Breaking down the import barriers: How to deal with overseas suppliers
As a UK-based small business owner, the idea of leaving
your comfort zone to pursue new revenue streams overseas can be
daunting. Linda Kozlowski, head of international business
development at Alibaba.com is at hand to reduce the fear factor.
Here are her tops tips for dealing with overseas suppliers and
creating a successful import business.
1. Overcoming cultural and language
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is often the first thing people
cite as a barrier to taking their business ventures into markets
outside the UK. While crossing the cultural divide may seem like a
daunting prospect, especially for those without a vast range of
experience and expertise, it is something that is easily overcome
and should never be used as a reason to avoid trading
Don't worry too much about attempting to fully master the
language, it is more important to build a solid cultural
understanding of your target market.
Familiarise yourself with the basic customs and business
practices of your supplier's region, taking into account the daily
and weekly working hours (including time differences) and when the
country observes national holidays. It may seem obvious, but many
people assume other countries have similar work patterns and ethics
to our own, so it can be quite easy to get caught out if you're
working to strict deadlines or managing supply chain requirements
in the UK.
You should also take the time to learn about the varying ways in
which business is conducted, as this is a key area where
miscommunication can occur. For example, business interaction in
the USA is often known for being direct and 'to the point', which
some cultures may find quite blunt, whereas others tend to be
non-confrontational and work at a slower pace when forming
partnerships or negotiating, as is often the case in China.
A wider understanding of the culture in question will help to
provide a starting point for this, but the best route is to seek
advice from other SMEs operating in the same region. Like-minded
individuals are usually willing to share experiences and expertise,
and you can generally seek out quite granular advice on different
cultural business variations online.
It!' feature on the Alibaba.com community forum is a useful
platform for finding answers to these types of questions.
2. Keep things legal
As with all business practices, it's vital that your paperwork
is in order and that you carefully maintain all your records.
However, as an importer it's also your responsibility to know the
import/export laws of the country you're trading with.
Requirements on customs duties, VAT and excise present
additional considerations when importing, so it's important to swot
up on the laws particular to your chosen market. Also make sure
that the terms of your agreement with the supplier are absolutely
clear. Having this information in writing will prove invaluable for
future reference if something goes wrong.
At Alibaba.com, we frequently offer advice on legalities,
however outsourcing to specialist agencies can often prove a
cost-effective solution. Expert management of these issues
generally won't cost much and will save you the hassle, leaving
more time to think about other aspects of your business.
3. Confirm that the seller is
You should do everything you can to verify that the supplier is
both authentic and accountable. It's an unfortunate fact that scams
do exist, and some of them can be very convincing. However, it's
not simply a case of taking your chances. Before sending money to
any supplier overseas, there are various precautions you can take
to ensure that they are a genuine business.
Reverse phone number look-ups can be useful, enabling you to see
if the details provided match those you've been given. Mobile phone
numbers can be dubious, due to their disposable nature, so it's
recommended that you only work with companies that can provide you
with a landline number. For the same reason, free email addresses
could also be a sign of questionable business practices.
It's also good practice for companies to provide references such
as bank information and business certificates, so ask for these.
Finally, if you are sourcing from overseas suppliers you could try
contacting your embassy in that country, as they should be able to
advise you on whether companies are legally registered to trade in
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