When it comes to Exporting 101, the importance of diversification can’t be stressed enough, especially since Canada is a relatively small market. To grow, many Canadian companies diversify their customer base by expanding sales from Canada to the world, with many starting in the U.S. But the financial collapse of 2008 showed Canadian exporters how important it is to expand their buyer base beyond our southern border.

There are other benefits to diversification, as my colleague, Todd Evans, Director of the Corporate Research Department at Export Development Canada (EDC) has summed up: “Diversifying the destination of sales or investment is key to mitigating risks to economic, financial or political events,” he says.

To sell globally, it makes sense to start in markets that will serve as springboards to other markets. Europe, with which Canada has a free-trade agreement, would be an example of a market with many possibilities.

Get on-the-ground exporting help

Now that you know why you should get out there, you need to devise a good export strategy, part of which should include weighing the value of getting on-the-ground help. The benefits are many, as you’ll have a local person who knows the inner workings and cultural intricacies of your new market. But how do you go about finding that person? Attending trade shows for your industry is one good way to go. Foreign sales representatives often attend these events and it’ll give you a chance to meet them face-to-face and assess their integrity and even their sales talent because they’ll be selling themselves to you.

Another reliable option is to get in touch with the Trade Commissioner Service of the federal government (Global Affairs Canada), which gives advice to existing and aspiring exporters. In its 161 offices around the world, the service has exporting experts in both established and emerging markets. They can help you in a number of ways, from providing first-hand knowledge of the market to connecting you to local business contacts and potential customers.

Finally, contacting your industry’s trade associations can be a good way to get hooked up with an on-the-ground sales representative. Remember to reach out to your network as well. Some exporters – even the competition occasionally – will be willing to share their insights on working in certain countries.

Partnering with a larger Canadian company – by contributing to their supply chain, for example – is another way to reduce risk, leverage the larger company’s expertise and improve success when exporting, especially if it’s your first time.

Get it now get expert advice on trade complexities

Of course, diversifying into other markets means some of your business activities will no long be as familiar. For example, understanding the language in trade agreements is complex and, while it’s important for you to read them, it’s often difficult to understand the legal nuances. Hiring a trade consultant or a trade lawyer is therefore a good strategy. They will know the ins and outs of concepts such as “rules of origin,” incoterms, customs laws and tariffs. (You’ll find some exporters’ questions answered by trade lawyer John Boscariol here.) Ultimately, trade lawyers and trade experts are trained to simplify the language of such documents – as well as contracts – so you can more easily understand them.

Legal, consulting and credit-reporting firms are also worth consulting when you’re conducting due diligence on would-be foreign buyers, but start with the Trade Commissioner Service, which may be able to answer all of your questions. Its trade teams are familiar with local business conditions as well.

Bank on brand Canada

Canada has a great international reputation — something that successful Canadian exporters harness and use to their advantage. Just as travelers sew Canadian flags on their backpacks, you should find a way to tell the world your product or service is Canadian.

Ways to wave your Canadian flag include co-branding by joining forces with other Canadian companies at trade shows; striking partnerships with multinational companies that will help raise your profile; leveraging Canadian resources abroad; and using the media and your own marketing machinery to tell your story.

5 of the best resources for exporters

As you think about diversifying your markets beyond Canada or the U.S., remember that you never have to go it alone. There are plenty of exporting guides and resources to help you. Here are some to get you started.

1. Provincial organizations that help businesses at any stage of their journey:

2. Provincial agencies that help companies export:

3. Trade Commissioner Service
The TCS guides are very good for new exporters, especially Step-by-Step Guide to Export, Exporting to the United States and Exporting to the European Union. You can find them here.)

4. Industry, trade and business associations – The federal government has a directory of all business and trade associations.

5. The Canadian Border Services Agency and their guide on steps to follow to export.


Of course, EDC is a great resource for Canadian businesses in all stages of exporting. Subscribe to our Trade Insights newsletter for trade information that will help you make smarter exporting decisions!