How to Set Up Your Import/Export Business

By John J. Capela

Setting up a business involves all kinds of little details that are easy to overlook. Following is everything you need to think about in the early days of your import/export business, from registering it to setting up a phone line and more.

Registering your business

Depending on the type of business you operate, you need to take one or two steps for your business to be properly registered in most states:

  1. If your business is a legal entity such as a corporation, limited partnership, or limited liability company, you must file formation or authorization documents for the public record.

    General partnerships and sole proprietorships are not subject to this step.

  2. You must register for tax purposes.

To find the specific requirements in your state, go to State & Local Government on the Net and click on the link for your state.

Opening a bank account

During the startup process, be sure to open a business checking account. When you’re initiating your discussion with potential suppliers and customers, you’ll need to pay by check, and it’s far more professional if these transactions are completed using a company check rather than your personal checks with the cute kittens or pretty sunsets on them.

Selecting an office location

When you’re starting a business, you need to choose a location. Most entrepreneurs initially look at starting a business from home. The cost of setting up a separate office can be far too costly, and the home-based option is a good alternative. Just be sure to look at your local community zoning requirements — depending on where you live and the kind of business you’re running, you may not be able to operate your business out of your home.

If you decide to use your home, remember that you need to use it mostly for the administrative aspects of your business. If you choose the distributor approach, you need to arrange for outside warehousing or storage facilities.

As you begin the process of forming your own import/export business, consider which address you’re going to put on your letterhead, business card, and so on. You may not be able to spend the money to rent an office. Furthermore, using a post office box can seem unprofessional, and you may be hesitant about using your home address. Another option is to get a mailbox at a UPS Store. The benefits of mailbox services at a UPS Store include the following:

  • A street address (not a post office box), which provides a professional image for your business

  • The ability to pick up your mail when it’s convenient for you

  • Someone to accept packages from all carriers and advise you of arrival so you don’t have to be home to sign for them

  • Someone to hold your packages in a secure location for pickup at your convenience or forward them to you, wherever you are

Getting connected

Communication is important in any business. You need to be able to interact with potential suppliers and customers at all times. In my early days in importing and exporting, almost all communication was done using a telex (teletypewriter exchange) machine, which involved underwater cables. Today the process is easier and far more effective and efficient.

Telephone

When you’re setting up your business, you need to create a sense of professionalism. Even during your early stages as you begin to explore ideas, search for product ideas, conduct market research, contact potential suppliers, and interact with prospective customers, you need to have a phone line that’s separate and apart from your personal home number — even if you’re running a home-based business.

When someone contacts you about your business, you need to be able to answer the phone in a professional manner — you don’t want your 8-year-old picking it up, his mouth full of Oreos.

If you don’t want to pay for an entirely new phone line, get a cellphone that you use only for business purposes.

Internet and email

Access to the Internet is a must. What you need is high-speed Internet access in the form of cable (which runs through the same kind of connection as your cable TV), a fiber optic communication network (such as Verizon FiOS), or satellite. All these options are available through numerous Internet service providers (ISPs), and which one you get really depends on what’s available in your area and what the ISP charges.

After you have Internet access, set up an email account. At a minimum, you should set up an account with a free service like Yahoo! Mail, Outlook.com, or Gmail. The form for the address could look like this: businessname@yahoo.com. Another option is to set up an email account through your company’s website; the advantage of this is that your email address looks more professional: yourname@businessname.com, sales@businessname.com, and so on. Whatever option you choose, make sure your email address focuses on a name and not something corny, like muscleman@yahoo.com.

In every email you send, be sure to include your name, title, company name, mailing address, and phone number.