So, by definition a source is “a place, person, or thing from which something comes or can be obtained”. It makes sense to start there. Spending time and energy on getting the best sources is a worthwhile venture. In relation to having products manufactured and importing them from China it’s an incredibly important part. A good beginning really is half the work where choosing wisely is very important in lowering your risk.
1. Finding supplier
Start by signing up as a free member to alibaba.com, globalsources.com and made in china. Familiarize yourself with these platforms which are user friendly but do contain a few more bells and whistles than before. The number 1 important thing to learn about sourcing online is gaining a 6th sense for genuine good companies. The more information you review the more you will get this. For example, the more company profiles you read, the more websites you visit, the more images you review, the clearer the picture you get. Focus on what you can see that’s real. Don’t assume because a company has 500 pictures of products there that they must be great at making that product. There is much more to finding suppliers than that – focus on what you can see that’s real evidence.
2. Getting the Information you need.
When you master finding legitimate suppliers then you need to worry about getting the information you need. Don’t over focus on prices unless you have a very detailed specification for a supplier to quote from. When requesting information, make numbered lists and only ask for 1 thing per line. Do not write request for information as long winded unpunctuated stories. It genuinely comes across un-professional and you will be put to the bottom of the pile. Utilize the phone (by that I mean Skype or another such technology) to give the supplier a call and get a sales contact. A quick polite professional call where you can agree to email details you would like quoted on is a great way to start. I recommend you do that before you start swapping emails with anyone.
3. Weighing up the information.
After gathering a lot of details from ideally 3~5 solid supply options you’ll need to start weighing up the information. Here takes time to compare everything received, be organized and file the information separately. It is pretty easy to start getting confused between Chinese company names and contacts if you haven’t much experience with them. What’s important to you? Company size, how long they are established, are they servicing markets with comparable quality, are they within reasonable distance of a major port, do they communicate clearly or are there some questions that are just still unclear? Ask yourself plenty of questions. For most products, you will be able to request a sample (assuming non-customized) and that will be either free or with a small charge. To save time do this as soon as you shortlist the company. Armed with lots of information and product samples you will be well placed to rank your suppliers.
4. Visiting Factories.
You won’t always want or need to make the journey to China but sometimes you should. Having ranked your suppliers if you want to place an order first you should get a 3rd party foreign sourcing company in China to make factory visits in China. This is a very popular way for remote buyers to make final decisions on which supplier to begin with. By engaging experienced and specialized companies you will learn more. Costs for this are comparatively reasonable. If you are making the leap yourself then there is plenty you can do to be prepared. Be thorough and go through and bring copies of quotes, specs. Or any important points discussed and confirmed. Get the map out to understand exactly where you are going…not just I’m going to Shanghai and then a 2-hour train from there.
5. Sourcing at Exhibitions.
In the early stages of sourcing if you are more of a get up and go type you might be intrigued by the proposition of sourcing at exhibitions in China. If you are in an idea generation phase then this can be a lot more beneficial than trawling the B2B sites. There are 2,500 tradeshows currently held annually in China, make sure to learn the specific one in your industry or matching your needs.
6. Making & Keeping Business Relationships.
If you have been through half of what’s outlined above then you will be well away on your China business venture. This means you need to know how to make business relationships in China and keep them. It is a subtle skill to attain but if you master it will always serve you well. Business relationships in China work differently than in Western business. In China, you need to accept each other on a personal level and to consider the other party as a friend. That all seems outlandish, right? Well, it is until you experience it and it does require you to use your powers of judgement. This is also true for your Chinese counterpart.