On the face of it, it seems simple enough to start an import business. In fact, it’s a really good idea, since you can buy cheap stuff abroad and then sell them for higher prices to customers in the United States.

But you need a real plan, and that involves choosing the right products and online customs brokers so you can get your products into the country. Then you’ll have to pick the right sales channels and promote your items with effective advertising campaigns. Here’s a basic plan for you to work with.

1. Choose the right item to sell

This will require research and brainstorming, and it’s not as easy as it may seem. You need to pick niche items, and they should be robust enough to survive the shipping process without getting damaged along the way. They should sell well and offer decent profit margins for each item. Your best bet is to find an initial product for which customers may want to buy various accessories, which you can sell as well.

2. Pick your supplier carefully

The main problem is avoiding scammers. You will need a reputable source, such as the “gold” members at Alibaba. For the most part, you’ll want to buy from countries that can be counted on to manufacture and deliver items in the quality and prices you want.

3. Check out the samples

Part of the process of picking your supplier is to place a small sample order from various candidates. Contact them by using a new email address (don’t use your personal email!) and then see if you can buy 5 to 10 of their product units. You should also pay either through PayPal or Trade Assurance.

Here you test the various units to see just how durable they are. As a seller, you often have to offer a money-back-guarantee or a warranty, and that’s often bothersome. That’s why you should only sell items that don’t have parts that can damage easily.

You can also find out just how well these items will sell. If you don’t get a lot of orders for them, at least you didn’t tie up too much of your capital. Later on, when you order more products and your supplier recognizes you as a steady customer, you can renegotiate the prices for the units and for the shipping. You may even get them to drop ship for you.

4. Use online customs brokers for customs clearance

Importation, unfortunately, means dealing with the complicated customs regulations. Fortunately for you, your business can just use an online customs broker service so this step is as painless as possible.

5. Sell and advertise on Amazon and eBay

These are the most reliable sales platforms, and they also offer effective advertising programs. You can start sending promo materials to your customers, and also build your own site. Then you can increase your purchase quantity so you can meet the increased demand for your products.

This is a very basic plan, and each step may contain several pitfalls along the way. But at least you now know just what it takes to make sure that your import business becomes profitable.

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.

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