Being a confident small business owner in today’s economy isn’t easy, at least according to the February 2009 Discover Small Business Watch. Not surprisingly, the survey found 64% of U.S. small business owners rate the economy as poor, and an alarming 68% believe the U.S. economy is getting worse.

While confidence among small business owners may be down, current economic conditions make it a good time for many to go global. In fact, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy called “a better market for U.S. exports” the highlight of The Small Business Economy report it released in February 2009.

For many small business owners, it’s less a question of whether they should enter the global marketplace, and more about how. Going global has its obstacles, but with the proper technology and expert assistance from your carrier, overcoming these hurdles and breaking into the international marketplace can be easier than you might expect.

To help you turn current economic challenges into opportunity with a global approach, here are some key obstacles faced by small businesses and some insights into overcoming them:

--The Web has simplified many aspects of going global, but small businesses must still be equipped to deal with the complicated documentation involved in getting their products through Customs. 

   Rather than attack the Customs clearance process alone, consult your carrier for guidance. Are your goods eligible for export to the global markets you’re targeting? What are your real costs to do business overseas, taxes and tariffs included? A qualified carrier should be able to answer these questions and provide the right tools to simplify the process. 

   The No. 1 reason shipments are held up in Customs is due to missing or incomplete paperwork, so look for a carrier with the technology to submit paperwork electronically, which will help avoid incomplete paperwork.

--Small business owners already have a lot on their plate, making the thought of devoting extra resources to extend your business globally a scary one. Turning to a qualified carrier can help quell this fear. Look for a carrier that offers tools to go global, including order processing, shipment preparation and commercial invoicing. 

--It’s one step to get your goods overseas; it’s an entirely different animal getting them back. Forrester Consulting research commissioned by UPS found 70% of businesses have no formal international returns process, and some simply abandon international returns, considering the task not worth the resources. Enter a quality carrier, which should be able to provide technology-based services that streamline the returns process by sending customers international return labels and commercial invoices via e-mail, local post or their carrier driver. 

--Understanding the risks associated with the global markets you’re entering is crucial to minimizing snags caused by government regulations and restrictions, added competition or less sophisticated distribution systems, to name a few. There are several government agencies that can assist small business owners in mitigating this risk, including the U.S. Commercial Services and Small Business Administration. But don’t overlook your carrier. Seek out a carrier with the credentials and customer service controls in place to avoid disappointing or angering your international customers, and ask if it offers the tracking technology to provide timely notification of shipment status to your customers via e-mail. 

It’s been a tough several months for the U.S. economy, as confidence levels among small business owners will attest. But it may just be the perfect time to take your business global. Consult your carrier about going global, or improving your current approach, while the timing is right.