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, administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s export resource page, and the Washington Small Business Development Center International Trade Specialists.

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?

Additional Resources

Need help?

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.