Exporting Soap in Zambia
Exporting is never described as easy.
In a developing country it can be even harder without well maintained systems of exporting and documentation… and oftentimes, corruption. The last year has been a lot of learning about exporting and what that looks like for a small business and soap company. Information on the web feels like you are looking for a needle in a haystack. You can’t look up, “How to export soap in Zambia.” There are no answers. I’m going to give a brief overview of a process that took me months to understand… and I still don’t have all the answers.
Top Tips for Exporting in Zambia:
- Governments and organizations do not move as fast as you want them to.
- Find the path of least resistance.
- Everything is easier in person.
- Start small.
- Just go for it.
I have found that nothing in Zambia moves as fast as I want it to. That includes anything that involves an outside source. If you have an idea for a timeline… triple it or more. In fact, in the Southern Province the Tonga have a saying, “Ashontu Ashontu” or “Bit by Bit” and if they have a phrase… you know it’s the real deal… things in Zambia take time. I got to see that first hand working with the ZRA(Zambia Revenue Authority) to get our Country of Origin documents… it took over 3 months. They wanted meticulous details about the soap with no clear directions on how they wanted it formatted or the information they needed. Most of the documents required came from before my time here as General Manager. Eventually we found all the proper documentation and were able to submit them. They also required a costing sheet where everything needed to be in Kwatcha and most things we bought were in dollars in different months at different exchange rates… it was a pain. We got our Country of Origin certificates and were able to progress with the process.
The clearing and customs process might be one of the most confusing systems I have studied. Why there are so many hoops to jump through I will never know. As a small company we did not require a large clearing agency… so what did that leave us with? After months of research, cold calling/emailing and dead ends, and I mean MONTHS we finally found that DHL would be the best option for clearing our soaps for now at small scale. We joined as one of their ecommerce customers and everything became streamlined and simple. Choose the path of least resistance. If you are exporting or importing and know of other ways, we would LOVE to hear from you!
In the US, nothing is done in person, but here in Zambia, if you are able to sit down with someone for 30 minutes it can save you so much time. The transport costs are beyond worth it to move things forward. Sometimes you have to wait in a line or get a little lost to find your destination but it is worth it!
Start small. I feel a part of the reason we delayed so much in trying to export was that we were scared of losing product and hope in what we were doing. Here’s my advice. Take the risk and do it in a small way. Not everything has to be a massive scary leap into the unknown. Start small and learn from there.
Lastly, just go for it. Just do it! I attended an export readiness seminar and found that they did not say anything that the internet didn’t already tell me. I was just delaying in taking the risk. Delaying from starting to make money. And I won’t be doing that again.
Money is everywhere around the world and with a globalized economy nothing is stopping you from taking advantage of it. If you see an opportunity find the quickest easiest way to do it. The answers will find you.
I hope that you take my experiences and run with them! If you have any questions or suggestions we would love to hear from you at our email or anywhere on social media!