An import-export business works international trade, buying and selling domestic and foreign products for a profit. American companies spend a large sum of money in international trade, importing products from other countries. The import-export business is highly competitive. Individuals desiring to start a business must feel comfortable with sales and negotiations. Small business owners can start an import-export business from their homes with little up-front money. As an import-export agent, you are simply playing the middleman by connecting the manufacturer with consumers. You don’t need to purchase any inventory, so your startup cost is very small.

Step 1.

Choose your target products. Research currently imported products that are selling well in the United States. If you plan to deal with a specific country, find out what products are in demand in that country. Consider possible consumers for the products before making purchases.

Step 2.

Establish relationships with companies in other countries. Contact any relatives living overseas or past business relationships you’ve made while traveling to other countries. Call or write U.S. embassies in other countries in an effort to get information about foreign manufacturers and distributors.

Step 3.

Start a large mailing campaign. Write a letter to all of your foreign contacts introducing your business and describing the benefits of choosing your company as an import-export agent. Ask your contacts for the names and addresses of firms looking to sell their products in the United States.

Step 4.

Contact local manufacturers looking to sell their goods overseas. Use the foreign contacts you have established as a selling point to get the manufacturer to make you their sole export agent. As an exporter, you must handle all of the sales, necessary paperwork, shipping, customs and distribution in foreign and American markets.

Step 5.

Speak to potential clients about your marketing plans for their products. Discuss briefly any trade shows that you plan to attend or any collaborations you have with sales representatives and distributors. This will allow potential clients to have confidence in your business.

Step 6.

Establish your commission fee with the manufacturers. Your commission is based on the sales you make, and you should put your commission fee in writing once it is agreed upon. Usually import-export agents charge a 10 percent commission fee on the sales price of a product.

Step 7.

Sign legal agreements with manufacturers. Check the reputation of companies to ensure they are legitimate. Contact an attorney to draft a contract. You will need a contract drawn up only once because you can use the contract template for other business transactions later.


You must constantly work the phone and meet potential clients in person to expand your clientele.


Avoid breaking any foreign laws while conducting your business. It is best to familiarize yourself with the business laws in the country you plan to work as an import-export agent.