How to write a business plan for an import-export company?

import-export company business plan

Creating a business plan for an import-export company is an essential process for any entrepreneur. It serves as a roadmap that outlines the necessary steps to be taken to start or grow the business, the resources required, and the anticipated financial outcomes. It should be crafted with method and confidence.

This guide is designed to provide you with the tools and knowledge necessary for creating an import-export company business plan, covering why it is so important both when starting up and running an established business, what should be included in your plan, how it should be structured, what tools should be used to save time and avoid errors, and other helpful tips.

We have a lot to cover, so let's get to it!

In this guide:

Why write a business plan for an import-export company?

  • What information is needed to create a business plan for an import-export company?
  • What goes in the financial forecast for an import-export company?
  • What goes in the written part of an import-export company business plan?
  • What tool can I use to write my import-export company business plan?

Understanding the document's scope and goals will help you easily grasp its structure and content. Before diving into the specifics of the plan, let's take a moment to explore the key reasons why having an import-export company business plan is so crucial.

To have a clear roadmap to grow the business

It's rarely business as usual for small businesses. The economy follows cycles where years of growth are followed by recessions, and the business environment is always changing with new technologies, new regulations, new competitors, and new consumer behaviours appearing all the time...

In this context, running a business without a clear roadmap is like driving blindfolded: it's dangerous at best. That's why writing a business plan for an import-export company is essential to create successful and sustainable businesses.

To write an effective business plan, you will need to take stock of where you are (if you are already in business) and where you want the business to go in the next three to five years.

Once you know where you want your import-export company to be, you'll have to identify:

  • what resources (human, equipment, and capital) are needed to get there,
  • at what pace the business needs to progress to get there in time,
  • and what risks you'll face along the way.

Going through this process regularly is beneficial, both for startups and existing companies, as it helps make informed decisions about how best to allocate resources to ensure the long-term success of the business.

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To get visibility on future cash flows

If your small import-export company runs out of cash: it's game over. That's why we often say "cash is king", and it's crucial to have a clear view of your import-export company's future cash flows.

So, how can you achieve this? It's simple - you need to have an up-to-date financial forecast.

The good news is that your import-export company business plan already includes a financial forecast (which we'll discuss further in this guide). Your task is to ensure it stays current.

To accomplish this, it's essential to regularly compare your actual financial performance with what was planned in your financial forecast. Based on your business's current trajectory, you can make adjustments to the forecast.

By diligently monitoring your import-export company's financial health, you'll be able to spot potential financial issues, like unexpected cash shortfalls, early on and take corrective actions. Moreover, this practice will enable you to recognize and capitalize on growth opportunities, such as excess cash flow enabling you to expand to new locations.

To secure financing

A detailed business plan becomes a crucial tool when seeking financing from banks or investors for your import-export company.

Investing and lending to small businesses are very risky activities given how fragile they are. Therefore, financiers have to take extra precautions before putting their capital at risk.

At a minimum, financiers will want to ensure that you have a clear roadmap and a solid understanding of your future cash flows (like we just explained above). But they will also want to ensure that your business plan fits the risk/reward profile they seek.

This will off-course vary from bank to bank and investor to investor, but as a rule of thumb. Banks will want to see a conservative financial management style (low risk), and they will use the information in your business plan to assess your borrowing capacity — the level of debt they think your business can comfortably handle — and your ability to repay the loan. This evaluation will determine whether they'll provide credit to your import-export company and the terms of the agreement.

Whereas investors will carefully analyze your business plan to gauge the potential return on their investment. Their focus lies on evidence indicating your import-export company's potential for high growth, profitability, and consistent cash flow generation over time.

Now that you recognize the importance of creating a business plan for your import-export company, let's explore what information is required to create a compelling plan.

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Information needed to create a business plan for an import-export company

Drafting an import-export company business plan requires research so that you can project sales, investments and cost accurately in your financial forecast, and convince the reader that there is a viable commercial opportunity to be seized.

Below, we'll focus on three critical pieces of information you should gather before starting to write your plan.

Carrying out market research for an import-export company

Before you begin writing your business plan for an import-export company, conducting market research is a critical step in ensuring precise and realistic financial projections.

Market research grants you valuable insights into your target customer base, competitors, pricing strategies, and other crucial factors that can impact the success of your business.

In the course of this research, you may stumble upon trends that could impact your import-export company.

Your market research might reveal that your import-export company could experience increased demand for certain products, due to changing consumer preferences. Additionally, it might reveal that customers may increasingly prefer online purchasing, so your company could benefit from investing in e-commerce capabilities.

Such market trends play a pivotal role in revenue forecasting, as they provide essential data regarding potential customers' spending habits and preferences.

By integrating these findings into your financial projections, you can provide investors with more accurate information, enabling them to make well-informed decisions about investing in your import-export company.

Developing the marketing plan for an import-export company

Before delving into your import-export company business plan, it's imperative to budget for sales and marketing expenses.

To achieve this, a comprehensive sales and marketing plan is essential. This plan should provide an accurate projection of the necessary actions to acquire and retain customers.

Additionally, it will outline the required workforce to carry out these initiatives and the corresponding budget for promotions, advertising, and other marketing endeavours.

By budgeting accordingly, you can ensure that the right resources are allocated to these vital activities, aligning them with the sales and growth objectives outlined in your business plan.

The staffing and capital expenditure requirements of an import-export company

Whether you are starting or expanding an import-export company, it is important to have a clear plan for recruitment and capital expenditures (investment in equipment and real estate) in order to ensure the success of the business.

Both the recruitment and investment plans need to be coherent with the timing and level of growth planned in your forecast, and require appropriate funding.

The staffing costs for an import-export company might include wages for employees, such as sales representatives, administrative staff, and customer service personnel. The company may also need to pay for any necessary training or certifications for employees. Equipment costs may include computers, phones, and other office equipment, as well as vehicles for transporting goods. Additionally, the company may need to purchase software to help manage their operations, or specialized equipment for handling or storing goods.

In order to create a realistic financial forecast, you will also need to consider the other operating expenses associated with running the business on a day-to-day basis (insurance, bookkeeping, etc.). 

Once you have all the necessary information to create a business plan for your import-export company, it is time to start creating your financial forecast.

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What goes into your import-export company's financial forecast?

The financial forecast of your import-export company will enable you to assess the profitability potential of your business in the coming years and how much capital is required to fund the actions planned in the business plan.

The four key outputs of a financial forecast for a import-export company are:

  • The profit and loss (P&L) statement ,
  • The projected balance sheet ,
  • The cash flow forecast ,
  • And the sources and uses table .

Let's take a closer look at each of these.

The projected P&L statement

The projected P&L statement for an import-export company shows how much revenue and profit your business is expected to make in the future.

example of projected profit and loss statement in a import-export company business plan

A healthy import-export company's P&L statement should show:

  • Sales growing at (minimum) or above (better) inflation
  • Stable (minimum) or expanding (better) profit margins
  • A healthy level of net profitability

This will of course depend on the stage of your business: numbers for a startup will look different than for an established import-export company.

The forecasted balance sheet of your import-export company

The projected balance sheet of your import-export company will enable the reader of your business plan to assess the overall financial health of your business.

It shows three elements: assets, liabilities and equity:

  • Assets: are productive resources owned by the business, such as equipment, cash, and accounts receivable (money owed by clients).
  • Liabilities: are debts owed to creditors, lenders, and other entities, such as accounts payable (money owed to suppliers).
  • Equity: includes the sums invested by the shareholders or business owners and the profits and losses accumulated by the business to date (which are called retained earnings). It is a proxy for the value of the owner's stake in the business.

projected balance sheet in a import-export company business plan example

Analysing your import-export company projected balance sheet provides an understanding of your import-export company's working capital structure, investment and financing policies.

In particular, the readers of your plan can compare the level of financial debt on the balance sheet to the equity value to measure the level of financial risk (equity doesn't need to be reimbursed, while financial debt must be repaid, making it riskier).

They can also use your balance sheet to assess your import-export company's liquidity and solvency:

  • A liquidity analysis: focuses on whether or not your business has sufficient cash and short-term assets to cover its liabilities due in the next 12 months.
  • A solvency analysis: takes and longer view to assess whether or not your business has the capacity to repay its debts over the medium-term.

The projected cash flow statement

A cash flow forecast for an import-export company shows how much cash the business is projected to generate or consume.

example of cash flow forecast in a import-export company business plan

The cash flow statement is divided into 3 main areas:

  • The operating cash flow shows how much cash is generated or consumed by the operations (running the business)
  • The investing cash flow shows how much cash is being invested in capital expenditure (equipment, real estate, etc.)
  • The financing cash flow shows how much cash is raised or distributed to investors and lenders

Looking at the cash flow forecast helps you to ensure that your business has enough cash to keep running, and can help you anticipate potential cash shortfalls.

It is also a best practice to include a monthly cash flow statement in the appendices of your import-export company business plan so that the readers can view the impact of seasonality on your business cash position and generation.

The initial financing plan

The initial financing plan, also known as a sources and uses table, is a valuable resource to have in your business plan when starting your import-export company as it reveals the origins of the money needed to establish the business (sources) and how it will be allocated (uses).

import-export company business plan: sources & uses example

Having this table helps show what costs are involved in setting up your import-export company, how risks are shared between founders, investors and lenders, and what the starting cash position will be. This cash position needs to be sufficient to sustain operations until the business reaches a break-even point.

Now that you have a clear understanding of what goes into the financial forecast of your import-export company business plan, let's shift our focus to the written part of the plan.

The written part of an import-export company business plan

The written part of an import-export company business plan plays a key role: it lays out the plan of action you intend to execute to seize the commercial opportunity you've identified on the market and provides the context needed for the reader to decide if they believe your plan to be achievable and your financial forecast to be realistic.

The written part of an import-export company business plan is composed of 7 main sections:

  • The executive summary
  • The presentation of the company
  • The products and services
  • The market analysis
  • The strategy
  • The operations
  • The financial plan

Let's go through the content of each section in more detail!

1. The executive summary

In your import-export company's business plan, the first section is the executive summary — a captivating overview of your plan that aims to pique the reader's interest and leave them eager to learn more about your business.

When crafting the executive summary, start with an introduction to your business, including its name, concept, location, how long it has been running, and what sets it apart. Briefly mention the products and services you plan to offer and your target customer profile.

Following that, provide an overview of the addressable market for your import-export company, current trends, and potential growth opportunities.

Next, include a summary of key financial figures like projected revenues, profits, and cash flows.

Finally, in the "ask" section, detail any funding requirements you may have.

2. The presentation of the company

As you build your import-export company business plan, the second section deserves attention as it delves into the structure and ownership, location, and management team of your company.

In the structure and ownership part, you'll provide valuable insights into the legal structure of the business, the identities of the owners, and their respective investments and ownership stakes. This level of transparency is vital, particularly if you're seeking financing, as it clarifies which legal entity will receive the funds and who holds the reins of the business.

Moving to the location part, you'll offer a comprehensive view of the company's premises and articulate why this specific location is strategic for the business, emphasizing factors like catchment area, accessibility, and nearby amenities.

When describing the location of your import-export company, you could emphasize its strategic proximity to many ports, which could provide easy access to international markets. You may also note its access to a skilled labor force in the region, as well as its potential for growth due to the large population in the area. Moreover, you could point out the potential for connecting with other businesses in the area that could be beneficial to your company. All of these factors could make your import-export company an attractive option for a third party financier.

Lastly, you should introduce your esteemed management team. Provide a thorough explanation of each member's role, background, and extensive experience.

It's equally important to highlight any past successes the management team has achieved and underscore the duration they've been working together. This information will instil trust in potential lenders or investors, showcasing the strength and expertise of your leadership team and their ability to deliver the business plan.

3. The products and services section

The products and services section of your import-export company business plan should include a detailed description of what your company sells to its customers. 

For example, your import-export company might offer sourcing services to its customers, helping them to find and purchase products from other countries. It could also provide freight forwarding and customs clearance help to get goods safely to their destination. Finally, it could also offer consulting services to help customers navigate international trade regulations and export laws.

The reader will want to understand what makes your import-export company unique from other businesses in this competitive market.

When drafting this section, you should be precise about the categories of products or services you sell, the clients you are targeting and the channels that you are targeting them through. 

import export company business plan: products and services section

4. The market analysis

When outlining your market analysis in the import-export company business plan, it's essential to include comprehensive details about customers' demographics and segmentation, target market, competition, barriers to entry, and relevant regulations.

The primary aim of this section is to give the reader an understanding of the market size and appeal while demonstrating your expertise in the industry.

To begin, delve into the demographics and segmentation subsection, providing an overview of the addressable market for your import-export company, key marketplace trends, and introducing various customer segments and their preferences in terms of purchasing habits and budgets.

Next, shift your focus to the target market subsection, where you can zoom in on the specific customer segments your import-export company targets. Explain how your products and services are tailored to meet the unique needs of these customers.

For example, your target market might include small businesses that are looking to expand their product portfolio. These businesses are typically looking for cost-effective solutions for sourcing and importing products from abroad. They may be looking for help navigating international regulations and standards, and often require assistance with logistics and shipping.

In the competition subsection, introduce your main competitors and explain what sets your import-export company apart from them.

Finally, round off your market analysis by providing an overview of the main regulations that apply to your import-export company.

5. The strategy section

When writing the strategy section of a business plan for your import-export company, it is essential to include information about your competitive edge, pricing strategy, sales & marketing plan, milestones, and risks and mitigants.

The competitive edge subsection should explain what sets your company apart from its competitors. This part is especially key if you are writing the business plan of a startup, as you have to make a name for yourself in the marketplace against established players.

The pricing strategy subsection should demonstrate how you intend to remain profitable while still offering competitive prices to your customers.

The sales & marketing plan should outline how you intend to reach out and acquire new customers, as well as retain existing ones with loyalty programs or special offers. 

The milestones subsection should outline what your company has achieved to date, and its main objectives for the years to come - along with dates so that everyone involved has clear expectations of when progress can be expected.

The risks and mitigants subsection should list the main risks that jeopardize the execution of your plan and explain what measures you have taken to minimize these. This is essential in order for investors or lenders to feel secure in investing in your venture.

Your import-export company may face a variety of risks. For example, the company could experience a sudden change in currency exchange rates, which could significantly affect the profitability of the business. Additionally, the company might experience delays in shipping times due to unexpected weather or other logistical issues, which could lead to customer dissatisfaction. It is important to be aware of these potential risks and to have strategies in place to mitigate them.

6. The operations section

The operations of your import-export company must be presented in detail in your business plan.

The first thing you should cover in this section is your staffing team, the main roles, and the overall recruitment plan to support the growth expected in your business plan. You should also outline the qualifications and experience necessary to fulfil each role, and how you intend to recruit (using job boards, referrals, or headhunters).

You should then state the operating hours of your import-export company - so that the reader can check the adequacy of your staffing levels - and any plans for varying opening times during peak season. Additionally, the plan should include details on how you will handle customer queries outside of normal operating hours.

The next part of this section should focus on the key assets and IP required to operate your business. If you depend on any licenses or trademarks, physical structures (equipment or property) or lease agreements, these should all go in there.

You could have key assets such as a fleet of trucks and a warehouse for storing goods. Additionally, the company might have intellectual property like a set of operational procedures that allow for efficient transport of goods or access to exclusive deals with suppliers that could give them a competitive advantage.

Finally, you should include a list of suppliers that you plan to work with and a breakdown of their services and main commercial terms (price, payment terms, contract duration, etc.). Investors are always keen to know if there is a particular reason why you have chosen to work with a specific supplier (higher-quality products or past relationships for example).

7. The presentation of the financial plan

The financial plan section is where we will include the financial forecast we talked about earlier in this guide.

Now that you have a clear idea of the content of an import-export company business plan, let's look at some of the tools you can use to create yours.

What tool should I use to write my import-export company's business plan?

In this section, we will be reviewing the two main options for writing an import-export company business plan efficiently:

  • Using specialized software,
  • Outsourcing the drafting to the business plan writer.

Using an online business plan software for your import-export company's business plan

Using online business planning software is the most efficient and modern way to write an import-export company business plan.

There are several advantages to using specialized software:

  • You can easily create your financial forecast by letting the software take care of the financial calculations for you without errors
  • You are guided through the writing process by detailed instructions and examples for each part of the plan
  • You can access a library of dozens of complete business plan samples and templates for inspiration
  • You get a professional business plan, formatted and ready to be sent to your bank or investors
  • You can easily track your actual financial performance against your financial forecast
  • You can create scenarios to stress test your forecast's main assumptions
  • You can easily update your forecast as time goes by to maintain visibility on future cash flows
  • You have a friendly support team on standby to assist you when you are stuck

If you're interested in using this type of solution, you can try The Business Plan Shop for free by signing up here .

Hiring a business plan writer to write your import-export company's business plan

Outsourcing your import-export company business plan to a business plan writer can also be a viable option.

Business plan writers are skilled in creating error-free business plans and accurate financial forecasts. Moreover, hiring a consultant can save you valuable time, allowing you to focus on day-to-day business operations.

However, it's essential to be aware that hiring business plan writers will be expensive, as you're not only paying for their time but also the software they use and their profit margin.

Based on experience, you should budget at least £1.5k ($2.0k) excluding tax for a comprehensive business plan, and more if you require changes after initial discussions with lenders or investors.

Also, exercise caution when seeking investment. Investors prefer their funds to be directed towards business growth rather than spent on consulting fees. Therefore, the amount you spend on business plan writing services and other consulting services should be insignificant compared to the amount raised.

Keep in mind that one drawback is that you usually don't own the business plan itself; you only receive the output, while the actual document is saved in the consultant's business planning software. This can make it challenging to update the document without retaining the consultant's services.

For these reasons, carefully consider outsourcing your import-export company business plan to a business plan writer, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of seeking outside assistance.

Why not create your import-export company's business plan using Word or Excel?

Using Microsoft Excel and Word (or their Google, Apple, or open-source equivalents) to write an import-export company business plan is a terrible idea.

For starters, creating an accurate and error-free financial forecast on Excel (or any spreadsheet) is very technical and requires both a strong grasp of accounting principles and solid skills in financial modelling.

As a result, it is unlikely anyone will trust your numbers unless - like us at The Business Plan Shop - you hold a degree in finance and accounting and have significant financial modelling experience in your past.

The second reason is that it is inefficient. Building forecasts on spreadsheets was the only option in the 1990s and early 2000s, nowadays technology has advanced and software can do it much faster and much more accurately.

And with the rise of AI, software is also becoming smarter at helping us detect mistakes in our forecasts and helping us analyse the numbers to make better decisions.

Also, using software makes it easy to compare actuals vs. forecasts and maintain our forecasts up to date to maintain visibility on future cash flows - as we discussed earlier in this guide - whereas this is a pain to do with a spreadsheet.

That's for the forecast, but what about the written part of my import-export company business plan?

This part is less error-prone, but here also software brings tremendous gains in productivity:

  • Word processors don't include instructions and examples for each part of your business plan
  • Word processors don't update your numbers automatically when they change in your forecast
  • Word processors don't handle the formatting for you

Overall, while Word or Excel may be viable options for creating an import-export company business plan for some entrepreneurs, it is by far not the best or most efficient solution.

  • Using business plan software is a modern and cost-effective way of writing and maintaining business plans.
  • A business plan is not a one-shot exercise as maintaining it current is the only way to keep visibility on your future cash flows.
  • A business plan has 2 main parts: a financial forecast outlining the funding requirements of your import-export company and the expected growth, profits and cash flows for the next 3 to 5 years; and a written part which gives the reader the information needed to decide if they believe the forecast is achievable.

We hope that this in-depth guide met your expectations and that you now have a clear understanding of how to write your import-export company business plan. Do not hesitate to contact our friendly team if you have questions additional questions we haven't addressed here.

Also on The Business Plan Shop

  • How to write a business plan to secure a bank loan?
  • Key steps to write a business plan?
  • Top mistakes to avoid in your business plan

Do you know entrepreneurs interested in starting or growing an import-export company? Share this article with them!

Guillaume Le Brouster

Founder & CEO at The Business Plan Shop Ltd

Guillaume Le Brouster is a seasoned entrepreneur and financier.

Guillaume has been an entrepreneur for more than a decade and has first-hand experience of starting, running, and growing a successful business.

Prior to being a business owner, Guillaume worked in investment banking and private equity, where he spent most of his time creating complex financial forecasts, writing business plans, and analysing financial statements to make financing and investment decisions.

Guillaume holds a Master's Degree in Finance from ESCP Business School and a Bachelor of Science in Business & Management from Paris Dauphine University.

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COMMENTS

  1. How to write a business plan for an import-export company?

    A business plan is not a one-shot exercise as maintaining it current is the only way to keep visibility on your future cash flows. A business plan has 2 main parts: a financial forecast outlining the funding requirements of your import-export company and the expected growth, profits and cash flows for the next 3 to 5 years; and a written part ...