Scouting out foreign markets can be intimidating. Where do you start when you've never tried it before?

There are three steps a company can take to find overseas agents. First, ask other businesses in your industry for thenames of their distributors. Second, scan trade magazines that list overseas agents. And third, work through governmentagencies.

When ADM Technology, a manufacturer of media production equipment, in Troy, Mich., decided to set up an exportingnetwork of agents, then? vice president Murray Shields approached the U.S. Department of Commerce in Detroit. He submitteda description of the kind of agent he needed and was given a list of names collected by Commerce officials through consulatesand embassies overseas. Then he requested World Trade Data Reports on each agent, which gave him information on thecandidate's customers, bank references, estimated sales volume and assets. He narrowed his list to three agents per countryand visited the candidates in person, checking in with each agent's customers while he was there.

Within a year, overseas sales were bringing in 30% of the company's then-$5 million in sales. The key is keeping in touch,Shields says. "You must be seen continuously by these people to say, 'Remember us?' They may not have sold anything foryou since you saw them last, but you want them to keep trying."