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Online exporting: 5 steps to get your business ready

You’ll be competing against the best in international e-commerce

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High-speed connectivity, user-friendly software and easy transportation have reduced the barriers to finding and selling to foreign customers via the Internet. Yet many companies still don’t know how to adapt their business for online exporting.

Here are five steps to make sure you’re on the right track to success selling abroad over the Internet.

1. Master e-commerce fundamentals

Maybe you’re already exporting through traditional means, selling online in Canada or just thinking about an e‑commerce strategy.

Regardless of where you are in the process, you have to keep in mind that your international e‑commerce efforts need to be top notch because you’ll be competing against the best in the world.

To succeed, you will have to create a seamless customer experience from your branding and website design to your shipping and return policy, or people will simply choose one of your competitors—they’re only a click away.

2. Walk before you run

When you’re learning the basics, it’s best to start small so you can work out the kinks in your e‑commerce operation without putting undue pressure on your business or tarnishing your brand.

“Going too fast is a common mistake,” says Chris O’Shea, Senior Business Advisor, BDC Advisory Services. “If you’ve never done e commerce, you need to work at learning it.”

O’Shea recommends starting with a few top‑selling products that you know you can keep in stock and ship with ease. Test each step in your processes to buy, ship and handle returns before going live. When your e‑commerce operation is a well‑oiled machine, you can expand to offer more products to more markets.

3. Know your clients

The Internet has reduced obstacles to entering foreign markets, theoretically giving you access to billions of new customers. But don’t just sell to anyone who knocks on your door.

Be strategic in choosing the best markets for your products and your company’s resources. Target a country or region where you will have the best chances of success in terms of finding customers and shipping products at affordable costs.

For example, Kicking Horse Coffee started exporting to the U.S. west coast, a region that has a strong coffee culture and is close to its factory in Invermere, B.C.

Research your market to help you understand what prospective customers want.

  • Get to know their culture, purchasing habits and the price they’re willing to pay.
  • Consider adapting your website’s language, content, and colour palette.
  • You might even have to adapt your product for a foreign clientele. For example, it might be a question of adjusting the size or shape of the packaging or labelling.
  • What is the competition doing. Do they have similar products? How are they selling online?

4. Find out about international regulations

Get familiar with regulatory requirements for selling abroad. You’ll also want to explore different distribution options to maximize efficiency and reduce costs.

Customs fees, duties and taxes

Learn the basics of shipping abroad and what needs to be done to get packages through customs. Be explicit about regulations in your terms and conditions.

International shipping costs

There are many options here. Learn when to economize and when to pay extra for speed and service. The key is to negotiate with different carriers, freight forwarders and brokers.

Drop shipping

Instead of keeping goods in stock and shipping them yourself, it might be more effective to “drop ship” them—transferring orders and shipment details to your manufacturer or wholesaler and have them ship directly to your customer.

5. Monitor your progress

Always monitor your website traffic to see whether visitors are doing what you expect. Web analytics tools will help you measure whether you’re reaching your goals.

Monitoring and measuring your results is a crucial step in what should be a continuous cycle of improvement: Take action, measure the results, tweak your strategy and then do it again.

For more information and resources, visit the websites of Export Development Canada, the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service and the Canada Border Services Agency as well as the exporting page of the Canada Business Network.

Also, download your free copy of BDC’s free eBook Succeed with e‑Commerce: A Guide for Entrepreneurs.

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