Small Business Growth Strategies in 2018: Key Takeaways from the American Express Summit for Success

Small businesses continue to report optimism and increased sales, according to the National Federation of International Business (NFIB), and when companies are finding success and are growing, it’s often the best time to explore new expansion strategies and sources of revenue. Earlier this summer, American Express hosted its 7th annual Summit for Success in Washington, DC, which connected owners of small and mid-sized companies with key industry leaders. This year’s Summit explored high-growth strategies like government contracting, corporate procurement and exporting goods and services internationally.

Below are insights from the event about these opportunities.

Selling to the world’s largest customer: the U.S. government

The U.S. government has a goal of spending 23% of federal contract dollars with small businesses. Last year that resulted in $105.7 billion spent with small businesses, and attendees at the Summit learned the ins and outs of winning those contracts. Advice from agency representatives and experienced contractors included:

  1. For companies just starting out in contracting, earning certifications can set them apart from the competition and provide unique opportunities when applying for federal contracts. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) new certification website, certify.sba.gov, gives detailed information for companies to explore what certifications they qualify for and the process of applying.
  2. For companies looking to grow through government contracts, experts recommended joining the All Small MentorProtégé Program from the SBA, which provides protégés and mentors new opportunities. Once the relationship is established and certified by the SBA, speakers at the event suggested business owners schedule a weekly meeting to build a solid working relationship.
  3. To market products and services to federal government agencies, long-time contractors recommended developing a clear and concise capability statement that mirrors the needs of the agencies you want to attract.

Expanding a business through international sales

Your website gives you global reach, and the internet makes it easier than ever for you to connect with global buyers. In fact, 48% of small and mid-sized exporters began their global sales journey when buyers found them online, according to American Express research. Private sector and government experts provided Summit participants insights on starting and growing international sales:

  1. Take advantage of experts available to help U.S. businesses get started with exporting. For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce, a strategic partner of American Express Grow Global, provides advice on common exporting questions including getting paid, currency, market selection, legal considerations, intellectual property protection, logistics, compliance and more through their U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEACs). Many other federal government agencies, states and local groups offer additional services for businesses considering exporting– often at no or low cost.
  2. The data your business accumulates from internet traffic and incoming inquiries will help you identify markets with potential. Then you can take incremental steps to develop a more proactive sales effort, like attending a trade show, looking for sales channels or visiting the market yourself. E-commerce can be an effective and economical way to enter some international markets, and services exist to simplify the selling and shipping process.
  3. Programs are available to help you identify prequalified buyers in your target markets. The International Trade Administration’s Foreign Commercial Service has offices in many U.S. consulates and offers matchmaking services. These include the Gold Key Matchmaking Service, organized trade missions and the Single Company Promotion Not only do these programs help introduce you to vetted and interested prospects, but they can also coordinate interpreters and assist with planning local transportation and logistics.

Working with large companies for business growth

The world’s largest companies source products and services from suppliers of all sizes, including many small businesses. The Summit brought together business owners who have successfully worked with larger companies, as well as procurement officials from Fortune 500 corporations who implement and oversee their company’s vendor sourcing policies. Together these panelists offered perspectives on navigating the complexities of working with well-known global corporations:

  1. Corporations are regularly looking to work with small and mid-size business owners as suppliers and contractors.  Large companies recognize that small businesses can provide strong service and value, innovative solutions, and offer goods and services across the spectrum of their business needs.
  2. Certification can help connect small business owners to new opportunities. But experts cautioned that even with that connection, company leaders still have to win the business by doing the work of building a relationship with key decision makers at the corporation, offering a quality product at a competitive price, and knowing their capabilities. Experts stressed that corporate procurement is a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Procurement officers cautioned interested business owners to be real with themselves with regard to whether they have the capabilities or capacity today to pursue and fulfill the needs of a major corporate client. If not, they recommended creating a strategic plan to scale up.

For additional resources on strategies to grow your business and reach more customers – whether that’s government agencies, international buyers or large enterprises – visit amex.com/summitforsuccess.


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