You’ve decided to start an export business. You have your radar locked on a new international market, and you’re convinced that your products will be a perfect fit. But then comes the all-important question that lingers in the minds of everyone who starts an export business: where can I find international buyers and get export orders to successfully sell in the new foreign market?
Global buyers are at the heart of a successful export business! But where do you find these overseas buyers? Read on for more — including how to approach importers, the best personal skillsets to thrive in international trade, and everything in between. This guide will address the why, what, where, who, and how to find international buyers for your export business.
Table of Contents:
Reasons to start an export business — THE WHY
Expanding to international markets gives you access to new customers and an opportunity to increase sales. According to a report by Deloitte, small businesses that export their products could earn 3x the returns than businesses who only sell in local markets. Connecting with global buyers also helps mitigate risks such as vulnerability to local business cycles. All this translates to improved competitiveness and greater growth opportunities.
But starting an export business is not all roses and sunshine — it comes with several unfamiliar challenges. These include international buyers with different characteristics and preferences, political, legal, and economic risks, slower payments, complicated logistics, local regulations, and complex contracts. With this in mind, you must find the best international B2B partners to facilitate a seamless export/import process.
Different ways to approach importers — THE HOW (Part A)
There are different ways to enter an international market as an exporter. The approach you choose is subject to a host of factors. When contemplating how to approach importers, companies must carefully evaluate the following factors:
- Nature of transaction:You need to consider the acceptable methods of payment and the financial goal of international expansion.
- Employee know-how of international trade: The skillset and experience of a company’s staff are arguably two of the most important determinants on how to approach importers. Do they have knowledge of international transactions, business practices, and foreign culture? Are they experienced enough to deal with global buyers?
- Resources available: How will you incorporate the export business into the existing organization — as part of the sales department or as a separate functional unit? What portion of the budget are you willing to allocate to the export business?
- Commitment: This includes your appetite for risk, the funds you’re willing to set aside to develop the export market, and the preferred length of time before breaking even.
- Competitiveness:Look at your competitive advantages and the level of competition in the international market.
Taking these factors into consideration, the next step is exploring the best approach to find importers. Ideally, there are four possible approaches to exporting as shown below:
1. The direct approach to exporting
With this approach, you engage with international buyers. It may include selling directly to the importers, working with a buying agent for exports, finding foreign distributors and retailers, or selling to international B2B traders.
Please note that a direct approach to exporting is most applicable and cost-effective to businesses with a dedicated export department. You’ll be responsible for documenting, insuring, shipping, payment collection, and marketing for the export company.
2. The indirect approach to exporting
Under the indirect method of “how to approach importers,” you only engage with intermediaries such as Export Trading Companies (ETC) or Export Management Companies (EMC). These are firms that handle all the export activities on your behalf at a fee. They ship the products, arrange financing, find local representatives, select foreign contacts, and conduct market research.
Although this approach is significantly easier — and on some occasions more effective — you run the risk of losing control over your sales.
3. The proactive approach to exporting
This involves looking for domestic buyers who represent foreign companies. Basically, you’re soliciting domestic players (retailers, distributors, government agencies, or trading corporations) that are actively involved in international trade. They procure your goods domestically depending on your negotiations and export them.
4. The reactive/passive approach to exporting
This approach is characterized by passively filling orders from domestic buyers. Someone engaged in domestic trade decides that your products meet a certain foreign demand — and he/she buys them locally before exporting. To the original seller, this is just like any other domestic sale.
Online and offline methods to find overseas buyers — THE WHERE
If you want to get export orders to drive your international expansion efforts, you must ensure global buyers are genuinely interested in your product offering. This means that your business idea must be both brilliant and have an audience of overseas buyers.
On the flip side, finding international buyers is arguably one of the most pressing and challenging hurdles in the way of aspiring exporters. So, how do you do it? How do some of the most successful exporters find reliable buyers?
As highlighted below, the process of finding international buyers typically falls into 2 categories — online and offline.
Online methods to find international buyers
The Internet and globalization have revolutionized modern society—and nowhere is the effect greater than in international trade. Whether it’s the seamless communication, fast transportation, instant transactions, access to online marketplaces or gaining real-time market insights of a foreign market — we’re more interconnected than ever before.
If you’re looking for the most convenient way to find international buyers, look no further than online sources. You can explore online B2B ecommerce platforms such as Alibaba.com, freelance portals, social media, and SEO (search engine optimization).
1. Alibaba.com — B2B ecommerce marketplace:
You only need to look at the numbers to understand the importance of Alibaba.com as a platform for connecting with international B2B buyers. Alibaba.com now connects over 150 million registered buyers from around the world with quality suppliers. The number of buyers has grown more than 30% annually in recent years, with Europe, North America, and Latin America being the fastest growing markets.
(When it comes to ecommerce platforms we may be biased, but…) There is no better place to find international buyers than Alibaba.com. This wholesale B2B ecommerce giant has been in the business for more than 20 years, and because of its rich history, it is one of the largest B2B marketplaces and has buyers and sellers from 190+ countries and regions trading on it.
As a seller, you can choose to join Alibaba.com with a free, limited membership, or you can pay for a premium membership that allows you to harness the full potential of the platform to get export orders. This includes preferential treatment and first priority with regard to product placement, customer support, and the number of product listings you have, among other perks.
2. Freelance portals:
Rather than actively looking for global buyers for your export goods, you can source a buying agent for exports from a freelancing platform.
For example, you can visit a site such as Freelancer.com or Upwork.com, describe that you’re looking for international buyers to fulfil your exports, and chose the best freelancing expert from the applicants.
The freelancer is often well-versed and well-connected in your targeted foreign market—allowing you to connect with overseas buyers and get export orders. You can also find someone to help with marketing for your export company.
3. Social Media:
There’s more to social media platforms than leisure, building relationships, and entertainment. Aspiring export businesses can leverage the popularity of the platforms to find global buyers.
According to a figure by Statista1, the leading social media platforms by the number of B2B marketers who use them are Facebook (96%), Instagram (82%), Twitter (53%), YouTube (53%), and LinkedIn (50%). You can either join trade-focused groups or make use of paid social media ads.
There’s always someone looking for a reliable exporter—same way you’re looking for international B2B traders. And in our modern society, this often involves opening a browser and typing certain keywords into a search bar. In fact, industry research shows that nine in every 10 consumers2 search for a product/service online before making a buying decision.
SEO (search engine optimization) is a set of best practices designed to organically improve your SERPs (search engine rank positions). Using SEO makes you visible to potential buying agents for exporting or international buyers.
Alternatively, you can use PPC (pay per click) ads to get export orders — whereby your posts appear as ads on the first page of Google for specified keywords but at a fee for every click. (Please keep in mind that this method of finding international buyers is only applicable if you have an optimized landing page, website, or opt-in forms.)
Offline methods to find international buyers
Long before the age of the internet — and even after its proliferation — exporters and importers connected in more traditional ways:
- Exhibitions and trade fairs: These are direct platforms that give small- and large-sized exporters an opportunity to interact with export-import companies and international buyers. These events are typically industry-specific and a hub for networking and showcasing products. If you play your cards right, you can even get export orders from one of these events.
- Government bodies: Export Promotion Councils and Commodity Boards offer a wealth of information for exporters looking for overseas buyers. These organizations are mandated with the task of helping individuals such as yourself — hence boosting the country’s export industry. You can access contacts of possible buyers, current trends, and applicable international trade events.
- Personal trips: What better to collect information on a foreign market than seeing it for yourself. This is an old-school method that is effective, but resource-intensive. If you choose this approach, ensure you have a guide/contact in a foreign country. Alternatively, you can use connections with friends and family in a foreign country to collect relevant information.
- Promotion bureaus and market research companies: These companies leverage their connections in international markets to help exporters find global buyers at a fee. They offer foreign buyers lists, the best marketing for your export company, and shipment-related information.
- Third-party agencies: You can hire a foreign middle-person, buying agents for exports, foreign agencies, or a salesperson in the target market to act as your representative.
Key steps to find global buyers — THE HOW (Part B)
As with any other business, the key to establishing a thriving export business — and finding international buyers for that matter — lies in planning and following the best practices. What are the considerations to keep in mind? And what are the necessary steps to overcome the possible obstacles?
Here’s a brief step-by-step guide on the best ways to grow your export buyers list:
- Always start with in-depth research. In the words of Ben Bernanke, distinguished American economist, "The more important reason is that the research itself provides an important long-run perspective on the issues that we face on a day-to-day basis." Dig through online and offline sources (discussed above) and gather as much information about the foreign market and its buyers. And remember to keep an eye on scammers.
- What are the needs of the local market? This is more of an extension of the research phase. Familiarize yourself with the consumer needs, trends, and preferences in the target market. In order to get export orders, your products must be able to meet a need that is in demand.
- Find contacts or partners to facilitate your export business. This may include salespeople, distributors, shipment companies, or marketing agencies, to name a few.
- Decide how to approach importers. Based on your in-depth research, select the best way to approach importers out the four options discussed earlier: direct, indirect, proactive, or passive.
- Work on your brand image. Before you start an export business or interact with international B2B traders, ensure your business is attractive. Invest in making your brand both visible and compelling to potential buyers. This includes anything from your logo, the design of your website, the brand message, to the content you give. A great brand image helps establish your presence in the foreign market.
- Keep your existing customers happy. In your ambition to find new international buyers, it’s easy to forget what you already have. To avoid finding buyers while losing others, ensure you give your existing clients the attention and high level of service they deserve.
- Stay active with ears on the ground. The international market is always changing and evolving. To remain competitive, you must constantly adjust your approach, product offering, or marketing for your export company. Make attending fairs, exhibitions, and any other relevant events second nature.
What skills you need to successfully launch export business? — THE WHAT
You know where to find international buyers, you have the right products, you’ve done your research. But do you have what it takes to thrive in the industry?
What skills do you need to successfully find international B2B traders and launch your export business? Here are the skills you need to cultivate in order to master the industry:
- Analytical skills — allowing you to analyze, prepare and strategize.
- An ability to identify and respond effectively to trade risks.
- Finance-related skills to confidently manage the complexity of international transactions.
- A capacity to manufacture/source products for export to meet consumer demands and market expectations.
- An ability to seamlessly handle dozens of variables that characterize international trade.
- The grit to effectively implement sales and marketing plans for the export company.
- Recruitment of the talent to drive your business operations.
Who to look for in your export business team? — THE WHO
Even with the best products, the most comprehensive foreign buyers list, and most elaborate strategies, success is impossible without the right mix of employees. To quote Jorge Paulo Lemann, "The greatest asset of a company is its people." For this reason, here are some personal attributes and traits to identify the best talent for international business.
- Goal-oriented: To succeed in the international market, you need employees that understand your objective as a company. They should then purse those goals (including their objectives for personal growth) with determination.
- Experience: Look for someone well-versed in international markets, trends, cultures, and other relevant factors. This often translates into a competitive advantage.
- Curiosity: If the candidate is promising but he/she lack the experience, curiosity is just as valuable — if not more. An employee with a thirst for knowledge and information is always a valuable asset to any organization.
- Flexibility: Expanding into international markets comes with a greater chance of fluctuating trends and market conditions. For this reason, your staff should be flexible enough to accept changing circumstances, embrace challenges, and evolve.
- Optimism: Things occasionally get tough! And when this happens, you want a team that is motivated on your side — people who pursue leads with the confidence that will get results.
Long story short, the trick to finding international buyers for your start-up export business is no trick at all. It lies in careful planning to understand the market, using the right approach, knowing where to find global buyers, and cultivating the right skillsets to prosper.
Want to know more about how Alibaba.com can help you trade globally and expand your business? Speak to an expert now.
Further reading on international trading: