Exporting presents great potential, but the process of getting started can be difficult to navigate. This roadmap will help you plan a strategic path, connecting you with the resources and information you need to start exporting or maximize your exporting potential.

For first-time exporters, we recommend reviewing each step of the roadmap to learn more about the factors you should consider as you prepare to export. For current exporters, this roadmap is a detailed resource for navigating common exporting challenges and provides a guide to resources that can help you expand your international footprint.

Step 1
How do I determine my exporting potential?
Thinking through the answers to the following questions will help you to determine whether or not exporting is the right next step for your company.

Success at home

  • Are your domestic sales strong?
  • Is local demand increasing for your product and/or service?
  • Do you have the capacity to manage an increase in sales?
  • Do you have the capacity to scale-up operations?
  • Does your product and/or service fill a gap in the local market?
  • Are you receiving international requests for your product and/or service?
If you answered “yes” to the majority of these questions, we encourage you to complete our Client Assessment. Based on the results of the assessment, we’ll then connect you to the right partners and information to help you get started on the path to exporting.
Step 2
How do I assess my export readiness?
Companies that are ready-to-export typically have a firm commitment from company ownership and are prepared to handle the costs associated with exporting. These companies understand the added demands exporting will bring, have realistic expectations of exporting’s return-on-investment, are committed to working with government agencies and other partners, and accept that they may need to modify their products or services to fit new markets. Through our Client Assessment, we use the following questions to determine a company’s preparedness to export:
  • What are your current domestic marketing channels?
  • Have you received inquiries from potential buyers overseas? If so, from where?
  • Have you researched any overseas markets? If so, which one(s) and how?
  • Why do you think your product/service have potential in overseas markets?
  • What factors have prevented you from exporting until now?

Answering these questions will help you assess your company’s readiness to export.
Export.gov’s Initial Market Check can help you determine your company’s market potential.
Step 3
How do I determine licensing requirements?
Most products and/or services exported from the U.S. to foreign buyers do not require a license, but all exports are subject to U.S. government export control laws and regulations. These laws and regulations determine whether you can sell your product or service to an international buyer, what countries you can export to, and which buyers you can sell to.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security can help you determine whether or not your company needs an export license and if it is subject to Export Administration Regulations.
Step 4
How do I develop an export plan?
An export plan is a fundamental part of the exporting process that provides clarity on the correct path forward, helping you stay on track as you navigate the export ecosystem. For first-time exporters, plans need to be simple and concise, and should include objectives, perceived milestones, metrics and other pertinent details. As you work toward becoming an exporter or expanding into additional international markets, your plan should grow and adjust to reflect knowledge gained as well as new opportunities presented by different markets.

ExporTechTM is a national program that helps small and medium-sized businesses develop export plans. To learn more about the program and upcoming sessions in Illinois, please visit our page on the program or contact the ExporTech™ Program Manager.

How can primary research support my export plan?

Primary research comes from surveys, one-on-one meetings and other means of direct communication with potential customers or relevant partners. Primary research can help you gather tailored information not available through other sources, but can be expensive and time consuming to obtain.
Secondary research is information gathered from various sources, such as U.S. and foreign government trade statistics. Although secondary research is often less costly than primary research, it may not be as relevant to your company.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s “A Basic Guide to Exporting” offers strong sample export plans for companies seeking examples. Export plans should also be supplemented with both primary and secondary research to help navigate entry into new markets. These sources provide free secondary research that can help supplement export plans. These sources provide free secondary research that can help supplement export plans.
Step 5
What services are available to help me export?
There are several government agencies and non-profit organizations focused on assisting small and medium-sized business with exporting. Your company can benefit from working with the below agencies and organizations and taking advantage of the services they offer.
  • Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM) - EXIM helps facilitate exports and equips American businesses with the financing tools they need to compete for global sales.1
  • Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) - The Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC) works with Illinois-based manufacturing firms to improve their productivity and competitiveness.2 IMEC offices are located across Illinois in Bloomington, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago, DeKalb, Edwardsville, Freeport, Hoffman Estates, Naperville, Peoria, the Quad Cities, Rockford, Schaumburg and Springfield.3
  • Local International Trade Centers - Illinois International Trade Centers provide international trade and exporting assistance and offer relevant information, counseling and training. Centers are located throughout Chicago and in Aurora, Bradley, Elgin, Forest Park, Grayslake, Joliet, Lisle, McHenry, Oglesby, Schaumburg and University Park, Illinois.4
  • Local and International U.S. Commercial Services Offices - Local and international U.S. Commercial Services Offices help companies get started in exporting or increasing sales in new global markets. Local support offices are located in Chicago, Peoria and Rockford, Illinois.5
  • Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) - The Illinois Department of Commerce’s Office of Trade and Investment (OTI) opens overseas markets for companies and promotes foreign direct investment in Illinois. OTI is headquartered Chicago and has offices located in Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, and South Africa.6
  • U.S. Export Assistance Center (USEAC) - U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC) provide front-line outreach and service operations for exporters through International Trade Specialists, and are the point of entry for U.S. businesses to receive trade counseling, advocacy, market intelligence and business matchmaking services from the U.S. Commercial Service. USEACs are located in Chicago, Libertyville, Rockford and Peoria, Illinois.7
  • U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) - The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) provides financial aid and counsel to small businesses, and has local offices in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois, and more than 60 resource partners with offices located across the state.8
  • U.S. Trade Development Agency (USTDA) - The U.S. Trade Development Agency (USTDA) links U.S. businesses to export opportunities by funding project planning activities, pilot projects, and reverse trade missions. The agency has offices in Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, South Africa, Thailand, and Vietnam.9

Export Financing

1“About Us,” Export-Import Bank of the United States, July 26, 2016, http://www.exim.gov/about. 2“About IMEC,” Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, July 26, 2016, http://www.imec.org/About-IMEC.cfm. 3“State National Network,” Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, July 26, 2016, http://www.imec.org/State-National-Network.cfm. 4“SBDC International Trade Centers,” Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, July 26, 2016, http://www.illinois.gov/dceo/SmallBizAssistance/BeginHere/Pages/ITC.aspx. 5“U.S. Commercial Service,” International Trade Association, July 26, 2016, http://www.trade.gov/cs/. 6“Exports,” Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, July 26, 2016, http://www.illinois.gov/dceo/SmallBizAssistance/Export/Pages/default.aspx. 7“U.S. Export Assistance Centers,” Business USA, July 26, 2016, http://business.usa.gov/program/us-export-assistance-centers. 8“About the SBA,” U.S. Small Business Administration, July 26, 2016, https://www.sba.gov/about-sba. 9“Our Mission,” U.S. Trade and Development Agency, July 26, 2016, https://www.ustda.gov/about/mission.
Step 6
How do I determine my entry mode into international markets?
There are several considerations you’ll need to take into account when choosing one of the following four market entry modes for your company:
  • Indirect exporting – In this entry mode, exporting is conducted through domestically-based export intermediaries. Your company would have no control over your products and/or services in the foreign market.
  • Direct exporting – This entry mode involves no intermediaries and works best if your company’s product volume is small.
  • Foreign direct investment (FDI) – In this entry mode, a company based in one country would make an investment in a company or entity based in another country.
  • Licensing– In this entry mode, a licensor in a foreign market would use your property (i.e. trademark, patent, production techniques) through an international licensing agreement.
To learn more about modes of entry to new markets, please refer to Export.gov’s “The Basic Guide to Exporting.” We also recommend completing our Client Assessment which will help us determine and advise which entry mode might be most appropriate for your products and/or services.

How do I determine buyers and sellers?

There are several programs available to help identify buyers and sellers. The U.S. Department of Commerce is an excellent partner that can assist you with identifying potential leads, and each year it certifies more than 100 events in more than 23 countries in a variety of industry sectors.10 Other organizations programs that can help you connect with buyers and sellers include:
  • Business Information Database System (BIDS)
    • The Business Information Database System (BIDS) is a portal built to help U.S. businesses learn about significant international commercial opportunities. It also connects U.S. businesses to detailed information and to U.S. embassies overseas.11 Your company can use BIDS to locate new opportunities and connect with U.S. government officials in the field and to contact U.S. embassies overseas.
  • Featured U.S. Exporters Service (FUSE)
    • The U.S. Commercial Service’s Featured U.S. Exporter Service (FUSE) provides U.S. companies with a high volume, local-language promotion channel in over 60 markets worldwide and in over 15 different languages.12 Through FUSE, you can reach international prospects in their local language and drive qualified leads in your target markets.
  • Foreign Agricultural Service
    • The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) links U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security.13 The FAS provides data on U.S. agricultural exports and offers databases, forecasts and programs to support new market development and export financing.
  • Gold Key Matching Service
    • The U.S. Commercial Service’s Gold Key Matching Services can help you find potential overseas agents, distributors, sales representatives and business partners, and offers customized market and industry briefings with trade specialists and timely and relevant market research. The Service also provides companies with post-meeting debriefings with trade specialists, assists in developing appropriate follow-up strategies, and helps with travel, accommodations, interpreter services and clerical support.14
  • International Buyer Program (IBP)
    • The International Buyer Program (IBP) is a joint government-industry effort that brings thousands of international buyers to the U.S. for business-to-business matchmaking with U.S. firms exhibiting at major industry trade shows.15 The IBP helps drive new business for companies and provides opportunities to meet pre-screened buyers, representatives and distributors, as well as hands-on export counseling, market analysis, and matchmaking services by country and industry experts. 16
  • Trade Fair Certification Program
    • The U.S. Commercial Service’s Trade Fair Certification program is a cooperative arrangement between private sector trade show organizers and the U.S. government to increase U.S. exports and expand U.S. participation in overseas trade shows.17 The program helps to facilitate U.S. pavilions at selected foreign trade shows, providing high-quality, multi-faceted opportunities for American companies to successfully market overseas. 18
  • U.S. Agency for International Development
    • The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) works to create markets and trade partners for the U.S., and foster good will abroad.19 The USAID works to expand opportunities for U.S. small businesses by supporting small business participation in USAID procurements20 and by offering subcontracting opportunities for small businesses in USAID contracts.21
  • U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)
    • The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) links U.S. businesses to export opportunities by funding project planning activities, pilot projects, and reverse trade missions.22 USTDA offers opportunities for U.S. companies to expand their reach into global markets and helps to position new exporters to compete for lucrative contracts. USTDA’s events also help U.S. exporters save time and money by gathering all key officials associated with current projects in particular sectors and countries at one time. 23
  • To determine appropriate pricing for your products and/or services in international markets, you should first consider the following:
    • What type of market positioning (i.e. customer perception) do you want to convey through your pricing structure?
    • How might your product and/or service’s price reflect its quality?
    • How are your competitors’ products priced?
    • Should the price of your product and/or service differ by market segment?
    • What pricing options are available if your costs increase or decrease?
    • Is the demand in the foreign market flexible or inflexible?
  • When finalizing your product’s and/or service’s price, remember the following key steps:
    • Calculate the actual cost of your export product and/or service
    • Calculate the final consumer price of the product and/or service
    • Assess market demand and competition
    • Consider modifying your product and/or service to reduce the export price
    • Include “nonmarket” costs such as tariffs and customs fees
    • Omit cost elements that do not benefit your export function, such as domestic advertising 19

10“Chapter 6: Finding Qualified Buyers,” A Basic Guide to Exporting, July 26, 2016, http://www.export.gov/basicguide. 11“What is BIDS?” United States Department of State Business Information Database System, July 26, 2016, http://bids.state.gov/. 12“Featured U.S. Exporters,” Export.gov, July 26, 2016, http://export.gov/fuse/fuseinformation037538.asp. 13“About FAS,” USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, July 26, 2016, http://www.fas.usda.gov/about-fas. 14“The Gold Key Matching Service,” Export.gov, July 26, 2016, https://www.export.gov/Gold-Key-Service. 15“The International Buyer Program,” Export.gov, July 26, 2016, http://2016.export.gov/ibp/. 16“What is the International Buyer Program (IBP)? And is there a fee to participate?” Export.gov, November 18, 2016 https://www.export.gov/article?id=Is-there-any-fee-to-apply-to-the-International-Buyer-Program-IBP. 17“Trade Fair Certification,” Export.gov, July 26, 2016, http://2016.export.gov/ibp/eg_webcontent_022146.asp. 18“Trade Fair Cert. Program,” Export.gov, October 20, 2016, https://www.export.gov/article?id=Trade-Fair-Certification-Program. 19“Who We Are,” USAID, July 26, 2016, https://www.usaid.gov/who-we-are. 20“Small Business,” USAID, July 26, 2016, https://www.usaid.gov/work-usaid/partnership-opportunities-refresh/small-business. 21“Subcontracting Program,” USAID, July 26, 2016, https://www.usaid.gov/business/small_business/subcontracting-program. 22“Our Mission,” USTDA, July 26, 2016, https://www.ustda.gov/about/mission. 23“For U.S. Companies,” USTDA, July 26, 2016, https://www.ustda.gov/program/us-companies.
Step 7
How do I prepare my product for export?
There are several factors to consider when preparing a product/service for export – spanning from voltage standards, to medical classifications, to translation requirements. Direct contact with potential customers and sellers and primary and secondary research will help you make informed decisions about potential product and/or service modifications necessary for target markets.
  • Product adaptation
    • You may have to modify your product and/or service to conform to local government regulations, geographic and climatic conditions, buyer preferences, or standards of living. Products may also need to be modified to facilitate shipment or to compensate for possible differences in engineering and design standards.
    • Detailed information on regulations imposed by foreign countries is available through your local U.S. Commercial Service Office.
    • If you believe a foreign government imposes particularly onerous or discriminatory barriers, you may be able to obtain help to press for their removal. For more information, call (202) 395-3230 or visit https://ustr.gov/. 24
  • Engineering and redesign
    • In addition to adaptations related to cultural and consumer preferences, fundamental aspects of products may require redesign. For example, electrical standards in many foreign countries differ from those in the U.S. and also may vary even within the same country.
    • Information on foreign standards and certification systems is available from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (nist.gov).24
  • Branding, labeling and packaging
    • In addition to a product itself, international consumers may be concerned with secondary features such as packaging, warranties, and services. Take the following considerations into account before branding and labeling products for foreign markets:
      • Are international brand names important for promoting and distinguishing your product? Alternately, should local brand names or private labels be used to heighten local interest?
      • Are the colors used on labels and packages offensive or attractive to the foreign buyer?
      • If required by law or practice, can the product’s labels and instructions be produced in the market’s official or customary languages?
      • Does information on product content and the product’s country of origin need to be provided?
      • Are weights and measures listed in the local units of measurement?
      • Does each item need to be labeled individually? What language is used in labeling?
      • Are local tastes and knowledge reflected?
  • Installation
    • Another element of product preparation to consider is the ease of installing the product overseas. If required, you could consider preassembling or pretesting the product before shipping, or providing training for local service providers through the web, training seminars, or DVDs.
    • You should consider providing product information, such as training manuals, installation instructions and parts lists, in the local language.24
  • Warranties
    • Product service guarantees are important, as customers overseas typically have similarly high or even higher service expectations as U.S. customers.24

24 “Preparing Your Product for Export,” A Basic Guide to Exporting, July 28, 2016, www.export.gov/basicguide
Step 8
How do I determine international legal considerations?
To understand the international legal considerations you need to take into account before you start exporting or enter additional international markets, we encourage you to review information on the following:
Step 9
How do I assess my ability to ship?
Review the following considerations to determine what is required to ship overseas:

Is a freight forwarder required?

Freight forwarders are not always necessary, but they can help your company prepare price quotations by advising on freight costs, port charges, consular fees, costs of special documentation, and insurance costs. They can also recommend the packing methods that will best protect merchandise during transit, or they can arrange to have the merchandise packed at a port or put in containers. 24
  • Keep in mind the potential for breakage, moisture, pilferage, and excess weight when designing shipping packaging for your product.
  • Consider hiring a local professional packaging company to design an appropriate shipment method for your company.
  • Overseas buyers usually specify which export marks should appear on the cargo for easy identification by receivers.24 These markings ensure proper handling, conceal the identity of the contents, help receivers identify shipments, and ensure compliance with environmental and safety standards.
  • Before labelling your product, ask your buyer and/or your freight forwarder about what might be required.
  • What documentation is necessary for a particular transaction depends on the requirements of the U.S. government and the government of the importing country.
  • Most documentation is routine for freight forwarders and customs brokers, but exporters are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the necessary documents.
  • Be sure to consult with your freight forwarder or customs broker to ensure you are using the correct documents and providing the right amount of information.
  • Insurance provides critical protection against damaging weather conditions, rough handling by carriers, and other common cargo hazards.
  • Your shipper or freight forwarder will likely contract with an insurance company to cover the goods you export.
  • You should explore your insurance options to protect against nonpayment.24

24 “Preparing Your Product for Export,” A Basic Guide to Exporting, July 28, 2016, www.export.gov/basicguide
Step 10
How do I ensure I receive payment for my product or service?
There are many ways to receive payment for products and services sold abroad, and your choice of payment method should be based on the reliability of your buyer. We encourage you to review the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Trade Finance Guide: A Quick Reference for U.S. Exporters to learn more about what payment method might be most appropriate for your company.
If you run into challenges with receiving payment, and the amount outstanding significantly impacts your company, we recommend obtaining the assistance of your bank and your local U.S. Commercial Services Office.