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How to Find the Right Sourcing Agent to Import from Asia

Looking to import products from China? Here we look at what sourcing agents do, and give you some tips on how to find the right one for your business.

September 19, 2020

Importing From Asia: How to Find the Right Sourcing Agent for You

We’re pretty clued in about the inner workings of the sourcing agent—after all, that’s precisely what we do. Among the general public, however, there’s still quite a bit of confusion surrounding the profession.

In this post of the Start Sourcing series, we’ll rewind right back to the beginning to get you up to speed.

And to begin, we’ll answer one fundamental question: What is a sourcing agent?

By understanding what a sourcing agent is and how they work, it’ll be easier to find an appropriate option for your business.

We’re also going to guide you through sourcing agent fees, and provide a few pro tips to help you find the perfect agent for your business.

What Does a Sourcing Agent Do?

Also known as an import agent, sourcing broker, or buying agent, the sourcing agent manages some or all aspects of the procurement process.

If you’re looking to import a custom-built or ready-made product for your business, a sourcing agent is the guy (or gal) who’s going to make that happen. An agent’s typical responsibilities vary, from prospecting suppliers to negotiating contracts or monitoring production to shipping and quality control.

A sourcing agent not only eliminates the time and hassle it takes to organise these things on your own, but they can also use their expertise to streamline the process.  

Think of a sourcing agent as like a skilled caddie: they’ll assess your specific circumstances and pass you the perfect club.

Looking to import golf clubs from Asia? A sourcing agent can help you with that, too!

Why Should You Use a Sourcing Agent?

There’s a whole host of compelling reasons you should consider enlisting the services of a sourcing agent.

First off, for a small business owner such as yourself, importing products from afar-flung region like China is a daunting prospect. A good sourcing agent will help you safely navigate these unfamiliar waters by reducing the risk, minimising the hassle, and negotiating the best possible terms. The sourcing agent is a highly skilled right-hand man/woman who ensures the entire process goes smoothly from start to finish.

Many larger businesses decide to go it alone when importing from overseas, and we wholeheartedly respect this gung-ho approach. But the reality is most Small to Medium Businesses (SMBs) just don’t have the time or resources to do sourcing in-house—and that’s where a sourcing agent shines!

What to Consider When Searching for a Sourcing Agent

Now we’ve covered the basic background info, I’ll show you how to sort the wheat from the chaff. Not all sourcing agents are created equal, so it’s essential to seek out the following factors before hiring one of your own.

Extensive Experience

Not only should you insist on using a sourcing agent with stacks of experience, but it’s also crucial to find one with a proven track record. It takes time to become a skilled sourcing agent, and the most reliable options have a long list of success stories under their belt. Take the time to read through a sourcing agent’s online reviews, case studies, and testimonials to gauge their experience and success.

Importing products from Asia is a multi-faceted process, so look for an agent who has experience in finding solutions for all the moving parts. A pro sourcing agent can intervene at any stage of the process and provide actionable advice and solid solutions.

Interested in learning about our experience? Take a look at what happy Epic Sourcing clients are saying here.  

Product Specialisation

A promising sourcing agent has experience in prospecting the kind of products you’re looking for. What’s more, they already understand the unique challenges that face your industry and how to overcome them.

Different products are made in different regions throughout Asia, and a top-quality sourcing agent already knows where to look.

Effective Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of a successful business relationship. Therefore, a good sourcing agent will communicate rapidly and effectively throughout the entire process.

If an agent is prompt with client communication, they’ll likely be effective at liaising with their Asian suppliers and manufacturers, too. Poor communication can create massive headaches down the track, so avoid doing business with agents who respond slowly or have subpar language skills.

Trust and Transparency

A trustworthy sourcing agent will be completely transparent throughout the process. All fees will be listed upfront to ensure there are no nasty surprises at the end.

Rather than working as a middleman, the best sourcing agents will operate on your behalf to secure the best possible deal with no commissions or hidden fees.

Keep a keen eye out for unscrupulous operators who try to hide information from you to control the process and obtain an unfair advantage. Remember, transparency helps eliminate conflicts of interest—a good sourcing agent will keep you in the loop from start to finish.

Home and Away Teams

The best sourcing agents have a physical presence in both Australia and the country you’re importing from.

A home team allows the agent to sit down and have a face-to-face (or phone) consultation with the client. That way, they can clearly establish their importation requirements and develop an effective business relationship.

The home team further streamlines the process by having the same (or similar) time zone, language, and tax/legal obligations as your business.

The away team is kind of like your eyes and ears on the ground in Asia. These local specialists speak the native language fluently (typically their mother tongue) and understand Asian business culture. Consequently, they can effortlessly oversee processes like quality control and factory audits as well as manage shipping and logistics.

Competitive Rates

The cheapest sourcing agent on the market isn’t always the best value as they’ll likely cut corners when negotiating and secure a lousy deal. At the same time, you don’t want to pay out the nose for a so-called “hot shot” sourcing agent who achieves substandard results.

Fees vary substantially between sourcing agents, so it’s worth shopping around to evaluate who’s offering the best deal. Pricing structures (flat fee, commission, hourly) also vary, which we’ll cover in the next section. Some times you’ll find the fee itself is reasonable, but the structure doesn’t suit your needs.  

Understanding Sourcing Agent Fees

Sourcing agents charge their services using one of three pricing structures: flat fees, commissions, and hourly fees.

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of each.

Flat Fee

The flat fee is a per-project rate: a figure for all services agreed upon by both parties before commencing the project.

For ongoing sourcing arrangements, a flat fee can become tiresome as the figure needs to be negotiated for every new project. What’s more, when you’re running complex sourcing projects, flat fees may end up costing the customer more. The agent will typically overestimate the scope to protect their bottom line(underestimation is extremely rare).

Besides, one of the best things about having a sourcing agent on call is you can give them a buzz anytime you need advice. Those short impromptu consultations usually aren’t included in a flat fee agreement.

Nonetheless, for quick, one-off sourcing gigs, flat fees are a great option as they let the client know exactly what to expect. At Epic Sourcing, we use flat fees to facilitate one-off services such as our Supplier Verification Report.  

Looking to verify an existing Asian manufacturer or supplier? Book a Supplier Verification Report with us today.  


Commissions are relatively common in the sourcing game, with rates typically ranging from 5-10%, depending on the size and frequency of the order.  

While commission-based agreements can sometimes seem like a sweet deal, be aware there may be a conflict of interest at play. Dodgy sourcing agents might suggest a supplier who benefits their bottom line rather than your business.

If opting for a sourcing agent who trades on commission, it’s crucial to ensure they’re trustworthy and transparent.

Hourly Rate

For ongoing sourcing solutions, we believe an hourly rate is the fairest and most logical approach.

This ultra-dynamic pricing structure ensures the client will pay for the assistance they need and nothing else.  We offer the option of setting a weekly or per-project cap so the client can stick to their budget and avoid unexpected bills—we reckon that’s essential for Aussie SMBs.

If you’d like to learn more about our transparent cost structure, take a look at our Pricing page.

How to Start Your Sourcing Journey

Kick start the process by making a shortlist of your key requirements.

Write down all the steps of the sourcing process you think you’ll need help with, then compare these with the services your preferred agent offers. If they align, proceed with caution; if not, look elsewhere.

Next, organise a meeting—either in-person or over the phone—with your prospective sourcing agent to gauge how their business operates and assess their communication skills. The top sourcing agents offer a free initial consultation, which means you’ve got nothing to lose.

If you’re still satisfied, you can get the ball rolling by setting up a trial project to assess their performance.

A good place to start is by asking the agent to identify the ideal supplier or manufacturer. If the agent asks lots of in-depth questions and customises the prospecting stage towards your specific needs, then you know you’re onto a winner.

Get in Touch with Epic Sourcing Today

Whether you’re importing products from China for the first time or seeking to streamline an existing process, Epic Sourcing is here to help.

Our company ticks off all the key points above—we make sourcing simple for the average Aussie SMB. We boast both home and away teams, extensive experience, product expertise, transparent pricing plans, and excellent communication skills.

Organise a free initial consultation today with TK by filling in this form.

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How to find reliable suppliers in China

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