Step-by-Step Guide to Exporting – Step 1 – Getting started: assessing your export potential

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The demand is out there. Canadian companies should be, too.

– Export Award Winner

Table of Contents

1.1 Exporting: what's in it for you

Canada has always been a trading nation. Exports and imports consistently account for about two thirds of the country's GDP. As the liberalization of global commerce continues, more and more Canadian companies are joining the international market every year.

Why would a company that's already doing well within Canada consider becoming an exporter? There are several good reasons to export, including:

Access export information and tools through MY TCS, an online platform for Canadian SMEs brought to you by the TCS.

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  • Read editorial content from our flagship magazine, CanadExport.
  • Select sectors and markets of interest to receive information tailored to your needs.

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Exporting has many challenges, but you can surmount them through careful preparation and planning. Among these challenges are:

Source: Adapted with permission from the Forum for International Trade Training, (FITT) Going Global.

Finding help

The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS) provides resources and contact information to help businesses with export counselling, marketing strategy information, market-entry support, export financing and in-market support.

Find other resources on the subject of exporting at the Canada Business Network.

Exporting goods versus exporting services

Exporting goods and exporting services present quite different challenges. The former must deal with packaging, customs and physical delivery, for example, while the latter confronts issues such as work permits, credential validation, language and travel to and from the market. When exporting goods it is also important to remember that there is often a service component that should be anticipated (installation, training, service, warranty, etc.).

Customer success story

Canadian businesses AND TCS working together - The TCS helped this small Moncton company to become the global leader in virtual remote sensing technology.

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1.2 Are you ready?

An export-ready business is one that has the capacity, resources and management to deliver a marketable product or service on a global scale at a competitive price. The trick is to determine whether this is true of your company—and if it isn't, how to make it happen.

Your first step is to think about the resources and knowledge your business already has. Consider the following as a starting point:

Your expectations. Do you have:

Human resource requirements. Do you have:

Financial and legal resources. Can you:

Competitiveness. Do you have:

Export myth: My company is too small to be successful at exporting

To succeed in international markets, you don't have to be a big firm. Tens of thousands of Canadian small and medium-sized companies (SMEs)—those with foreign sales of between $30,000 and $5 million—are currently exporting and are doing very well.

1.3 Evaluating your export potential

Can your product or service find a worthwhile market outside Canada?

Answering this question is crucial. If there's no demand for what you're offering, it would be unwise to proceed.


Special events like conferences, seminars or business networking sessions offer excellent opportunities to explore market potential and profit from other people's experiences with exporting.

When analyzing the export potential of your products/goods or services, you may want to account for the following considerations:

Customer profiles

Product modifications


Local representation

Exporting services



Trade commissioners can help you prepare for international markets and assess the market potential of your product/goods or service.

1.4 International business and science, technology and innovation

Historically, Canada's leading exports have been natural resources and commodities. But in a global marketplace, diversifying our exports into the area of science, technology and innovation (ST&I) is essential to maintain a robust and adaptable economy. The Government of Canada has built formal ST&I relationships and partnerships with both established and emerging innovation networks around the world. International partnerships are an essential catalyst for ST&I, as these collaborations often accelerate the pace of discovery and result in improved commercialization.

Partnerships include research and development (R&D) and the transfer of ST&I to the global market. An outward-looking approach to development will ensure that our exporters have access to leading-edge research and will ultimately lead to a higher standard of living for all Canadians.

Canada’s domestic market for many advanced technologies is relatively small. The aerospace sector, for example, can't support the full-fledged commercialization of a service or product domestically. Finding an international market or supplying companies in Global Value Chains can, therefore, be essential to an ST&I company's survival.

If your company falls into this category, you will almost inevitably have to internationalize. Remember that "internationalizing" can mean R&D collaboration with an overseas company, forming an international partnership or investing in a foreign business that complements your own.

1.5 Export quiz: Are you ready?

Want to start exporting today? Take this quiz, check your score and be sure that you are ready.

Take the Export quiz

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