We Are the World

Making Connections: Becoming an International Intermediary

If you're not ready to take the plunge into exporting your own products, Dennis Hessler has an alternative: Become an import/export intermediary.

The task of an intermediary, according to Hessler, is to help small and midsized businesses hook up with buyers and cope with issues like currency transfers and translations.

Hessler recommends finding a supplier first, then looking for a buyer. "If you already have a supplier, you'll have the information [a buyer needs]," says Hessler. "You can quote prices and know you can deliver 'x' container loads of widgets at 'x' price. You may be able to direct the buyer to the supplier's Web site to find out more about the product. You can even e-mail pictures of the products incredibly quickly and cheaply."

The key to success is discovering your "edge," which might be your knowledge of the market, the product or the target country. "If you're a shoe salesperson, use your contacts in the shoe industry to make your first sale," says Hessler. "If you have contacts in India, use them to find out what types of products sell in India, then find suppliers of those products in the U.S. Your edge gives you credibility, a clear connection the supplier can understand."

Hessler points out the importance of building relationships with suppliers and buyers. "Don't look at a trade as a one-time deal. Avoid 'fax-jockeying'-just faxing paper back and forth with no real dealings with the individual. It's better to build relationships with both sides, so everyone knows you-so you can count on them and they can count on you. Then your contacts can help you expand markets and product lines so you don't have to start over every time you put a new deal together.

"You don't have to sell 747s to make a lot of money as an intermediary," says Hessler, who notes that it usually takes about six months for that all-important first deal to come together. "Don't go crazy looking at the hundreds of buy/sell offers on the Internet and think you're going to get rich quick; build it up slowly. Patience is the challenge."


Moira Allen is the "Global" columnist for Entrepreneur magazine and editor of Global Writers' Ink, a newsletter for international writers. Her Web site for writers can be found at www.writing-world.com.

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