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Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Social Media & eCommerce

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

Social Media & E-Commerce3

In last week’s blog post we had a brief introduction on E-commerce and the key steps you should take to create your own sales channel. Another way to create a powerful sales channel is through Social Media.

Social Media is essential to get your target audience to find your brand and connect with influential figures in your niche. In the past few years, social media has become the number one medium for promotion and businesses who want to achieve long term success need to have a social media strategy in place.

Why Having a Social Media Presence is Important

We often hear how social media is powerful and important for brands around the world. The main reasons why social media is the platform of choice is:

  • Advertising conversions are higher than other forms of promotions such as traditional PPC, offline marketing and television.
  • People spend a lot of time on social media so it’s very easy to find your target audience.
  • Social Media provides a lot of data on demographics and behaviours which if used right it can scale up your business significantly.
  • Drive Huge Amounts of Traffic To Your Website & Amazon Listing.
  • Connect with your customers on a personal level and find out their concerns or needs in your category.

A Look at Social Media Platforms

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Facebook

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Facebook is without a doubt the most popular social network to use. Although having(and growing) your own Facebook page is essential for your brand, the advantage Facebook has over other platforms is an affordable and converting advertising platform.

Initially, the best strategy to use Facebook Advertising is to find your target audience. No other advertising platform in the world allows you to segment your audience by:

  • Gender
  • Income
  • Country
  • State/Province
  • Interests
  • Age

When launching a new brand, my strategy is to have a budget of $5 a day maximum to find my target audience, that way, when the time comes to launch my product, I know already who to target. Facebook also allows you to target audiences who liked a particular page, so if you have a fitness brand and want to target female audiences aged 18-25 who like Nike, Adidas & Under Armour; you can do that with FB Ads.

What this allows is to have better converting Ads and more clicks to your sponsored posts. One suggestion I can give is to not direct the audience to your Amazon listing(unless you have a lot of positive reviews), but instead to your website/landing page to collect email addresses.

We will talk in more detail about Facebook Advertising in the coming weeks, however, as a business in 2017 and beyond, you need to be on Facebook – it’s where your target market hangs out most of the time so take advantage of it!

Instagram

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Instagram is the platform of choice if you want to showcase your products, brand and your story. The visual aspect of Instagram allows you to truly differentiate yourself from your competitors. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can use their advertising platform to also target Instagram users.

What I really like about Instagram though, is the ability to connect with authority in your niche and even larger brands. This makes it the perfect social media platform alongside YouTube to gain massive exposure for your brand.

However, the downside of Instagram is that you only have one clickable link in your whole profile – The Bio. This makes it very hard to direct audiences to click the link, for this reason, although Instagram can be used to drive sales, the main use of the platform is to gain exposure.

Twitter

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Twitter is one of the top social media networks, however, their follower base has been declining in recent years so in my opinion, other social media platforms are much better. Twitter works best for announcements or to give news regarding your brand or products.

I would still suggest you to have a Twitter account though, not only it works great for some niches such as fitness, yoga and cosmetics; but also because as a brand you need to be everywhere! The more places you are, being social media platforms, marketplaces or countries, the better.

So while in some cases twitter can work great, it’s not an ideal platform for Ecommerce sellers.

Snapchat

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Out of all the most popular social media platforms, snapchat is the newest one. However, they are quickly gaining a large following(particularly amongst younger audiences) and they are set to go public soon. Snapchat is a video-based application that allows you for to share videos which are only available for a limited amount of time.

This is a great app if you want to make quick promotional videos or even use it to make instruction-based videos on your products. However, unlike most social media platforms, Snapchat only applies to certain categories.

Nonetheless, if your market is mostly younger audiences, you need to use the app as it’s quickly becoming the number 1 social media platform amongst the younger generation.

YouTube

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YouTube is by far the best social media platform for exposure and driving insane amounts of traffic to your website or Amazon listing. With the introduction of their Video Advertising Platform, you can quickly gain enough exposure or even go viral. It’s not uncommon for unknown brands to go viral and get massive sales via YouTube. Video based ads convert much better also, however, at $0.20 a click, it can become quite expensive.

The power of YouTube relies in a pool of YouTubers from all kinds of niches, in fact, if you can find influencers or brand ambassadors willing to make an unboxing review or How-To-Guides for your product, you will get more sales than any other method, such as PPC or FB Ads.

The major tips I can give regarding YouTube are:

  • If you’re starting your own channel, your videos must be very well made.
  • Focus on providing value and showcasing your brand.
  • If sponsoring other videos, make sure that your products are of a higher quality. Packaging, inserts and the product itself need to look professional.
  • With thousands of videos uploaded every minute on YouTube, your videos can easily get lost, have a keyword strategy in place and leverage other social media networks to get views.

If used right, YouTube can be the single platform that elevates your brand from a small business to a well-known brand loved by its audiences. Unless you have enough video making or editing experience, I wouldn’t suggest you make YouTube videos yourself(as a brand), instead, outsource the whole process or even better, leverage the audience of other YouTubers.

Pinterest

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Pinterest is a social media platform that very different from the rest. It focuses mainly on images where they are structured using pins and boards. What makes Pinterest unique is that the platform has a majority of women followers, so if your brand or products are aimed at this demographic, you need to focus your marketing efforts on Pinterest.

Pinterest, unlike Instagram, has clickable images, so every image you put in the platform can be directed to your website or Amazon listing. This becomes really powerful when your follower base get bigger as it can help increase conversions.

Social Media & E-Commerce

Social media and E-Commerce are a perfect match for each other! No other platform gives you the ability to showcase your products in front of thousands of potential buyers. When it comes to promoting your products on social media, you need to focus on these points:

  • Show what your brand is about(your brand story). People are more willing to buy from brands they can connect with.
  • Run Giveaways, Polls and Promotions frequently. These will not only boost sales but it will also give you some great data about your customer base and buying habits.
  • Show unique features about your products and great looking pictures will attract more followers.
  • Use social media to provide great customer service. Check your inboxes frequently and reply to comments you get on your posts.

However, the most powerful way to gain followers and exposure to your brand via social media is by advertising. Facebook and YouTube provide the best converting advertising platforms and give you a lot of data about your customer behaviour.

Amazon PPC can get very expensive after a while and social media is another great way to drive traffic. It is recommended to not drive traffic directly to your Amazon listing via social media advertising, but instead, use the following strategy:

  1. Set-Up your Facebook/Instagram/Youtube Ads targeting your ideal audience.
  2. Links should point to your website or Ecommerce store.
  3. Have a landing page and an offer to get email subscribers.
  4. Provide customers the option to either buy from your website or Amazon itself. 

By driving traffic to your website you have the ability to collect email subscribers. Email subscribers allow you to:

  • Pitch offers during holiday seasons or when you experience slow sales.
  • Connect with your customers to build a relationship with your brand.
  • Send an email blast when launching new products so you not only get some sales, but also some traffic to your listings.

Conclusion

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Social Media Marketing can be a great asset to have for your business. No other tool comes close when it comes to connecting with your target audiences and getting exposure for your brand. Keep in mind that social media is a slow process and not every platform will suit your brand.

We recommend focusing your efforts on 2 or 3 social media platforms and outsource the rest to a virtual assistant.

In next week’s blog post we will discuss Inventory Management, FBA Prep and Storage. Amazon has been constantly increasing their fees so it makes sense to look for alternative options to store part or all of your inventory.

We hope this short guide prove helpful and as always, if you have any questions, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best and happy selling,

Duncan

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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Zero to Hero: Build a Brand series – Overseas manufacturing guide

I’ve probably written about this topic for as long as the blog is up (March 2015) but I’d like to give you a summary of the most important parts of manufacturing overseas in this blog series on how to build a brand.  

WARNING – LONG POST :)

So here goes: 

Guide on Manufacturing Overseas

There are a lot of statistics I could give you but I wouldn’t know where to begin. I want to break down China and its manufacturing in a few sentences.

Believe it or not, China is still the biggest production site by far. While there are several countries in the vicinity, such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh, they simply do not have the infrastructure that China does. Imagine you need sanitary items, furniture, household appliances, insurance, and a smart phone. You walk into a Wal-Mart. You can find practically anything you need in there and that’s within 10,000 square feet. That pretty much sums up China’s infrastructure. 

Factory A provides plastic and tooling, Factory B provides packaging, Factory C provides raw material and components, and Factory D assembles everything. They are all within a stone’s throw away from each other. 

Most of the factory bosses are related to each other. They set up a perfect system within their “community.”

I’ll give you an example, and I am not kidding you, 95% of the world’s supply of electrical multi-sockets comes from a small town in Cixi near Ningbo/Shanghai. When I say “small” I actually mean small for China. 

There are over 1.4 million people in this town. When you step into “Ningbo Kaifeng” (World largest factory for electrical multisockets) you are overwhelmed. And when you step outside of the building you see five competitors across the street. All the factory bosses are related to each other. And down the street they can find everything they need – factories that make packaging, tooling, plastic, steel, and so on.

The Chinese are so effective in terms of production and infrastructure that some first world countries could really learn a lot.

The big retailers figured out a long time ago that nearly every large corporation, retailer, discounter, or online shop has a buying office somewhere in China/Hong Kong. I know this because I have been in the industry for over 17 years. When you walk into a factory and look at the production line you see cartons of goods with famous names on them. Whether it is a fan from Home Depot, an audio speaker from Target, or a ceramic pot from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, they were all made in China. Most products are made in specific areas.

Here are a few examples:

  • Guangdong province (South of China): Electronics of any kind, especially consumer and household, toys
  • Zhejiang province (Shanghai area): DIY products, tools, metal and fabrics, lighting
  • Hebei province (Beijing area): Textiles, coal, steel, iron, engineering, chemicals, power, ceramics and food

These are the main areas for production. However, nowadays production is also shifting inland to take advantage of lower labor and production costs.

Certification

First things first. You need to understand that certifications are based on directives and legislations. So for example the GPSD in Europe (General Product Safety Directive Legislation) or the CPSC for the US (Consumer Products Safety Commission) says that a product needs to meet certain standards and need to be safe in general to import or bring to the market. Simple right? Unfortunately not. The GPSD has tons of directives under its belt such as the CE, RoHS, REACH directive). Which means that for each product or category there are further sub-categories that have directives which tell you exactly what your product needs to meet. Wait a minute, what exactly are you saying? I can’t read all this technical jargon…. 

Ever went onto Google to look what your product needs to meet under which directive? Found a site and then there’s a 200 page PDF that tells you in technical mumbo jumbo what the directive is about and after reading that you still don’t know what to do? Well this is where a lot of people struggle (I am actually working on a course as of writing this that will take the guesswork out and make you understand what you need to know)

So which certificates do I need and do I need them all? 

Yes and No

The good news first. No you do not have to have all tests and certificates done by third party laboratories (both the US and Europe). What would suffice in (almost) all cases would be a declaration of conformity. Wow really? Yes, and here is the “however”. If you trust your suppliers blindly that all raw materials are free of hazardous chemicals, comply with electromagnetic compatibility (electronics for example) or meet certain other standards then that would be very foolish. If your supplier can’t provide any certification and claims that he complies with everything you ask for thats a huge red flag. I also understand that you don’t want to invest in any certification not knowing if it will sell. And this is the most important part where you as a entrepreneur and business person need to come to a decision. A) Is my product potentially dangerous (can it explode??). B) Is my product relatively simple and can’t harm anyone (e.g. leather wallet)? Once you’ve figured out what you need for your product you need to evaluate what should be invested. Lets take an example. For the sake of it lets look at a simple and a complicated product. 

Simple product:

Solar powered garden light for 1.2$. Comes with nothing but a few cables, some plastic and a solar cell. Simple right? Technically I have to meet the following: LVD (EMC), ROHS, REACH & CE in general for Europe. Now if I were to test all of these the costs would amount to roughly 2000USD with a very cheap Chinese laboratory. If it was TUV or SGS the costs would be triple that. Now what if I am going to order 1,000 pieces and my testing costs would already cost more? That doesn’t make sense. In this case I suggest to get self declaration of the above regulations and save yourself these costs. Obviously you’d still want your supplier to declare that he can fulfil those requirements so look for suppliers who already deal with customers in the country you want to import to and have a good reputation or can back up their claim that the item is compliant with raw material certificates for example (from the raw material supplier). 

Complicated product:

Small Electric fan heater 5.9$. Comes also with a few cables, some plastic, a plug and a PCB. Simple right? No. You see, I need to plug this product into the socket (230Volts plus) and the potential dangers are very high. If the unit tips over or a child puts a cover on top, the entire unit can burn up (and the house with it). Also here technically I have to meet the following: LVD (EMC), ROHS, REACH & CE in general for Europe. Ideally I will also want a GS mark for Germany because this is a product consumers want to have with GS. On top of that I want abnormal testing from TUV for example. Abnormal testing means they would test what happens if you cover the unit with a blanket or if it tips over that the unit switches off automatically. A good supplier knows that there needs to be a tip over switch installed and overheating fuse included. This abnormal test alone costs 4-5,000USD. A GS mark costs somewhere in the same vicinity (2-4000US$). The other tests (LVD, RoHS, REACH & CE) are roughly 2,000USD. Now we are looking at 10-12,000USD investment costs. Would I do all these testings before purchasing? Yes, 1000%. I do not want to risk my business or anyone else’s life because I wanted cheap. You may say ok but I don’t have that kind of money. Then you need to find a supplier who either has these certificates already or is willing to invest the money for you. If you can’t find one then its simple – the product is not for you and your budget. You can still go for it without all the testing and certifications but I think we are on the same page here that that would be a very foolish decision in case anything happens.  

Now I can’t go into hundreds of products or case studies here, that just isn’t possible. But I think you see my point. First I need to evaluate if the trouble is worth it and if I even want to deal with complicated products. 

If the answer is yes then the strategy is pretty clear I think – test and get certificates. If you don’t dare to sell these risky (but profitable) products go the easy way and pick simple products or walk away. 

Products & components to avoid when starting 

Some items really don’t make sense to import (together with the antidumping rate items). These items are usually license-required items, large items or items that are manufactured in a low-income country near you. 

China is getting some competition from a few countries, not only because of labor costs but also due to government import restrictions (antidumping fees for example).

Products that are difficult for importing:

  • Anything related to gas
  • Cars
  • Supplements
  • Foods, drinks
  • Animals
  • Guns, weaponry
  • Hazardous material
  • and more

For the above items you would need to obtain proper licenses first and this can be quite difficult. So the above might not be your first choice of import. 

Contracts & Tooling Guide 

A lot of people are concerned when they produce their own design in China that the supplier will copy it and sell to other sellers.

First I would like to point out that in my nearly 12 years in China I have had almost only good experiences with suppliers even with my own designs and exclusivity agreements.

Let’s look at your options and what it actually means to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements in China and how likely it is to enforce it or hold up in a court.

Lets look at the terminology first and what they mean:

NDA’s

Whats an NDA and when do you use it?

An NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement is used when you have your own product design and want that developed by a factory in China. You basically agree with the factory that they are not allowed to disclose, share or produce your design (or even ideas) with any other customer or supplier. Neither local or overseas. In most cases if you have your own design a tooling is likely need to be made. The first step you take before you send any designs to a factory is to ask them to sign the NDA.

Tooling

To produce your design it is very likely that the factory needs to make a mould or tooling for you. With this tooling – parts of your product will be manufactured and eventually assembled into the final product.

(Categories like Textile or Food do not need tooling). Toolings are often included in the price quoted to you when you hand over your design. However you can also opt to pay for the tooling if you want to own the tooling as well.

Toolings can go anywhere from 1,000-30,000+USD depending on the size of the product. Yes, things can get pretty expensive.

Can I move my own tooling to a secure location?

Toolings are usually very large and heavy as they are made out of die-cast in most cases. Moving them requires quite some logistics.

So if you are unsure that your supplier is going to use them for other customers you should move them to a secure location (e.g. a rented warehouse). This can easily cost a few hundred US$.

And every time you would place an order this tooling needs to be moved to the factory and after production back to the warehouse. An expensive enterprise.

So having said all that if you feel you need to have your tooling secure somewhere else you should not work with this factory in the first place.

So whats the best way to go about having your own designs & tooling?

Two scenarios:

  • You are just starting out and have no factory contacts whatsoever.

My tip is to work with a sourcing agent  that can help you find reliable and trustworthy factories.

Don’t go onto Alibaba and randomly look for factories that could make your product. You don’t know them, they don’t know you and are unlikely to help you anyway.

Even if they tell you: “no problem, we can make it for you” they are likely to copy your product or sell the idea to other sellers the minute you place an order.

Just the other day a reader of mine told me he found a trading company on Alibaba for his design and placed an order of 300 pieces.

When he got contacted by the actual factory about labels and other things they needed from him he found out that the trading company placed a total of 500 pieces with that factory.

They ordered an additional 200 pieces (without the knowledge of the client & even with the clients logo) for themselves probably to sell it on Aliexpress or even Amazon themselves.

  • You’ve been placing orders in China for a while.

Work with the factory of your trust. Even if the product you are now looking to manufacture doesn’t fit into their assortment. Factories have a large network and contacts with other factories.

Ask them to help you source a factory that can make your product whom they trust. I’d he happy to pay a few cents more for this type of help if it means I get connected to someone trustworthy.

Ideally your existing factory can help you manufacture your new design.

Mutual Exclusivity Agreement

Let say you find a product on Alibaba or at the shows and you want to buy this product exclusively to sell on Amazon. Suppliers are likely not to give you a Exclusivity Agreement if you don’t purchase high quantities from them or if you haven’t had any previous business with them. FBA sellers are in general very small customers for factories. The 1000 pieces (if even) you & I are going to want to place as a trial order cause more trouble to the factory than you could imagine. Setting up production and purchasing raw material for only a 1000 pieces is an expensive endeavour for factories. Most raw material suppliers have MOQ’s of 5000 pieces (per raw material) and up. So getting the material for 1000 pieces can be quite expensive. While some factories may have stock left of material or might agree to purchase the larger quantity from the raw material supplier in order to produce your order it is unlikely to happen in reality. Having said that you could approach things a little different to get your exclusivity:

You could ask the supplier to sign exclusivity agreements for 6 months. Meaning you could agree on a quantity that you will place within those 6 months and if you don’t reach the quantity the contract will be voided.

Which will give you the time to figure out if the product is selling and the supplier on the other hand isn’t forced to sign a deal for a long time.

After this period of 6 months the contract/agreement can be reviewed and extended for a longer period. Even if the supplier does not agree to an extension you have at least a head start of 6 months on other sellers.

Validity of agreements & contracts:

In the FB groups I often see question like: “How are those agreements going to hold up and what are your chances of winning an NDA dispute in China if you find out your supplier has betrayed you?”

Well to be honest the chances are slim. Does it help to have an agreement in Chinese? No. Even if you hire an expensive lawyer in China and win the case by the time you resolve the issue your expenses will have ballooned into thousands of $.

So unless you have a patent it isn’t even worth it pursuing a law suit.

You will also have difficulties finding out if your supplier actually used your tooling for another client. An un-trustworthy supplier will find many ways to wiggle himself out of the situation.

For example he could claim a disgruntled engineer of the company left the factory and took the designs to the next factory he started to work for. You won’t be able to proof him differently.

So whats the point of having an agreement at all and whats best approach?

To ask a supplier to sign an agreement or NDA shows that you mean serious business and they will take you and your project more seriously. If he doesn’t agree to it in the first place move on to the next supplier.

Work with a supplier whom you trust and have worked with for many months/years already. You will still need to have agreements in place with that supplier but the understanding is entirely different.

If you work with a supplier and you let him know he can grow his business with you over the years he will honour your agreement. The contract is more or less a formality.

Either place orders with a factory for ODM (products off the rack) in the beginning and eventually propose your ideas and designs after you worked with them for a while or hire a Sourcing Agent who can help you get you in touch with trustworthy factories.

For example in my case study I actually got exclusivity for my product (for an initial 1000 pieces order).

And the supplier honoured it. How do I know that? As you know my case study is public and people who join the course can see contacts of my supplier within the course.

After I launched my product and case study only a few days went by and my supplier contacted me to tell me that he had received quotation requests from 2 different US sellers already. Those 2 people wanted to copy my process (they even used my email templates and quotation forms that I offer in my course). The supplier refused to offer my product to those 2 guys. Thats not to say that they can’t go anywhere else but at least I know I have a reliable and trustworthy supplier.

So its all about finding the right supplier and develop a relationship with him. You will want to have agreements in place even after a long relationship but again, thats just really formality and if you found a trustworthy supplier they will honour agreements and in 95% of the cases help you if you have to claim money for example (defect or returned goods).

The point I want to get across to you is not to worry too much about getting copied in China if you approach things professionally.

Getting copied will happen eventually because either:

  • Another factory copies/modifies the designs because they have seen it on Amazon.
  • Your competitor copies your product or modifies it.
  • Your approach was unprofessional.

Take the head-start that you have with your product and move on. Thats how this business is.

And remember the above goes only for your own designs. It is a different story if you are buying products off the rack maybe with small modifications from a supplier that you found on Alibaba for example. In these cases it doesn’t make much sense to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements because it is not your design in the first place. It belongs to the supplier. However if you make significant modifications and are able to place larger orders it makes sense to have agreements.

Choosing a supplier

Most people start out on Alibaba because they cannot come to China. While I do recommend to come to China it doesn’t make sense if you are just starting out. If you are starting out, head over here to my Alibaba screencast which helps on choosing a supplier:  http://importdojo.com/alibaba-hacks/

Ordering samples & how to test each sample effectively

I ll cover three topics about sample management:

  • Sample costs
  • Communication
  • Supervision

Sample costs

Once you have settled on a supplier for your new product it is time to purchase a sample. Most suppliers will charge you for sending a sample. There is usually no way around this unless you have worked with the supplier for a longer time.

Even for me, being here and dealing with suppliers on a daily basis I can’t guarantee that I don’t have to pay for a sample.

Here are some Insider tips to “try” to get a sample for free.

  • Introduce yourself as an assistant of a large company. Suppliers tend to smell money when a large company is interested and are more likely to give away samples for free.
  • State that if the sample is OK you will place a large order
  • State that you have especially chosen this supplier to be your exclusive supplier for this product and he has the chance now to do business with you.
  • Ask him to put the sample cost on top of the official order that may follow if the sample is what you are looking for.
  • State that it is company policy that you/your company don’t pay for samples and if he wishes to do business he should agree to your sample terms.
  • Split the costs. Offer to pay for either the samples or the freight costs.

If none of these work I recommend you to agree with the supplier to deduct the sample costs from the official (larger) order. At least this way you save the sample costs if you decide to order from this particular supplier.

Be wary of sample costs in general

On one occasion I was sourcing for a textile accessory. The item itself can be made for approx 2 USD.

I screened around 10 suppliers and eventually narrowed my selection down to 5 suppliers. They were all in a similar price range.

When it came down to ordering samples one of the suppliers (who was also the most expensive) asked me for a sample fee of 100 USD to be transferred to his bank account. That didn’t make sense. I immediately knew it must be a trading company with no factory background.

They probably outsource the work to a factory because they have no own facilities. Eliminate suppliers that have high sample costs right in the beginning.

Samples are usually 10-50% more expensive than the originally quoted price. It is a common practice to charge more for samples, as many of the samples need to be handmade for the customer, especially if you have some sort of modification request.

Another reason why samples are usually more expensive than the quoted price is that they want to see if you are serious & sincere about placing a larger order later.

I can tell you that from my own experience as a manufacturer. I get about 5 sample requests per week and all of them want it for free. If a buyer is not willing to pay for a sample I won’t send it to him because I will be thinking he just wants to get a sample and there will be no follow up order.

Sometimes suppliers have stock of their items. If you do not need to have any modifications done, or you just want to check the quality before asking for more, request a sample they have in stock. If they have stock, they usually charge the regular (MOQ) price.

Communication

In my 12 years living and working in China I have learned to communicate with Chinese suppliers in different ways compared to communicating with Western companies.

What is being said or promised on the phone/chat or email is not always being followed by the factory or the supplier. Often you will find that something you said or agreed on is being done completely different.

For example you ordered a sample of a certain product in a certain color & quantity but what you receive is completely different from what you asked/paid for.

Unfortunately the chain of command in factories is not always direct. So when your sales contact gives your sample order to his sample or engineering team there may be 2 or 3 people in between.

In between often some information gets lost. So eventually the person responsible for making your sample will receive different instructions that deviate from your original briefing. Often there will be no meetings held on projects from clients (like we are used to in the western world), but rather a quick email to another person that has not fully understood what you actually want or need.

Often there will be no message or notification that your project may be urgent or requires special attention. That might be a simple instruction, for example telling the sample team to make the sample with a US plug or adapter. No one has told the sample team and common sense is unfortunately not requested when being a worker in the factory.

Which brings us to:

Supervision

I can’t stress enough how important it is to supervise & monitor your order/samples or other projects that you have with your supplier. Westerners work differently. We are more detailed and we expect people to have the same common sense that most of us have. Information will get lost. You need to plan for it.

After each discussion on the phone/chat or email you should follow up with written and agreed on-points. Try to think of everything for the supplier and make it as easy as possible for him to follow up & complete your instructions. Give him a “goodie” at the end of the email to advise him of the potential to be working with you.

For example (content in BLUE are my notes for you):

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the talk just now. I would like to summarize the discussed points:

– Sample to be sent to ……. (your address)

– Sample needs to be in working mode. A non-working sample is not accepted, as the sample will undergo quality tests by my third party laboratory. (this part doesn’t need to be true but he will think twice before sending you a sample in poor condition)

– Sample needs to have a US plug (attach him a picture of a US plug-make it easy for him)

– Please make sure the sample is tested on your side before being sent out.

– Please attach your model number & supplier name-tag to the sample as I am getting many samples and would like to know who sent which sample. (this way you will not lose reference of which supplier made your sample if you order from more than one)

– Make sure you mention “samples of no commercial value” to the Sample Invoice (in order to avoid customs tax on samples at your destination).

– Etc.

Please give me a written confirmation of all discussed points and your understanding.

If the sample works out well and everything is as it is agreed on, expect an order of… pcs.

Best,

…..

Here a few more tips on communication & supervision with your supplier:

  • Give deadlines to suppliers that you both agreed on.
  • Set yourself reminders on your smart phone/computer that will help you to remind your supplier.
  • Make simple sketches & drawings of your requests if the supplier misunderstands you.
  • Have him confirm each step of your modification or request
  • Keep emails clear and with bullet points to make your requests stand out

Once you have a feeling on what you need to pay attention to it gets a lot easier and your sample orders in China will be a lot smoother.

Inspections

I’ve been saying this forever and I still see people shipping their products from China without inspecting their products by professionals but my recommendation is never ever ship without inspecting your goods. 

Especially not if you ship directly to Amazon. If there’s a problem it’s too late to re-work the goods (in most cases) or ship back to China. 

There are several third-party inspection companies in Asia. Some of the big names are: Buereau Veritas, TUV-SUD, TUV-RHEINLAND, and AsiaInspection  (which I personally use) to name a few. The first three are usually expensive but also very thorough. AsiaInspection is a simple and cost efficient service that should work in the beginning for you. Register on their website and simply create an order with them. You can fill out all the details or even better ask your supplier to send them a sample.

Simple steps: You ask your supplier for a date when you can send an inspector (usually around 70-80% of the finished production), you book the inspection online and the Inspector will go to the factory on the arranged date. 

Once the inspection is completed they will send you an inspection report. Based on this report you can either:

  • Release the shipment to the supplier
  • Ask the supplier to re-work the goods according to your agreed terms and fix problems found during the inspection

Only when you are entirely satisfied should you release the shipment. In most cases there will be minor findings, such as scratches, dents, or packaging issues. If this doesn’t bother you then release. If there are major problems like faulty wires or wrong colours, ask your supplier to re-work the goods.

Trust me, he will re-work, as he is still waiting to get the full payment. Remember, NEVER pay everything up front. Once everything is as it should be you can give your logistics provider the order to pick up the goods and send them to the port.

You are of course entitled to skip this process, but it is highly recommended, especially for first-timers and for order amounts above 1,000USD.

Pheeww that was a long post but I hope that this serves as a refreshment or reminder on what to pay attention to :)

Next week in our blog series we’ll talk about eCommerce, what channels exist, how to build an audience, social media following and more so stay tuned :)

If you enjoyed this post please comment or share on your social media :)

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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Zero to Hero: Build a Brand Series – Business Incorporation 101 – Part 3 – Banking

Zero to Hero: Building a Brand

Business Incorporation 101: Part 3

Business Banking

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Having a good business structure is only one part of running the business – A good company needs to have the best tools to be financially viable. In this blog posts we will talk about business banking, transfers and international exchange rates. As your business grows, you can’t afford to lose money in fees, for this reason, it’s important to choose the best banking tools you can find.

 

Regardless of the country you choose to incorporate in, we suggest you have:

 

  1. 1 Business bank account In the country of incorporation
  2. 1 Bank account in you home country or country of residence
  3. 1 International Bank Card(HSBC, Chase, Deutsche Bank etc)
  4. 1 Currency Exchange Account

 

We recommend having accounts in all 3 major world currencies – US Dollar($), Euro(€) and Pound Sterling(£). You may ask why would you need so many accounts if you’re only operating in one country or currency?

 

There are 3 reasons:

 

1. Market Crashes & Recession

 

As we have experienced in the past, countries have market crashes or recessions which greatly devalue the local currency. This can sometimes be so severe to eliminate your profits or worse put you out of business. Having an second account in another currency will enable you to switch/move  your assets and reduce the risks.

 

2. Global Expansion

 

At some point in your business, you will want to expand into other markets besides the US. Having an account in the local currency combined with a low exchange rate account; will save you fees on money transfers.

 

3. Material Prices & Sourcing

 

A lot of E-commerce sellers overlook this very important aspect, materials rise and fall according to the local(and global) stock market affecting labour costs – and increasing you Cost of Goods Sold. A good way to go around this issue is:

 

  • Source different types of materials so your risk is spread out (Wood, Aluminium, Titanium, Textiles etc.)
  • Source from different markets. Example: Electronics from China, Textiles from India and Merchandise from the USA

 

In every business there is risks involved, however, what separates successful businesses from unsuccessful ones is that they prepare their business for every situation.

Here are some of the best business accounts in the world you can use – there are no affiliate links and all the companies/banks mentioned are listed because they truly provide the best value and they are tools we use.

 

Best Global Banks 

 

HSBC

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As we will mention in this blog post, nowadays, there are a lot of banking options. However, I would also recommend having a bank account with a major, global brand. While their fees may be higher, the fact that they have a global presence is perfect for E-commerce. HSBC is probably the best choice if available in your country since they offer:

 

  • Free ATM withdrawals from HSBC ATMs worldwide.
  • Insurance packages – Travel Insurance, product liability insurance, house insurance etc.
  • Free Transfers to any HSBC account worldwide – If your supplier has an HSBC account, this will save you a lot of fees!
  • Account opening assistance worldwide if you’re an HSBC customer
  • Very good online banking & secure

 

Citibank

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Citibank is a great alternative to HSBC(if it isn’t available in your country). Their service is top-notch and their accounts come with a lot of benefits. The Citibank Plus Account in particular is a really good option, it’s features are:

 

  • No monthly/yearly costs
  • No ATM fees worldwide – However, they don’t refund ATM charges that local banks charge abroad.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No currency exchange mark-up – You get charged Visa’s official rate.
  • No fees on international transfers

USA Bank Accounts

Charles Schwab Bank

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This is probably the best bank account in the US to have if you travel overseas a lot. Almost every service the bank offers is FREE – One amazing feature that is very rare in banks: they refund you worldwide ATM fees you get charged by the overseas banks. Their only downside is their online banking system, which is a bit lacking. However, having this account as part of your banking is definitely an asset.

 

You need to be a US resident or have a US address(if you’re not a US resident you can use a mail forwarding service). You can open an account online and they have a few branches across the country. If you’re not a US resident, we suggest to visit a branch to open the account.

 

Features

  • No monthly fees
  • No set-up fees
  • No ATM fees – Worldwide
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No currency exchange mark-ups – You only get charged Visa’s official rate

Alternative: Capital One 360 USD Account

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The Capital One 360 offers the same benefits as the Charles Schwab Account, however, they don’t refund worldwide ATM fees. If you travel frequently outside the US, then this might be a deal breaker.

 

European Banks

United Kingdom

Metro Bank

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  • Fee-Free in Europe(SEPA Countries)
  • Low ATM fees Worldwide
  • Very low transfer fees(if transferring within SEPA)

 

Norwich & Peterborough Building Society

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  • No debit card fees worldwide – including ATM withdrawals
  • £5 monthly fee – Free if a balance of £5000 is kept in the account or deposits of £500 monthly

Germany

DKB

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  • Free – no set up costs & no monthly/yearly subscriptions(for the basic plan)
  • No ATM fees worldwide – However, they don’t refund ATM fees the local banks charge(if using an ATM outside the EU).
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No currency exchange markup
  • Downside – Their English customer support is very limited. However, it’s a pretty good option for German residents.

 

Sweden

ICA Banken

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  • No ATM fees worldwide
  • Free SEPA transfers
  • No currency exchange fees
  • Monthly fee 25 SEK(~2.50€) – Waived for students and persons younger than 21 years old.
  • Free Travel Insurance for trips up to 45 days

 

 Online Only Banks

 

N26

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N26(Formerly Number 26) is by far the best online bank in Europe! Based in Germany it is now available in all EU & SEPA countries except Malta & Cyprus. The bank offers three plans – N26, N26 Black & N26 Business. N26 is now a certified bank and they offer deposit protection up to €100,000 according to EU regulations.

 

Features

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  • Free – no set up costs & no monthly/yearly subscriptions(for the basic plan)
  • No ATM fees worldwide – However, they don’t refund ATM fees the local banks charge(if using an ATM outside the EU).
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No currency exchange markup – You only get charged Mastercard’s official rate.
  • The entire account opening process is online — you never have to physically show up anywhere
  • Card usage notifications directly from the app
  • Free Mastercard
  • Customer Service Support in German & English

To be eligible for a N26 Account you need:

  • EU resident/citizen – You need to submit proof to be eligible
  • A mailing address in Germany – You can use a German virtual address for this.

This is by far the best online-only bank if you’re from the EU & travel a lot!

Monese

Monese is an online bank that offers a UK bank account to anyone residing in the EU. They are a really good bank, however, there is a monthly fee of £4.95. If you plan on doing extensive business in the UK or need a bank presence there(especially when Brexit takes effect in a couple of years) – Having this account is a must. You can see all the features Monese offers below: 

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13

Simple – US Only

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Simple is an online-only bank and it’s shaping to become one of the best very quickly. They offer some really cool features & everything is done through their app. Some of the features include:

 

  • No monthly/yearly fees
  • Free Debit Card
  • iPhone & Android App
  • In-app budget tracker & visualized spending reports
  • High level Security
  • Goal Setting via their app

 

Simple is also a full member of the FDIC, so deposits are secure. Furthermore, the bank has been getting a lot of investor funding, so expect more features in the future.

 

Currency Accounts

15

 

Currencies Direct

If your exchange fees are eating up your profits, you will need a service that offers the following:

  • Low Exchange Rates
  • Ability to transfer large sums of money
  • Experience in dealing with online sellers
  • A platform that supports multiple currencies

 

Currencies Direct ticks all the above! The set up process is quite is easy – just fill out the form on their website and a representative will contact you to see what type of business you run. Currencies Direct offers:

 

  • Extensive experience in dealing with online sellers – particularly Amazon
  • Low Exchange Rates
  • Risk Management – if you transfer huge sums of money, you want the best rate in real-time. This service will contact you when the exchange rate is ideal so you don’t loose money on extra fees.
  • Supplier & Manufacturer Payment – This is what separates Currencies Direct from the rest. They cater to a specific need us importers want(ie paying suppliers)!
  • Amazing customer service

 

I can’t stress enough how important having a good currency exchange account is. While Paypal is great to start with, their fees will eat your profits as you grow larger and payments become bigger.

This will also be true when you start to outsource different tasks of your business. It is likely that your employees/contractors/freelancers will be from different countries, having a currency account will allow you to streamline payments more effectively.

 

Conclusion

 

This three-part series was meant to give an overview for the legal and financial aspect of this business. Although it can be quite overwhelming, having a proper legal business will greatly benefit you in the long term. Our goal with the series is to create Sell-able Brands, and a business that has a good legal structure and management, is more attractive to potential investors.

In the next part of the series, we will move over to Product Selection, but with a twist, many sellers are realizing that to succeed in Amazon & in other E-commerce platforms – products need to be unique and innovative. In the next few weeks, we will explore how you can improve existing top seller products and releasing products that customers’ in your category want. Myself and Manuel will give you a complete guide on Product Design, Certifications, Patents & Manufacturing.

 

This topic is very requested, so if you have any questions or if you want us to talk into more detail, kindly leave a comment below.

 

All the best & Happy Selling,

Duncan

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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Zero to Hero: Build a Brand Series – Business Incorporation 101 – Part 1

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand

Business Incorporation 101 – Part 1

1

Over the past few weeks we went over the basics of building a brand. One thing all major(and minor) brands have in common, is that they are protected from a legal perspective. Having a good business structure will give a lot of benefits moving forward. Although the initial set up process can seem overwhelming and expensive, it doesn’t have to be. Nowadays, there are many countries where you can incorporate remotely that provide a lot features, benefits and most importantly in a financially secure jurisdiction. 

In the next part of the series we will guide you through everything regarding business incorporation and banking – including some helpful tips on where to incorporate your business.

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P.S. This guide is only meant as a resource. While a lot of research has gone into proving helpful and accurate information – We are not lawyers. Before incorporating your business, especially in countries outside of yours, always consult with a qualified professional specialized in international laws & taxation.

Why Incorporate? 

Many new business owners and online sellers alike often ask if they should incorporate their business before selling online or do it once they are established and have capital. This all depends on what type of business you run, in our case, what products you’re importing. If you’re importing products of high-risk liability such as:

  • Electronics or Electrical Appliances
  • Toys & Baby products – and any products used by children ages 3-10
  • Supplements
  • Cosmetics & Beauty Products
  • Food & Drinks

These are all products that need certifications and in some cases lab testing done. If you’re importing as a Private Label(and not an established brand), a corporate structure will offer you an extra layer of protection. 

Furthermore, having your business incorporated has numerous advantages which are helpful especially later on when your business grows larger. Some of the benefits include:

Personal Asset Protection

It is very important early on to separate personal assets and business assets. Aside from the initial stage where you have to fund your business, you should immediately get a business account for your transaction. This is crucial not only because some banks won’t allow you to use your personal account for business, but more importantly, having your personal assets separate, will protect you in the unfortunate event your business is liable for damages.

A business corporate structure, such as a Limited Company, will protect your personal assets. This is the main reason what makes incorporation attractive.

Transferable Ownership

In the event of an exit, company shares or members can be transferred. Making it very easy and attractive if you want to sell your company in the future. This is true if you have a Corporation structure, where you own 51% or more of the company, shares can be easily sold or transferred to the new owner.

Tax Benefits

Depending on the structure and country of incorporation, you might find out that you owe less taxes than self-employed/sole proprietorship. This is due to numerous tax cuts and deductibles offered to business owners. If you qualify, your tax bill can be reduced greatly, as always, consult with a law firm specialized in business incorporation or your CPA on what tax cuts are available in your country or state.

Important: This shouldn’t be confused with tax evasion and it’s by no means condoned. Tax avoidance is allowed only in accordance with the tax laws of the country of incorporation. For this reason, if incorporating in a country different than the one you’re resident in, consult with the tax authorities before proceeding with incorporation. 

Separate Credit Rating

Your company will have it’s own credit rating and it won’t be affected if your personal credit score is not good. Keeping a good credit score for you business will give you a lot of benefits, these include:

  • Increased overdraft facilities
  • Higher Credit Card Limits
  • Bank Account Upgrades
  • Dedicated Financial Advisor(depends on the bank and account history)
  • Reduced or No Account Fees

Having a good history will make your company investor-friendly as investors or potential buyers want a company with few debts or liabilities. 

Retirement Plans and Payroll

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Having your own company will allow you to create private retirement plans for you and your employees. Depending on the bank, business accounts have payroll management in their system. This will be very helpful if you plan on having employees or contractors.

Disadvantages of Incorporation

Unfortunately, while there are a lot of benefits to business incorporation, this comes with it cons. This is true to small business owners and people with limited capital. Some of the disadvantages are:

A Lot of Paperwork

Registering and maintaining a business comes with a ton of paperwork and filing. This can be very confusing if you’re new or if this is your first company. Each country has it’s own laws and if you’re selling globally, you have to comply with each country.

This can be quite overwhelming, but unfortunately it must be done. To make things easier, have your CPA or lawyer take care of your company filing – that way you have no risk of incurring fines.

Fees! Fees! Fees!

4

With tons of paperwork, comes tons of fees. Between registration fees, yearly licences, taxes and CPA fees; your outgoing expenses might increase. Maintaining a corporation can become expensive and shouldn’t be done without capital.

Limited companies are popular because the fees are lower and have less filing requirements than corporations. This is the structure that works best for new sellers and those in e-commerce in particular.

Liability Is Not Guaranteed

While incorporating your business may protect your personal assets, you may still be liable in some cases. Only a Corporation fully protects the personal assets of the shareholders. If you import products with high-liability, it’s best to consult with a lawyer on which structure is suitable.

USA Incorporation

5

There is a common misconception amongst people outside the USA that incorporating your business in the US is expensive and complicated. Furthermore, in some cases, if you’re importing in the US, you need to have a US company or subsidiary. Some dropshippers in the US will also refuse to work with you unless you have:

  • Reseller Licence
  • Employer Identification Number 

US LLC State Registration

It is recommended to start off with an LLC if you choose to incorporate. For US non-residents the 3 best states to incorporate are:

Delaware

Delaware State is the most popular place for foreigners who wish to incorporate in the US. However, Delaware is better suited for those wishing to form either an S-Corp or C-Corp.

  • State Filing Fee: $200
  • Certificate of Formation: $90
  • Annual Fees: $300 Alternative Entity Tax by June 1 + State Filing Fees $200 = $500

Nevada

Home to the popular Las Vegas, Nevada is one of the best states to file an LLC, with it’s very attractive tax rates and ease of filing. Besides the yearly fees, there are no other requirements to follow.

 

  • State Filing Fee: $75
  • Annual Fees: Business Licence $200 + Annual List $150 = $350

Wyoming

Wyoming is the cheapest state of the 3 for LLC costs. It offers all the benefits of states like Nevada and formation shouldn’t take longer than a few business days. Foreigners wishing to incorporate in Wyoming, must have a registered agent notifying the state in writing.

  • State Filing Fee: $100
  • Annual Fees: $100

In all three states you require a Registered Agent. A registered agent is a person or service that acts on your behalf in the state of incorporation. They would receive any letters/paperwork and notify you when paperwork and annual fees are due. Services normally start at around 49$/year and it’s required by law to have a representative in the state of incorporation.

Employer Identification Number

The EIN, is the tax identification for your business. This will be the number used to conduct business inside the US and for importing/exporting goods.

 If you’re a US resident or you’re a non-resident, wishing to get an EIN, the process is quite simple, and you can either get the EIN by applying online, phone or by mail. If you’re a US non-resident with a US LLC/Corporation, you will need a responsible party to get the EIN.

To get the EIN you need to fill out Form SS4 and send it to the IRS. Getting an EIN is very simple and fast – the whole process shouldn’t take more than 15-30 minutes and is free of charge.

Getting a Bank Account

If you’re not a US resident, this is the biggest issue you will face. It is extremely difficult and rare to get a US bank account(business or personal) without being physically present. In some cases, there are companies that offer the service of opening a bank account remotely, however, they are expensive. You can also consult with your CPA or lawyer and see if they can open an account for you.

To open a business account in the US, you need:

  • Passport
  • EIN & Company Registration Documents
  • Business Licence
  • Articles of Organization – This is a list of all the members in the company, you should get the documents when you register the company.
  • Operation Agreement

Keep in mind that every bank is different and requires different documentation. If you’re a non-resident, inquire beforehand on what documents are needed.

Virtual Address

You need an official business address, this is needed to receive company mail and to register for services & marketplaces. A virtual address will notify, forward and even scan your mail – There are numerous companies offering these services for as little as $90/year.

Phone Number

If you’re registering a US LLC as a United States Non-Resident, you need a US phone number. This is will be required by all businesses(including banks) and marketplaces you will deal with.

The easiest and best option is to simply get a Skype number, it is fairly cheap with low call rates. If you’re based in the US, it is recommended to get a business phone number. 

Conclusion

This has been a brief introduction on business incorporation. In the upcoming weeks we will explore Offshore Company Registration – including the best countries where you can incorporate, and business banking. Hopefully, after reading this guide, the incorporation process has become easier to understand.

If you want us to include a particular topic regarding business incorporation or if you have any questions on the subject, please leave a comment below.

All the best & Happy Selling,

Duncan

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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News and trends from the October 2016 exhibitions in China

I have made it a habit to give you an update on trends after every exhibition season in April & October within Hong Kong and China so I won’t break that habit this time :)

It has been a hectic 8 weeks for me. When I returned from Europe in September I flew straight to Hong Kong and had an extensive amount of work waiting for me. 

While the first few weeks were all about catching up with work after my holiday I was excited to go to the exhibitions in Hong Kong and China. Here are some of the exhibitions that I went to in October/November over the course of 4 weeks: 

Global Sources Electronics (phase 1)

HKTDC Electronics Fair

Global Sources Smart China Sourcing Summit – for Amazon and online sellers

Global Sources Electronics (phase 2, Mobile Electronics)

Global Sources Gifts & Home

Mega Show (Part 1)

Canton Fair Phase 2

HKTDC International Building and Hardware Fair

Mega Show (Part 2)

Canton Fair Phase 3

Without further ado here are some impressions from the last 8 weeks. 

Hong Kong is constantly at the Top 3 most expensive places to live in the world. Wonder how my apartment looks like in Hong Kong? 

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Yep, thats 8 square meter of pure space :) 

 

 

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At least there’s a rooftop with a view :) 


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And not so bad to work with this view  :) 

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There’s also a co-working space downstairs. 

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Back at the office with one of my newest products.  Check it out if you are in need of a portable photo studio. 

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End of September I head to an Amazon seller and eCommerce meet up in Shenzhen, China, organized by my friends over at EnterChina

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Rico Ngoma serial Entrepreneur and partner of EnterChina drops knowledge

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working on new projects for ImportDojo on the rooftop

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back at the office with the team :) 

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another hike at the end of September. Remember to work out whenever you can :) 

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The exhibitions start! I head to the Global Sources Electronics show Phase 1. Make sure to get your free train ticket ticket with your buyers badge. 

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Global Sources hosts two electronic phases with different categories from 11-14th and 18th-21st. 

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Walking the aisles at the shows. Predominantly Smart Phone accessories on nearly every booth. 

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Sport & Action camera’s are evolving and it’s amazing what you get these days. 

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Video & WiFi glasses/camera’s seem to be the newest thing. Maybe not the newest but a lot of suppliers exhibit those. 

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Smartphone cases. 

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I found this product to be quite interesting :) 

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An actual AI (Artificial Intelligence) 

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This automatic car cover peeked my interest. 


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Gaming & video backpacks seem to be popular as well. 

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Virtual Reality getting bigger and more interesting in terms of developments. 

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Drone’s are definitely still popular but less than half the amount of booth’s than in April this year. 

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Global Sources held the first Drone Racing Championship this year at the event. I wasn’t there to witness but it looked pretty cool.


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I head to the HKTDC Electronics show. Make sure to pre-register (its free)

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Quite a lot of buyers on the first day. 

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You’ve got big brands from overseas

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and big local brands from China. 

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The HKTDC doesn’t focus on Smart Phone Accessories only but has regular household electronics as well. 

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Smart Home Automation has made big leaps and improvements in terms of apps and technology

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Not sure what these guys do. 

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It’s a beautiful day in Hong Kong and I am stuck at the expo :(


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It’s my birthday and I hike to the beach with a couple of people

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I am invited to speak at the Global Sources Amazon sellers summit again. I got to present my case study there as well in April. This time I talk about how to select the right supplier.

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I meet a few fellow ImportDojo members and familiar faces from online :) This is Taye from Hong Kong.


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Chris McCabe delivers amazing value in regards to Amazon account suspension and prevention. 

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Chris Davey & Danny McMillan arrange a meet up that evening in central Hong Kong. Over 40 Amazon and eCommerce sellers come. 

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Discussing with Mike Michellini from Globalfromasia some strategies for our business. 

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I talk about supplier selection and how to verify suppliers in China when at exhibitions but also online.  img_6586

In case you are wondering what some of the testing companies charge. 

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I walk the halls of the Global Sources home and gifts. 

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Lots of packaging suppliers there as well. 



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The first suppliers with Lightning earphones for the iPhone 7. I test them and they are horrible in quality :) 

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Interesting design for a power bank. 



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Flexport talks about the recent Hanjin collapse and the forecast of the freight forwarding industry at the Sellers Summit

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In between all of this I become the Number 1 bestseller on Amazon with my French Press case study. Even if only for a few days I am happy because I sell between 100-200 pieces per day :)


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Danny McMillan and Currencies Direct organise a meet up in Central with Will Tjernlund at a “fireside” chat. Will talks about Wholesale strategies and amazes the crowd as usual :)

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The next day a Typhoon with a signal T8 (the second strongest) hits Hong Kong and everything closes. I plan on heading to the Megashow part 1 but have to delay that until the next day as public transport closes all together. 

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I eventually make it to the Megashow for a few hours before heading to Guangzhou for Canton Fair Phase 2

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Remember to book train tickets in advance as they are sold out days in advance. 
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I walk around Canton Fair for the day and take catalogues and snapshots of interesting items

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On the next day I head to Shenzhen to visit one of my suppliers. Some of them go the extra mile :) 


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I check the production and facilities. 

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Testing equipment within the factory. 

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My wife gets me a birthday gift :) 

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back in Hong Kong I check out the “OBEY” exhibition thats running for a month. Very cool art!


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My friend organises a “junk boat trip”. You basically rent a boat that caters food and drinks all day and you drive out to some island 

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Ignore the couple that is making out :)

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I head to Canton Fair Phase 3 and check in at the Aloft. The value you get for 60US$ is amazing. 

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I walk around Phase 3 for a couple of hours and meet existing suppliers and try to find interesting products for my outdoor brand. 

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Office and stationery is also very present. 


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Chris Davey from FBA4U organises his 4th Amazon Seller meet up in Guangzhou. The crowd is huge. Make sure to join his Facebook group if you are looking to meet up during your trip. 

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I meet familiar faces and friends from all over the world :)

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On 7th November I head to Bangkok for a couple of weeks. I hear a lot about UBER Hong Kong has Tesla drivers. I give it a try and I actually find a Tesla for my airport ride. I had to try it :) 

Pheew! Lots of photos and stories to share. All in all I’d say I’ve met a lot of great people, made new friends, found new products and definitely had a good time the last weeks :) If you are planning on coming to China I highly recommend you do.

In the coming weeks I’ve got a lot of news and amazing content coming for you. I am starting a new blog-series here on ImportDojo focusing on building a brand and how to drive traffic to your Amazon listing. Furthermore we are going to show you how you can build a business outside Amazon, so stay tuned :)

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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Exhibition season starts & Amazon policy changes

It has been a hectic week for me, exhibition season started and I went to the GlobalSources Electronics show this morning to check out some of the newest products.

I’ll give you a recap of the trends at the end of the month as usual but here are some first impressions.

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Arriving at the halls

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Are these camera’s still selling?

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An actual AI at the show

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Virtual Reality (VR) becoming more popular

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GlobalSources will hold a drone racing championship here. Curious to see.

For previous recaps have a look here:
http://importdojo.com/news-and-trends-from-the-exhibition-april-2016/
http://importdojo.com/the-cantonfair-all-you-need-to-know-about-the-biggest-expo-in-asia/

For what you can expect or what you can prepare have a look here:
http://importdojo.com/news-and-trends-from-the-exhibitions-in-asia/

Here is a list of the most important exhibitions coming up:

http://www.globalsources.com/NEWS/TRADE_SHOW_CALENDAR_OCTOBER2016_A.pdf

You probably heard about the two big changes on recent Amazon policy updates (today & last week) so I wanted to give you my two cents and what you can do:

Amazon review policy update

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https://www.amazon.com/p/feature/abpto3jt7fhb5oc

Last week (3rd of October) Amazon made an important announcement on its policy change in terms of reviews.

In short you are not allowed to ask for reviews in exchange for a discount or free product (anymore). This has been coming for a while.
First Amazon requested that reviewers spent a total of 5$ before they can leave a review, then in September this year this threshold was risen to 50$ and now only regular purchased products may be reviewed (or trough Amazon’s Vine Program).

I personally think this is super positive for sellers who try to build a brand and pay attention to quality and customer service. Will it be harder to get reviews and boost rankings? Yes for sure but it will also mean that those that are trying to make a quick buck will fail which means more room and profits for us hard working peeps :)

This will hopefully remove a lot of pushy Chinese factories and get rid of poor quality items. The many months you spent on perfecting a product sitting in front of your computer trying to come up with an additional value for your customer or how you can deliver better quality products are finally appreciated.

I’ve always said that building a brand together with social media and outside traffic is important right from the beginning.

My two cents:

  • PRO:
    less giveaways – more profits for me
    better quality products
    less Chinese sellers pushing the price down
    reviews that you get now are a reflection of your dedication to your products
    Having built an audience (social media) pays off
  • CONS:
    it will take longer to gain traction & sales launching a product
    And thats really the only con I see here….

Do it “right” from the beginning, build a brand and and audience on social media following and quality products
The point I am trying to make is not to worry too much about getting your product on the map if you have either:

  1. A superior product and listing
  2. A product that is highly in demand (just follow trendy websites and you will find those niches)
  3. Social media to drive traffic to your listings.

Reviews will eventually come. And those reviews will be a reflection of the hard work you’ve put into your product.

The best thing about this change is I don’t have to set away a ridiculous amount of units for reviews – saving me a lot of money.
The downside? Yes, it simply takes longer to gain traction but who said this is a get-rich-quick scheme?
Every business takes time and unlike a lot of people out there tell you, be patient, put in the work and you’ll get rewarded eventually.

Now, if you haven’t yet its time to set up services like Salesbacker (Salesbacker). The only way you can ask for reviews is with programs and autoresponders like SALESBACKER because this is integrated in your Amazon account and the people who are asked to leave reviews have bought at a full price (or discounted price that you list public). Salesbacker works very well for my products. Usually every 2nd-3rd buyer leaves a review.

So if you are worried about your intial launch I recommend that you launch your product at a discounted price for a few hours/maybe a day and see how sales come in and you MUST have Salesbacker installed before that and wait until reviews come in. Then you jack up the price again to normal. It’s perfectly within TOS and has worked well for me on a few products.

It has become very important now to build outside traffic trough social media or advertising. Even more important is to have the right supplier and add value to your product. Check out my case study on how I did it:
http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

The second big change came in this morning:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-11/amazon-said-to-limit-warehouse-access-to-new-merchants
Amazon now restricts new sellers that you cannot ship anything to their warehouses if you have not yet shipped any products to Amazon by 10th of October. You can still sign up for FBA but your first shipment will have to wait until 19th of December.

I believe that their warehouses are bursting and they are trying to avoid overcrowding and “clogging” of products that are new and have no sales record/history. Same thing happened last year during Q4 but only affected a few categories like toys. Now it affects all categories. This will certainly upset a few people who’s first shipment may be on the way or is being produced right now. Not only will those sellers miss out Q4 sales but also might be stuck with their inventory at some warehouse at additional costs. If you can wait it out good, if not I recommend to do the following:

Switch your incoming inventory to FBM (Fulfilled by Merchant) and ship your product to a fullfilment warehouse in the US. Here is a list of warehouses from reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/FulfillmentByAmazon/comments/3eq4m0/updated_list_of_fba_prep_and_ship_companies/

It is perfectly OK to sell in Q4 BUT ship from your own (or third party) warehouse. There’s no offiicial statement from Amazon yet but I think below screenshot says it all

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I hope the recent changes didn’t put you off or de-motivate you. I’ve seen some of my products or friends product hit page 1/2 after a few days without doing much.I believe if you put in the work and add value to your product you can succeed.

All the best & happy sourcing,
Manuel

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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The lifestyle of an Amazon seller – my story

It’s been a while since my last post and the main reason for that is because I was on my first vacation in over 2 1/2years :)

Well it was also a bit of work in the end but mainly vacation (I was speaking at the Privatelabeldays Amazon FBA conference in Hamburg) among a lot of great speakers meeting hundreds of like minded people. 

This post is also a little different than my other posts. Today I wanted to give you an insight of whats is like to live the life of an eCommerce seller and Entrepreneur. 

It’s not all as peachy as you might think or what you read from all the success stories out there. 

Lots of work, endless nights, ups and downs, frustration, close to giving up but yes eventually after putting in effort and hard work there are glorious moments that make up for everything. 

When I first started my own business (late 2013) I had about 30,000US$ in savings. 

I started my own private label right away selling to retailers and importers in Europe. During my years in Hong Kong I made a lot of contacts in the retail industry so naturally that was my starting point. 

I only heard about Amazon FBA around August 2014 when a friend of mine mentioned it to me. So I went the other way compared to many of my readers. 

Had I known back then how easy it was to start a business on Amazon I would have taken the entire 50,000$ and started with Amazon from the beginning. 

From August 2014 I teamed up with that friend, he was the investor and I took care of the sourcing, delivering to Amazon and launching the products. 

All the while I was running my retail business also. 

I was actually running out of cash at that point (August 2014) because I had pretty much everything in my retail business and not much money to spare for Amazon. 

I made the biggest mistake a becoming Entrepreneur could make. While I did have some incoming orders from my retail business I still lived my lifestyle as if I had a regular income. 

My savings dwindled and altough money would come in soon from the retail business I was running very low on funds. Amazon FBA was exactly what I needed – fast cash. 

Or so I thought. I was once again thinking money would come fast but I haven’t accounted for re-orders and that I shouldn’t take money out of the business right away. 

My one and most important advice for you today would be that you need to account for expenses and you can’t take money out of your business for many months – IF you are planning on doing this full-time.  

Your profits need to go back into your company. 

Today I am very happy with the products I have created and wanted to give you a little advice on how to build your brand: 

Focus on building a brand from the beginning. Keep this in the back of your head with everything you do. 

The majority just starting out or having a few items running has limited capital and can therefore not play around. 

So build better products from the beginning, have A+ photos and listings, great customer service and if you have existing items improve those constantly. 

Also don’t be afraid to invest your money in the future into higher priced and better quality products, be unique in what you do.

Look at this business not as a get-rich-quick scheme but rather see your investment as an opportunity to build your brand and in turn make more money in the long run (do this as opposed to release and launching a product every week). Build it slowly and keep quality and focus in the back of your head.”

So save up more than the initial product and shipping costs and don’t quit your job. You still need money to live on. 

Fast forward to today. 

My second most important advice to you is to not put all eggs in one basket. Diversify your income streams and don’t rely on one income stream only. 

Obviously in the beginning you can’t focus on too many different things but in time and in between you need to take your time and look out for different income streams. 

That could be teaching your knowledge, blogging, writing books, finding more eCommerce plattforms than Amazon, opening your own shop (Etsy, Shopify…) or even selling to retail. 

I actually recommend you going the other way (as opposed to me) and start with Amazon first and then move onto retail or other eCommerce stores as it is “easier”, especially if you do not have any contacts in retail. 

I now run several different businesses. 

1) I teach importing from China in my online class “The ImportDojo Masterclass”.

2) I wrote books that I sell on Amazon 

3) I teach my knowledge on Udemy and other online course platforms  

4) I run a sourcing company based in Hong Kong that helps importers find factories, negotiate prices and deliver to your (or Amazon’s) doorstep 

5) I sell on Amazon (currently about 20 products with the goal of having 50 by mid next year)

6) I sell to retail 

7) I consult one on one 

8) I have guided tours to China, its exhibitions and factories

9) Several small things that help pay the bills 

Make use of your knowledge, diversify as soon as possible. Dreams come true but you need to put in the hours and work for it.

My third advice: Obviously you can’t run everything yourself so as soon as you’ve mastered a process try outsourcing it. 

That could be finding professional help for your orders in China, hiring a Virtual Assistant for daily simple tasks, hiring full time staff taking care of your Amazon business etc. 

I know I know, it is hard to let go of a task that you think can only be done by you. But that’s not true at all! 

I am so glad I gave some of my tasks away to my staff because now I have so much more time to focus on what really matters for an Entrepreneur: 

Constantly re-inventing yourself and focusing on the direction of your company – because there is no one there to tell you what to do. You are responsible for the success of your business. 

Be it to invest into more staff, build more products or come up with new ideas that help you and your customers. 

My story isn’t some paved road to sucess either. I worked very hard (and still do) for over 2 1/2 years to get to this point (I worked 16 years in corporate jobs and paid my dues to gather experience). I am still nowhere near on retiring in my 30’s and I don’t plan on anyway but there is a lot more hard work ahead. 

Countless hours with no sleep, worries on how I can pay the next bills up to the point where I was applying for jobs again just when the money eventually came in. 

There are many “success stories” out there on how easy it is to make money online but I can tell you that it is a lot more difficult than people make it sound like – including me sometimes :) 

If you are really interested in starting your own online importing business or really any eCommerce business then I recommend you spend at least 6-8 weeks learning the basics. 

How to import from China, how to sell online, how to do your own marketing, regulations and procedures etc. Yes, learning by doing is one way to go but there will be stages in your path where you need to look things up or hire professionals who have been doing things for a while. 

I too hire professionals sometimes because I feel its worth to pay someone who can properly help you instead of stumbling my way through things. 

Today I can safely say I am running my own business and I have helped others along the way. 

When I used to have a corporate job I never got an email thanking me for negotiating thousands of $ or helping a buyer in a difficult situation. It was my job and I was paid to do these things. 

Running your own business can be frustrating but it can be very rewarding. I now get emails from people (sometimes even meeting people in real) thanking me for what I do. 

I am extremely happy when I hear of success stories of my students because it keeps me going. 

The point I want to get across to you today is that if you do something that you have a passion for (or experience), people will thank you along the way and money comes later. 

Of course money plays a role ( & is probably constantly on your mind in the beginning) and it enables you to live a certain life style, pay for your kids college tuition, afford those gadgets you always wanted or just save up for the rainy days. I know it’s difficult but try not starting your business because you want to be rich. Start your business because you want to be free, help others and be location independent. I promise you if you work hard and have passion in what you are doing money will come eventually. Actually money eventually doesn’t become so important anymore because perhaps today you decide you work in the park or at the beach. 

I still get up nearly every day around 6am, get some coffee sit on my laptop for a few hours, go to the gym, work some more, take breaks and even work on most weekends. But I can decide when and how long I work every day and most importantly for me – you can work from anywhere.

Exercising regularly is something I really recommend you to do. No matter how much you work there’s always an hour that you can spare for a walk, a hike, going to the gym or play some ball. Did you know what most of the successful CEO’s and Entrepreneurs have in common? They exercise regularly.    

I worked non-stop the last 2 1/2 years and finally took a holiday this month with my wife travelling to Europe, visting some friends and staying in a cabin on a lake in Sweden for nearly 2 weeks. 

I also spoke at the Privatelabeldays Amazon FBA conference (www.privatelabeldays.de) and some people told me I need to be more personal on my blog :)  

So without further ado I wanted to share some moments of the last 2 years with you and how a life style from working 9-6 in an office can change when you work for yourself:

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I got married on December 14th 2013 in Hong Kong. The very next day I decided to change my life from working 9-6 to being my own boss. I brainstormed the entire week and Mandarin-Gear was born.

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My last day “on the job”. This was on 30th pf April 2014 when I accompanied a buyer from Switzerland to a factory near Shanghai. The next day I flew to Hong Kong “free as a bird” and excited to start a new life.

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I went to visit one of my suppliers in Shenzhen to discuss the assortment of products I wanted to launch to my retail customers.

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2 months in and I sold my first product to retail under their Private Label.

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 I barely left the office in the first 4 months, this was pretty much lunch every day :)

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Checking the first packagings under my own brand.

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7 months in and I had about 20 products under my brand

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My first 5000 unit order from a large retailer in Germany. Only to be cancelled later.

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Time to celebrate that order. 2 months later it got cancelled and I was stuck with a 30,000$ debt. At this point my friend introduced me to Amazon FBA (August 2014). I continue to sell to retailers and start putting things together for Amazon FBA.

IMG_4480 March 2015 – ImportDojo was born.

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March 2015.  I publish “The Import Bible” on Amazon – 3 months later is is the No.1 Seller in its category.

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April 2015. I exhibit my own brand at the Global Sources Electronics show.

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I think there’s a decent assortment? :)

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Discussing possible orders with a US customer.

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May-June 2015 – I write three more books and turn them into a course (The ImportDojo Masterclass)

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In between work I always try to exercise and hike the mountains of Hong Kong as much as possible.

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Yep, this is in Hong Kong.

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In China visiting a factory and negotiating a claim with a supplier, she is not happy I m here :)

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Ningbo, China at night

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and another hike in Hong Kong.

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September 2015. Together with a friend we work on our first own real developed product from the scratch (to be launched September this year). It took a year to develop and fine tune.

IMG_6160 Always at the airport. Chinese have a certain way of taking photographs :)

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October 2015. I find a product at the Canton Fair that I later launch publicly.

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The FBA community is growing. More and more sellers are coming to China.

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Greg from Junglescout organises a big meetup in Guangzhou. Lots of familiar online faces meet in person.

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Sometimes I take the office outside.

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Or to the beach.

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Or on a lake. IMG_5640

Or to my Mum’s. No matter where, no matter when, Monday to Sunday – I work every day but I enjoy it.

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The office can be fun too tho :)

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I get to speak at the Global Sources Summit for online and Amazon sellers in April 2016.

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April 2016. I publicly launch the French Press.

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I get up early every day even if I don’t have to. Then again I get to enjoy this with my coffee.

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I get to travel. Sometimes on a motorbike in Northern Thailand….

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…and sometimes in style…

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to drink Tea in the middle of nowhere…

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You get to meet great and like minded people along the way

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with Will Tjernlund


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BBQ before the Privatelabeldays conference

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with Bastian from officeflucht.de

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with Thomas from Privatelabeljourney.de

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You make new friends along the way

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or suddenly you get to speak in front of 450 people (sooo nervous :) )

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always on the lookout for new products…

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and sometimes beautiful sunsets :)

 

There’s so many photos and things I wanted to share with you but I’ll leave it here.

Follow your dreams, start your journey today, help as many people along the way as possible and in time hard work will pay off, I promise :)

All the best and to our success!

Manuel

 

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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How-to-steps when prepping and labeling in China

Today I wanted to walk you through the process of placing the order with your factory and which steps you need to take to guarantee safe delivery.

The following is crucial when you start out and are looking to save costs because of a tight budget or wanting to learn the ropes when it comes to working with factories in China.
I actually recommend that you handle your first order with factories in China yourself so that you are aware of all the steps that need to be taken.

As time passes and you enlarge your assortment you should be focusing on developing your business, adding new products, travelling to exhibitions and you will have less and less time to manage your factory orders.
At this point I recommend you to let professionals in China take care of your orders who have been doing this for years, actually sitting in China, easing the communication with suppliers because of the same time zone and local language but many more reasons.

WIthout further ado here are the steps to be taken that I go trough once we I am ready to place an order to a factory:

Step by step guide when shipping directly to Amazon:

Once you have agreed on all terms with the factory (price, MOQ, etc.) you should request the Proforma Invoice and below details.

STEP 1: Creation of Product Listing

  1. Supplier must send you all details concerning the product and its packaging in order for you to create a listing on Amazon (if you haven’t done that yet) This includes:
    – Product pictures (if they don’t have good ones you should ask for a final sample to be sent to your photographer of choice)
    – Product measurements and weights
    – Packaging unit measurements and weights
    – Export carton measurements and weights
    – Factory address and contact details (needed to create the shipment plan on Amazon)
    – Die-cut of the packaging (in order for you to create an artwork –if needed)
  2. With these details you then need to go onto Amazon Seller Central and click “add a product”. Ideally your items are unique therefore we recommend you to create a new listing.
  3. Latest at this stage you will need to purchase either an UPC (for the US) or EAN barcode (for Europe).
  4. Create the general product listing with the details that you have from the supplier. Please note that you do not need to enter all bullet points or descriptions at this point. You can do so while the product and order is being placed.
  5. Once you have finished the product listing Seller Central will automatically take you to “send & replenish” meaning that you are now in the process of creating the shipment labels and plans for this product. If it does not take you there automatically please go to: “Manage FBA Inventory” in the tabs on Seller Central. Tick the product listing and select “send/replenish”. If the product is not there yet give it about an hour before the listing shows up.
  6. Now you will have to create the shipment labels for the factory to apply to your cartons.
  7. To do so you will have to follow the instructions of Seller Central and populate the fields accordingly.
  8. Enter the units per case (export carton) and number of cases (export cartons). You can gather this information from the packaging & units per packaging that the supplier sent you under step 1).
    For example:
    If you order 1000 pieces of a garlic press. The supplier will give you the unit per packaging and number of export carton. For example the supplier packs 50 pieces in an export carton meaning there will be a total of 20 export cartons (1000 units in total). Enter this information in the fields.
  9. Under “prepare and label products” choose “Merchant” in both cases. Meaning the supplier will apply the labels for you at the factory.
  10. The next step will be to “complete shipment”.
  11. Once you press complete select: “work on shipment”.
  12. You will now be asked as to how things will be shipped.
  13. Select SPD (Small parcel delivery) if cartons are below 20 pieces and or weight of total shipment is LESS than 150LBS (75KG).
  14. Choose Shipper as “other”.
  15. Select LTL (Less than truckload) if shipment is more than 20 cartons and or total shipment weight is MORE than 150LBS (75KG)
  16. Select “multiple boxes” under shipment option or “more than one SKU per case”.
  17. Select “webform”.
  18. Enter the units per case (per export cartons) and number of cases (export cartons) as well as the weight. Again this is the information that you receive from the supplier under Step 1.
  19. Check all information is correct and confirm shipment.
  20. You will now be able to print shipment labels.
  21. Click on “print labels” and save the PDF on your computer.
  22. Send this PDF together with further documents under Step 2 to the supplier. (send once you have completed all steps to avoid dripping information to the supplier as this irritates them).

STEP 2: Logo’s/barcodes/insert card

  1. If you have your own logo or artwork for the unit packaging send the logo in .AI or .EPS file to the supplier.
  2. Advise the supplier where you would like to have your logo placed onto the packaging. E.g. if you want your logo on top of the packaging and the barcode underneath tell them so.
  3. If you have no logo advise the factory only to print the barcode on the unit packaging. However I recommend you to have at least a written company name on the unit packaging.
  4. If you have UPC or EAN barcodes that you purchased under point 3) above send these barcodes in .AI or .EPS file to the supplier.
  5. If you have your own artwork design of the entire packaging send the entire artwork including barcodes, logos, photos and description. The supplier should be able to send you the die-cut that you need to create an
    artwork under point 1) above.
  6. If you have no artwork designed and only wish to ship the product in a white box with logo and barcode on it advise the supplier of this.
  7. If you wish to include an insert card that for example has your company name and instructions on how to use the product send the insert card to them.

STEP 3: Order placement and order instructions

  1. Before you place the order and get started with production I advise to send all files as described above in one go. Again, this should include:
    – UPC or EAN barcode
    – Export carton shipping labels
    – FNSKU barcode that you can print in the shipment plan under “prepare and label products”. This is only needed if for example you are re-ordering or listing your product under an existing item on Amazon.
    – Artwork design (if any)
    – Your own logo (if any)
    – Insert card (if any)
  2. If any of the above is applicable but missing from your side I recommend to collect/prepare all information first. However in most cases you can send artworks and insert card to the factory at a later stage but should not later than 25 days before production.
  3. An example email of how to instruct a supplier with labels can be found here: http://importdojo.com/how-to-properly-place-an-order-with-factories-in-china/ 

STEP 4: Order placement

  1. If you have not placed the order yet now is the time to place the order together with all your documents as described above and instruct the supplier accordingly.
  2. FNSKU/UPC’s etc. need to go onto the gift box/unit box. Usually at the bottom of the box or a small side
  3. Shipping labels need to be put onto the outer side of the export carton. Seller Central will give you a PDF with a number of all labels (according to your order quantity)
  4. Pallet labels apply when you ship by pallets. This is usually recommended above 20-30 cartons.
  5. The supplier should now arrange the order and production with your above instructions.
  6. Follow up your order and book inspection, shipment and final samples if necessary

Most importantly: Have an inspection!

I know,I know I keep saying it but yet I still hear so many horror stories in Facebook groups that people didn’t have an inspection. When you book an inspection (and those services start at 100$) you can instruct the inspector to check all of the above to make sure the supplier followed them through.

If your supplier forgot labels, barcodes or insert cards for example this can be found during an inspection. You want a hassle free delivery to Amazon’s warehouse and an inspection is therefore a must.

Monitoring your order is very important to keep the supplier engaged with your order and not to miss important deadlines.

Here is an overview of how we at ImportDojo handle order follow up after Step 4:

STEP 5: Follow up
1) We will now keep you updated with the order completion date as well as any inspection date
2) We will keep you informed on the shipment booking and arrangement
3) We will advise you when inspection will be done and when the result is out
4) We will advise you when inspection is pass, shipment picked up and on its way to Amazon. If inspection is not pass we will inform you immediately and work together with you to find solutions. In 90% of all cases if the inspection is not pass it is only because of minor defects like scratches.
5) If inspection is pass we will inform the shipper to pick up the goods.
6) The final payment of the order is now to be made to the supplier (usually the remaining 70%) before shipment is released from the supplier.
7) A shipping company that we recommend will now pick up the goods and arrange the transport as well as appointment booking with the Amazon warehouse. If you wish to have the goods delivered to your own warehouse or other address please tell us once we place the order to the supplier.
8) We will inform you once goods have landed in the US and are to be delivered to Amazon.
9) You should get a notification from Seller Central as soon as goods are being checked-in.

All done!

Please note that you should advise your supplier before hand that he has to print labels and stickers to be put on your packagings export cartons BEFORE receiving the Proforma Invoice.
If you tell the supplier at a later stage that there will be labels and stickers to be applied they might charge you more.

 

More information and email templates on how to properly place orders in China also here:
http://importdojo.com/how-to-properly-place-an-order-with-factories-in-china/

Hope this helps you guys in determining what you need in terms of labels, insert cards etc.
Please feel free to share this post :)

All the best and happy sourcing,
Manuel

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NDA’s, agreements and having your own tooling in China

A lot of people are concerned when they produce their own design in China that the supplier will copy it and sell to other sellers.

First I would like to point out that in my nearly 12 years in China I have had almost only good experiences with suppliers even with my own designs and exclusivity agreements.
Today we are looking at your options and what it actually means to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements in China and how likely it is to enforce it or hold up in a court.

Lets look at the terminology first and what they mean:

NDA’s

Whats an NDA and when do you use it?
An NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement is used when you have your own product design and want that developed by a factory in China. You basically agree with the factory that they are not allowed to disclose, share or produce your design (or even ideas) with any other customer or supplier. Neither local or overseas. In most cases if you have your own design a tooling is likely need to be made. The first step you take before you send any designs to a factory is to ask them to sign the NDA.

Tooling

To produce your design it is very likely that the factory needs to make a mould or tooling for you. With this tooling – parts of your product will be manufactured and eventually assembled into the final product.
(Categories like Textile or Food do not need tooling). Toolings are often included in the price quoted to you when you hand over your design. However you can also opt to pay for the tooling if you want to own the tooling as well.
Toolings can go anywhere from 1,000-30,000+USD depending on the size of the product. Yes, things can get pretty expensive.

Can I move my own tooling to a secure location?

Toolings are usually very large and heavy as they are made out of die-cast in most cases. Moving them requires quite some logistics.
So if you are unsure that your supplier is going to use them for other customers you should move them to a secure location (e.g. a rented warehouse). This can easily cost a few hundred US$.
And every time you would place an order this tooling needs to be moved to the factory and after production back to the warehouse. An expensive enterprise.
So having said all that if you feel you need to have your tooling secure somewhere else you should not work with this factory in the first place.

So whats the best way to go about having your own designs & tooling?

Two scenarios:

  1. You are just starting out and have no factory contacts whatsoever.
    My tip is to work with a sourcing agent  that can help you find reliable and trustworthy factories.
    Don’t go onto Alibaba and randomly look for factories that could make your product. You don’t know them, they don’t know you and are unlikely to help you anyway.
    Even if they tell you: “no problem, we can make it for you” they are likely to copy your product or sell the idea to other sellers the minute you place an order.
    Just the other day a reader of mine told me he found a trading company on Alibaba for his design and placed an order of 300 pieces.
    When he got contacted by the actual factory about labels and other things they needed from him he found out that the trading company placed a total of 500 pieces with that factory.
    They ordered an additional 200 pieces (without the knowledge of the client & even with the clients logo) for themselves probably to sell it on Aliexpress or even Amazon themselves.
  2.  You’ve been placing orders in China for a while.
    Work with the factory of your trust. Even if the product you are now looking to manufacture doesn’t fit into their assortment. Factories have a large network and contacts with other factories.
    Ask them to help you source a factory that can make your product whom they trust. I’d he happy to pay a few cents more for this type of help if it means I get connected to someone trustworthy.
    Ideally your existing factory can help you manufacture your new design.

Mutual Exclusivity Agreement

Let say you find a product on Alibaba or at the shows and you want to buy this product exclusively to sell on Amazon. Suppliers are likely not to give you a Exclusivity Agreement if you don’t purchase high quantities from them or if you haven’t had any previous business with them. FBA sellers are in general very small customers for factories. The 1000 pieces (if even) you & I are going to want to place as a trial order cause more trouble to the factory than you could imagine. Setting up production and purchasing raw material for only a 1000 pieces is an expensive endeavour for factories. Most raw material suppliers have MOQ’s of 5000 pieces (per raw material) and up. So getting the material for 1000 pieces can be quite expensive. While some factories may have stock left of material or might agree to purchase the larger quantity from the raw material supplier in order to produce your order it is unlikely to happen in reality. Having said that you could approach things a little different to get your exclusivity:

You could ask the supplier to sign exclusivity agreements for 6 months. Meaning you could agree on a quantity that you will place within those 6 months and if you don’t reach the quantity the contract will be voided.
Which will give you the time to figure out if the product is selling and the supplier on the other hand isn’t forced to sign a deal for a long time.
After this period of 6 months the contract/agreement can be reviewed and extended for a longer period. Even if the supplier does not agree to an extension you have at least a head start of 6 months on other sellers.

Validity of agreements & contracts:

In the FB groups I often see question like: “How are those agreements going to hold up and what are your chances of winning an NDA dispute in China if you find out your supplier has betrayed you?”
Well to be honest the chances are slim. Does it help to have an agreement in Chinese? No. Even if you hire an expensive lawyer in China and win the case by the time you resolve the issue your expenses will have ballooned into thousands of $.
So unless you have a patent it isn’t even worth it pursuing a law suit.

You will also have difficulties finding out if your supplier actually used your tooling for another client. An un-trustworthy supplier will find many ways to wiggle himself out of the situation.
For example he could claim a disgruntled engineer of the company left the factory and took the designs to the next factory he started to work for. You won’t be able to proof him differently.

So whats the point of having an agreement at all and whats best approach?

To ask a supplier to sign an agreement or NDA shows that you mean serious business and they will take you and your project more seriously. If he doesn’t agree to it in the first place move on to the next supplier.
Work with a supplier whom you trust and have worked with for many months/years already. You will still need to have agreements in place with that supplier but the understanding is entirely different.
If you work with a supplier and you let him know he can grow his business with you over the years he will honour your agreement. The contract is more or less a formality.
Either place orders with a factory for ODM (products off the rack) in the beginning and eventually propose your ideas and designs after you worked with them for a while or hire a Sourcing Agent who can help you get you in touch with trustworthy factories.

For example in my case study I actually got exclusivity for my product (for an initial 1000 pieces order).
And the supplier honoured it. How do I know that? As you know my case study is public and people who join the course can see contacts of my supplier within the course.
After I launched my product and case study only a few days went by and my supplier contacted me to tell me that he had received quotation requests from 2 different US sellers already. Those 2 people wanted to copy my process (they even used my email templates and quotation forms that I offer in my course). The supplier refused to offer my product to those 2 guys. Thats not to say that they can’t go anywhere else but at least I know I have a reliable and trustworthy supplier.
So its all about finding the right supplier and develop a relationship with him. You will want to have agreements in place even after a long relationship but again, thats just really formality and if you found a trustworthy supplier they will honour agreements and in 95% of the cases help you if you have to claim money for example (defect or returned goods).

It also has to do with your professionalism and how you or your sourcing agent approaches the factory.
Imagine you are a factory based in China and someone with a Gmail address contacts you like this:

“Hi, we are looking to get products manufactured with you. Please see attached drawing and design. Please give us a price”.

The above is an actual email I received from a “potential” client in the US. I simply ignored it. But some suppliers will take this opportunity and steal your design or show it to their customers.
It’s entirely different if I would have received an email with an introduction, detailed business proposal and more background information from the buyer.

The point I want to get across to you today is not to worry too much about getting copied in China if you approach things professionally.

Getting copied will happen eventually because either:

  • Another factory copies/modifies the designs because they have seen it on Amazon.
  • Your competitor copies your product or modifies it.
  • Your approach was unprofessional.

Take the head-start that you have with your product and move on. Thats how this business is.

And remember the above goes only for your own designs. It is a different story if you are buying products off the rack maybe with small modifications from a supplier that you found on Alibaba for example. In these cases it doesn’t make much sense to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements because it is not your design in the first place. It belongs to the supplier. However if you make significant modifications and are able to place larger orders it makes sense to have agreements.

Update Case Study:

A lot of people have asked me about my case study project and asked me about an update.
As you know I’ve posted about being out of stock end of May: http://importdojo.com/7-weeks-case-study-update-i-am-out-of-stock/
My second small reorder of 208 pieces came into stock around 6th of June. However my BSR had dropped significantly to nearly 100,000 by that time.

In the last 4 weeks if seen a couple of sales a day but not much (hovering around 1-2 pieces) sometimes even none. The reason is mainly because I didn’t do anything in terms of promotions, PPC or give aways. But that doesn’t really bother me, the listing and the reviews are there anyway and I sold close to a 100 pieces within this month (doing nothing for it).
I didn’t want to run out of stock again before Prime Day (today) before my large shipment of 2500 pieces arrives around 15th of July. As of today my BSR is at around 20,000 and inventory is around 100 pieces and I’ve just lowered the price and started with PPC again to get back in the ranks. I should have enough stock to last me trough Prime Day until this second large shipment arrives. Then i will again go full steam on PPC, some give aways and promotions to get my ranking back to where it was. Stay tuned for more updates.

Hope this helps guys!
Happy sourcing,
Manuel

 

http://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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The ultimate guide on how to find a product

 

How to find a product?

This is the number 1 question I get asked on almost a daily basis. I have no definite answer for you today but I will try to break it down in two sections and a step by step guide on how I select products and hopefully you’ll get a few ideas :)

Lets look at your personal situation (scenario) first and then see how you can benefit from your scenario when picking the product.

1) How to pick your product niche:

Scenario 1: You’ve got money

Congratulations! While it is easier to get started the question of what product you are going to pick still remains open. More on that below.

Scenario 2: You don’t have money and you’re scraping together every little cent you have to reach 5,000$ because that’s the budget you heard of is the minimum (well its my minimum that I recommend to everyone).

While it is more difficult to get started you have the same starting point like everyone else out there. You probably want to make sure that the product you are going to pick is worth the investment. But even if your first product is not a killer don’t worry. You learn a lot in the process and in most cases you can at least get your investment back. Read on.

Scenario 3: You have a large follower-ship on social media

You are in a great spot. You already have a list of customers to get your launch and product going. It is imperative to pick a product that fits your social media.
In my recent case study (http://importdojo.com/case-study-how-i-went-from-zero-to-7000us-in-10-days-in-one-of-the-most-competitive-amazon-niches/) I reached out to bloggers and that boosted my launch immensely. Even nearly 3 months after my launch I still get sales from that site.

What does that mean if you have a large followership? Lets say I have an Instagram account with 50,000 followers that talks about eating healthy, fitness, the outdoors etc.. I could launch so many products to that followership, even competitive niches. For example:

  • Yoga mats
  • Accessories for the gym (tumblers, bags, sporting items etc.)
  • Backpacks, travelling gear, camping accessories
  • etc.

When you research your future niche and have decided on it build social media right away if possible. A client of mine built a social media follower-ship of 8,000 followers within 2 months (various social sites) and then launched her product. She sold nearly 100 pieces the first week only trough social media. That helped boost her organic sales and the rest is history.

So consider social media right from the beginning when choosing a product.
Ideally you will want to enlarge your assortment with similar products that all fit into your following. For example if your first product was a yoga mat and your followership is about exercising etc. it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense that your next product is a vacuum cleaner.

Scenario 4: You have passion about a certain product category

Let’s just say you love the outdoors, hiking, camping, and exercising in general (like me). So many products to choose from but you have one advantage. You know what you like and what your product should be able to do. You already have an advantage over many other competitors. Your passion for this category goes into your product. E.g. if you were to be upset about quality of camping mats you would already know what to tell your supplier where to improve. Look into categories you have passion for and then choose a product that you feel you can talk about, improve and passion in selling for.

For example if you like cooking you could look at developing a product that makes a certain cooking process easier. The exciting thing about this is that all your passion also goes into your product and listing and people just buy your stuff because you are so convinced of your product yourself.

For example I recently bought a travel bag from a German entrepreneur based in Thailand who loves travelling. Over the years he went trough so many of his traveling bags already because they were of poor quality (the straps broke, the leather peeled off etc.) and he decided to make his own bags. After 6 months of hard work he launched his site and product and it took off immediately. All his passion went into his product and site (https://www.travlmind.com/). You could tell by his story that he was really passionate about creating the best bags out there and not just copying the big brands. And only that convinced me to buy one of the bags even that it was at a higher price tag.

Scenario 5: You have vast experience in a certain industry

Lets imagine you have 17 years of experience in selling electronics (like me). What was the first product I picked? It was an electronic item. Why? Because that’s where I had my experience in. I believe you should not just have passion about your product but also have experience. When I sell a product online I want to be able to answer customers questions and inquires. To be able to do that I need experience in that category. Your passion and experience goes into creating your product. So when I choose my first product I improved an existing item based on my experience in that industry: http://importdojo.com/how-i-started-my-own-private-label/

So if you have a lot of experience in a certain industry make that industry your first product category.

Don’t have experience in a certain industry? What about a hobby? Or are you a parent? I am sure if you are a parent you have lots of experience with your kid/children and you could start in that category :)

Scenario 6: You have none of the above

Not to worry or be frustrated. Most of the people I know that get started start with Scenario 6 and there are still many success stories out there if you are within this scenario. Here’s an approach that you could use:

First: Take out a notebook and create a list of your interests and hobbies (or responsibilities as a parent for example) e.g. kitchen products, electronics, sports, your kids etc.. Yes actually write it down. Call me a bit old fashioned but I like to drop down ideas in written :)

Second: subscribe to newsletters of companies that talk about or sell products of your interests. See below on which sites for example (point 2)

Third: Gather a list of potential products from that niche. Collect at least 10 ideas.

Fourth: Research phase. Junglescout, Amazon, eBay, jet.com, local shop that sells the products etc.
See if there is any demand? Or is there space for one more seller (you)?

Fifth: If there is no demand is it because the product is in its fledging stages? Can you improve the product with your passion and interest in this product? Yes? Create a To-Do list of what you can improve based on customers reviews, what friends and family say etc. and move onto finding a supplier.

Sixth: No? Are you still convinced of the product? Follow your gut feeling and also ask around in friend circles. Move onto finding a supplier

Seven: No demand at all? Move onto product 2 of your list of ideas.

Lets say you found your niche, category or general product idea. Depending on above scenarios here are a few examples on how to find your product:

2) How to find your product ideas:

Choose your scenario and lets look at the following options:

  1. Amazon
  2. Blogs, Gadget or trendy sites
  3. Exhibitions
  4. Supermarkets, shopping malls
  5. Tools
  6. When travelling
  7. Alibaba & Globalsources

1) Amazon
You could look for hours on Amazon in the different categories and niches if you already have a certain product idea. But if you have no idea to start I suggest you start with the best seller list: http://amzn.to/1ZN3rY3

2) Blogs, gadget or trendy sites

Please don’t just look on Amazon! While there are great tools out there to scout Amazon for products (Junglescout, Cashcowpro etc.) I get many of my ideas outside Amazon.

One of my favorite site to find interesting blogs and trendy websites is Kadaza. It’s a collection of the best and most interesting sites on product ideas:

http://www.kadaza.com/

Click on any of the categories and you will find x amount of websites in that niche. For example if you look under the Tech category (http://www.kadaza.com/tech) you will find “The Gadget Flow”. By subscribing to their newsletter you get weekly updates on trendy items (that may not even be on Amazon yet). Lets take a look at an example:

Just a few days ago I received an email from The Gadget Flow. Its a site that I subscribe to among many others. I found the site by looking trough above Kadaza links.

So when I opened the email there were a lot of products that are currently on sites like Kickstarter or other similar sites. But you know what? If its only on Kickstarter now it means it isn’t on Amazon yet hence you can take the product idea and even improve on it. So I looked at the first product that caught my attention (lots of other good ideas too in that email):

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.56.33 AM

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.56.36 AM

 

After clicking on the link I found that the company is based in Denmark and funded their product “the Sitpack” successfully on Kickstarter.

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 11.56.51 AM

Just a quick search on Alibaba.com and I immediately find a supplier:

 

Untitled

 

 

As you can see the supplier either stole the pictures or he is the actual producer for this company. I think it is the first one but it could be that they are the sole manufacturer.

 

Untitled2

 

 

Now I go on Amazon and see that there is only one seller, the actual company “Sitpack” selling for 149$!!! Look at the listing. So much to improve!!

 

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Also I am pretty sure that this product does not cost more than 10$ to manufacture. Wow what a margin!

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 12.01.47 PM

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-10 at 12.08.48 PM

 

Either way, the point I want to get to you is not to copy these companies but find ideas on blog sites (subscribe to them) and see how quick and easy you can research suppliers on Alibaba or Globalsources for suppliers. Maybe add an accessory, change colors or whatever you feel could improve the product. The best thing about subscribing to these sites is that you get ideas delivered for free to your email address.

3) Exhibitions
One of my favorite and most efficient way to find new products is at exhibitions. There are hundreds of exhibitions each year in many countries. You get to meet the supplier, see the products, and talk over details such as prices, models, and much more. On top of all of that I guarantee you that you will get inspired. To find exhibitions near you just Google the exhibition center near you and get your entry ticket. Most times you will need to provide name cards and contact details for that. You can order business cards for $5 these days. Going to an exhibition prepared and with a professional image gives the supplier a great impression of you.

There are countless exhibitions around Asia throughout the year but mostly during April and October. Here is a list of exhibitions for October 2016: http://www.globalsources.com/NEWS/TRADE_SHOW_CALENDAR_OCTOBER2016_A.pdf

A great write up from one of webretailers earlier posts of Danny McMillan who I had the pleasure of meeting in Hong Kong in April: http://www.webretailer.com/lean-commerce/sourcing-trip-china/

4) Supermarkets, shopping malls
Another way to find new products is obviously when you are out in a shopping mall or a local shop. To start your own import business means that you also work when you are out with friends/family at a shopping mall. Keep your eyes open and when you see something cool make a reminder for yourself on your smart phone to look the product up later.

5) Tools

A) Junglescout
You have probably heard of Junglescout already. Junglescout is probably the most advanced tool when it comes to navigating Amazon and finding bestseller products. Jungle Scout integrates into your Google Chrome browser, streamlining your product research. Extract rank, sales volume, FBA fee’s, type and quantity and a lot more! From what I hear soon also available for the German market.

I had the chance to meeet Junglescout’s founder Greg Mercer twice. He is a really cool and down to earth guy who seems to work purely for the community. Check out his blog and site where you can get hundreds of product ideas itself if not using his tool.

B) Cashcowpro

In January this year I was contacted by Antoni Watts, the founder of CashCowPro. I looked up his tool and was amazed by how he has probably put together the most comprehensive tool that not only helps to boost sales but also provides accurate insightful metrics for selling on Amazon. From all the tools out there I think this is my favorite when it comes to keeping track of all my sales as well as testing features.

It also works also iPhone and Android APP. Within the tool there is a Top 100,000 NICHE selector… They actually scanned over 100 million products + ASINs on Amazon to create this list.
They automatically calculate the factory cost and Air + Sea freight to give you the Top 100,000 most profitable NICHES on Amazon. Not products, but actual NICHES, using the average of the TOP 5 ranking products for each Niche to calculate the overall performance. The tool has many more functions apart from the niche selector that you can see here:

 

6) Travelling

Travelling is also a great way to find ideas. When you are out of your country or state you will likely see items that your country/state does not have. There could be many reasons why they may not be available where you live, but it’s always worth it to check an idea out. I remember when my friend told me about 10 years ago about Bubble Tea & Fancy Green Tea drinks sold in Hong Kong and Asia. She was from Germany and she had never seen these drinks back home. She didn’t go on any further with that idea but a few years later back in Germany these drinks started to pop up and were a smashing hit! So even when you think at first that idea might be nothing, it could be worth millions! Share the idea with a few friends and brainstorm about it.

7) Alibaba & Globalsources

A) Alibaba

First off when you sign up on Alibaba you generally need to fill in which product categories you are interested in. Based on this criteria and your recent product searches on Alibaba you’ll get automated emails with new product deals. Als you can subscribe look in their “selection site” where they post a lot of the newest and trendiest items from their suppliers:

http://selection.alibaba.com/?spm=a2700.7848340.0.0.tevCsV&tracelog=hd__cor_selection

B) Globalsources

Pretty much the same with Globalsources. You sign up and get automated emails with great product deals here. But not enough, they also have a section with the best deals and newest products out of every product category: Top Products. And my favourite part are their eMagazines that are updated on a monthly basis with the hottest and newest product alerts on their site.

Check out the links listed above and browse trough hundreds of products. Use the techniques and step by step scenario as described above depending on your situation.

Well that’s all I can think of today but there are literally so many other ways to find products. Even if you personally went trough some of the above ideas already I hope there’s still something for you that could help to find your next or first product. Some more ideas on how to find the “perfect” product also in one of my earlier guest blog posts from Thomas Albiez based in Switzerland: http://importdojo.com/how-to-find-the-perfect-product-2/

Once thing I can recommend everyone at some point is to come to Asia and visit some of the exhibitions. I feel it is just the most efficient way to find products. I know it may not be cheap to come here but I can guarantee its worth it. A plane ticket and a few nights at a cheap hotel can go from $1500. But you’ll see actual suppliers, products and samples in real. Saving you a lot of money and time in the process. Here are a few impressions from October last year and this year April’s exhibitions :

http://importdojo.com/news-and-trends-from-the-exhibitions-in-asia/

http://importdojo.com/news-and-trends-from-the-exhibition-april-2016/

I hope you enjoyed this post and that I could somehow inspire you a little bit to find your product ☺

All the best and happy sourcing,
Manuel

 

Ps.: some of the links are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase.  I have personally used and tested all of these products or companies, and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something. The cost to you remains the same, sometimes even cheaper if I have negotiated a special deal for our readers. Please do not purchase these products unless you feel you need them or that they will help you achieve your goals.