Once you decide on a business idea to push forward the next question becomes – how do I make this happen? If your idea requires specialized equipment the best place to source it is probably through the commercial merchant site alibaba.com. In this article I will explain how you can get good quality machinery at a good price.
In one of my earlier businesses I sourced a machine very cheaply and got it imported into Malawi without ever speaking to the manufacturer on the telephone or even ever seeing him!!
Are you shocked? Don't be.
I have been chatting with suppliers based in China on and off since 2009 to get quotes for goods that I’d like to produce. The most important thing I’ve learnt when it comes to communication is that email is MUCH less complicated than speaking on the phone. The Chinese supplier can't refer to a phone conversation later whereas emails can be easily reread; this avoids massive communication breakdowns and ultimately mishaps.
I don't remember exactly how I initially found the alibaba.com but it is a treasure trove for someone wanting to source a product or mass produce a new design. There are thousands of suppliers for everything so going through the vendor profiles can take ages.
Once you engage a supplier you will receive an email response to your inquiry from their business email rather than via alibaba.com so you don't have to worry about engaging a supplier and then having them disappear.
These are my top tips on sourcing via alibaba.com:
1. Keep it simple
Send emails in very simple language with a lot of detail so that it's very clear what you are trying to achieve.
2. Do not use SMS/text message shorthand at all.
If someone is using a translation device (which many suppliers on alibaba.com do), a wrongly spelt word won't be found or worse, it will be mistranslated. Even abbreviations like “don’t” should be avoided in favour of “do not”.
3. Ask a lot of questions.
This is necessary to ensure that you and the supplier fully understand what it is you want to buy.
4. Get a sample
If possible, get a sample sent to you before you make a large order. Even if you have to pay a couple of hundred dollars it is worth it. You might think that's too much but think of it as saving yourself thousands rather than losing hundreds. If you make a $5,000 order without seeing a sample, and find out you don't like the product, $200 for a sample will start to look like money well spent!
Getting samples will obviously take time and might lead to a delay in launching your business but it will prevent future headaches or costly mistakes.
Over thirty years ago my dad ordered a candle-making machine only to find that the candles it produced were as small as his finger. The conventional candles at the time were much bigger and he thought he'd thrown his money down the drain. He was in a state of total panic but fortunately for him this incident coincided with a Government ban on the importation of many goods including candles and the business took off.
He was lucky; it could just have easily gone the other way so I totally recommend ordering samples or if you're ordering something big ask the right questions. In my dad's case he could have inquired about the candle size but remember that this was before email. It would have meant an expensive ‘question and answer’ phone call or a letter that took forever to get there.
With these tips you should be well on your way to sourcing quality machinery and products.
"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." George Bernard Shaw
For inspirational quotes follow @Getting2Wealthy on twitter.
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.