Small U.S. firms make big global sales

Tran at says she struggles to keep down international shipping costs for overseas customers. At Global Products, Herwick says regulatory and audit issues in many countries are the toughest export-related tasks for her to juggle.

Even the weak dollar is a dual-edge sword. With the greenback falling, Herwick is making more sales abroad. But her inventory in Europe sells for less than it did under old exchange rates, when European dealers paid her one-to-one for her goods. With $1 fetching well under 0.7 euros in recent months, her profits dip.

"I did not anticipate the horrible performance of our dollar the last few years, and that's hurt me," she says.

But the potential pitfalls aren't scaring Herwick and other small business owners.

As corporations embraced technology through the 1990s, Shields at Breakaway Technologies saw her firm grow steadily and reach $4 million in sales. Her sales slowed, though, when Dell and Hewlett-Packard became competitors.

To grow again, Shields is prowling for more international customers in Canada and Europe, where she already does business. She's also researching potential markets in Latin America, Asia and Africa.

"We realize we need better penetration, and the U.S. market won't always provide it," Shields says. "If you stay static, you're not going to stay in business very long."

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