Technology has changed the business landscape so dramatically, and the internet has truly opened the world up for business, creating exciting opportunities for anyone who wants to start their own import-export business. When it comes to international trade, sites like Amazon and Shopify give you a platform to sell your products to people all over the world, no matter where you live.
Owning your own business has such a big appeal because it gives you the advantage of not having anyone to answer to, setting your own hours, and if you do the planning and put in the hard work, you can set your business up for a very successful run.
There really are no limitations on what you can achieve if you use your business smarts and your imagination. There are inspirational entrepreneurs like Dylan Frost, who started out with a credit card with a $600 limit which he used to buy clearance items at Walmart that he would then resell on Amazon. He has been genius in finding gaps in the marketplace for obscure products, and he parlayed that into a multi-million dollar business.
Whether you have a very specific niche in mind or you are just getting started researching possibilities, these steps will ensure that your new business is well researched, registered properly and legally compliant.
1. Get the basics in order
This means registering your business, registering a domain name, and getting any business licenses you need to legally operate. An accountant can advise you on startup paperwork and tax compliance. You can also contact government agencies if you have questions about getting everything set up properly.
The following is a suggested list of basics to get your operation up and running:
- Computer system with modem and printer/copier
- Internet/e-mail service
- Stationery and office supplies
- Travel expenses for conducting market research on foreign turf
2. Have a business plan
This can sound intimidating, but whether it’s informal or a serious document a lawyer helps you put together, a business plan helps you focus because it will serve as your roadmap. It not only guides you as you grow your business, but it also shows lenders, investors, or potential partners that you’re serious and you have a strategy. A business plan for your import-export business should also handle the rules and regulations of the markets you want to work in.
3. Create a great website!
If your website is clean, modern and easily navigated it will help you attract business. Remember, it must always be updated to reflect inventory, and any issues affecting shipping (new regulations, trade agreements, etc.) Be sure to bookmark our blogs at BorderBuddy covering everything from CUSMA, COVID-19, to import-export trends to follow.
International business is based on trust, so make sure your website conveys trustworthiness. Always conduct business with transparency–your company, products, and customer service should all be accessible. Testimonials go a long way to ensure trustworthiness and a great reputation. Good photography is critical.
Optimize for mobile!
Most searches are now done on mobile than desktop, and this is only going to increase in the coming years. Google is “mobile first” – it’s basing its decisions for ranking you based on your mobile site rather than desktop site. You’re expected to be mobile-friendly and streaming fast for mobile users.
Slow load times, whether on mobile or desktop, affect both your conversion rate and your Google rankings. Page speed is one of the signals that Google looks at when determining which pages rank for a given term, especially for mobile.
4. What are you buying/selling? Research markets
Research products, markets, and definitely vet your competition. Be creative in searching for niches that have market opportunity. If the market segment that you’re in is saturated, explore different options.
If you have a product, test a market, test a region before you dive in to insure your chances for competing successfully. If your product is more of a high-end item, what sets it apart from a lesser expensive item? Is it made of rare materials, does it produce a superior result? How do you know people will pay more for it? Do the research.
There’s an app for that!
There are some great hacks out there that handle the heavy lifting of big data analytics. There are tools you can access that will tell you your competitor’s import history and your supplier’s export history as well. As of March 2019, Jungle Scout now offers the exact same information as competitive software Import Genius or Panjiva but for just $39/month. You can simply enter the name of the supplier or competitor you are researching and you will be returned all of the recent import/export activity for that company. Does it sound like a cheat sheet? It kind of is!
5. Find your customers
Zeroing in on a market is not equivalent to finding your customers. You will need to find distributors and clients who will take on your product and sell to others. Having a great website, as mentioned earlier, will help you attract business. But if you’re starting out, you may actually consider doing some footwork and cold-calling. For example, if you have a specialty organic food item, you might call the local branch of a chain of organic groceries to see if you can stop by with a sample. Ask if they’d be willing to try you out. Be creative and shoot for some “reach” clients. If they say no, move on to the next one. As the saying goes: nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Cold calling in sales is still a thing. You may land some of your biggest accounts this way.
6. Creative ways to enter the market
If you want to set up your distribution abroad, you have three main options: direct sales, online sales, or distributors. Is your product unique enough?
Source Your Suppliers
Unless you are selling a product you produce yourself, having a strong supplier relationship is everything in an importing exporting operation. Can your product be produced locally? If you are having it produced outside Canada, have you vetted the supplier’s reputation? Can they handle the volume of product you will be shipping?
Asking the right questions will save you a lot of grief down the road. Don’t just ask the supplier, ask people who have used that supplier as well.
If you are importing goods from China, check out our blog 8 Of The Absolute Best Products To Import From China.
7. Price your product competitively
If you have a product and you’ve targeted your market, you need to figure out pricing. This is where considerations of volume will come into play. You want to be sure to price your goods high enough so that your markup does not exceed what a customer is willing to pay. But you also do not want to make the price so low that you won’t make a profit. If you’re doing volume orders and bulk shipments, it may make sense to price the product extremely competitively, because if you’re selling that much more product you can absorb a smaller markup.
8. Get the logistics down
Perhaps the most complex aspect of importing and exporting is the logistics of taking a product manufactured in one location and selling it somewhere else. How will your goods make the trip from the source to the customer? This requires a great deal of coordination. You may want to use a freight forwarder that reaches out to shipping companies.
BorderBuddy creates importing and exporting solutions for any size business. We specialize in smoothing the process for you–handling the paperwork and all the logistics so you can focus on growing your company. We love supporting small businesses, and are proud of all the success stories out there that we have been a part of. Give us a call and let us help you create a unique and sustainable import-export business today.