How to Start an International Trade Consulting Business

Every country has something that another country wants. The United States has specialized business software. Saudi Arabia has natural resources such as oil. Japan specializes in electronic equipment and automobiles. 

An international trade consultant, also known as a foreign business consultant, helps organizations navigate complex international trade regulations. They help clients make overseas contacts, oversee the exchange of goods and services, and represent their customers in negotiations. In short, it was the work of a trade consultant that made it possible for you to drive the Toyota you commute in each day.

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Learn how to start your own International Trade Consulting Business and whether it is the right fit for you.


Start an International Trade Consulting Business by following these 10 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple guide to starting your International Trade Consulting Business. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

Check out our How to Start a Business page.

STEP 1: Plan your business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you.

What are the costs involved in opening an International Trade Consulting Business?

Startup costs for launching a new international trade consulting business range from $10,000 to $50,000. The following should be considered when writing the start-up budget portion of your business plan:

  • Location — Save money by operating your new consulting firm out of a home office.

  • Computer(s)
  • High-speed internet
  • Business management software
  • Website and marketing materials

  • Insurance and licenses

  • Professional advice — Consult with an attorney and accountant to ensure your business is set up for success.

What are the ongoing expenses for an International Trade Consulting Business?

Fortunately, the ongoing expenses for this type of business venture are fairly minimal. The following should be considered when writing the ongoing expenses portion of your business plan:

  • Rent and utilities — Once your business grows and you take on new employees, you may find it is necessary to lease an office space. Studies indicate that up to 4% of your business’s revenue should go towards rent and utilities.
  • Equipment — Every employee will need access to business tools, such as computers and software, to ensure their job is done properly. This equipment must be adequately maintained, repaired, and replaced when necessary.
  • Marketing — While it will likely cost up to 2% of your business’s revenue, an effective, targeted marketing strategy is necessary to achieve long-term growth.
  • Insurance and licenses — Work with trained professionals on a regular basis to ensure your business is adequately covered.
  • Wages — Industry leaders report over half their business’s annual earnings go towards their payroll budget.

Who is the target market?

As an international trade consultant, your marketing efforts will focus on gaining new clients who are looking to import and/or export their goods and/or services. As mentioned, however, your network should expand well beyond current and potential clients. Importers, exporters, manufacturers, distributors, sellers, buyers, and other market participants should all be targeted when developing a strategy to expand your business.

How does an International Trade Consulting Business make money?

International trade businesses trade their specialized knowledge and experience for a consulting fee. Some work under a commission-based fee structure, receiving a commission each time a trade/transaction is completed. Other businesses may work on retainer, receiving an advance against future commissions, typically on a monthly or quarterly basis. Still, others work for either a flat fee or an hourly rate, depending upon the services they provide.

How much can you charge customers?

Regardless of the industry they serve, the average consultant charges between $100 and $150 per hour. Your fees, more than likely, will vary depending upon the scope of each job. When determining how much you will charge, consider the client’s consulting needs, time spent on the account, resources required, and overhead costs.

How much profit can an International Trade Consulting Business make?

The import/export business has the potential to bring in profits well over six figures. Your business’s annual profit will be directly tied to your knowledge, experience, network, and commitment to long-term growth.

How can you make your business more profitable?

The most effective way to launch a scalable and profitable business is to expand your services. Use you and your staff’s business knowledge to offer additional services such as strategic management, human resources, or financial consulting. This strategy not only helps expand your network it will help solidify yourself as a leader in your chosen industry.

What will you name your business?

Choosing the right name is very important. Read our detailed guide on how to name your business. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

The most common business structure types are the sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), and corporation.

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC or corporation protects you from being held personally liable if your International Trade Consulting Business is sued.

Form Your LLC

Read our Guide to Form Your Own LLC

Have a Professional Service Form your LLC for You

Two such reliable services:

You can start an LLC yourself and pay only the minimal state LLC costs or hire one of the Best LLC Services for a small, additional fee.

Recommended: You will need to elect a registered agent for your LLC. LLC formation packages usually include a free year of registered agent services. You can choose to hire a registered agent or act as your own.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

In order to register for taxes you will need to apply for an EIN. It's really easy and free!

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You can acquire your EIN for free through the IRS website, via fax, or by mail. If you would like to learn more about EINs and how they can benefit your LLC, read our article, What is an EIN?.

Learn how to get an EIN in our What is an EIN guide or find your existing EIN using our EIN lookup guide.

Small Business Taxes

Depending on which business structure you choose, you might have different options for how your business will be taxed. For example, some LLCs could benefit from being taxed as an S corporation (S corp).

You can learn more about small business taxes in these guides:

There are specific state taxes that might apply to your business. Learn more about state sales tax and franchise taxes in our state sales tax guides.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account & credit card

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Additionally, learning how to build business credit can help you get credit cards and other financing in your business's name (instead of yours), better interest rates, higher lines of credit, and more.

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
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Recommended: Read our Best Banks for Small Business review to find the best national bank, credit union, business-loan friendly banks, one with many brick-and-mortar locations, and more.

Open net-30 accounts

When it comes to establishing your business credit, net-30 vendors are considered the way to go. The term "net-30," which is popular among vendors, refers to a business credit arrangement where the company pays the vendor within 30 days of receiving goods or services.

Net-30 credit terms are often used for businesses that need to obtain inventory quickly but do not have the cash on hand.

Besides establishing business relationships with vendors, net-30 credit accounts get reported to the major business credit bureaus (Dun & Bradstreet, Experian Business, and Equifax Business Credit). This is how businesses build business credit so they can qualify for credit cards and other lines of credit.

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Recommended: Read our guide on the best net-30 vendors so you can start building business credit now, so you never have to worry about cash flow in the future. Keep in mind that poor cash flow is the #1 reason businesses fail!

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7: Get business insurance

Just as with licenses and permits, your business needs insurance in order to operate safely and lawfully. Business Insurance protects your company’s financial wellbeing in the event of a covered loss.

There are several types of insurance policies created for different types of businesses with different risks. If you’re unsure of the types of risks that your business may face, begin with General Liability Insurance. This is the most common coverage that small businesses need, so it’s a great place to start for your business.

Learn more about General Liability Insurance.

Another notable insurance policy that many businesses need is Workers’ Compensation Insurance. If your business will have employees, it’s a good chance that your state will require you to carry Workers' Compensation Coverage.

STEP 8: Define your brand

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

If you aren't feeling confident about designing your small business logo, then check out our Design Guides for Beginners, we'll give you helpful tips and advice for creating the best unique logo for your business.
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Recommended: Get a logo using Truic's free logo Generator no email or sign up required, or use a Premium Logo Maker.

How to promote & market an International Trade Consulting Business

Your marketing strategy should include a balanced mix of networking, cold calling, research, and paid advertising. Maintain an open line of communication to ensure your contacts understand what you do and who would benefit the most from your services. If you hear that a retailer is having difficulty with the timeliness or quality of product production, contact the executive and deliver your sales pitch. If an organization runs into roadblocks due to compliance issues, call or email leadership and share part of your plan to tackle those issues and ensure similar situations don’t come up in the future.

How to keep customers coming back

It’s important to always keep in mind that your clients look to you for guidance on issues that stand to save them hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars. One wrong move or substandard piece of advice, and your client could end up losing everything. You can keep your clients happy and maintain a positive reputation by putting the needs of your clients first at all times.

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Still unsure about what kind of business you want to start? Check out the latest Small Business Trends to help inspire you.

STEP 9: Create your business website

After defining your brand and creating your logo the next step is to create a website for your business.

While creating a website is an essential step, some may fear that it’s out of their reach because they don’t have any website-building experience. While this may have been a reasonable fear back in 2015, web technology has seen huge advancements in the past few years that makes the lives of small business owners much simpler.

Here are the main reasons why you shouldn’t delay building your website:

  • All legitimate businesses have websites - full stop. The size or industry of your business does not matter when it comes to getting your business online.
  • Social media accounts like Facebook pages or LinkedIn business profiles are not a replacement for a business website that you own.
  • Website builder tools like the GoDaddy Website Builder have made creating a basic website extremely simple. You don’t need to hire a web developer or designer to create a website that you can be proud of.

Using our website building guides, the process will be simple and painless and shouldn’t take you any longer than 2-3 hours to complete.

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Recommended: Get started today using our recommended website builder or check out our review of the Best Website Builders.

Other popular website builders are: WordPress, WIX, Weebly, Squarespace, and Shopify.

STEP 10: Set up your business phone system

Getting a phone set up for your business is one of the best ways to help keep your personal life and business life separate and private. That’s not the only benefit; it also helps you make your business more automated, gives your business legitimacy, and makes it easier for potential customers to find and contact you.

There are many services available to entrepreneurs who want to set up a business phone system. We’ve reviewed the top companies and rated them based on price, features, and ease of use.

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Recommended: Find the best phone system for your business; check out our review of the Best Business Phone Systems 2021.

Start An International Trade Consulting Business In Your State

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Is this Business Right For You?

Have you risen to the top of your field? Do you find yourself looking around, wondering what aspect of your industry you should become an expert in next? Do you enjoy working with clients from a myriad of backgrounds and cultures? Does the idea of global travel excite you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, launching an international trade consulting business may be your next career move.

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Want to know if you are cut out to be an entrepreneur?

Take our Entrepreneurship Quiz to find out!

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What happens during a typical day at an International Trade Consulting Business?

As an international trade consultant, your days will be dedicated to ensuring everything is in place for your clients’ imports/exports. You will examine the unique details of their compliance program, identify any gaps, assist in closing those gaps, and train their workforce to ensure compliance is met moving forward. You will use data to analyze and forecast both current and future exposure as well as identify any potential risks. The information you’ve uncovered will then be used to ensure your client’s business operates seamlessly, with a plan-of-action in place to tackle any unexpected changes in international trade rules. Lastly, when not working with current clients or gaining new ones, you will need to work regularly to help influence and shape new policies that have your clients’ best interests in mind.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful International Trade Consulting Business?

Due to the intricacies of international trade law, you and your team must have extensive knowledge and experience in economics and finance. Those rising to the top of their field generally have, at a minimum, a bachelor's degree in Business Administration, International Business, or Economics.

While education in this field is beneficial, there are several other skills needed to achieve long-term success. You must possess strong leadership skills, be organized, and have the ability to work under pressure. You should enjoy traveling and be fluent in multiple languages so that you can communicate with clients from varying backgrounds and cultures.

What is the growth potential for an International Trade Consulting Business?

Due to the complicated laws that govern international trade, this industry has seen its highs and lows. However, the digital economy has helped level out these fluctuations, leaving significant opportunity for growth and profits.

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Take the Next Step

Find a business mentor

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

Learn from other business owners

Want to learn more about starting a business from entrepreneurs themselves? Visit Startup Savant’s startup founder series to gain entrepreneurial insights, lessons, and advice from founders themselves.

Resources to Help Women in Business

There are many resources out there specifically for women entrepreneurs. We’ve gathered necessary and useful information to help you succeed both professionally and personally:

  • Funding
  • Events
  • Guides
  • Support

If you’re a woman looking for some guidance in entrepreneurship, check out this great new series Women in Business created by the women of our partner Startup Savant.

What are some insider tips for jump starting an International Trade Consulting Business?

In the international trade industry, your overseas connections will prove to be your most powerful business tool. If you don’t currently know anyone overseas, that’s okay. Start by scouring the internet, connecting with international executives through LinkedIn and related business networking organizations. Once you have built a few solid relationships, those connections can be turned into secondary contacts. The most critical piece of advice offered by industry leaders — always maintain a high level of cultural sensitivity. You will be working with businessmen and women worldwide; therefore, it’s important to keep in mind that your country’s way of doing things isn’t necessarily the right way.

How and when to build a team

As a new business owner, you may choose to handle all business duties yourself until the company gets off the ground and starts running. As you start to realize significant growth, however, it may be necessary to add a few employees. You may hire someone to perform administrative duties, or you may choose to hire consultants to handle other areas of international trade that aren’t in your wheelhouse. 

Regardless of what shoes your new hires must fill, each individual should be properly vetted and trained with a clear understanding of what will be expected of them.

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