Dear Professor Bruce: I own a small business that imports products from overseas, what advice do you have for managing international payments? - Answer: As a small business, the international payment stakes are large.

Without a strong strategy in place, you can wind up paying far more than you should for your imports, while burdening the business with unnecessary complications.

To fix this, Karl Schamotta, senior market strategist for Western Union Business Solutions, shares a few basic principles to keep in mind:

First, don't reinvent the wheel; building and maintaining a network of global banking relationships is difficult and complex. Think about working with a currency provider that can give you access to a range of incoming and outgoing payment facilities -- without burdening you with unnecessary costs.

Use technology. Paper checks and manual procedures have no place in the modern small business. Online platforms can support your international growth by allowing you to make, track, and manage your payments more easily.

Keep it simple. Payments are often subjected to death by a thousand cuts as they travel across the global financial system. Fees, exchange rate spreads, and delays can cut into the amounts that are ultimately transmitted. Try to remove as many of these transaction points as possible in order to put more money in the hands of you and your trading partners.

Think in other languages. The majority of the world's businesses use currencies other than the U.S. dollar at home. When they handle the conversion process themselves, they incur costs -- which are often invisibly passed on to you in the form of higher invoice prices. So think about paying in foreign currencies instead of dollars. Your partners will thank you -- and so will your bottom line.

Rapidly shifting foreign exchange rates can make it difficult to plan for the future. Consider using tools like forwarding contracts to match your expected payments with fixed exchange rates -- allowing you to protect your profit margins and focus on growing the business itself.

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(Bruce Freeman, The Small Business Professor, is president of ProLine Communications, a marketing and public relations firm in Livingston, N.J. and author of Birthing the Elephant (Ten Speed Press). E-mail questions to Bruce(at)