The first step in the importing process, deciding what to sell, is also the hardest for us to help you with. If you’re not sure what to import, but just like the idea of getting into the import-export game thinking you’ll make a lot of money, you’re probably not ready to get started.

Most of our clients have been importing products for years and turned to us to streamline their supply chain operations and save them money on customs and freight. Others are new to importing but have been selling products from drop shippers or wholesalers for years, either online or in retail channels. Some of our favorite clients have deep domain expertise in an industry, and have designed a new product that they want help importing from production facilities overseas.

We always advise clients to avoid taking on financial risk wherever possible. Start with small, low cost experiments. Avoid capital investments. Accept the lower margins that come with tiny operations as the cost of minimizing downside risk. And know that you can and will increase your margins as you scale the operations.

There are indeed big opportunities in the importing business if you can find the right products to meet an unfulfilled or unacknowledged need in your home market. Here are some ideas to help you identify the right product:

  • Dive deeper in a few product categories that are close to your heart, preferably where you have true domain expertise.

  • If you don’t have any domain expertise in any product category, you may want to focus on learning about an industry before you try your hand at importing. Relentlessly interviewing industry thought leaders could be a good shortcut to learning that might normally come through getting a job in the industry.

  • Ask your friends from other countries which products they miss the most from back home. See if they know anyone who wants to help you bring it in.

  • Take a few long trips overseas to attend trade shows and visit suppliers in the quest for cool products we don’t have in the U.S. yet.

  • Search the web endlessly looking for suppliers. Alibaba, Global Sources and ImportGenius are great places to start.

  • Reach out to drop-shippers liked to find out what products are selling the best. Find out what it takes to get listed on their platforms.

  • Always check prices for similar products on Amazon, eBay and Google (both the paid ads and organic listings).

  • Research the cost per click on Google AdWords for keywords related to your product. High prices indicate lots of competition.

Tip: Build a simple e-commerce web site and get some sales before you outlay major money on inventory. Use products drop-shipped from other importers and sell them break-even if you have to. You’ll want the experience of successfully selling and delivering a product to a customer. If you can’t get a simple site built and driving sales, you’re going to struggle to move a ton of inventory that you purchase from overseas.

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