This is a guest post by Linda Kozlowski of Alibaba.com. Linda is the Director of Global Marketing and Customer Experience at Alibaba.com which are experts in global trade
There are many compelling reasons to source products from overseas. And whilst some SMEs are nervous about doing business with companies across the globe, careful planning and taking the time to do research can help you avoid any potential difficulties.
1. Get specific information
Once you find a wholesaler that interests you, ask lots of descriptive questions about the products you want to source. For example, you might want to find out what the product is made from, how it is assembled, what the dimensions are, what materials are used to decorate it and how it is packaged, as well as its weight.
Be as thorough as possible, helping to ensure you don't get any unpleasant surprises when the first shipment arrives. Drawings, diagrams or photographs can help both you and the supplier understand precisely what you expect and what they can supply.
If it's appropriate, you can also ask for samples to be sent. Depending on the product the supplier might be happy to provide them for free or you may have to pay a fee. Having the physical item in front of you can give you much more confidence in the quality of the product that you're going to be selling.
2. Check out the company's supply chain
Finding out where a company sources its raw materials can help you ensure that the products are exactly what you're looking for and doing some research into the supply chain will ensure that the materials provided are consistent and fit for purpose.
In addition, you should confirm that the company will actually be the one making your product. Sometimes, one manufacturer will subcontract orders to another company. This could be due to a high workload, or the difficulty of the project. Whatever the case, this is something you should try to avoid, as it could result in unexpected delays, an inconsistent product or other difficulties.
3. Check their accreditations
Currently, there are a number of internationally recognised accreditations that companies can obtain. These have been designed to give you peace of mind that the organisation you choose to work with is trustworthy and follows a set code of conduct, both in house and when working with customers.
ISO 9001 is an indicator of good quality management and those who earn this accreditation have shown that they provide consistent products that meet customer expectations.
Companies that have achieved Fair Trade certification offer reasonable payment to producers and workers, as well as considering issues such as sustainability and community development.
4. Due Diligence
While the majority of companies are legitimate firms working hard to earn your business, it's an unfortunate fact that there are also people out there who will try to scam you. Therefore, it's important to do what you can to ensure that the organisation you are dealing with is genuine.
You can undertake various checks to make sure the company is legitimate. Reverse-telephone look-ups are a good place to start and it is good practice to avoid companies that only use mobile numbers or free email addresses as contact information, due to their disposable nature
It might useful to ask the company for bank information or business certificates, or perhaps request the details of some of their other clients to get recommendations. You could also get in touch with your embassy in that country which should have access to a list of registered businesses.
And don't forget to trust your own judgement and instinct. If something doesn't seem right about the company, do more research, or find another firm that you do trust.