Small business owners looking to expand their scope might be missing the boat by not venturing beyond U.S. borders.

Just 5 percent of small businesses that have employees export their products or services, according to Dennis Chrisbaum, director of international trade finance with the Small Business Administration, in a CNN Money story. That puts the number at around 300,000. The SBA notes that almost 96 percent of consumers live outside of the U.S.

Small Business Owners Unsure About Exporting

Small-business exporting can be boiled down to a basic question: Where to begin? A 2013 survey by the National Small Business Association and the Small Business Exporters Association showed 46 percent of small business owners didn’t know how to explore exporting, and 49 percent said the government should provide more training.

A good place to start is the SBA’s website, with tips on determining if a business is ready to start exporting, and where to find training and financial assistance.

CNN Money featured several companies that have benefitted from a more global approach:

  • Air Tractor, based in Texas, makes agriculture-related aircrafts. Exporting to countries including Argentina, Brazil and Canada makes up half of its sales. “We realized that if we wanted to grow, we had to find new markets,” said David Ickert, vice president of finance and a former chair of the SBEA. “The U.S. market in our industry was already saturated.”
  • Princeton Healthcare, based in Atlanta, makes diagnostic devices and consults medical centers. It has been exporting for more than a decade, which accounts for half of its revenue. “We decided early on as a small business that we wanted to go overseas,” said CEO Don Williams. “There may be 20 companies in the U.S. doing the same thing. That means our margins at home wouldn’t be as big as in international markets.”
  • Chief Agri Group, based in Nebraska, is a grain storage and transportation company. “We wouldn’t be the company we are today if we ignored the overseas opportunities,” said senior finance executive Mike Lewis. “A decade ago, 75 percent of our sales were domestic. Now, half our sales come from our international deals.”

What’s the big risk with exporting? Getting paid, says Laurel Delaney, a Chicago consultant and founder of, and author of the new book Exporting: The Definitive Guide to Selling Abroad Profitably. Bloomberg Businessweek recently featured a Q&A with Delaney.

Despite Risks, More Small Business Owners Interested in Exporting

“If you do not know how to get paid and you go out there strong in the marketplace, thinking [you have] a $50,000 order, that’s where you’re exposed,” she said. “It can be a huge risk to a small business owner, particularly if the transaction is a high percentage of their total revenue base. Believe me, it’ll take them down if they fail to collect the payment.”

But the number of interested small business owners interested in exporting is on the rise — a 20 percent bump from 2010 to 2013, according to the SBEA in CNN Money’s story.

“This is a clear indication [of the] changing attitudes by small businesses that exporting is a viable option to grow their business,” said Jody Milanese, the SBEA’s senior director of government affairs, “particularly given the sluggish economic recovery we’ve seen in the past three years.”