My 5 tips for getting started with a manufacturer in China

I’ve had a few people ask me for advice on getting started in business, specifically finding a manufacturer in China so I've put together a list with 5 main tips based on my experience. A while ago I did one on the importing process you can read here, but this one is about my advice for getting started looking for a manufacturer in China, though it would apply to other countries too.

I use Alibaba.com to contact manufacturers in China. I haven’t been to trade shows so I can’t comment on their value, but Alibaba is a great low cost way to get the process started. If you aren’t familiar with it, Alibaba is the world’s largest sourcing website where you can find manufacturers from all over the world, Australia included.

But like most things, when there are too many options available it can be a little overwhelming and it actually makes it harder.

So where to start?

1. Know what you want to manufacture. This might seem obvious but I mean really know. Not just a vague notion, but specifics – material, size, quantity. I don’t think it is possible to be too specific. If you have a sample or prototype, even better, take photos or send it to them. It’s difficult for manufacturers to give you meaningful information if you’re not clear on what you want.

2. Narrow your search. The default search on Alibaba is by product but I’d recommend searching for factories that work with your material. Or using another parameter like country, region, product, quantity etc something that is specific to your requirements that will reduce the potential search results. You’ll get a better match and won’t have to search through 10,000s of results.

3. Get samples. I can’t stress this enough, mostly because there have been times when I haven’t taken my own advice and I ended up receiving product that wasn’t exactly what (I thought) I had specified. The only real way to get around this issue when you are communicating via email is to get samples made up, and more when you make changes, and another set before they are shipped to you just to be sure. You may have to pay for some of these, or at least cover the courier costs but it’s worth it in the end.

4. Build a relationship. Start contacting places that look like they might be able to help you. You will know pretty quickly whether they are interested in doing business with you based on response rates and a willingness to accommodate your requests. Remember the whole process is going to take time. Developing a good relationship is worthwhile though because when your business is a huge success and you need to re-order or develop new products, it’s just a quick email to your manufacturer :)

5. You can do it! It might take a lot longer than you anticipated, drive you crazy with frustration and seem like it will never work but you’ll eventually find the right supplier and seeing your product come to life and arrive on your doorstep is pretty exciting!

There are a number of other things to consider before you finalise your first import. Importation costs can be significant so it’s worth making sure your numbers still work with that factored in, I wrote a blog post on that a while back you can read here. Then there is negotiating payment terms with your supplier and some of the often overlooked issues like employment conditions and ethics at your chosen factory. I could write forever on these topics so I’ll aim to write another blog post covering some of these soon.