SWOT analysis – the Weakness focus


We all know that exporting requires many qualities such as perseverance, patience or pragmatism. However, in my opinion, the most important of all are humbleness and honesty. They are essential in building up strong foundations for your export development.

Before taking any exciting actions, before planing ahead and looking at the horizon, one must start with a deep and sincere introspection.

This is the « W » focus on the SWOT analysis, the most unpleasant part.

The SWOT is a structured method to evaluate a company’s position at the moment of the analysis. It is strategic as it assesses the business’ Strengths and Weaknesses, and the external Opportunities and Treats. This analysis is very useful to make strategic decisions for a successful export development. Here is below a SWOT template which can be used as guideline in your study :

SWOT Analysis Strategy Diagram

This introspection must point out all signs of vulnerability. Some weaknesses might appear minor now, but can become highly problematic during the export development process. One must be aware that these fragilities will soon be the target of competitors’ attacks on the export field.

This is why no weakness should be ignored.

This does not mean that every aspect of an organization must be optimal for a successful export development (if so, no company would be exporting). This means that every aspect of an organization must be understood and processed.

One must know exactly what his/her business’ weaknesses are and be prepared to deal with the difficulties that will arise because of them.

Weaknesses mostly lie in two areas :

-Organization : How do I deal with orders, production, supplies? Do I have sufficient cash flow? Is my process optimized? Do I have the right knowledge and connexions to overcome new administrative and documentation requirements?..

-Product : is my product/brand export-ready? Is there a shelf-life or any other specifications (logistic requirements, packaging…) which would make exports to some areas more difficult? Is there any misleading message in the image of my product? Is my brand or product portfolio attractive?

The SWOT analysis is a great tool to identify these weak points, which makes it easier to work on them -either to improve, or, if no improvement is possible, to be prepared to competitors’ attacks.

The ultimate goal of the SWOT, and this is by far my favorite part, is to find ways to turn those weaknesses into strengths. Marketing being a lot about understating, and communication, once all aspects of a weakness are perfectly handled, and thanks to good communication shifts, it is often possible to find out benefits into a fragility.

After all, it is all about perspective!

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Business plan for a successful Export Development

Ok, so you decided to take your business onto export markets. Whether you already export and wish to build up a real international development strategy, or this is a brand new step for your activity, this post is for you.

You will find below an overview of the main steps to build up a good export business plan. Each step might be (or already has been) the topic of a complete post, because each step is equally important, and must be deployed into sub-steps for effective actions.

EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 1 : THE ANALYSIS – Where are we?

This is one of my favorite actions : we just sit down and review.

At this stage, one must be as rational and factual as possible in detailing the assets of the company, but also its weaknesses (i.e. my post on Swot analysis).

This is when we understand the core strategy of the company, its purpose, why it exists. Does the company have a focus on brand (product driven) or volume (production driven)?

Why is the company looking at export markets : is it to find a growth continuity, or is it because the local market is not dynamic anymore? Is the company prepared to deal with export orders documentation?

To finish with this first step, we might take a look at the finances : how much money could the company realistically dedicate to export development fees (this is excluding all possible subventions/loans which we will study later)

EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 2 : THE GOAL DEFINITION – Where do we want to go?

Ok, this is actually my favorite part : when we imagine the best scenario possible. Deeply (but realistically too of course), what would the company like to achieve in export markets?

Let’s dream big : if we project into the best case scenario, what type of partnerships would the company establish? On which terms? Which Incoterm seems the most appropriate? Which export markets are we targeting and why?

In this part, we visualize better the export project of the company. This gives us a firm target to hold on to.

EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 3 : THE NETWORK ACTIVATION – Who might help us to get there?

So many companies ignore this part, which is a shame as it may be extremely useful and time-saving. Governments often have various support plans in place to boost their local companies (especially SME’s) in their international development.

Activate your network : in this part, we talk about our export project to as many people as possible :

  • We talk to experts such as international sales managers who already succeeded in the targeted export market, market specialists, editors who published articles on the targeted area, etc. One must never under-estimate the kindness of people : many experts will be glad to give precious advice, and to share information to help in your project. One of my team members recently confirmed her market study results simply by joining a local social network group.
  • We talk to local authorities, financial and market specialists such as COFACE or State representatives, who will direct you onto the right contacts to apply for subventions, preferred loan solutions, or contests to participate to. The above is definitely not to undervalue : not only a lot of money can be raised this way, but it also profits to the company and project’s positive reputation and credibility.
EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 4 : THE MARKET STUDY – How is our target behaving?

This is when we collect details on the market.

  • Macroeconomics : political stability, currency fluctuations, population category (young? aging?) compulsory payment terms in place (cf. Letter of Credit in some North Africa countries), Free Trade Agreements in place with other countries, main import/export categories…
  • Microeconomics / market segment analysis : how is competition doing and why? What are our competitors’ differentiation? Is future competition local or imported? What are the big consumption trend? How is distribution organized?…

At this stage, it might be useful to organize a first trip to the targeted market in order to visit a local trade show, to run store-checks, etc.

This step is essential, and there is no unique market study template : a market study plan must be directly linked to the activity of the company.

EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 5 : THE IDENTIFICATION of POTENTIAL PARTNERS – Who do we want to sell to?

Thanks from the above actions, we now have a better understanding of the market, its players, our strengths / weaknesses, how we might match an existing need, on which segment we could be successful and bring a real differentiation on the market.

Usually, most prospects are naturally identified during the market study process or through networking influences, if well conducted.

Now, we want to select the best partners possible : they are the ones who might understand and engage in the above too, the ones who might share the same business values, the ones who have access to the targeted distribution network, and who will help in having those values recognized by the consumer locally.

Like for the market study, there is no unique way to identify potential partners as it depends on the sector and activity.

EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 6 : THE EXPORT STRATEGY ADJUSTMENT – How do we get ready for actions?

This is when we review the conclusions from every step mentioned above, and we adjust :

  • the marketing strategy : how do we want to approach our targets? How do you want to communicate? Does the product/brand need adjustments to fit the market? How do we want to position our product/service…
  • the financial plan : is budget in line with the initial forecasts (including potential subventions, loan solutions, etc.)? How much turnover can we budget after one year, five years? When can we expect a positive return on investment?..
EXPORT BUSINESS PLAN – STEP 7 : LET’S DO THIS – no more questions

Approach the market and the identified potential partners with confidence, strong from the lessons learnt from the above steps. If all stages were thoroughly processed, you are close to being an expert of your targeted market : you know its features, its specificities. You also perfectly know your strengths and what will make you successful in your approach. You are also aware of your weaknesses, and you are prepared to face competitors attacks.

At this stage, the approach of potential partners is happening quite naturally as you perfectly know your segment, and how to match a specific and identified need.

If no prospect accepted a meeting after direct contact attempt or through networking influences (this rarely happens if the strategy was carefully worked on), there are local market expert agencies, often linked to the Embassies, who might help in approaching prospects, such as Business France for French companies for example, who have officies in most countries.

At this stage, a trip locally is absolutely necessary in order to meet with potential partners, to introduce your company and project in more details. Exhibiting at a local trade-show might also be a good option depending on the sector of activity. In this case, it is important to set up meetings beforehand in order to optimize your presence at the fair.

Then, it is all about selecting the best partner(s), and negotiating the terms of this future partnership… Exciting times ahead!


This was a bit long, but essential to give you an insight on how I proceed to turn a development project into a solid export strategy.

If you had to remember one thing from this post : detail a solid action plan for all stages, and unfold each step with as much objectivity as possible.

By following such plan, the positive outcome is almost certain, as the strategy is defined and readjusted throughout the various steps to ensure a coherent and meaningful approach of the export market.

I hope this post will help in your export strategy construction. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have questions, or if you would like to share comments on your export project.

Thank you and Happy Holidays to you all!

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Let’s talk about communication

    communication Communication

Today is my birthday, so in this special day, I wish to write on a subject that genuinely cheers me up -together with export of course : the art of communication.

In my opinion, communication is not a gift from Mother nature, which would explain that some people are better than others. Of course, education and literacy play an important part in one’s ability to communicate.

However, I think that communication is a skill which, like a muscle, should be practiced over and over again.

There are many forms of communication (verbal communication, body language, written…) and many types of communication (professional vs personal, intimate vs speech-mode, etc.) but I will not dig into each of them now.

In this post, I wish to focus on the basics of the art of communication… So get ready, take a deep breath, clear your mind and embrace my top 5 communication tips :

NUMBER 1 : Be genuinely curious

Get involved and grow your interest for your contacts’ interests. Keep an open mind and always process information from different angles.

Target => Boost your confidence by developing strong foundations in general knowledge

NUMBER 2 : Find your opening

When preparing a meeting or a phone call, always keep a nice news update to start the discussion. It may be a quick brief on the latest company achievement (building/office improvement, a new market, a recruiting perspective…) or on your global environment (a currency fluctuation which affects your activity, a politic change perspective…) No matter what you pick, keep it simple and most important, keep it positive. By giving out an « off the record » information, you make your interlocutor feel trustworthy.

Target => Create a good atmosphere in between you and your interlocutor

NUMBER 3 : Listen, listen, listen, and synchronize

This is essential, and quite well approached by Neuro-Linguistic Programming. While listening to your interlocutors, you may develop your « feedback » (understanding and processing of how others react to you -your movements, your words, etc.) and adapt your communication accordingly. For a smooth communication, it is advised to synchronize as much as possible with your interlocutors (« copy » the way they behave, what choice of words they use, etc.)

Target => Make your interlocutor at ease in your presence

NUMBER 4 : Keep it professional

The point 3 is important, but it should not keep you from being professional, if your interlocutor isn’t. To keep your communication professional at all time, just remember 2 basics :

  1. By any means, keep the communication away from emotional fields. Avoid using « sentimental » vocabulary such as « I feel » or strong words like « betrayal », « dishonesty »… If your interlocutor uses them, bring him back to you by using a more neutral language.
  2. Keep it simple : in your mind and in your communication, the purpose of the meeting/discussion must stay present and clear. Do not hesitate to rephrase the point of the meeting on several occasions if you feel that it is getting confusing.

Target => Achieving your goal, meeting your professional agenda.

NUMBER 5 : finish the meeting by uplifting the conversation

As also mentioned in my post Keys to a constructive conversation, it is essential to have a common project / target with your interlocutors. While talking about projects, asking your interlocutor’s point of view on future steps, you may help your interlocutor visualizing the bigger picture and feeling confident about whatever comes next.

Target : expanding your network by being a great person with whom one can dream bigger (no less than that!)

Communication really is the foundation of every good and healthy relationship (both personal and professional). I hope you found these tips useful and that they will somehow help in your professional fulfillment through building up a dynamic network.

Please leave your comments on this post by sharing your experience on the subject : what are your own communication tips?

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Keys to a constructive discussion

No matter what the subject is, exchanging by phone or even face-to-face can be tricky. At the era of e-mails, whatsapp and other chatting tools, we are not necessarily encouraged to pick-up the phone, even though a good discussion can often save a lot of time and bring the relation to the next level, not matter what this level is.

In addition to visualizing clearly what the objective of the meeting is (this will be the subject of a future post), here are a few principles to lead a good and constructive exchange.

Adaptability is not playing a role

I realized that both concepts are sometimes mixed up when I discussed with one of my team members, who had issues in having good conversations with interlocutors over the phone, no matter if they were clients, prospects, or suppliers. He mentioned that he thought he was playing the role that his interlocutor was expecting him to play, but still could feel his own lack of credibility in his interlocutor’s replies which were often expeditious.

There is a huge difference in between adaptability and playing a role. When working, especially in exports, one must demonstrate a good dose of adaptability in order to fit to the various cultures, company profiles, personalities which will be encountered.

However, like in personal life, it is essential to stay your-self, no matter the circumstances. If you end up having dinner together with a family-businessman and a multinational buyer, both guests must feel in presence of the person they know.

This lead to the second tip :

Credibility lies in Honesty

Nobody is perfect. This is important to understand and fully comprehend : nobody is perfect.

It is not possible to know everything and it is essential to assume the fact that there are questions which cannot be answered straight away, rather than trying to advance uncertain replies in a falsely confident voice.

Credibility will go with honest answers. Honest answers will lead to peace-of-mind. Peace-of-mind will lead to a nice and relaxed conversation.

Uplifting the discussion

A conversation has an objective, a question to be replied to, and information to be given.

However, whenever possible, it is good to uplift the discussion in order to take the relation to the next level.

This can be done by giving an update on the market which could be useful to the interlocutor even if he did not ask for it, by asking more details about the interlocutor’s projects, or even by sharing an idea and asking for his point of view.

The above will help in building a breeding ground to a constructive conversation, in which one of the most important skills for a successful export development will play part : Listening.

Indeed, having a solid export action plan is good, but learning how to adapt by genuinely listening and understanding the market’s feedback is key.

E-mails often stay on very basic communication level, on operational question-answer mode. As a result, this is by handling constructive conversation, by phone or face-to-face, that these key messages will be given.

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