CBP Regulations 101: The Basics

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

US-bound importing/exporting is one of the most complex and vast international industries in existence. Importers have numerous factors to consider in every transaction, including sourcing within their supply chains, warehousing, transportation, customs regulations, and more. Although importing is appealing as a potentially lucrative business, it requires an enormous amount of preparation and organization and should not be taken lightly.

One of the most complex among these factors are the regulations under United States Customs and Border Protection, or CBP. Familiarity with these regulations is essential in the importing business because if a shipment is in violation of CBP’s regulations, it will be delayed at port and potentially taken to a detention warehouse, where it may not be released and distributed for months, if at all. Since most of these regulations are generally focused on national security and health, it is vital that you learn the requirements and do everything you can to adhere to them.

Intellectual Property Rights Violations

This is one of the easiest regulations to accidentally violate because if you haven’t licensed your goods, you may be in violation of another business’s intellectual property without even realizing it. In order to prevent delaying your goods and ensure that any product designs you own aren’t plagiarized, you must register them at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This will alert you to any existing violations and make sure you never become a victim.

If you find that your goods are, in fact, in violation of another company’s licensing or intellectual property, you won’t be able to sell them in the US in any event. So, it is wise to investigate as thoroughly as possible prior to production to avoid spending money on goods you won’t be able to sell.

Agricultural Products and Food

If you import fruits, vegetables, meat or plants, it is wise to prepare for a number of possible delays. First, it is vitally important that you declare these items on your CBP declaration forms. Next, you should ask permission to transport these goods in advance and obtain any necessary permits. For example, if you are importing any seeds or cuttings intended for propagative purposes (meaning they will be planted or replanted when they reach their destination), you need a foreign phytosanitary certificate before the order arrives.

Due to the potentially disastrous environmental effects of certain pests and soil from foreign ground, all plant matter is inspected upon arrival at US ports. Provided that they are declared and found to be free of pests/soil and as described, most dead plant matter (meaning not intended to be propagated) will be permitted entry without incident.

Meat-based imports are equally, if not more, highly regulated than plant-based ones due to legal requirements from the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA. The primary concerns surrounding these products involve diseases like hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as mad cow disease), which are still prevalent in certain parts of Europe and worldwide. Goods containing meat products (i.e. prepared foods) from restricted countries are usually prohibited from entering the US, so be aware of the origins of all of your meat-based products to avoid losing your goods at customs.

Read part 2 here!

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What to Know Before Signing a Factoring Agreement

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

If you plan to work with a factor to fund your business, it is vital that you do thorough research prior to signing anything. Obviously, it is important to be educated before signing any legally binding document, but the ongoing nature of trade financing solutions makes them the perfect trap for hidden fees and requirements.

Before you sign on the dotted line, here are some important questions you should ask your prospective factor:

What percentage of my invoice values will I receive in advance (i.e. what’s my advance rate)?

The percentage that you receive as an advance on your invoices is called an “advance rate.” Typically, factoring companies provide up to 80% of the total value when they receive an assignment. It is important to know your advance rate up front so you can predict available cash flow based on receivables.

What is the minimum sales volume required by the factor?

This is one of the primary points in determining whether the factor will accept your application or not. Most factors have a minimum sales volume for clients to ensure that each relationship will be profitable.

You should know that unfortunately, if your sales volume is low, your rates will be higher than that of a comparable business with higher sales volumes, even if it doesn’t keep you from successfully signing a factoring contract. Factoring is still a labor-intensive industry with high overhead so each client has to have enough volume or high enough rates to justify the cost of acquiring a new client.

What fees (beyond the standard rate charged on each factored invoice) will I incur during my contract?

Most factors include fine print in their agreements, which often contain the dreaded “hidden” fees that many have come to expect from banks and financial institutions. These can include termination fees if you end the agreement before the contract is up, annual minimums charged on a monthly basis, credit check fees, misdirected payment fees, invoice modification fees, and a myriad of other miscellaneous charges.

Occasional fees are to be expected, but if they seem excessive or confusing to you, there’s a chance that the factor is unopposed to taking advantage of less informed clients.

Does the factor perform credit checks in house? Is there a fee for credit checks?

All non-recourse factoring companies require a credit check of all customers whose invoices are factored. Since a non-recourse factor provides credit protection on their client’s receivables, the factor needs to know the payment habits and financial soundness of the end customer (i.e. the debtor on any assigned invoice). Credit worthy customers receive credit protection and are therefore considered non-recourse receivables. Non-approved accounts are not insured and therefore they are called “with recourse” because the factor has recourse to their client if the receivables fail.

Ask your factor if they insure your receivables (i.e. are they recourse or non-recourse factors) and, if so, whether they charge a fee for providing credit checks on your customers.

What varieties of factoring does the company offer?

It is very useful to know what types of factoring the company in question offers for a number of reasons. First, it is important to find out if your factor offers recourse factoring, non-recourse factoring, or both. This will determine whether you will be responsible should any of your customers declare bankruptcy without paying all of their factored invoices.

Once you’ve established recourse vs. non-recourse, you want to find out if your factor can adapt services to suit your needs. Practices like spot factoring or selective factoring are helpful if you find that you only want to factor a handful of your receivables. Bottom line, it helps to know if those options are available from the onset.

Does this factor have experience with businesses in my industry?

While it isn’t necessarily crucial to your relationship with your factor, you might be surprised what a difference it can make if your factor has experience in your industry. Each industry has its own unique structure and potential difficulties to consider and when you bring a financial institution into the equation, so it helps if they’ve dealt with the difficulties specific to your industry. Some factors specialize in certain industries. Where possible, try to work with a factor who specializes in and knows your industry.

What is the maximum credit line that will be available to me?

Depending on the factor, there may or may not be a flexible limit on the credit line they can offer you. Typically, a factor is either a department at a bank, or has a close relationship with one or more banks. This allows them to offer substantial credit lines, provided that your customers have good credit. Some smaller factors, however, can only offer limited hard caps on cash lines due to limited access to funds. Ask before you sign to determine if the factor is suited to meet your financial needs.

In general, it is important to research the business with whom you are working, particularly when your sensitive information is involved. The best practice is to familiarize yourself with the factoring industry in general, that should inform any questions you might need to ask in order to be prepared to sign anything. Also ask for references to ensure that other clients have been satisfied with their experience. Use your instincts and do your homework. Your diligence will be rewarded.

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Boosting Sales – Tips to Grow Your Wholesale Business

Sadie Keljikian, Express Trade Capital

For wholesalers, selling to retail customers can be a complex and strenuous process. Unlike consumers, retailers need to be convinced not only of quality and usefulness, but of the uniqueness and longevity of a product in order to feel compelled to devote precious floor or shelf space to it.

Here are some tips to help you boost sales and grow your business.

Monitor your business practices.

Before you can think about adopting dynamic sales practices, you need to make sure that your
business and its reputation doesn’t raise any red flags for potential customers.

  • Create a solid web presence.

When you initiate contact with a retailer, they will usually search for your business online immediately and go from there. Make sure your website looks professional. If you are unable to afford upscale web design, keep things simple and straightforward. Offer as much exciting information about your business as possible (without giving up trade secrets of course). If you are honest and don’t oversell yourself or your product, you will engender confidence and trust right off the bat. Solicit feedback on your site from employees and clients, and constantly strive to produce and publish good, relevant content on your site while continuing to adapt and improve it.

If there are any poor reviews or scandalous details (i.e. a lawsuit) to be found in searching for your company online, be honest with your prospects when it comes up. By controlling how you choose to frame the story and admitting places where you may have erred and have now improved, you can enhance your credibility with prospective client. Discussing how you previously confronted a difficult situation with a client offers an opportunity to demonstrate the character and integrity of your company.

  • Update and Monitor Social Media

If you choose to use social media as a marketing platform, be very careful. Social media is a rich resource, but must be handled carefully so that it doesn’t become more of a hindrance than a help. To the extent possible (and practical), do not allow access to your company’s social media accounts to anyone untrustworthy and be sure that the content remains consistently professional and relevant to your business. You should limit or completely avoid silly or irrelevant photos and shared links and monitor copy frequently for any potentially offensive or inappropriate phrasing.

  • Manage all interactions with prospective clients.

Everything that applies to your business’s web presence can be applied to any in-person contact in which you or your colleagues engage. Be friendly, informative and honest about your business and how it operates. Make sure any sales staff are not only good at selling, but knowledgeable, personable and socially apt enough to lead pleasant and helpful interactions with all prospects. Find a proper balance between driving your sales force and allowing for individual styles and tactics from different team members. If your incentive structure is sound, sales people will be motivated to do their best and will naturally use all their strengths and capacity to get the job done.

Generate leads.

Building your customer base requires patience and focus. Before you can sell to new customers, you need to identify potential customers by casting a wide net. Then, narrow down your market and develop a good rapport with those who show significant interest. Here are a few ways to find leads:

  • Research competitors.

This is step one in the sale process. If you aren’t sure how best to sell your product, it’s a great idea to look at the sales and advertising techniques of your top competitors. See what their websites look like, find out what networking events they attend, and look at as many marketing materials for your industry as possible. If you research a variety of competitors, chances are you’ll find a combination of tactics perfectly suited to you and your business.

  • Attend trade shows.

One of the best ways to find potential retail customers is to attend a trade show. A lot of businesses are inclined to devote all, or the vast majority of their resources to their web presence. While a good website and digital marketing campaign are important, they are not the be-all, end-all of sales. Boots on the ground and hustle might be old school but they’re far from obsolete. Until the machines take over, direct human interactions are still our primary mode of communication and the cornerstone of any good sales strategy. Never underestimate the power of pounding the pavement in an age when more and more people like to meet (and hide behind) the safety and ambiguity of the internet.

Trade shows are beneficial for a number of reasons. First, you will meet a huge number of potential customers in person, allowing you to show the personal, friendly side of your business to a larger pool of retailers than you would generally be able to access. Second, it is an excellent opportunity for you to flex your sales skills and improve your pitch, which prepares you for cold calls and other sales situations.

Exhibiting at a trade show is expensive. Between the exhibitor fees, promotional materials, and travel costs, the total price can add up. However, if you present yourself professionally, get buyers excited about your product, and follow up with interested parties diligently, the benefits will vastly outweigh the costs. In the beginning, you’re just building your database and getting your feet wet while getting a better sense of the market. Don’t expect miracles – this is a marathon, not a sprint, so be patient and don’t be discouraged if substantial sales don’t materialize right away.  It takes persistence, hustle, and grit so stay on top of your contacts, listen to them, and use those insights to improve and refine your product and your pitch.

  • Make phone calls.

Depending on your product, you may find that cold calling is a good resource for generating clients. If that is the case, it is vital that you keep your call volume as high as possible. Obviously, cold calling is, like any aggressive sales approach, a gamble. So, don’t be discouraged if only a small percentage of your cold calls actually lead to sales. This is why high volumes are so important to the success of a phone campaign.

There are many ways to obtain suitable calling lists. You can buy lists from sellers who provide contact information of c-level executives. Many sellers offer their contact information online. You can develop contacts with lead generation websites that specialize in sourcing deals. The best call lists, however, are generated when you do the research yourself or exchange cards or information in person. Such leads are technically “warm leads” that require “warm calls.” If you have had some prior contact or have a reason to call aside from having bought the contact from a list vendor, your chances of making a connection (and sale) improve substantially. Try all methods and see which ones work best for you.

  • Use LinkedIn.

Another way to develop leads is to use a site like LinkedIn. Unlike other social media platforms, LinkedIn organizes users by industry, position, and location. This means that it can be used to both generate leads and pursue existing prospects. Although LinkedIn is currently the largest network of its kind for professionals, there are others that may be worth considering as well, so do your research and find the best platform for your field.

Keep in touch.

Once you’ve generated some leads, make sure you keep in touch with them. Chances are, they’ve got several vendors vying for their business, particularly if you met them at a trade show. Frequency of contact is a balancing act. You want to check in regularly so that your prospect doesn’t forget you or your products, but you don’t want to contact them so frequently that you appear desperate and aggravate them. Use your judgement and do your best to maintain a presence on their radar without becoming an annoyance.

Here are a few tips to optimize your ongoing contact with prospects:

  • Target the prospects you pursue carefully.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of the prospects you find will not be interested in your product. Whatever the reason, this means that you should be sensitive to the level of interest a prospect will show you and choose the prospects you pursue with care. If you meet the person at a trade show, gauge their reaction as you speak to them. Get a sense of their business: is your product a good fit for them? Will you fill a niche that is otherwise unoccupied? If not, are you offering a noticeably improved version of a product they already offer? Does the buyer show enthusiasm for your product(s)?

Once you’ve considered all of these factors, adapt your behavior in pursuing the prospect accordingly.  Find what they’re looking for and see how you and your product can help them achieve their aims.   If you’re not sure about their level of interest, reach out to check in occasionally and don’t be afraid to simply ask. Ask for feedback on your process so you can improve. Assure your prospects that you want to help them, not bother them.

  • Map out and streamline your sales process.

Once you’ve figured out how to navigate your relationship with the prospect, create a game plan for your ongoing contact with them and stick to it. Create small, attainable goals and set deadlines to ensure that you don’t waste too much time on any one prospect, nor let any fall by the wayside.

As you keep in contact, it is also a good idea to create a list of bullet points before you have a phone call. That way, you’ll avoid getting sidetracked even if the prospect has questions that may not relate to your planned discussion.

  • Be appreciative.

As you keep in contact, be appreciative. Buyers usually have to thoroughly research every potential vendor and run logistical and budgetary concerns by their superiors. In other words, if they keep in touch and plan to become a customer, you should understand that it may take some time and thank them for whatever time they are able to devote to your pitch. It’s also a good idea to stay positive. People (including buyers) generally respond better to people who are friendly and flexible. Plus, if you adopt a negative mindset, you will quickly get discouraged when buyers are unresponsive or don’t immediately give the responses you want.

  • Believe in your product.

You are the lens through which the prospect sees both the business and the product. When the person making the sale genuinely believes in what they are selling, not only is the prospect more interested in the product, they are more interested in doing business with a that person. individual touches like this may seem fleeting and inconsequential, but they can mean the difference between a dud and a sale.

Ultimately, experience will inform your sales techniques and some trial and error is necessary to find your best methods. Stay informed, watch trends in your industry, and don’t be afraid to cast a wide net from time to time. Keep going and eventually, your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.

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