If you’re a people person who loves Brazil, an import/export business could be for you.
Do you speak Portuguese? Do you have connections in Porto de Paranaguá? Have you lived in São Paulo? Maybe you simply love the country of Brazil.
In the import/export industry, you can use your individual competitive advantages to serve as a matchmaker for companies in Brazil – matching product manufacturers with markets that want and need to purchase the goods they produce.
If businesses in Brazil want to export their goods, you help them find buyers. And if they’re looking for specific merchandise, you help them find sellers.
With dedication and this guide, you can become a part of the estimated $3.3 billion in goods and services traded between Australia and Brazil in the 2016/17 financial year.
Types of import/export businesses
There are three basic types of import/export businesses. Starting out, it’s a good idea to pursue the one that interests you the most.
Export management company
Let’s say a company in Brazil wants to export iron and steel. That’s where an export management company (EMC) can help.
An EMC handles all of the details for the company to ship goods overseas. This could include hiring distributors, creating marketing materials and preparing shipping logistics.
Export trading company
An export trading company (ETC) finds out what foreign buyers want and then locates domestic companies that can export the goods.
Import/export merchant (or free agent)
Import/export merchants buy merchandise from a manufacturer, foreign or domestic, then resell that merchandise around the world. There’s heavier risk involved in being a free agent – but with fewer middlemen, there's the potential for higher profits as well.
You can start your own import/export business with little upfront costs.
At a minimum, you need a phone and a reliable Internet connection. You’ll also want to invest in business cards, a website and a fax machine. And it doesn’t hurt to hire somebody for your branding, including someone to make a unique business logo.
Narrowing your market
Once you’ve decided on the type of import/export business you want to run and calculated your startup costs, it’s time to narrow your market focus.
By niching down, you can focus your attention on a market you can serve best. Think about the following:
- Customers you want to serve.
- Areas of the world you’ll target.
- Types of goods you’ll offer.
Take your time to dig deep with your research. The extra time you spend finding profitable niches will pay off in the long run.
Your target customer will be someone who wants to trade globally. They’ll either want to sell goods overseas or buy goods from international sources.
Beyond that, you can choose any type of customer you wish. Maybe you’ll cater to companies that sell Brazil’s No. 1 export, soybeans. You may also decide to work with companies that export cars or coffee.
If you can identify a need, you can target a group of companies as customers.
Brazil’s top 10 exports
- Iron ore
- Raw sugar
- Crude petroleum
- Poultry meat
- Sulphate chemical wood pulp
- Planes, helicopters and spacecraft
- Soybean meal
Source: The Observatory of Economic Complexity, 2016
Regulation, licences and permits
There's no general licence you're required to have for importing goods, but Australian Customs does require permits to clear your goods. Quarantine regulations are a big one, and you'll need to apply for a permit if your goods fall under this category. This includes plant, mineral, animal and human products and means you'll need to make time for quarantine.
A permit for these goods comes from the Biosecurity Import Conditions Systems (BICON), and you can search its database to see if your goods fall into this category. Try to do this well in advance, otherwise your goods may be re-exported or destroyed.
Like with importing, you're not required to have a licence to export goods out of Australia, though you may need a permit.
Things that you can't export include certain weapons and heritage items. For other goods, like wine and brandy, you'll need to apply for a specific permit with the issuing agency. You can find more about specific goods and their restrictions on the Australian Border Force's website.
All goods you export will need to have an Export Declaration, which tells the DHA what the goods are and other details to do with the transaction. Once you've lodged this declaration, you'll get a number (EDN). You'll be able to export your goods as soon as the department has approved the Export Declaration you completed.
A note about importing goods into Brazil
The Brazilian government controls federal trade through a complex system called Siscomex. Though imported goods do not require a licence, they must be registered with Siscomex.
Contact a professional to learn more about registration, tariffs and any restrictions that could affect your business.
Charging for your services
An import/export business typically charges based on commission or retainer.
With a commission structure, you’re paid a percentage of any trade deal you close – usually around 10%. For example, if you sell a manufacturer’s smartphone for $300, you’ll make a $30 commission. On top of your commission, you’ll also want to charge for expenses like packaging and shipping.
On a retainer model, your client pays you a monthly fee to be on call when they need your services.
To find the right amount for your retainer, consider your costs – these may include labour, supplies and overhead.
An alternative model
Which business model should you choose?
A good rule of thumb is to pick a commission model if you think a product will be easy to sell. However, if you think a product will be difficult to sell, price your business based on a retainer.
The thinking is based on this: If you’ll sell a lot of product, you want to be paid based on performance. On the other hand, if you believe sales will be slow, using a retainer model could ensure that you’ll be paid even during the downtime.
Finally, if you’re confident in your ability to sell products you acquire, you don’t have to negotiate a payment structure with manufacturers. All you’ll have to negotiate is how much you’ll buy a product for and then find a way to profit from the merchandise.
International billing and payments
Your new business will require you to make and receive international payments, which means you’ll make transactions between currencies and across borders.
You can safely and affordably manage your business payments – with lower fees and stronger exchange rates – by comparing the services of a money transfer specialist.
Compare transfer companies for doing business with Brazil
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Exchange rates are volatile and change often. As a result, the exchange rate listed on Finder may vary to the actual exchange rate quoted for the brand. Please confirm the actual exchange rate and mention "Finder" before you commit to a brand.
Shipping the goods
You need to send and receive goods from other countries, so you’ll need to arrange shipping details.
First, contact a freight forwarder – a company that helps you transport goods safely and efficiently. They will help you handle the logistics of completing shipping documents, finding cargo space and securing cargo insurance.
Find a freight forwarder by looking in state-specific business directories.
Risks and how to avoid them
Unpredictable shipping logistics
Needless to say, your success hinges on whether you can ship goods safely and efficiently. If you’re exporting goods, for example, you’re responsible for ensuring they leave your local port and arrive at the correct destination on time.
You’ll also need to account for anything else that could go wrong, such as damage to the cargo. Staying organised and partnering with a reputable freight forwarder will help you ship goods without a hitch.
Not knowing enough about markets
It’s a good idea to thoroughly research a market before entering into this business, though even that may not be enough.
Consider hiring experts who understand the tastes and cultures of your specific markets. You’ll need to sell products that resonate in countries you’re unfamiliar with.
Running into problems at the border
Customs rules aren’t uniform throughout the world. Instead, you’ll encounter a mass of different regulations while transporting goods. To avoid drowning in a swamp of border regulations, hire experts in customs law and trade compliance.
The import/export business is for people who love building relationships in other countries, but it also requires an organised mind that can handle logistics.
If you have those qualities, take the plunge into creating a thriving import/export business.