Guest Post: 4 Tips on Importing From China

Today's guest blogger works for a primary facilitator of trade with Greater China. Her name is Emma T. and I invited her to talk about ways other entrepreneurs can take advantage of importation from Asian countries. Her thoughts and insights are in the post below.

For the average entrepreneur, importing goods from China for the first time is intimidating.

The language barrier, unfamiliar customs, foreign business practices. A seventeen hour time difference. There is a lot that can go wrong, and for a small business owner or entrepreneur getting on his or her feet, there usually isn't anything extra in the bank to make up for "learn from experience" mistakes.

There are four main ideas that first-time importers struggle to comprehend and you should be prepared for when ordering factory direct from a foreign market.

4 Need-to-Know Things for First Time Importers

1. China Is Not Your Retailer

Think of China and your manufacturer as a contractor, not a big-box retail store. Ordering direct from the source cuts out the middle man and the bulk of intermediary management – and this will take its toll on scheduling and pricing.

Your contract may stipulate prices for materials and labor, but there will always be hidden costs. There will always be delays. You will need to have some flexibility when working with a Chinese manufacturer, both in your expectations and your wallet.

2. Ring in the Chinese New Year

For you, "Chinese New Year" translates to major, massive delays – and sometimes those delays are hard to predict. Since China marks the New Year by the lunar calendar, the only guarantee is that the country's 10 – 15 day vacation will fall somewhere in January of February.

Production on your goods will grind to a halt during the Chinese holidays. If you're a first-time importer, consider doing your trial order after the Chinese New Year festivities are complete. Avoid any scheduling snafus by ordering your second quarter goods during the fourth quarter of the previous year.

3. China is an Enormous Country

China and the United States are just about the same size if you include Alaska: 3.6 million square miles. Chances are the production of your product will involve more than one factory, and chances are those factories aren't going to be in the same region of China.

Know where your materials are coming from. Predict how long it will take for the manufacturers to receive all their materials, and then how long it will take to produce your import.

Add a few weeks to your estimate, and plan then your shipping timeline accordingly.

4. Get Yourself to China

As sole proprietor of your business, you get the luxury (read: responsibility) of double-checking everything. The best way to do that is to go to China and tour the manufacturing facility yourself. Some small-business veterans suggest going often: once every production period.

Your visit should have two goals.

  • To confirm that you have employed a reliable manufacturer
  • To build a business relationship with the leaders of the factory.

Both of these will give you an understanding of all the materials and processes going into your goods, as well as learn the day-to-day functions of the factory.

A face-to-face meeting will also give your manufacturer a clear picture of your expectations: that you are a serious client. A serious client – one who does not constantly negotiate prices, one who pays on time, one who makes repeat orders – will be a higher priority to the manufacturer than one who seems flaky and unsure.

Last Thoughts

Working in a foreign industry is never a guarantee. There are horror stories from first-time importers with shoddy craftsmanship, absurd costs, changes in contract, and adaptations to product specifications. Your best resource is doing a lot of research before importing from China, and consistently following up on referrals and testimonials.

Good luck!

Emma T. is a writer for Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with Greater China. They have experience in all industries, from clothing manufacturers to paint manufacturers.