12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1)

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“How can I find buyer leads?” / “How to find buyers?” are one of the first questions any importer & exporter asks him or herself, and it is never ending.

For your business to thrive, you’ll need a steady stream of buyers. Maybe you have one or two in your pocket already, but if they find another supplier or if you’re trying to expand, or both (which does happen from time to time), you’ll be back at square one, asking the same question.

So for you dear entrepreneur, here are twelve ways to find exciting prospects. Save this list, because you will refer to it again.

12 Ways to Find Buyer Leads (#12 is insanely effective)

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 1Ask around

Arguably the simplest and most effective way to find leads. This sounds like an advice from some amateur… but in fact, some of the best business relationships have developed because somebody knew somebody and somebody asked.

What about that entrepreneur cousin of yours or that uncle who likes to travel? Take them out to lunch and ask if they know of anyone who might want to import your products.

Chances are, they’ve never even thought about it, and once asked, they might surprise you with a prospect or two. If not, at least now they’ll be on the look out and you’ve got an unsual “business matchmaker” working on your case.

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 2Network with manufacturers

This might sound like a total waste of time – why should you talk to other exporters when you’re trying to find importers, right? Right… Except that other manufacturers – especially established ones – have already nourished relationships with importers and likely have a head start on their leads.

Why would they share their list with you, you ask? In truth, many won’t. But there are also cases where a referral would make sense. Imagine what would happen if they were coincidentally unable to fill some of their orders. If you have an established relationship, you might save the day by letting them purchase your products to save face with a client. Or perhaps they’re not a direct competitor, but currently manufacturing products that work symbiotically with yours.

For example, a company that exports quartz counter-tops might be willing to refer their clients to your company for purchasing all of the metal brackets and installation hardware.

But don’t ever think of this as a one-way street. Try to offer something to help their business first before asking what they can do for yours. In business, a little kindness goes a long way, and often, those in your network will be happy to return the favor.

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 3Go governmental

In order to boost local and national economies, most governments are actively trying to support exporters in their country. But they simply can’t help you if they don’t know you exist.

->> 3 reasons why everyone can participate in the import/export playground

Search online for the trade administration or department of commerce in your home country and make contact. Chances are, your representative will be happy to assist with free research and information on potential import countries. And they may even be able to point you to a few leads.

In addition, reach out to the foreign embassy of your target import country. While embassy representatives are less likely to provide you with leads, they can be very helpful when it comes to regulations and customs information.

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 4Become a sleuth

If you’ve got the time, spend it researching. Dig around online and with some hard work and a little luck, you can begin compiling a list of cold contacts. Here are some search terms to try:

  • Where can I find **product name** to import?

Type this search query in the language of your target country for best results. The goal here is to find importers who are also actively trying to find YOU. If they ask in an open forum type of site, respond directly to them there.

  • **target country name** importer **product name**

Try typing this search query in your own language, as well as that of your target import country. You are likely to get better results in your import country’s language – ideally, these will be links to company websites that mention importing your type of product.

But your research won’t end here. Once you’ve located a company, try searching for their buyer or buyer agent on platforms like LinkedIn.

A word of caution though: Supposed you do find their buyer, when you reach out to him or her, be tactful about it. Nobody likes to feel like they’ve been stalked online, even if it is for a legitimate business connection.

  • **target country name** foreign distributor **product name**


  • **target country name** buying agent **your product**

Again, for the best results possible, you’d want to type your query in the language of your target import country. Foreign distributors will purchase your inventory and then resell it domestically with a markup.

A buying agent works a little differently. He/she acts as a sort of “middle man” by matching you up with a buyer.
Typically, a buying agent takes a commission from the importer, but if you approach one and they have no buyer at present, they may turn the tables and agree to become your sales agent, in which case you would have to pay the commission on a sale (read on for more details).

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 5Schmooze

Join local networking organizations and get your business card in front of as many professionals as you can. You never know when a local business owner will have a colleague overseas who is interested in making a connection.

Some organizations to try:

  • Import/export associations
  • Your local Chamber of Commerce
  • Trade-specific organizations
  • International business and professional clubs

In addition to joining specific organizations, sites such as Meetup, Linkedin and Eventbrite list thousands of business-minded gatherings every day in many cities around the world.

12 ways to find buyers/buying leads for your import-export business (PART 1) 6Travel to trade shows, fairs and expos

Many countries host expositions to showcase their country’s export trade. When you reach out to your government representative (see #3), be sure to ask about attending one.

Likewise, some countries will host importing expos. If you can find one in your target importing country, plan a trip and come prepared. Since your target importers will be meeting with hundreds of exporters just like you, plan to have some marketing materials to leave a lasting impression of you and your company on them when the event is over.

But think outside the box here; don’t just limit yourself to events that focus on international trade (although those are an excellent place to start). Think about where buyers of your product would normally gather and attend or set up a booth there (i.e. a trade-specific event in your target import country).

->> Tramping down import/export barriers for a smooth business expansion




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