STEP 4.4

Building a network from afar
Building your export network

“In some cases, it’s a lot more critical than in others (to visit your market). There are countries where the information flows freely, where the business environment is very transparent, where it’s very similar to Canada. In this case, it might be easier to do business remotely,” said Trade Commissioner Carl Pilon.

Pilon continued, “There are other cases where there’s a market that’s very different from Canada, where business decisions are based on a personal relationship, and a visit would be a lot more important. I would argue though, that any in-market visit is very useful if it’s planned right.”

Deciding how much face time you need to spend in your market depends on a multitude of factors, and it really is something that needs to be decided on a case by case basis. Generally speaking though, if the business culture is built on personal relationships and trust needs to be cultivated before agreements can be reached, you have to be there, often.

On the other hand, in places like the U.S. and Canada, where both the business culture and operating procedures are similar to those in Canada, a lot of the legwork can be done over the phone or through email. This doesn’t mean that in-market visits are never required, but there is a lot more that can be done remotely as opposed to other areas of the world.

Building your network from afar may seem like a cheaper, less-labour intensive and time-consuming alternative to burning through frequent flyer miles, but it still requires attention and diligence.

One of the most efficient, cost-effective and convenient ways to build your market remotely is through e-commerce.


Our Trade Commissioner’s Service says that e-commerce is an essential approach for both large and small businesses . This doesn’t mean that every aspect of your business needs to move online, but in 2017 having at least a some web presence is important to success. Selling online or even promoting your products online can increase efficiency, productivity and lower your costs. If these benefits aren’t motivation enough, consider the fact that your competitors are most likely reaping the rewards of an online presence.

Having a working website or presence on an online market place is especially important to exporters.

Even if you want to sell directly to customers in a new market the old fashioned way, by setting up brick and mortar retail stores or indirectly through agents or distributors, a web presence can help promote your brand and let customers in your target market know who you are, where you will be setting up shop, and what you will be offering.

For those who don’t want to share their profits with outside sales help or intermediaries, or don’t want to swallow the financial costs and the risk of setting up new stores, selling exclusively online is a totally viable option, and something more and more exporters are doing.

There are some markets where e-commerce is particular lucrative. China boats a population of online shoppers larger than the entire population of the U.S., and that number is rising. You can gain a foothold in the Chinese market online for a lot less hassle then setting up retail locations in Beijing or Shanghai.

In tech-obsessed, increasingly interconnected nations like China, e-commerce is becoming the best way to reach consumers, and in almost every country on Earth, it presents a viable alternative to more traditional methods.

By selling online you can:

  • Find customers you wouldn’t otherwise have access to
  • Do business 24/7
  • Build brand awareness and build a flexible advertising strategy
  • Access new markets at a low cost
  • Monitor sales in real time to understand customer trends and habits and analyse demographics, market characteristics and competitors
  • Reduce the time it takes to deliver important information to customers
  • Provide a faster response to customer inquiries and problems
  • Process orders more efficiently

As with a brick and mortar retail experience, your web presence must be customized to the region or country you are trying to sell into.

If English is not the first language in the market, translating your web pages into the native language may be crucially important (depending on how widely English is spoken or understood). In some markets you can get away with only translating only the most important pages on your site. This can help save money, as translation is a pricey service.

Accepting payment in local currency (or U.S. dollars in certain markets) will make things a lot easier for your potential customers as well.

You can set up online payments through third-party credit card processing companies, online fund transfer services and prepaid credit card services. Be sure to find out what the most popular and user-friendly methods are in your target market, and most importantly, what’s available in that market.

If you choose to sell through an online market place, setting up payment options is already taken care of, but these retail portals will take a cut of your sales, and your products will be sold directly alongside competitors’.

If you are developing a standalone sales site or a storefront connected to an ecommerce portal, it might advantageous to host your website in the country you want to sell into. This can make load times for customers much faster and ensure the experience of using your site is as painless as possible. In some countries, firewalls and other connectivity barriers make hosting locally and registering a local domain essential.

When building your export sales site, it’s advisable to seek the help of a website development firm. Unless you have exemplary in-house IT resources at your disposal, leave the engineering and design to the professionals. Any hiccups that can’t be resolved quickly will end up costing you money in the long run, so spend the cash up front to get the job done right the first time.

Social Media

Social media is also a powerful tool for selling online as well, particularly if you are trying engage an audience in a foreign market.

Before you commit to a strategy, do some research and find out who your demographic is and what social media channels they use.

Once you’ve decided on a platform or platforms to invest in, set up an informal schedule for when and in what form you will provide updates. Make this schedule flexible enough to accommodate big news and announcements that are out of the ordinary. You need to be providing updates regularly, or you’ll lose engagement with your customers.

In terms of the type of content you should be sharing, it’s wise to focus more on engagement, entertainment and educating people about your products. The sales will come in time, but you need to establish a positive connection between you and your customers, and you do that by being interesting or funny or compelling, not being pushy.

Source: TCS


Getting your products from Canada to an overseas destination is always a challenge, but if you sell online through an e-market place the leg work can be done for you. Firms like Alibaba and Amazon have their own fulfillment networks, and taking advantage of these services can eliminate much of the hassle and cost of shipping your goods. These firms will act as your freight carriers and ensure your goods get to where they need to go, dealing with the regulatory and logistical challenges of international shipping on your behalf.

Some e-commerce firms will even buy your goods directly and sell them on their portals, taking full ownership of the merchandise once it changes hands.

If you elect to sell your goods through a standalone site, hiring a freight forwarder is a wise decision. Alternatively, using a shipping firm with international reach that can get your goods the whole way to your destination can make things a lot easier.

More information on shipping can be found in sections 5.1.3 and 5.1.4.

B2B E-Commerce

The first thing most people think of when e-commerce comes to mind is selling to consumers. However, the internet is a large, robust and efficient space to facilitate business to business transactions across international boarders.

There is a wide variety of platforms that connect buyers and sellers of manufactured goods, raw materials and components in different countries. These portals often provide request for quotation services that allow you to advertise what you need and the exact quantity, as opposed to searching through pages and pages of results.

B2B e-commerce portals can provide a fast and efficient way not only to sell your goods but to buy the products and materials you need to operate. You may find that sourcing the goods you need to run your business from a different country may cut down on costs dramatically.

More Information

Learn more about e-commerce strategies TCS’s helpful guide on e-commerce.

BDC also has helpful resources on getting started in e-commerce and using social media to sell.

The Canada Business Network also has useful resources on e-commerce.


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