Develop an Export Plan
An Export Plan is the first step to international business success.
An export plan helps you understand the facts, constraints, and goals around your international effort. Use it to create specific objectives, decide on implementation schedules, and mark milestones of your success. It can also motivate your team to reach goals.
Written plans give a clear understanding of specific steps to take to assure a commitment to exporting. Without a plan, your business may overlook better long-term growth opportunities outside of the domestic market. Remember that while 59 percent of all U.S. exporters export to only a single market (predominantly Canada), many small exporters sell to more countries than they have employees, and these sales account for a growing percentage of total sales. These mini-multinationals are becoming more common, and your company can be one of them.
Steps to develop your export plan
- Identify the product or service to be exported and check its export potential,
- Conduct market research on the countries of interest,
- Decide on a pricing strategy for the product or service, and
- Define a strategy to find buyers.
- Keep it simple. The initial planning effort itself gradually generates more information and insight. As you learn more about exporting and your company’s competitive position, the export plan will become more detailed.
- Make a flexible management tool, not a static document. Objectives should be compared with actual results to measure the success of different strategies. Don’t hesitate to modify the plan as additional information and experience are gained.
- A detailed plan is recommended for companies that intend to export directly, meaning selling to an end-user in another country. If your company chooses indirect export methods or sells via your or a third party’s website, you may use much simpler plans.
Elements of an export plan
As you develop an export plan, consider the following questions for each market. This Sample Outline of an Export Plan can help you organize your work.
- Which products are selected for export development, and what modifications, if any, must be made to adapt them for overseas markets? Evaluate your product/service’s Export Potential.
- Is an export license needed?
- Which countries are targeted for sales development?
- What are the basic customer profiles, and what marketing and distribution channels should be used to reach customers?
- What are the special challenges (for example, competition, cultural differences, and import and export controls), and the strategy to address them?
- How will your product’s export sales price be determined?
- What specific operational steps must be taken and when?
- What will be the time frame for implementing each element of the plan?
- What personnel and company resources will be dedicated to exporting?
- What will be the cost in time and money for each element?
- How will the results be evaluated and used to modify the plan?
More in-depth questions to answer when building your export plan
Product or Service
- What need does my product or service fill in the global marketplace?
- What modifications, if any, must be made to adapt my product for export markets?
- Do I need special licenses or certificates from the U.S. to export, or the buyer’s government to import, the product?
- Do I need to modify packaging or labeling?
- What, if anything, do I need to protect my intellectual property?
- What is the cost to get my product to market (freight, duties, taxes and other costs)?
- Given an estimate of the shipping costs, what is my pricing strategy?
- What modifications, if any, should I make to my website for marketing purposes?
- Should I sell on third-party eCommerce platforms?
- What kinds of social media should I use to build awareness?
- Should I attend a trade show where international buyers are present?
- Are the reasons for pursuing export markets solid objectives (such as increasing sales volume or developing a broader customer base), or more frivolous (for example, the owner wants an excuse to travel)?
- How committed is top management to exporting? Is exporting viewed as a quick fix for slumping domestic sales? Will export customers be neglected if domestic sales pick up?
- What are the expectations? How quickly does management expect export operations to become self-sustaining? What level of return on investment is expected?
- In which countries has business already been conducted, or inquiries already received?
- Which product lines are talked about the most?
- Are domestic customers buying the product for sale or shipment overseas? If so, where?
- Is the trend of sales and inquiries up or down?
- Who are the main domestic and foreign competitors?
- What are some lessons learned from past export experiences?
- What in-house international expertise does the company have (international sales experience, language capabilities, etc.)?
- Who will be responsible for the export department’s organization and staff?
- How much senior management time should/could be allocated?
- What organizational structure is required to ensure export sales are adequately serviced?
- Who will follow through after the planning has been done?
- How is the present capacity being used?
- Will filling export orders hurt domestic sales?
- What about the cost of additional production?
- Are there fluctuations in the annual workload? When? Why?
- What minimum order quantity is required?
- What is required to design and package products specifically for export?
- What amount of capital can be committed to export production and marketing?
- What level of operating costs can be supported by the export department?
- How are initial expenses of export efforts to be allocated?
- What other new development plans might compete with export plans?
- By what date must an export effort pay for itself?
- Do you qualify for any type of export financing?