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Emarketplace

Guest Blog by Barney Lehrer: Online International Trade Marketplaces

Since the advent of the public internet in the 1980s (before the invention of the World Wide Web), international traders have been posting “trade leads,” or messages about their products for sale and products that they need to buy. The earliest such systems were developed independently by the World Trade Centers Association (WTCA) (http://wtca.org) and a service of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) http://unctad.org called the World Trade Point Federation. Both the WTCA trade lead system and the Trade Point system no longer exist. But to this day the service they introduced has expanded to thousands of “eMarketplaces” based throughout the world. Among the most famous are Alibaba.com, Global Sources (http://globalsources.com) and TradeKey (http://tradekey.com). The FITA website has an extensive list of these marketplaces athttp://tradeleads.info.

As international trade professionals well understand, successful import/export transactions can only succeed when both parties trust each other. The biggest drawback to electronic marketplaces is the reliability of the offers and demands that are posted on the websites. There are many people who may be posting scams or are not able to fulfill whatever they post. And to this day there are limited ways of performing due diligence by only relying on the eMarketplaces. Some of these websites have set up “Trust” procedures on their website. However even some of those due diligence services proved to be vulnerable to fraud, in some case from within the marketplace companies themselves.

Still, however, the eMarketplaces are invaluable tools for anybody in the world who wants to see what products are offered from which countries, what price levels are and who manufactures many items. And they can be good venues for finding suppliers and buyers as long as good standards of due diligence are established.

With the intent of helping international trade professionals navigate the intricacies of doing honest and effective international trade online, the trade promotion agencies of Canada, Norway and Spain run eMarket Services, http://www.emarketservices.com a website that is a complete resource for using eMarketplaces. Among the free resources on the website are:

Another recent type of eMarketplace that is appearing is what we would call a “hybrid.” That is, these marketplaces, although internet-based, still rely on old-fashioned personal relationships as well as social media technologies to ensure that transactions are transparent and honest. One such marketplace is iComtrader http://icomtrader.com/. Built by James Vena, an international trader with 20+ years working for and running successful trading companies, it relies on the personal relationships of the people in a worldwide network of offices. Other new “social media” marketplaces include Globial (http://globial.com) and Tradesparq http://www.tradesparq.com. However at this point neither of these seems to have generated much traffic or interesting content.

My advice? Be careful and good luck!

IEONline

Guest Blog: Online Advertising and How to Use it Wisely

Advertising online takes a few forms. The most common are:

  • Pay Per Click (PPC)
  • Banner ads
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media Advertising

Pay Per Click (PPC) is the most popular form of online advertising. Using a complex algorithm called “contextual advertising,” whereby ads are selected and served by ad servers based on the search results displayed to the user. The largest PPC service is Google AdWords. Yahoo! and Bing (Microsoft) offer similar services.

Simply put, when you set up a PPC campaign you decide on the keywords you want to sponsor and you tell Google (or Yahoo! or Bing) how much you are willing to pay every time somebody clicks to your website. And you can also set a daily budget that restricts the number of clicks you get every day to your maximum budget. The problem is that this can get quite expensive and yield little in return. A strategy has to be developed that targets your audience while being as economical as possible. That means understanding in depth how the system works and how to control your exposure for maximum ROI.

In the case of Google AdWords Google’s philosophy is to provide web users with the best search results. This means that they want to display the most appropriate ads corresponding to each search, even if the best results do not pay them the highest pay-per-click fee. AdWords must therefore be written with keywords that correspond to the keywords on the page they point to. To best accomplish this it is best to create a “landing page” rich with the targeted keyword for each AdWord. But beware that Google hates spam. The landing page keywords must be relevant to the rest of your website!

Google recently released a version of AdWords specifically for SMEs looking for overseas clients. Called Google AdWords for Global Advertisers, the service allows you to find out what your AdWords cost in any country in the world and how much click traffic those keywords get. And, in addition, Google translates your AdWords with a human translator so that you reach the best possible targets! Look at this video that explains it all.

Banner ads, those small, sometimes annoying, graphics you see on websites and sometimes even opening up as a short Flash movie, are the oldest advertising format on the web. Similar to buying an ad in a print publication, buying a banner ad on a Website means paying a set fee for having your ad appear for a set period of time. The trick to effective banner advertising is to identify websites and blogs that are specific to your product or service. Often these ads are quite inexpensive and can be quite effective.

IEONline

Using Online Communications with Your Customers and Partners

Not so long ago (speaking as an older person), making overseas phone calls and even sending faxes overseas was an expensive and time-consuming proposition. In the early 1990s, the average international trade company spent a large amount of money paying for phone calls and faxes (at the time the cheapest way of communicating overseas). Some offices even still had telex machines (remember them?). At the time, trying to send a fax or make a phone call to some countries in Eastern Europe or Asia would often require hours! Then the internet arrived on our desktop computers. All of a sudden email was the nearly-free communications mode of choice. The world opened up. Smaller companies could do business internationally. The world had changed!

These days everybody is wired 24/7. Even your cell phone can be your communications hub. So how should international trade companies use these tools?

  1. Next to visiting your overseas partners in person, speaking on the phone and seeing the person on the other end at the same time is the next best thing. Services such as Skype are free for calls to other members of the same network. You can spend one minute or several hours talking to your partners anywhere in the world. And you can conference in other people to the conversation.
  2. Let’s say you need to have a meeting, but your meeting partners are in Shanghai and London. You can use Skype. But more sophisticated systems are services like Webex or GoToMeeting. With these services you can share documents, PowerPoint presentations and other media, as well as share your computer screen with the others in the group. A more limited, but similar service is available for free from FreeSecreenSharing, where other meeting attendees can share your desktop while you hold your meeting.
  3. If you just have to say a few words to a colleague in Singapore there are several free instant messaging services you can use. One is built into Skype, but you can also look at Windows Live  (formerly MSM), Google Talk and many more. And, unlike sending text messages from your mobile phone, messages using their services are free.
  4. Suppose you have to share technical specifications, spreadsheets, Bills of Lading, etc  with your partners. Google Docs allows you to upload almost any kind of document and share them with whomever you wish!
  5. You are not always sitting in your office when you want your email. The solution is converting your email accounts to the “cloud.” Google Apps allows you to set up Google’s Gmail service as your company’s email system. That way, no matter where you are or what kind of communications device you have, you can access your business email as well as associated, accounts and other services.
IEONline

Use of Social Media by Companies Involved in the International Trade Industry

Everybody is talking about Social Media these days. Are you tweeting? How many Facebook friend and fans do you have (yes there is a BIG difference between fans and friends)?  Do my LinkedIn contacts know where I am and what I am doing?

First of all, what IS Social Media? Loosely defined, it is a way of anybody being able to communicate and build online communities easily and at no (or little) cost. It takes the form of large communities such as Facebook, user-built knowledge resources such as Wikipedia, multimedia collections such as YouTube, or blogs, which are self-published publications such as ..well…World Trade Daily!

The big question, however, for the international B2B (business-to-business) community is, “Why should I bother? I have enough to do keeping my business going. I really don’t care to see pictures of my clients’ dogs on vacation.” The main reasons for using Social Media in your business are to effectively and inexpensively get out the message about your company and enhance communication with your clients.

Facebook:  Most of the 750 million Facebook users use it to upload pictures of their pets, friends, parties and latest vacations. But there is a growing business community taking form on Facebook.  It is in its infancy, but it is better to get onboard now! To get started as a business on Facebook look at instructions. The best content to send on Facebook is news about trade shows you attend, new products from you or companies you represent, customer service and news about your industry niche. If your message includes a link to your website, you should create a separate Facebook landing page on your server so that you can identify the traffic as coming from Facebook.

Twitter: Twitter is an effective medium for communicating short messages. The content you “tweet” can be similar to the content you send on Facebook, but shortened to not more than 140 characters, and with links to a shortened URL that you can get at services such as http://bit.ly. One important feature of Twitter:  “retweeting” is a very effective viral tool. If somebody you are following posts a Tweet that you find particularly interesting or relevant to your business activities, make sure you retweet it to your followers. That way the person who originally posted it knows you appreciate their messages and increases the chance that they will retweet your messages to their followers.

LinkedIn: Unlike Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn is a B2B social network. That is, everything you post on it should be related to your business and your career. When you set up a profile on LinkedIn make sure you tell a good story about your business and yourself. Millions of people and companies depend on LinkedIn when doing due diligence for business partners and employees.  And if you are a business owner or executive, set up a profile for your business. Make sure an email address on your profile is from your company’s domain name. Then set up a detailed description of your company  and start building “connections.” You can post news about your company and more detailed resources about your business. Also LinkedIn has a very important feature called “Answers.” Here you can post specific technical questions about your business area and you will get helpful and substantive responses from other professionals on LinkedIn. The great thing about Answers is that it both informs and give you the opportunity to establish you and your business as “thought leaders.”

Other social media sites:

  • Quora is similar to LinkedIn answers. There is an ongoing discussion about international trade subjects. This is another opportunity to be informed and establish your online reputation.
  • YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and several other similar sites are great places to post videos and photos of your expertise, products or services. Make sure you have some compelling messages!
  • GlobalTrade.net is a social media site especially for international trade. Here you can set up a profile for your company and add content, such as articles, videos or PowerPoint presentations that you may have.
IEONline

Guest Blog: Continuing Series – Marketing on Online Marketplaces

In 1992 UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) set up a network of “Trade Points,” worldwide offices set up to assist SMEs trade internationally. In 1994 the United Nations International Symposium on Trade Efficiency officially launched the Global Trade Point Network. It was planned to be an innovative system using email, “Gopher” and the then-new World Wide Web to communicate trade opportunities between Trade Points worldwide.

This ambitious project soon became viral. Within two years there were millions of “ETO’s” (Electronic Trade Opportunities). ETOs soon morphed into the term “trade leads” – offers to buy or sell internationally. By 1998 the Trade Point system claimed to have listed more than 1 billion leads. But the system had a major flaw: there was no quality control over the types of deals that were posted. Anybody with access to a computer would post a request to buy a product or service, even if they did not have the means to buy or the product to sell.

As the World Wide Web expanded, more people worldwide set up online marketplaces. Some were quite simple HTML pages with links. Others were more complex databases. By 1999 there were hundreds of these websites. In 2011 there are thousands. The most well-known are Alibaba.com,  GlobalSources.com, Tradekey.com, TOBOC.com and many more (you can find a list at http://tradeleads.info).

But to this day a big question remains: How do I know which marketplace to trust and how do I qualify the leads I find? There still is no clear answer to this. However, my personal opinion is that International Trade online has to be a combination of the old and the new. That is, online marketplaces are great tools to find suppliers and buyers, but import/export is still done the same way it always has been – spending time with people in other countries, getting to know them and their products, and developing long-term friendships and trust.

That said, there are ways that can help bridge the gap between the old and the “new:”

  1. eMarketservices.com, a website funded and operated by the trade promotion organizations of Canada, Norway and Spain, eMarketservices provides knowledge and information about eMarkets in different industries all over the world. Although some of the information is dated, most of it can serve as a guide to doing business online. Highlights of the website are:
  1. Credit Reports – One you have established an online relationship with an overseas partner you might want to check him/her out a bit more. One way to do that is by running a credit report, preferably through a local credit reports service in their country. There is a good list of these services.
  2. Online Trade Data – The trade data companies profiled on World Trade Daily are great resources for doing due diligence on overseas partners. They will show companies that are shipping the types of products they deliver. Look at PIERS, Zepol, Panjiva, Datamyne and a few others.
  3. The US Commercial Service can help indentify reliable overseas buyers through its services. Consult a local expert at a US Export Assistance Center.  If you are an exporter outside the US consult your government’s export assistance agency.
  4. Get on an airplane – at the end of the day you have to know your business partners. And the best way to do it is to visit them onsite. Spend time with them, eat dinner together, and see their facilities. That is how long-term business relationships have always been cemented.
IEONline

Guest Blog: Updating Your Website So That It Informs and Can Be Found

Many websites in the International Trade industries look like they have been forgotten. The images are dated, the text is stale and the graphic design looks tired. Even the copyright date is a few years old.

People running small businesses believe they are too busy to pay much attention to their website once it has been set up. And in many cases these websites may have been designed by the then-prodigy 12-year-old nerd in the family. Or, as I was recently told by the owner of a very successful export management company, “What do you mean my website needs to be updated? I stayed up all night for many weeks in 1991 designing it myself.”

A website is an organism – a constant work-in-progress that changes as your business, the world and technology changes. Sadly many international trade people are stuck back someplace in the 1990s. It is time to change.

The most important things that a good website offers are, in order of importance:

  1. Informative content
  2. Clear and concise messages about who you are and what you do
  3. Easy usability and navigation
  4. Pleasing graphics

These points seem to be common sense. But it is surprising how many websites, especially in the international trade field, offer very few of any of them.

Why you should develop a website with these principles in mind:

  1. Informative content means that you have text that tells the story of your company and products, using strategic keywords that will enable web users to find your website when using search engines such as Google. In general, search engines will index pages with at least 250 words, where the keywords appear in between 2-3% of the text.
  2. Have a dedicated “About Us” page that clearly explains who you are, where you are and what you do. It is best to be as specific as possible so that a visitor to your website understands that you are a serious and focused business. And, of course, the “About Us” page is also a good opportunity to include your keywords.
  3. A website cannot be used if its “usability” makes it too complicated. For a small site (less than about 15 pages) all that is needed is clear navigation on each page together  with a site map that serves as a table of contents for the site. More complex sites need more awareness of usability. But in essence, the important thing is to make sure that the average user understands what to find and how to find it on your website.
  4. Website graphics styles seem to change every few months. It is important to make sure that the color scheme and font type are pleasing to the eye. There are now many services such as WordPress that offer themes or design templates. Many of them are quite attractive. Best, of course, is to hire a professional graphic designer who understands web design, color combinations and fonts.
IEONline

Guest Blog: Is Your Import-Export Business Ready For The Online World?

Many small businesses involved in international trade are too busy to pay much attention to the latest trends and skills needed to use the internet. After all, many of them think, Letters of Credit have not changed much for at least 400 years! Containers have been used for transporting goods since the 1970s. And, many ask, “Why should my competitors know exactly what kind of business I am doing?”

However, like it or not, the internet has changed the world. The internet is much more than just a medium of communication. It is more and more becoming the main vehicle for marketing and transacting business, both locally and internationally.  And it is opening a new world of opportunity and transparency in international trade.

For example:

  • These days most people looking for business partners, service providers, product sources and resources about  new markets start by searching online.
  • Online marketplaces and trade shows are to some degree replacing live trade shows.
  • International meetings are now regularly held using Skype or similar software, vastly cutting down on travel expenses.
  • Social Media gets the word out immediately about international trade transactions, events, products, and news and career opportunities.
  • Optimization of websites for search engine placement, Pay-Per-Click  advertising campaigns and social media marketing strategies are all now central skills needed to run a business.

Success in High Tech global business still requires trust and a human touch

Sadly many international SMEs are falling behind with these skills. And their more savvy competitors are gaining ground.

And, all this said, human nature and the nature of international commerce still demands live person-to-person contact. The new technologies are creating the need to balance the old and new ways of doing business. Over the next few weeks I will be highlighting details about how to integrate the new into the old and bring your business into the 21st century!

Among topics to be discussed are:

  • Updating your website so that it informs and can be found.
  • Marketing on online marketplaces.
  • Using online communications with your customer and partners.
  • How social media is used in business to business.
  • How to wisely pay for online advertising.
  • When you still have to get on a plane, go to trade shows and visit your customers in spite of the new technologies.
MENA

Guest Blog: U.S. – MENA Trade Treaty: Four Primary Objectives Outlined

Back in 2003, President George W. Bush proposed a new trade treaty between the US and the Arab states of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). “The Arab world has a great cultural tradition, but is largely missing out on the economic progress of our time,” he said at the time. He predicted that the pact would be in force by 2013. Unfortunately until now not much has happened on this front.

MENA Economic Growth. Click for larger image

But much indeed has happened in the Arab world over the past year. So, at an event hosted by the U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Coalition, the National Foreign Trade Council and Washington International Trade Association Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Miriam Sapiro proposed several initiatives to increase US trade and investment in the area, but was short of proposing an overall Free Trade Agreement. “Ever since the Arab Spring began, the Administration has been working to define how we can best support the aspirations of the citizens of the region for expanded opportunities. We are particularly focused on ways to create broad-based economic growth that can help support democratic reforms by providing a strong foundation for inclusive development and prosperity.”

The Administration has four main objectives for trade development in the MENA region:

  1. Trade facilitation: Lowering tariffs and other non-tariff barriers that currently hinder trade between the US and many of the MENA countries. “We see significant possibilities for early productive collaboration, not only bilaterally with our MENA counterparts, but also with other governments and international institutions. Improvements and cooperation in customs procedures and establishing fair, predictable, and transparent rules are essential.”
  2. Greater SME involvement in trade and investment-related activitiesOPIC (the Overseas Private Investment Corporation) is proposing to provide up to $2 billion in financial support to catalyze small business investment in the MENA region and to “fast track” loans to SMEs in the region.
  3. Expansion of services and investment: “Transition governments that implement policy changes creating a welcoming environment for investment – especially the transparency, predictability and rule of law-  will be the first to see foreign investment flow, spurring welcome innovation along with new jobs.” As a start, the Trade Development agency (TDA) is providing grant funding in the form of pilot projects, feasibility studies and technical assistance in the region. The program in Egypt is featured on a new TDA website, Egypt: Forward – Partnering for Trade and Economic Growth.
  4. Improving access to and utilization of preference programs, such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP): The U.S already has FTAs with Bahrain, Jordon and Morocco. The administration wants to expand tariff reductions to other countries in the region as their political situations stabilize.

Ambassador Sapiro concluded her remarks stating, “While we are focusing initially on key trading partners in transition, we are also structuring our cooperation in a way that facilitates greater economic integration within the region and creates opportunities for other regional partners to join us. We envision sitting down with our regional counterparts and starting a dialogue that will enable us, as a group, to identify the most promising avenues for increasing trade and investment with, and within, the region. This dialogue would be an important step towards constructing a broader trade arrangement.”

Let’s hope this time it works!