As you will read below, Amanda has the experience and doesn't 'sugar coat' what it takes to 'Go International'.
So maybe that's why I get so tickled every time I pick up a new country with Cutie Pa Tutus. I get giddy every time I sign a deal with a new retailer that's not in the US, especially if they're located in a country that I don't yet have a retailer. I love being able to say that Cutie Pa Tutus is now in 10 countries. Although it still doesn't make us WalMart, it sure does feel good...(besides, do we really want to be Walmart?).'
But if you're going to sell your products internationally, there are some things to be aware of. Selling to other countries shouldn't be taken lightly; after all, it's not like you can just get in your car & drive over to retrieve your products should something go wrong. Here are a few tips that I think are important to keep in mind when dealing internationally.
Do your homework You're not a dummy. Or maybe you are, I don't know, but don't act like one. If you're approached by someone who claims to be an overseas company interested in buying/importing your product, do your homework. I get about 4 scam emails a month, at least, posing to be a prospective buyer in another country. I have a standard Wholesaler Information Sheet which I get all potential clients (at least those that I can't find using Google) to complete; it asks for information like name, years in business, tax ID number, reseller number, average sales, address, phone number, website, etc. Simply asking a potential client to complete this form has often done a sufficient job of scaring off scammers. It's also important to keep this information on file for obvious reasons.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Google Is Your Friend. Use it. Google the store name, google the email address it comes from, google the address they claim to be located. Go to the country's online yellow pages (hint: google term 'yellow pages moscow') and check to see if that company is listed. It's YOUR job to find out if this company/store is legit.
Never, ever send your products without payment. This statement seems like it would be a "DUH," but you'd be surprised. No matter what they promise you, don't ever give in to a company who wants to do a 'Net 30' transaction. This should be pretty transparent of a statement; again, if they DON'T pay you, what are you going to do about it? Do you have an attorney fluent with that country's trade laws that can go to court for you over there? Again, are you gonna hop in your car to go shake the store down for your cash? Nope. Get your money first.
Accept wire transfers. Only. Or maybe Paypal. Only. Do not, do not, do not accept credit cards, at least not the first few times you do business with the retailer. A common scam in international trade is for a scammer to pay you with a stolen credit card, which you won't discover until after you've shipped. Then not only have you lost your product, but thanks to credit card protection for consumers against stolen cards, you will have to repay the money you were "paid." Do a wire transfer for payment; give them your banks' routing number and your account number (they can't take money from your account unless they a. have a checkbook, b. have your debit card or c. go into a branch with a fake driver's license, which isn't likely since they're overseas). You will be charged a wire transfer fee by your bank, so make sure to pass that charge along to the buyer. You can also do Paypal; that seems like it's pretty secure. Of course you'll be charged a 3% transaction fee...but you can pass that along to your customer as well.
Require a deposit. My products are custom made for each order; we've been selling so much that I haven't been able to keep much inventory in stock. I usually turn out medium-to-large orders in 2-3 weeks, so many US stores don't want to be charged for the purchase until it's time to ship. Knowing that, and knowing that international stores often feel the same way, I require a 50% deposit up front. This does a couple of things: first, it gives me time to make sure their funds are good and that they clear. Second, it ensures they won't back out of the deal after I've spent money on the labor and materials to make their order. It's a good practice and it comes in handy. Of course, if they prefer to pay the entire amount up front, all the better :)
Never send your products without payment Yes, I already said this one....but it's so important that I wanted to say it again. Don't do it.
Done deal? Now write your press release! Everyone wants to know when a mom & pop shop has gone international. Ok, maybe not everyone, but lots of people do. It's great news, and definitely something to crow about! So Tweet about it, write a press release, tell your friends, put it on Facebook. Not only is it impressive news, but it will lend credibility to your products. Domestic retailers will think, hey, they're selling in Europe so they must be ok! Other international buyers will think, hey, they're selling in Dubai, so they must be ok. Get it?
Track your package without bankrupting your client Yes, the buyer will pay for shipping fees, but that doesn't mean you should rape them. I HATE UPS and FedEx, not even to mention the bad DHL word. I can't stand being overcharged for shipping...its a HUGE pet peeve. I use USPS for all of my shipping. All of it. Unless of course a customer demands that I use something else. USPS Express International is very reasonably priced, arrives in 3-5 business days and is tracked. If you need it there sooner, you can use USPS Global Express; it's guaranteed to arrive within 3 business days, but it costs quite a bit more. Go to www.usps.com and use their Click & Ship and get 20% off regular post office rates....PLUS your mailman will pick it up from your home or office!
If you've done business internationally with your business and have more advice to share, please do!! Post a comment here so that we can all learn a little...we'd appreciate it.
Thanks Amanda for your insight and guidance!! I know we all needed to hear the reality and how you can Go International.
You can follow Amanda's success on twitter:
@CutiePatutus and her blog: Mompreneur Reality - Everything But Sugar Coated