Four things to know if you want to become an importer

Margaret Paton

Fancy importing a product as a sideline to your small business? Here’s how to make it happen if it’s a right fit for you.

Consider if the product you have in mind feasible to import, suggests Lindy Chen, a Brisbane-based business mentor from the Queensland Government agency Small Business Solutions. She also runs an importing business, China Direct Sourcing.

“Just like importers who do this full time, you are doing the same work regardless of it being full or part time work. You’ll have additional costs for shipping and you’ll be dealing with a culture that does business differently,” she says.

“If the item is feasible to import, then start looking for the suppliers for them. Most of the common products don’t need an importing license, so the timing will depend much on the product you have in mind.”

Do some navel gazing

Chen suggests ruminating on the following: What quantities do you want to import? What level of expertise do you have in this area? What kind of assistance do you need? How involved will you be in the importing sideline?

Remember, you are doing this as a sideline business it’s likely you’ll be unable to pay close attention to the process.

Buddy up with those in the know

Chen advises fledgling importers to seek assistance, which might not be as easy as it sounds.

“You are likely going to find some import assistance firms who can act more like a paid assistant of your supplier. Find help that looks out for your best interests. Remember, you are doing this as a sideline business it’s likely you’ll be unable to pay close attention to the process. You need someone who will make decisions that will ultimately be to your benefit.”

Don’t import before you’re ready

Take your time when choosing a partner, import assistance company or supplier, and ensure you manage them – not the other way around – Chen urges.

“Chinese manufacturers are excellent at reproducing whatever product you may have in mind. The whole manufacturing structure is comprehensive, which makes it possible for your supplier to find all the components necessary for producing your product within its borders, so there’s less need for having to ship components from further afield.”

Watch out for cultural clashes

Another pitfall can be underestimating the impact of culture.

Chen says: “Most Australian businesses make the mistake of thinking that doing business with China is no different from doing business with a local company.

“As you are dealing with a different culture and a different way by which business is done, importing requires quite a bit of micromanagement. I always say to my clients that while everything is possible in China, nothing is simple.”

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.