How to work with overseas suppliers

Overseas suppliers can offer unique products and cheaper manufacturing – but be sure to research overseas suppliers first so you can set up the best trade relationship from the start.

Finding an overseas supplier adds an extra layer of complexity to your supply chain. Unlike UK-based suppliers, issues such as regulation and importation requirements, as well as the location of the home country of the supplier are challenges that you’ll need to address.

Get it right, however, and the best overseas suppliers can offer a range of benefits – from cost-effective manufacturing to importing goods on an exclusive basis that can really boost your business and give you sole access to the UK market. However, make sure you set up the overseas supplier relationship correctly to avoid problems later on.

Choose the best business supplier destination

Generally, it’s easier to set up relationships with suppliers from developed countries, such as from within the EU. You’ll benefit from less complexity when it comes to regulatory issues such as with electronics goods. An EU-based supplier will automatically meet EU-wide regulations, and you can benefit from free movement of goods without having to pay import tariffs until any changes from the UK’s exit from the EU come into force.

If selecting a supplier from outside the EU, check first how many UK customers it has. A high volume of trade suggests a good partner, as it shows other business have successfully established a trade deal with the supplier. If in doubt, talk to other similar businesses such as yours to learn about recommended overseas suppliers, or visit international trade fairs and conventions to get a good view of available suppliers.

Get help in choosing the best overseas supplier

Unless you’re willing to invest lots of time and money travelling overseas to locate the best supplier, it makes sense to use the resources and information available in the UK to help narrow your search. Several organisations can help you identify and set up a relationship with an overseas supplier:

  • Business link has a dedicated section devoted to overseas trade, with lots of information on importing goods and specific types such as food, to understanding tax and customs requirements.
  • UK Trade and Investment is a good bet, with information and FAQs that can help in your search.
  • Foreign Embassies via the Foreign Office web site are a good place to start when trying to source a supplier from a specific country. Contact that country’s embassy to get access to suppliers either operating or looking to operate in the UK.

Getting started with an overseas supplier

When you’ve found the best overseas supplier for your business, it’s essential to get all business details and expectations clearly agreed. Challenges such as time differences, language barriers and the logistics of delivering goods over large distances can turn simple problems into a crisis.

  • Initial supplier shipments it’s best to start on a shipment-by-shipment or project-by-project basis so you can see how your supplier works and how goods are imported. If it’s successful, you can expand into more regular shipments.
  • Plan supplier communication working with an overseas supplier means face-to-face meetings are few but they’re vital for building trust. Plan at least an initial meeting in person and ask for a tour of the supplier’s facilities. Schedule regular meetings, such as once per quarter, and ensure monthly or weekly phone or Skype meetings to keep in touch.
  • Monitor progress keep tabs of deliveries, schedule issues and quality control if manufacturing. Use this to provide the basis of meetings so you work with the supplier to improve production, quality and delivery.

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