The Times They Are A-Changin'

Jim Blasingame

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

It's been 40 years since Bob Dylan penned these words from one of his most famous and enduring poems.

The Times They Are a-Changin' is the title of an important 1960s protest song; Dylan's third, and perhaps, breakthrough album; and a perennial warning to lovers of status quo.

It's also what I would say to a small business owner if I were limited to only one sentence.

Small Business Goes Global
For millennia small business connoted "Mom and Pop." Even during the last half of the 20th century the most sophisticated status that most small businesses could achieve was merely as a vendor of the local operation of a Big Business. Physically and financially tethered to our marketplace, the fortunes of all small businesses were tied directly to the economic health of our respective local economies.

But the times they are a-changin' and 21st century small businesses have a number of opportunities to expand their markets literally around the world.

Notice I didn't say that access was inexpensive, effortless, or justified. Those are relative adjectives requiring someone to make a business decision. Today's news is that the tools, resources, and practices are now in place to allow a small business to actually contemplate access to global markets as a strategic option.

Thanks to new technologies and a growing global "new economy" culture that's more inclusive of small businesses, we're much less likely to be foreclosed from expanding our market reach. In fact, today, 97% of all U.S. exporters are small companies.

Let's take a look at the new possibilities of expanding our markets in the 21st century using those three terms mentioned earlier -- expense, effort, and justification -- each followed by how times are a-changin'.

It wasn't so long ago that exporting came with a huge price tag, much of which had to be paid up-front just to see if there was a basis for doing business abroad. Someone had to physically go to foreign markets, find prospects, and show the goods. For most small businesses, global prospecting was financially prohibitive.

The times they are a-changin': Sitting in the International Agri-Center in Tulare, California recently, John Stipicevich conducted a wine tasting for 20 prospective buyers of his small winery, Chumeia Vineyards. Swirling Chumeia's 2000 Merlot around in their glasses, John's prospects were able to experience the wine in front of them, as they watched him demonstrate his product's beauty, fragrance, flavor, and aftertaste.

In times past this sales call would have been financially prohibitive for John and his company because, you see; his prospects were not in California with John. They were thousands of miles away in the U.S. Embassy in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

In order to eliminate the expense and commitment of traveling to each other, these small business buyers and sellers conducted business by employing:

1. New technologies, like video conferencing.
2. New resources, like the U.S. Export Assistance Center, a branch of the U.S. Commerce Department's global network, which helped Chumeia Vineyards find these prospects and coordinated the virtual meeting.

Of course, John had sent samples of his wine in advance of the demonstration.

Today, many U.S. small businesses are making presentations of their products to prospects and customers abroad using the same technology and Commerce Department support that was available to Chumeia Vineyards.

If conducting business was easy, monkeys would be doing it. So when you add the extra degree of difficulty required for exporting, well, that's a commitment most small businesses just haven't been able to make.

The education and prospecting process alone has been daunting enough to dampen the export ardor of even some of the most determined prospective small exporter, let alone the actual execution of doing business abroad. For too long, exporting has been the domain of those large firms that could commit the capital and staff to this business strategy.

The times they are a-changin': When you walk into any of the 20 HEB/Mexico supermarkets in Mexico, one of the food products you'll find on shelves is a selection of marinades by a Paris-based company called Allegro Fine Foods. Allegro's original recipe marinade is there, as well as their hot and spicy, and hickory smoke flavors. Oh, by the way, the place where Allegro is domiciled, and where the 25 Allegro employees create their condiments, is in Paris, Tennessee, not France.

Allegro's Marketing Director, Rick Horiuchi, says, "Exporting is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort. But thanks to the support of the U.S. Commercial Services division of the Commerce Department, more and more it's an effort that small exporters can afford to make."

Thanks to the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Memphis, TN, Allegro is not only doing business in Mexico, but also looking to expand in that country. Plans are also in the works, with the help of the U.S. Commercial Services, for Allegro to find customers in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

"With the rapid diffusion of technology," Mr. Horiuchi says, "and the support of the U.S. Commerce Department, it's now possible for small businesses to reach the other side of the world in a way that they could not before."

Historically, very few small businesses could justify the commitment of capital and staff associated with launching and supporting an export strategy even if they were well capitalized. After all, why spend time and money trying to sell our stuff on the other side of the planet when we've got customers right next door?

How about this for an answer to that question? More than 96 percent of the world's consumers live outside the United States.

The times they are a-changin': Due to globalization, new technologies, and the Internet and other telecommunication resources, all markets are changing everywhere, requiring most small businesses to justify why they're not looking at ways to expand their markets. With a few exceptions, like small restaurants, perhaps, any small business that isn't pursuing markets outside their immediate geography is a dinosaur waiting for extinction.

If you need help finding a way to justify expanding your market, check with the people at the U.S. Commercial Services offices near you. Start by visiting this excellent website,

Also, check out

Another excellent resource is the World Trade Center organization operating across the U.S. and around the world. You can find the WTC nearest you at

Start The Process
For some time now I've been encouraging small business owners to educate themselves on the steps necessary to grow their markets, including exporting. No question the marketplace is a-changin' in such a way as to make this activity less of an option and more of a necessity.

And now, with the new technology and customized support available from the U.S. government, the excuses for not expanding our markets are rapidly being eliminated.

Write this on a rock... To paraphrase Dylan, if your business is worth savin', then you better start exportin', or you just might sink like a stone. For the times they are a-changin'.

Jim Blasingame
Small Business Expert and host of The Small Business Advocate Show
©2008 All Rights Reserved


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