Dear Karen: I want to make more overseas sales in 2011. Do I need a foreign distributor?
Answer: It certainly helps, said Kathleen Brush, an international business consultant based in Seattle. "Finding a good local partner in the country you're targeting will help you understand business and legal details you would have tripped over," she said.
Brush recommended using the Gold Key Matching Service offered by the U.S. Commercial Service. "They do credit checks, criminal checks, they walk you through the distribution process and advise you about what you need to look for" in any country where you want to start selling, she said.
It is important to take your time and make sure you have found a good distributor before you ramp up international sales. "Small businesses often make mistakes because they are anxious and they want to make money right away. Be patient and get everything set up properly before you start," she said.
• Turning holiday customers into regulars
Dear Karen: My business was up over the holidays. How can I extend that momentum into this year?
Answer: Create incentives in the form of gift cards or discounts that encourage customers to return in 2011. Encourage those who are redeeming gift cards to reload them.
"Offer a bonus for customers who reload their gift cards after redemption. For instance, a free drink with a $25 reload or a $5 bonus on a $50 reload," said Barbara Roeber, senior vice president at electronic payment firm First Data.
Small-business questions? E-mail Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org.