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.


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)


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.


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.


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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Diplomatic Update : it happened in November 2016

UNITED STATES : Donald Trump becomes President of the United States of America after winning 306 states against 232 for his opponent Hilary Clinton. There were fears of USD plunge after this election, but the US economy seems to stay stable one month after the event.


-The former Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron officially announces his candidacy to be the next French President. The elections will take place in April and May 2017.  http://www.wsj.com/articles/former-french-economy-minister-announces-presidential-bid-1479293059

-The former Prime Minister Francois Fillon wins the race to be rightwing presidential candidate. https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/nov/27/french-elections-voting-ends-in-poll-for-rights-presidential-candidate-live

SOUTH KOREA : over one million Koreans went down in the streets to demand the resignation of the Conservative President Park Geun-hye. She is accused of corruption and of sharing classified documents. She has asked the Parliament to arrange her exit.

CUBA : the revolutionary leader Fidel Castro dies at 90. He overthrew Batista dictator in 1959 and established a communist state which is still run today by his brother Raul Castro. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/26/fidel-castro-cuba-revolutionary-icon-dies

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Diplomatic update : it happened in October 2016

WORLD : The Portuguese Antonio Guterres (former Prime Minister of Portugal) is elected Secretary-General of the United Nations. He succeeds to the South Korean Ban Ki-moon. During his first speech, he mentioned that he wishes to make the fight against populism and terrorism a priority.

COLUMBIA : In spite of the referendum failure in September (see September geopolitic update http://www.approachingexport.com/diplomatic-geopolitic-update-happened-september-2016 ), Colombia’s president Juan Manual Santos is awarded the Peace Nobel prize.

THAILAND : The King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after 7 decades of ruling the country. There are now concerns of political instability since the Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn has asked for time to mourn before he is appointed.

LEBANON : Michel Aoun is elected President.

CANADA-EU : after having been seriously questioned by the Belgium Wallonie Premier Paul Magnettethe, the Ceta (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is now enforced. This agreement should initiate increased exchanges in between the 2 continents. Click here to read my post on the CETA

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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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