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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Is small better?

This is probably the most delightful feeling that came with my first steps in international sales development, over 10 years ago now. This feeling that the world is not that big, that it is actually possible to be at the other end of our planet within a few hours, and to get by with it.

This feeling that all over the world, there are passionate people who care about their business and wish to grow it. When people and companies are bound together by this will of developing their activity, there are very few things that can get in their way.

I fell into international sales development by curiosity at first. I come from a small town in south west of France, where exporting is everything but a natural expanding strategy. Growing up amongst fantastic local products that very few people know outside our area, I set myself into one target : understanding what makes international sales development so challenging, and studying how to overcome these issues.

The deeper I got into it, the more passionate I became as the world did feel like a smaller place, and exporting actually is very exciting. Of course, going global is not an easy task. It requires strong foundations (good concept / product / brand), perseverance, willpower, pragmatism and a solid action plan. One must learn from mistakes that will happen along the way, and try not to give up when a difficulty appears (and it will, many will…)

But this is all worth it. Export sales represent a great growth potential for small businesses. I am not talking here about heavy industries, or huge multinationals with branches all over the world. This blog is about smaller, human-sized companies : processors, producers, artisans, manufacturers, and any small & medium-sized businesses who might get the misleading feeling that developing their activity overseas is not set for them.

Through my experience, I have come across great companies, and amazing people, passionate about their work. Should you find the right partner, who shares the same values, motivation and attachement to a product or project, the world will definitely feel like a smaller place, in which many things become possible.

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What is the deal with free-trade deals?

Canada-EU blue

Before its recent approval, the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade agreement in between Canada and the EU) has been seriously questioned by the Belgium Wallonie Premier Paul Magnette. While being flooded with contradictory news and updates about this agreement, it seemed important to me to take a step back, and write about FTAs (Free Trade Agreements).

There are dozens of FTAs worldwide, and many countries have at least one agreement in place. Among the most famous ones, we count the NAFTA (Canada – USA – Mexico), the European Union, the MERCOSUR (Argentina – Brazil – Paraguay – Uruguay – Venezuela) or the ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam – Cambodia – Indonesia – Laos – Malaysia – Singapore – Viet Nam – Thailand – Philippines – Myanmar).

They are enforced by the WTO (World Trade Organization – http://www.wto.org ) which makes sure that the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) is respected.

Those agreements are in place to make trade exchanges easier in between the countries of the agreement (less documentation needed, less import/export taxes, …) The ultimate goal of such agreements is to benefit to all partners by giving easier access to each other’s specific supplies and facilitate exchanges.

For example, the CETA will benefit to meat exporters from Canada who will have better and easier access to  meet the European demand, and the dairy products manufacturers  from Europe will be able to export in greater and safer extend to meet the Canadian demand.

Over the years, the enthusiasm of creating larger trading areas has declined quite drastically. This is a fact, protectionism has become trendy.

Donald Trump in the US and the increasing populism in European countries are good illustrations of public opinion’s animosity towards opening-up actions, not only for trade, but also for people. « Chacun chez soi, et les moutons seront bien gardés » is a French idiom which is quite appropriate to the situation.

It is simple to look at economic issues that most developed countries face, and blame the globalization for high unemployment rates and other problems. Sure enough, FTAs may encourage companies to relocate their manufacturing plants in cheaper places, and governments generate less income from import/export taxes.

However, protectionism may cure these symptoms for a brief period, but eventually, it may severely damage local economies which may stagnate in a non-competitive market.

It is also important to keep in mind that most job cuts in the past decades have been due to technical progress (automatization..) and not relocations.

Societies change, employment as we know it changes too, and we should not be too afraid of these transitions which are part of the entire evolution : things have always changed, from generations to generations.

Free Trade Agreements represent a great growth potential, and also a real development incentive for many countries. It boosts local economies and makes the markets more dynamic.

When opening up on trade, nations are bound together, and eventually, they work on the global leveling up of their population lifestyles. This does not mean that we loose our national identities, but this means that we acknowledge to be part of a wider group (aren’t we all citizens of the world?)

Also, we should keep in mind that even if cross-country trade is made easier by agreements, domestic demand will always prevail : one will not travel 1000 miles to get bread if the same bread is available next door.

Encouraging this dynamism, local governments should of course, adapt their policies according to their domestic needs, and make sure their populations are prepared to enjoy the benefits while having strong foundations in basic areas such as education or healthcare for example.

In my opinion, opening barriers may destabilize local economies for a short period, but if well implemented by local governments, it has the power to create a dynamism that everyone will enjoy.

Please, do not hesitate to leave your comments and views on this controversial topic, so we can exchange and discuss it together.

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