Are you importing? Should you be…?

* This article was contributed by Ilsie Berlanga, Director of Marketing, Small Business at Livingston International, an NSBA corporate partner.

There are approximately 28 million small businesses in the United States employing more than half of the country’s working population. Small businesses make up 99.7% of employer firms, 98% of exporter firms, and 33% of exporting value in America. But, as the landscape for small businesses crowds and continues to change, small business owners are looking for new ways to grow and stay competitive through new market opportunities. Importing can be an excellent strategy for expanding a small business. Sourcing goods from new regions is the logical move, as it allows you to manufacture or purchase goods at a lower price.

Importing gives your small business comparative advantage, as conditions in foreign markets allow for considerably cheaper production costs; it can mean higher-quality products if the materials you need have top-quality sources outside the U.S.; it grants access to regionally exclusive resources; and it offers numerous other advantages stemming from trade agreements. Trade agreements grant businesses access to a number of unique benefits that make importing easier and cost-effective. Benefits vary from country to country, and working with a knowledgeable customs broker will help you determine which agreement can provide favorable conditions for your business’ imports.

We’ve outlined below the three most important pieces of advice we give small business owners when they ask about importing.

  1. Correct, accurate documentation is critical

Incorrect documentation is the number one reason your goods get delayed at the border. The fact is, there’s a lot of paperwork that comes with importing, and mistakes happen – especially if filling out customs documents isn’t something you do every day.

Our advice to importers is A) learn the documents you need to complete with every shipment; and B) work with a customs broker to ensure they’re accurate and complete.

  1. Classifying your goods correctly saves you time and money

Often, importers don’t realize the impact classification can have on their goods – and it’s not surprising, considering how complex the classification process can be. Applying the correct classification number to whatever you are importing tells Customs the make-up of your goods at first sight and will assist the customs release process.

Beyond simple classification, though, there are preferential tariff treatments that, when properly applied, can reduce the amount of duty you have to pay on certain imports.

  1. Treat your customs broker as a business partner

As a small business owner, you’re focused on running your business; you don’t have the time to learn the ins and outs of customs documentation or tariff classification. That’s where your customs broker comes in. There are plenty of customs brokers available that offer clearance services and more, but of course, not all brokers are created equal.

Remember, your broker is a key partner in your supply chain, so it’s important to work with a broker that understands your business, and offers services – or custom solutions – to meet your needs.

Not sure where to begin? Contact us, we’re here to help!