Man speaking at conference event

Seven steps to making a GREAT export plan

Duncan Hoyland, Export Coordinator Sheffield City Region, Department for International Trade

I recently participated in a fantastic event in Sheffield with nearly 100 new exporters sharing ideas and gaining tips on improving their international sales. They came from businesses of all shapes and sizes, but they had one thing in common; to make international trade an engine of growth for their business.

The most important thing a business can do to grow internationally is create an export plan. It sounds simple but I cannot overstate how beneficial this kind of strategic thinking can be.

An export plan should detail the decisions you’ve made based on your market research, your objectives and how you plan to achieve them. A well-structured plan will make sure you’ve thought about all the possibilities, chosen a logical way forward and set targets to keep you on track. Here are some of the key steps to creating an export plan that suits your business.

1. Establish your objectives 

Before you even begin to write a plan, you should think about your overall objectives for your business.

Assess your current level of success. Ask yourself whether it’s in line with your expectations and establish the significant events or decisions made which have contributed to your current position. Next think about your hopes and goals for your company in 5 or 10 years’ time and identify the options available to you which might help you achieve these goals, including exporting.

2. Review your resources

Include in your plan how much expenditure you can allocate to export related activity such as overseas market visits, translation of brochures and website, exhibition costs, legal fees for agent/distributor agreements and training of in-market partners. West Yorkshire based chocolatiers, Coeur de Xocolat were able to use an Exporting for Growth grant to offset the cost of flights for a trade visit to Haiti.

You should also consider the availability and experience of staff who will handle export related enquiries and documentation or undertake market visits and determine whether further recruitment and training will be required.

3. Select your market(s)

Define your target markets and the reasons why they have been selected. To do this you can consider a range of potential overseas markets, and then select a few or a region for further investigation, based on sound market research. International Trade Adviser, Simon Bedford recommends using the below diagram to compare markets via product demand and business ease.

4. Critique your product or service’s features

This should be based on your market research. You’ll want to ensure your product or service is attractive to customers and stands out from the competition. Be aware of any changes you’ll need to make, including compliance with technical standards in the market. Ensure response, reliability, and delivery – you’ll need staff capacity and production capability to meet customer expectations.

Quality Bearings Online (pictured above) spent time working on the back of their website to remove the barriers overseas customers faced when placing orders. There are simple things that you can do quickly like putting a +44 on your phone number.

5. Assess your costs and pricing

Consider the additional costs involved in selling into overseas markets taking into account currency, payment terms, freight and carriage charges, import duties and taxes and commission to partners. Establish a target price in the overseas market to the end user.

6. Think about your approach 

Establish how you’ll sell your product or service. There are several options that may be suitable for your business. You may want to sell directly to end users, sell via wholesalers or retailers, use partners (agent/distributor), set up a local office or enter into a joint venture. You can compare the options available to you on the Department for International Trade’s GREAT website.

7. Plan for market development

Whether the objective is to sell directly or via partners, your plan should cover how you’re going to develop your product or service once exporting into your chosen markets. Will you undertake overseas market visits and how frequent will they be? How will you communicate with key contacts such as clients and partners and how often will you do this? How will you continually promote your brand? You should also consider opportunities the market holds for further expansion such as strong trade links with neighboring markets, and build these into your plan for growth.

The Department for International Trade is here to help you locally and in over 100 markets around the world. Our expert partners are carefully chosen to ensure your business needs are exceeded. To find out more visit