21 Steps To Follow When Sourcing From China (Part I)

This is a guest post by Barbara Cisneros who moved to China four years back to set up and manage a Representative Office in Shanghai. She is an outstanding professional and specially dear to me as she became a friend after I met her and interviewed her for this blog two years back, when I was just starting this journey.

by Barbara Cisneros

I’ve been working as Chief Representative in China for four year, mainly in the sourcing area. Since I was specialised in the same field and type of products, my main objective was to establish long-term suppliers in order to optimise the  cost / quality / delivery times of our products.

Some of the points that I will mention below may seem obvious, but from my own experience, and what I’ve seen others (small and medium enterprises) doing, the same mistakes are repeated over and over.

These are the tips I would give to anybody who starts sourcing from China:

Before your start sourcing

1. ALWAYS visit the factory.
Do not rely on the information on the internet. Even websites like Alibaba are not reliable enough when looking for suppliers. Sometimes a supplier is classified as a Golden Supplier for more than two years and when you visit the factory there is not much behind the online presence.
In order to find certain type of products the best way is to attend specific exhibitions.

When working on OEM projects where you want a product to be developed according to your specifications:
2. Prepare/ be ready with ALL required documents / specifications from the very beginning.

3. Check the production facilities in order to confirm that they produce what you expect.

4. Clarify and agree all technical aspects
Have a first meeting in order to make sure that you clarify and agree all the technical aspects of the product. Most of the times the standards and material specifications are different in China. Make sure you agree to use the ones that are equivalent / closest to what you need.

5. Do not assume that because they work in a specific field they are familiar with foreign specifications / nomenclature.

6. Do not expect them to be proactive.
You have to confirm that they have read and studied all your specifications. Do not expect them to act in a proactive way. Most of the time, if they have doubts they will follow their normal procedures and use the most common or cheaper materials, which may not be suitable for your product.

7. ASK and CONFIRM as many times as you think is needed.
This way you will avoid future “surprises”.

8. Be prepared to be FLEXIBLE.
For some materials/standards you may not find the exact equivalent that you need. Be prepared to be FLEXIBLE, although avoiding any degradation in quality. Discuss with them in order to reach an agreement, and provide them with different solutions. Flexibility is a must when dealing with Chinese factories.

9. Changes during the manufacturing process will lead to terrible headaches, including renegotiating prices.

10. Make sure all the PACKING information is included in the initial requirements.

11.Do no trust anybody saying “Yes, I can do it”.
When starting to produce a new product in China do not trust anyone who says “Yes, I can do it” – even if they are already your suppliers. Normally small / medium factories are specialised in one type of product / technology. For example, a factory that works with certain type of forged steel will not work with cast steel, although the products may have the same usage.

12. Consider using some suppliers as “traders”.
If you do not work with very large volumes, try to group your products with only a few suppliers. Sometimes they can work as a “trader” in some of the parts you need, getting a better offer than the one you may have obtained alone.

Coming soon “21 Steps to Follow When Sourcing from China. Part II”

Subscribe to to the blog for future updates:



  1. It seems like the overall message is ‘don’t leave anything to chance’!

    I’ve recently interviewed a company who run a Quality Control service in China which does the ongoing checks on every order, meaning you can leave the country. We will be publishing the article soon but would welcome any feedback you have on whether outsourcing quality control and monitoring to a specialist has value.

  2. Absolutely. “Do not relax, even with good suppliers”. If you cannot do quality control yourself, you need to rely on a 3rd party to do it. You will be saving a lot of money in the long term and avoiding a lot of unwanted surprises.