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7 tips for starting up an import business

Written by Lindy Chen on 24/02/2016 3:31:29 PM 0 Comment


International trade is a hot industry which more and more startups are moving into. 

It’s no new concept, but social media and e-commerce has opened up new opportunities for finding a market and setting up shop, so today anyone can start a business in the digital space without the restrictions or expenses of bricks and mortar. 

Setting up an e-commerce site is also relatively cheap, whether you decide to outsource or choose a DYI
e-commerce site like Squarespace, where you can create a beautiful, original website in under a day 

Given the accessibility and relative low risk of starting up an online business, it’s a pathway more startups are taking, and many are sourcing from overseas where products are cheaper and have a point of difference in the Australian market.  While free trade is a concept that's thousands of years old, a resurgence of importing in a globalised economy is boosting economic prosperity around the world and putting smaller communities on the global marketplace map.    

Alternatively if you already have a business and struggling to keep up in a competitive market, it’s might be time you took a shot at importing which can allow you to source products at a lower cost.  The reason why so many businesses are competitive today is because apart from sourcing low-cost products overseas, they are able to reduce their expenses by selling online without the overhead cost of a physical shop, and pass this cost cut onto their customers. 

Visit any store today and you will probably find most of the products are made outside of your borders.  Even those made in Australia usually have components sourced elsewhere.  For example, the brand on your mobile phone may show a Japanese company behind it, but its internal components are sourced from China or Mexico. 

So, if you want to take the step to importing, these six tips can boost the success of your venture.

1. Check what taxes and tariffs you’re up for

Australia currently has a number of free trade agreements with different countries.  Free trade agreements usually mean that goods from an exporting country can be shipped into Australia with little to no tariff, and vice versa.  China, Japan and Korea all have a free trade agreement in place with Australia, which reduce the barriers to trade – check to see if taxes and tariffs for shipping into Australia still apply at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.  

2. Check if your product is ‘importable’ 

Importing is picking up and Australian government policies are supportive of international trade.  But expect certain regulations which have been put in place to protect Australian consumers, the environment and certain economic sectors.  Products that are deemed hazardous to health and to the environment, or harmful to local industries are covered by certain restrictions – if your product isn’t hurting anyone or doesn’t contain toxic materials it should be OK to import – but double check first at the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website.  

3. Find reputable suppliers or a reliable conduit 

Many importers find their suppliers online and liaise directly in the digital space, but unless you are sourcing from a sophisticated exporter like China, most businesses in less developed countries would probably be unable to support their own website, or won’t have options like joining a list of exporters on Alibaba or Made in China.  That said, just because they might not be tech savvy doesn’t mean the quality is compromised, depending on the product you are importing – you can find many incredible and authentic products in parts of the world where technology hasn’t hit as hard.

Sourcing from the internet can also limit your options (and there is risk attached to trusting a brand new supplier solely off the claims on its website.)  This is where sourcing trips, apart from giving you invaluable content to tell a story around your brand through experiences and photography, are advantageous.  Finding the right supplier can be a hard task and might take many factory visits, countless samples and prototypes.  So if you are the type of business owner who doesn’t want to leave anything to chance, your best option is to seek assistance. You can find importing assistants, who speak English and have direct connections on the ground.  Just be sure the assistant, or the import assistance firm you pick is competent and works off ethical practices.  Look for online reviews, ask someone who’s already done it, or if you already have a contact in the country, ask if they can help you find assistance. ChinaDirect Sourcing is an Australian-based product sourcing company that offers end-to-end import assistance to find, negotiate, and facilitate delivery of products from China, and is available on Bartercard.

4. Don’t settle

It’s your business so don’t settle on anything less than you would expect as a customer.  Be specific on what boxes you want ticked, from quality to costs and working conditions in the factory, and decide your non-negotiables before going into any discussions.  

5. Learn to negotiate

Knowing how to negotiate in the culture where you are sourcing is crucial.  Different cultures have different ways of negotiating, which is where having an assistant or going through an importing company is advantageous.  In my experience with the Chinese, a common practice is to lure you into a low price for your initial order.  Once they see your reliance on their service, the second order would usually include a price increase.  This will test how well you can negotiate upward price adjustments that your supplier may ask.  So having a reliable importing assistant who understands the culture and can negotiate on your behalf is a step up. 

6. Don’t get lost in translation

A good example of the effects of culture on business is the Chinese concept of 'guanxi’ or relationship.  Chinese relationships are mostly based on ‘face’, which is the opposite of shame.  It is important that you keep your suppliers from feeling shamed, or what they call, ‘losing face’ which can result from making corrections or arguing your point openly.  The Chinese are more familiar with indirect communication than their counterparts from the West - being sensitive to this can mean better long term business dealings.

7. Classify 

You must also classify any products you import.  Your classification will be included in your declaration to the agency involved in enforcing importing rules, which is the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service. They also cover permits, duties and quarantine or treatment of the products being imported – visit the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection website to check the requirements, or seek the advice of your importing assistant.

We can say the resurgence in importing and the globalising trend we see today is an iteration ancient trading practices before protectionist policies were introduced.  I have been a long time consultant and expert in trade and investments between China and Australia and can say, it’s been as much fun as it can get to see so many businesses prosper, because of the healthy exchange of goods between two countries I’ve have had the privilege of belonging to at different times of my life.


Lindy Chen 

Managing Director of ChinaDirect Sourcing

Ph: +61 7 3392 1421

M:    0418 899 698


About the author

Lindy Chen is a world renowned expert on importing from China, Managing Director of award-winning ChinaDirect Sourcing and author of ‘Importing From China: How to Start Your Own Import Business Without Losing Your Shirt’.  She has spent the last nine years perfecting the system which has put her 400 clients on track to achieve incredible results through importing.

Exclusive Event

Doing Business in China

Want to sharpen your importing skills to kick start your next venture or take your current business further? 

This seminar is a must if you are looking to start, expand or keep your current business alive in today’s economic climate, or simply want to pick up some invaluable importing tips.

During this fast-paced discussion, you will learn:

  • The secrets of the ChinaDirect Sourcing Importing process which has saved clients millions of dollars!
  • How to have your products delivered on time and up to your quality standards without learning Chinese, taking a trip to China or any prior importing experience.
  • How to avoid the top 9 most common pitfalls when importing from China.

This is a ‘can’t-miss’ event, but there are only a few seats available. 

This event is open to Bartercard and non-Bartercard members. 

Bartercard members

The event cost is T$40.00 – once you register, you will receive an email from ChinaDirect Sourcing with the Bartercard account details to pay your registration fee into. 


The event cost is $40.00 cash - purchase your ticket through the link below.

Click here to secure your spot today.

Alternatively if you can’t make it, register for the Sourcing and Importing from China Two Day Event to fast-track your importing skills.  Click here for information.

Any questions please email or call 0400 295 341.


Topics: Trade, Importing, Trading, Business Startup, Sourcing Overseas

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