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Since you first considered exporting, it’s been quite a journey through the nuts and bolts of entering international markets. Now you need to put everything together in one document—your export plan.

Active ImageBy the time you reach this stage in the export process, you’ve pretty much done the hard yards. You’ve investigated all aspects of exporting, explored your export capability (including finalising finance and any logistical requirements for your product or service), and you’ve researched, chosen and visited your target market. Putting everything you’ve researched and discovered together into one document, your export plan, is the last practical step before you begin regular exporting.

According to Gary Cronin, Sydney director of export consultancy firm Exportise, an export plan fits within your general business plan, and sums up the business’s approach to export. It functions as a reference point within the business as it exports. "Generally it would be an internal document used for the purpose of your own business’s activity. So, when issues arise, you can address those issues," he explains.

You might also show your plan to your export agent, if you’re using one, to double-check your marketing approach and to see if your financial expectations are realistic. And it may be necessary to show it to your bank or financial institution.

Following our step-by-step process, you’ll find you have already done a lot of the groundwork for your export plan. The third part of the export process involved creating a corporate profile, and this helped work out your business’s export readiness. This profile can now be used in your export plan as background information about your business, your products or services, and your export capability.

Analysing your export readiness also included coming up with an export statement, explaining why you intend to export, how you’ll manage it, and what you want to achieve. Now is the time to re-visit that statement and ensure it’s still valid and up to date. With all you’ve learned and experienced since that part of the process, it’s quite likely you will have some amendments to make.

So, what else makes up the content on an export plan? "Certainly a budget," says Cronin, "so that you can actually see whether exporting is financially viable for your business." He also recommends including market research, marketing strategies and details of the business’s competitive advantage. And a breakdown of your activities. "How you’re going to administer your export, what your terms of trade are, what transaction models you’re going to use for payment." Other inclusions should be relevant contracts and, if you’re dealing with intellectual property, the associated documents in that area, such as confidentiality agreements. Anything that explains how your export fits within your overall business model should be recorded in your plan.

Export Planning Guides

A good starting point for creating your plan can be found at the New South Wales Department of State and Regional Development (DSRD) website (www.smallbiz.nsw.gov.au). DSRD’s online Export Planning Guide includes a sample outline of an export plan. There’s also a helpful checklist of questions that should be addressed when creating an export plan.

Once you’ve drafted your plan, it is a good idea to have someone else review it, says Cronin. "There may be issues you haven’t considered that become quite important. Whether they’re issues you’ve just missed or, particularly if you’re new to export, issues that don’t exist in a domestic market situation."

Although export consultants like Exportise are a good resource, Cronin points to other agencies who can help revise your export plan, such as industry associations and state and regional government bodies. You may also want to run separate sections of the plan past appropriate people, such as taking your financial details to an accountant. And although Austrade doesn’t specifically provide a service to review export plans, they can certainly be a good resource when creating one, he says.

If you are exporting to more than one market, you may need to tailor parts of your export plan. "Certain things, like your administration and your export capability won’t change, but your financials and your marketing will be quite different for each market," Cronin says. "Obviously the freight costs can be more, or tariffs can be higher in different markets. There’s a range of things that will vary from market to market."

Executive Summary

The last, but perhaps most important part of any export plan, is an executive summary. Although this should be written after the rest of the document has been finalised, it should be at the front of your export plan, and not take up more than one or two pages. "You always need an executive summary in an export or business plan," says Cronin. It is the only part of the document some people will read. It sums up the important parts of the export plan, such as key financial figures, and what you’re intending to achieve and how. An internet search on how to write one brings up several online examples, templates, and guides that can help.

Because your export plan is often used internally, Cronin also suggests the executive summary can play a big part in keeping your staff up to date across the business: "So they know what the company’s strategy is when they’re entering the export market, and they’re aware of what the business is trying to achieve by going into export."

It may seem like a lot of content, but businesses shouldn’t be intimidated or go overboard preparing it, Cronin advises. "If it’s too detailed, you spend more time on the plan than you do concentrating on the business." A typical plan should be about 10 to 20 pages, and even when completed doesn’t have to be set it stone. You should review the plan, along with performance, as you go. "That may be a matter of revising your plan after six months or 12 months and comparing the budget to what you actually achieve," Cronin says.

In the end, it’s not really all about having just a finished document. The process of creating your export plan will consolidate all the hard work and research you’ve done beforehand, and simplify and confirm your approach to the business’s export journey. "The final plan itself is a good document, but the exercise itself is probably more valuable."

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