to resources to help with that.

Add you to the local FCS trade show booth to promote your company and make more international connections?  OH YEAH! They do that too.

Give you thousands of dollars in grants to pay for the FCS fees, your travel to the international market, cover the cost of translations, etc, (and yes, this may seem like a bridge too far) but… HECK YEAH, they have block grants for this also.  Free money!

In short, the FCS will pay your company to use their services and even pay for your sales team to go visit and set up your first international sale.

I don’t know any consultant who will do that for anyone. The FCS will educate you on how to export, provide data on where to do it best, set up connections for you in the market, and pay you the money you need to do it (if you get the grant). This is the biggest sales no-brainier ever.

So, why are you still reading this blog post? Go out and contact your local FCS office and get busy exporting!

Author: Joe Merrill

I'm a VC in Austin, TX.

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