The first step to successfully exporting is to develop a written plan. The process of thinking through the important questions highlighted below can help you understand your business’ strengths, weaknesses and potential. This list summarizes the key steps to get you started.
For more comprehensive assistance online, visit www.export.gov, administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration or the U.S. Small Business Administration’s export resource page.
Start with the basics
- What product or service will you export?
- Is it marketable in other countries or does it need modifications?
- Does your company have the human resources, time and money to invest in exporting?
- What are your constraints?
Dive into market research
- In what foreign markets are products like yours being sold?
- Where will you have the fewest barriers (whether cultural, language, tariffs, competition)?
- What market has the most growth potential for your products?
Once you have your answers, make a list of five to ten countries, then narrow it down to no more than two or three.
Launching a product in only a few markets will help you stay focused and will make it easier to learn the process. Remember, you can always expand to new markets once you have a firm exporting foundation.
Consider different marketing strategies
- Will you market your product or service directly or indirectly?
- Would it make sense to hire an export management company or engage in piggyback marketing (distributing your products through another company)?
- Will you need to hire on-the-ground consultants to help you with translation and marketing?
Make plans to travel to meet foreign buyers or distributors
Phone calls and emails cannot compare to meeting a new business partner face to face or to getting a first-hand glance at a potential foreign market. When you meet with business partners in person, you may be surprised how many new contacts you can make. Trade shows can also be great ways to meet potential buyers, distributors and partners.
Understand the export and import regulations pertaining to your product
Does your target market have any specific requirements for labeling, packaging, etc? Understand the Harmonized Tariff Schedule so that you have a clear understanding of the tariffs and duties that may be imposed on your product in a specific foreign market.
Make transportation and logistics plans
- Will you take care of shipping and documentation yourself, or hire a freight forwarder or other third party?
- How much will it cost?
Determine the best price for your product in your target foreign market
Will transportation costs, tariffs and marketing expenses require you to charge more for the product, or will you choose to reduce your profit to gain market share?
The tools and resources listed below provide business intelligence on foreign markets that can help you narrow and refine your search and tailor your export plan. You can also talk directly with one of our trade specialists for guidance. Export Washington offers a team of dedicated specialists for the following industries – aerospace, marine technology, clean technology, advanced manufacturing and materials, information communications and technology, and life sciences and global health. Companies that produce value-added agriculture or processed foods can receive specialized assistance from the Washington State Department of Agriculture’s International Marketing Program. The program provides buyer matchmaking, marketing assistance, and in-country expertise in Japan, Taiwan, and China.
Once you’ve narrowed your target markets, incorporate your market research into your export plan. This outline of a sample outline of an export plan shows one approach that may fit your business profile.
A free research tool with 5,000 quality resources. You can search by trading bloc, country, states, or industry. Includes tutorials on how to export.
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Country Information
Find country-specific information for agricultural exports
Washington State Department of Commerce Trade Bulletins and Country Spotlights
Detailed analysis of economic trends and their impact on exporters
World Bank Business Environment Snapshots
Legal, political and business information on individual countries
World Bank Databank
A research tool that provides demographic, environmental and business information on nations
U.S. Library of Congress Country Studies
Descriptions and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world
U.S. Commercial Service Export Information by Country
Scroll down to the dropdown menu to find export information categorized by country
CIA World Fact Book
Provides information on individual countries’ history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, and military as well as transnational issues
Offers simple ways to graphically compare nations. Provides information on countries’ geography, demographics, economy, military, government and culture
U.S. Export Assistance Center Market Research Guide
A step-by-step research guide and market research library
USDA Export & Market Research Data
Access to USDA Foreign Agricultural Service research databases
Provides objective measures of business regulations in 183 nations and selected cities. Offers economy snapshots and ranks nations and cities based on business indicators
The world leader in strategy research for consumer markets. Offers market research information on countries, products and industries
Trade Data and Statistics
U.S. International Trade Administration TradeStats Express
The latest annual and quarterly international trade data
USA Trade Online
Access current and cumulative U.S. export and import data for over 18,000 export commodities and 24,000 import commodities (subscription fee charged)
USITC Interactive Tariff and Trade DataWeb
Provides international trade statistics and U.S. tariff data including import statistics, export statistics, tariffs, future tariffs and tariff preference information
United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database
Database of national import and export statistics
WISER (World Institute for Strategic Economic Research) Trade Data
Offers high-quality trade statistis, data and technical support for exporters, researchers and trade service providers (subscription fee charged)
Offers easy, affordable access to the world’s largest searchable database of import-export trade in the US, Latin America, the EU, and Asia (subscription fee charged)
Most comprehensive database of U.S. waterborne trade activity in the world that provides accurate and reliable import and export information on cargoes moving through ports in the United States, Latin America and Asia (subscription fee charged).
Undertaking exporting for the first time can be a daunting task, but low and no-cost programs through local, state, and federal resources make the process more manageable.
The links below can help you get grounded in the basics so you can develop an effective export plan.
U.S. Export Assistance Center’s Basic Guide to Exporting
A comprehensive overview of how to export
USDA Export Resources
Export tools, information, products and services for agricultural exporters
Washington State Small Business Development Centers
Free expert business advising, management training, market research, and one-on-one technical assistance. The SBDC network operates in partnership with Washington State higher education institutions, including community colleges, Washington State University, and Western Washington University.
Help for manufacturers who want to increase profits through growth services, workforce development, workflow efficiency, and market penetration and expansion, particularly through exports. Sponsors ExporTech program, a fee-based, three-day training over three months with individual coaching that focuses on strategic export plan development to accelerate a company’s ability to achieve international sales.
Access free export training webinars that deliver concise and accurate international trade information to help businesses safely develop export sales regardless of location, resources, or time.
University of Washington Export Resource Guide
This comprehensive guide, developed by MBA students at the UW Foster School of Business, provides a technical overview of the exporting process and links to dozens of direct-assistance organizations and reference documents.
Workshops, classes, and certificate programs
Opportunities for advancing your knowledge of exporting and international trade abound in Washington State. Check with the state university or community college in your area for a current list of classes and workshops.
Once you have developed a workable export plan and have selected the country you want to target, we can help you find those important first contacts with potential buyers, resellers, and strategic partners.
Traveling overseas to meet with potential buyers, distributors and partners is usually well worth the time and effort. Although less effective, if travel is out of reach, you can take advantage of opportunities closer to home to make important contacts in your target market. Networking with industry contacts and trade associations can help you put together an initial list of potential overseas agents and distributors.
You can find more resources below that can help you discover and connect with customers and partners overseas. The U.S. Department of Commerce, private companies and consultants also offer business matchmaking services for a fee. For Washington State businesses, the Washington State Department of Commerce offers free market access counseling through our industry trade specialists and network of foreign representatives.
Industry trade specialists
Connect with industry trade specialists who can help you develop a market access plan and make business contacts in your target market.
Connect with trade experts on the ground in Europe, China, India, Japan, Mexico and Taiwan who represent Washington State businesses.
Washington State Department of Agriculture International Marketing Program
Connects Washington State agricultural exporters with foreign buyers.
U.S. Export Assistance Center
Talk with a U.S. Export Assistance Center trade specialist.
Washington State Small Business Development Centers
Offers free expert business advising, management training, market research and one-on-one technical assistance.
USDA Foreign Agricultural Service Market Development & Access Programs
List of USDA programs to help agricultural exporters reach new markets.
A comprehensive B2B database, with more than three million international and domestic companies listed, which link buyers and sellers worldwide.
The largest database of international companies that provides in-depth information on company executives, financial data, corporate family structures and contact information (subscription fee charged)
Offers the ability to search by particular product or service or by suppliers and buyers in about 20 countries worldwide
Assistance by country or region
Japan External Trade Organization
Helps U.S. companies expand to Japan at no cost
Japan America Society of the State of Washington
Promotes Japan–Washington State trade, business and cultural activities
Hong Kong Association of Washington
The hub for business opportunities and informational exchange between Hong Kong, China and Washington State
French-American Chamber of Commerce
Supports French and American companies with their trade needs
African Chamber of Commerce
Promotes bilateral trade and investment relationships between Africa and the Pacific Northwest of the United States
Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce
Helps American businesses explore opportunities in Norway
British American Business Council
Brings together Pacific Northwest businesses interested in trade with the U.K.
Encourages business relationships between American and Canadian businesses.
Washington State China Relations Council
Promotes stronger commercial, educational, and cultural relations between the state of Washington and China
Related export service providers
Washington State Bar Association Lawyer Directory
Find a lawyer with expertise in international business or trade
Northwest Translators & Interpreters Society
Find a translator or interpreter
Contact the Export Assistance team at 206-256-6100.
Want to intern with us?
We are always looking for students who want to do an unpaid internship with us to get valuable ‘real world’ skills in trade, business development, marketing and economic development.
If you’re interested in applying, visit the internship application page for more information.