Here are some tips from Canadian trade experts and a successful exporting entrepreneur

If you are an Ontario business considering expanding your business through trade here is some sound advice taken from a recent webinar called Going Global – How to Grow Your Business Beyond Canada and one-on-one interviews with its panelists.

Hosted and moderated by Andrew Patricio of Bizlaunch, webinar panelists, Ali Lajevardi of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), Gwenaele Montagner of the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s World Trade Centre (WTC) Toronto, Jo Anne Elsbury founder of La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces Inc. and Devon Franklin of Magnet Export Business Portal provide these tips:

1. Treat expansion in the same way you originally started the business.

Ali Laievardi of BDC, which helps organizations understand their trade potential and works with them to select their market and support the development of their entry plan and provides financing options, says “when looking to expand your business beyond Canadian borders, handle it as you would a new venture. You will need as much bandwidth as you did when first launching your business. If you don’t have that time, appoint someone to lead the expansion or get help from external experts. Sustaining a successful international business is as important as identifying an expansion opportunity. It’s important to be innovative, competitive and profitable in a target market over time. Successful exporters lead their locally-focused peers both in revenue and profit growth, as they embrace this challenge in its entirety”

2. Don’t assume you understand new markets based on your current market or previous success.

Jo Anne Elsbury, founder of La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces Inc, which has grown to be listed in more than 400 stores in Canada and abroad including at Wegmans in the U.S., advises, “do as much research as possible and, if you can, visit the markets yourself. People in your backyard may love your product, but that may not be the case elsewhere.” She cites one experience she had while considering expanding sales to Denmark. “Glass food containers are not commonly used in Denmark, which I hadn’t realized, so expansion to this market requires new lids, packaging and more.”

Laievardi says, “when considering expanding to a new market, don’t assume you know the market. Repeat the same steps you took when identifying your first market with the understanding that other markets may have different audiences and is a new space; deep research, validating assumptions and true market understanding are keys to success.”

3. Utilize trade and export programs or resources. Many are free and easy to access.

Recently, the Ministry of International Trade and Magnet partnered to launch a first of its kind, free online business growth resource called the Magnet Export Business Portal. The free online web-based platform helps businesses maximize international market potential by helping connect Ontario exporters with the tools and relevant export resources, funding and information they need to grow their business. Project Manager at Magnet, Devon Franklin says, “time is money and scouring the Internet for the right kind of information to meet your trade needs can take up valuable resources. By signing up with the Magnet Business Export Portal, organizations can gain instant access to the right export programs, funding opportunities that meet the organization’s pre-defined goals as noted upon joining. It only takes a few minutes to register – and it’s free.

There are also learning programs for SMEs looking to scale up.  Gwenaele Montagner of the Toronto Region Board of Trade’s World Trade Centre Toronto (WTC-T) points to the availability of export readiness education programs and workshops which have helped hundreds of businesses expand including Jo Anne Elsbury’s La Dee Da Gourmet Sauces. “Not knowing where to start is a common challenge for companies when considering going global,” advises Montagner. “No matter what your stage of export growth, WTC can help you during your journey.” For those just starting out you may want to consider Trade 101, if you are ready to build your strategic export plan, the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP) provides resources and coaching through a hands-on workshop and the Market Activation Program (MAP) gets you to market through inbound and outbound trade missions. “The TAP program accelerated our ability to understand how trade works which gave us the confidence to expand, says Elsbury. “It gave me the personal confidence I needed to realize my expansion goals.”

4. Don’t give up on your dreams.

“Dreaming about expanding your business is really exciting,” says successful entrepreneur Jo Anne Elsbury. “We sometimes forget as entrepreneurs once we are into the day to day work to dream. That feeling of accomplishing your dream is so rewarding and goes a long way to achieving your goal.”

“Exporting can increase sales, diversify your markets, enhance competitiveness and innovation and allow you to participate in global value and supply chains,” says Magnet’s Franklin. Supports and resources are available to realize your dreams.