How to Start an Import/Export Business

import export business

Are You Interested in International Trade?

There is money to be made in the import and export business and for several reasons. For one thing, certain products just seem to have more appeal when they come from exotic locales. Another factor that makes international trade businesses appealing is the fact that certain goods are much less expensive when purchased abroad. Finally, some products just cannot be produced in certain areas, and so importing them into one market from another creates an opportunity for both the producer and the buyer.

You may already have skills that lend themselves to certain markets or types of products…

One of the great things about import/export businesses is that they can provide good profit margins with fairly minimal investments, and manageable operating costs. However, there are certain skills that people who are successful in this business tend to have.

Salesmanship is important, as is the ability to develop rapport with clients. If you’re doing business with clients who don’t speak your native tongue, then being bilingual is definitely a plus. You’ll also have to pay close attention to the legality of importing and exporting certain things, or a potentially lucrative transaction could end up turning into a very poor business decision.

Types of Import Export Businesses

There are three basic types of import export businesses. Import/export merchants purchase goods with their own capital, and then sell them. While this business model allows the business owner to keep all of the profits, it also involves a high degree of risk, if the products don’t sell as well as initially anticipated.

Export management firms team up with domestic companies in order to export their goods abroad. Finally, export trading companies find domestic buyers for foreign goods. Many import export businesses are a hybrid of the three types listed above.

Define Your Specialty

You may already have skills that lend themselves to certain markets or types of products. For instance, if you speak Spanish and have an eye for style, you may want to think about importing clothing from Mexico. Analyze your skill set and interests, and you should have a pretty good idea about where to start.

You can always branch out into other categories of merchandise later, but starting with something you’re familiar with can only make it easier — not only for you, but also for your clients.

Making It Official

Depending on what types of products you plan to specialize in, you may need to get licensed. For example, If you’re importing military surplus, you’ll want to make sure you’re doing business well within legal bounds. Other goods, such as furniture, are not as likely to require much in the way of licensing.

You’ll also need to register your business, obtain an FEIN, and complete the usual legal requirements necessary for most businesses.

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Networking Is Key

In order to make deals happen, you’ll have to get out there and find clients who have a need for your services. Start with a list of businesses in the field you’d like to specialize in. Then, contact them and find out what their needs are. You’ll want to find out who does the sales and purchasing for each company, and direct your efforts toward establishing strong business relationships with them.

For example, if you are interested in home decor, then contact a few interior designers in your area, and schedule a meeting or a phone call with them. Talk to them about what they tend to buy, if their clients’ tastes tend to follow any particular patterns, and how you might be of service in a potential partnership. When you later travel to new markets in order to find goods that you can import, you’ll have a well-trained eye and a much better sense of what you can sell when you return home.

Connecting the Dots

Once you’ve established a list of contacts who are interested in doing business with you, make a chart connecting the needs and offerings of your potential clients. From there, you just need to connect the dots, and you’re on your way.
Have you been operating a successful import/export business? Why not share your self-employed story in the comments section below!

35 COMMENTS

  1. I am an import export business person based in the US and The Caribbean with international clients both in the USA and The Caribbean who have small business. that are looking for products to buy for resell if you have a product you will like to sell or import please contact me with pictures and prices. [email protected]

  2. I want to start my own import and export business. Any videos or books you recommend to get started?

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  6. My name is Brian and I’m a social entrepreneur currently living in Bali, Indonesia. This is home to some of the most incredible hand made artisan crafts I have ever seen. Wood carvings, sterling silver, paintings, sculptures and it’s all dirt cheap! I want to start an exporting company from here but will need international buyers. I plan to use the profit to support strong social causes and long term sustainability projects. If you have any contacts or are interested in getting involved please contact me! ~Brian [email protected]

  7. hi tallat ,
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  8. Im a UK citizen living and working in South Africa, Id like to act as an agent for exporters wanting to export to Southern Africa.

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  16. i want to import mobile phones( a top brand of China) and accessories from China to India and want to do marketing for the same. please suggest me what should i do? from where i should start?

  17. Thank you for sharing this great idea on how to start an import/export business. It is also important for the trader to obtain all the necessary import export data in matters associated with foreign trade agreement.

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