I know it can be daunting: a region of 600 million people and over 20 countries, stretched across three continents and two hemispheres. But believe me, even if Latin America can be challenging, small businesses can crack it too. Let me tell you why.
First of all, small businesses have a lot of what it takes to succeed in Latin America: passion, tenacity and drive, to start with.
You’ll need plenty of that since the pace of doing business here can be very slow and there are lots of obstacles (bureaucracy and regulations, to name just two). That passion is also valued by Latin Americans, we’re passionate people, after all! That drive, that not giving up, will be appreciated, trust me.
Small businesses also have the flexibility that their larger competitors often lack. Adapting, being flexible (and showing it), is absolutely key in Latin America.
You might be able to adjust a product, your packaging, your pricing, in a way that others can’t. You can be responsive, and fairly quickly, and that can win you orders over here. We like that. Because our countries so often lack stability, it is in our DNA to be flexible, versatile, to adapt. We expect the same from those we buy from, and don’t always find it. If you can offer it, we’ll be impressed.
Remember that most of Latin American businesses (even up to 80-90% depending on the country) are actually small businesses like yours. Think about that.
The distributor you sell to, sometimes even your buyer, will be a small, often family-run businesses. They know how it feels. Don’t try to “big it up”, show them that you are a small company, tell them about your successes and show them how your set up will actually benefit them.
So, to sum up, use the size of your business as a USP and show how that translates into benefits for the people you are dealing with: flexibility, resilience, passion, responsiveness, adaptability.
Here are four actionable tips small businesses doing business with Latin America:
1. Rank your export options
It is important to look at your business and evaluate what you value most in an export market. It probably won’t be scale. It might be proximity or ease of doing business.
You might want to go for a market that is fairly easy in terms of regulations or import procedures, or one that doesn’t require much in terms of labelling or product design. Once you have established your priorities, look for that market in the region, it helps avoid distractions.
2. Zero in on one market to start
Latin America is huge. It takes 12 hours to fly from Mexico City to Buenos Aires. We have mountains, deserts, forests. You can’t do it all at once. Have a look at the region, rank some markets, and focus on one, even a segment of one (not Chile, just Santiago, for example, or not “food”, just “wholefood shops”, for example).
3. Prepare well to put your best foot forward
Make sure all your marketing materials, pricing, Incoterms, MOQs, payment terms, etc., are nice and clear before you send that first email or make that first call.
If you have at least something translated into Spanish (Portuguese for Brazil), that is ideal (even if just a one side of an A4 to start with).
Don’t rely on emails, by the way, many Latin Americans just ignore them (call or WhatsApp if you can).
4. Show how you are different
We get approached daily from companies from all over the world trying to sell us something. If you think you are different, show it. Do you have a product that is really amazing (and have you checked out we don’t have something rather similar, or cheaper, here already)? Have you got a story to tell that will make us fall in love with your company? Don’t try to sound all corporate, you are a small business, use that charm!
Top tip: video marketing can be powerful, we are very visual people and we use YouTube a lot!
If your Spanish/Portuguese is not great, well, don’t worry, do your best and try to win us over – maybe with a fantastic ice-breaker about your part of the world. Latin Americans, particularly those in international trade, tend to have very good general knowledge, are well-travelled, and very curious about other countries and cultures.
There are plenty of opportunities for small businesses in Latin America, particularly in hygiene control, fintech, agricultural supplies, agricultural machinery, ecommerce, logistics, and workspace design industries, to name a few. You can successfully export to Latin America if your expectations are clear, you are well prepared, and you focus. Enjoy it!