5 Helpful Tips to find Suppliers for your Small Business | Create Custom Products

Posted by Jasmine Smith on

Stop stressing out about not finding the right supplier or manufacture for your business. These 5 Tips will help you create or find products you never thought were possible. These tips keep everything affordable, products are high quality and the process is easier than you think. So here is the first tip, get ready...

You Need to Work Internationally (wait let me explain)

As the owner of www.jasmithdesigns.com I have found that the best, high quality, affordable products were found on Alibaba.com. As intimating and scary as it sounds, trust me it's not. Let me show you what I've made.

First Supplier may be Your Best

The first time I ever ordered anything from Alibaba.com I was hesitate and I think you know why. They are not based in the U.S., aren't (normally) native english speakers, are considered "shady, steal artwork" , and a whole bunch of negative things. BUT...

When I tell you I found the best supplier to make our enamel pins, it was on the first try! And guess what, now you will get access to them and other helpful tips.

Do it for Yorself gold enamel pin, hard enamel pin, gold enamel and lettering on white background 

The first thing you want to do is, search for what you're needing. Is it keychains like enamel keychains or hotel keychains? What about pins; do you want custom enamel pins, soft enamel pins, acrylic pins? They also have glassware like; glass cans and mugs. Are you needing apparel? They have sweatshirts, track suits, sweat sets and more. Do you have a stationery business and need sticky notes, washi tapes, or notepads? There are so many things available it can be overwhelming.

So start with a simple search

alibaba.com search box for custom products like enamel pins


Now let's go into the important tips to get exactly what your small business needs.

Jasmine here "I highly recommend you get the app. It's more efficient and user friendly. You'll be communicating a lot and want to respond quickly so do this please!" Download app for Apple or Download the app for Google

Supplier Tip Number #1

1. How long have they been in business?

As with any business, the more years you have under your belt already gives you some credibility. However, sometimes it's not always the case. In terms of finding the best supplier or manufacturer for your business it helps a ton.

  • Start with 2+ years and up. This means they have been in business for some time, creating lots of products

In addition, look for verification. They should have some kind of blue check mark saying "verified" next to it. This means they mean business and don't play around 

alibaba.com search results with verified supplier check mark

Here is our enamel pin manufacturer. They had great reviews and offered customization at a great price. We decided to go with them after following some other rules of thumb we will be sharing later in this post.


our Alibaba.com supplier for custom enamel pins 

Enamel pins are their main product and that's how we came out with such great ones like Do it for Yourself and Socially Awkward pins.


You can also watch a full video explaining more about suppliers right here for more visual help. 

Supplier Tip Number #2

2. Do they have good reviews?

We all know how important reviews are for a business. That's whether you've been around for only 5 months to over 10 years. A bad review can make or break you.

It is the same way for working with a manufacture or supplier. If there are not enough reviews or too many bad ones (majority is 2 stars or lower) you should skip and move on. 

Now like we stated before, it will take time finding the right one. When looking at reviews you need to also look at past orders or buyers.

  • How many orders have they done? Is it only 2 or 10, hmm keep looking. Over 100 that is the jackpot, but 40-50 is a good range too. 

alibaba.com reviews of orders from custom pins and keychains

Our enamel pin manufacturer had less reviews and orders when we first started. However, we weren't too afraid because they offered refunds. Getting your money back as a small business is very important especially when you need it most. 

On to money back tips, do they offer refunds? Oh trust me it can get pricy (aka the shipping) thereforewhen you order and you end up hating it, also look for a refund, refund, refund...


Supplier Tips Number #3

3. Are you able to get a refund if you don't like it?

YES. Plain and simple. However, you have to read their product description first.

You need to look for Trade Assurance. It is the best way to get a refund on Alibaba.com but not the only way. Most suppliers and manufactures will offer Trade Assurance.

If this is available you're one step closer to starting your first order! If it's not, well honey keep on looking. You don't want to be that business who spends too much money on inventory you don't like or is wasted.

(You can do something like this B-grade keychains and still sell them for less if your product is not up to par)

on my way to take a tap b-grade keychain

So if you can get a refund, go for it. Get your money back for your business and try elsewhere.

Helpful Tip:

It can be very costly to order overseas. Shipping is probably the biggest issue. We have paid over $100 for shipping at times. This price is for air shipping, they do offer by sea on a boat. By the sea will take substantially longer. A 30 day minimum, but is a lot cheaper.

  • You need to negotiate with your supplier to get the best deal or see if they have various shipping methods. 

They also may not refund you for shipping, so go to Alibaba.com FAQ to learn more.

Supplier Tip Number #4

4. Is it easy to communicate with them?

After you find the product you need, ask yourself "do we need customization" it is important to find the supplier that offers customization before getting started. In this article we will be talking about getting custom products.

Good you found one that does. And after reading through the description you see the pricing and MOQ, (Minimum Order Quantity) you are ready to Send an Inquiry.

*Helpful Tip: If the supplier or manufacturer has the MOQ anywhere from 1-5 this is NOT what you should be looking for. It is inaccurate pricing for it and almost always they will ask you to order more. Start with and MOQ of 50 or 10.

However, for some reason for products that are smaller (like pins or keychains) say 10 MOQ, but also make you start with 50.

DO NOT place and order or create an order even if all you need is the product. Yes you see the price, all looks good in quantity and whatnot, but just because you don't require a custom product, you should still ask questions.

For my custom products friends. In your message ask basics first. They tend to overlook some questions in the beginning which doesn't mean they can't, it just means you ask them again until they answer you. 

alibaba.com send an inquiry message box

  • Don't say: "Hey I'm looking to do a full color enamel pins, with gold clasps, at about 2 x 2 inches. I want 300 of them. How much for this? And what is shipping costs and production costs. I will send my design and pantone colors" 

There is too much information and they tend to ignore it. Instead they start basic, and ask how many you need. So wait for them to respond to your initial inquiry, then respond back to, wait again for a follow up and then start getting into details with them. 

  • Do say: "Hi I'm looking to get custom enamel pins, what is the MOQ? Do you offer samples?"

Now sometimes they will only answer one question still. And 90% of the time they will ask you "what do you need" after you sent your inquiry and you will end up repeating yourself. Which is annoying sure, but good because communication is key throughout this whole process.

Again, tell them I need ____many pins, how much for ____size. They'll respond with more info, and if you like it keep going.

Now you're getting somewhere and once you get to an agreed upon MOQ and price you can send them your designs!

Bonus Tip

Like stated before, using the app is the best way to get what you're needing without having to be stuck at a computer. And yes you can send your designs from your phone!

Here's an example:


custom enamel pins designs in alibaba.com chat

And of course if they say they have problems with the design try sending a different kind of file or something with higher resolution.

You can send svg, jpg, png, ai, pdf, and possibly more files (if they offer it). In this case, a .png was sent and they had no problem with it.

Do keep in mind if you send it this way sometimes the colors can be tricky to match. That is why it is important to have a Pantone color guide handy. Our supplier sent us a link to a digital one and it was very helpful. 


pantone color swatches for custom enamel pins     pantone color swatch link from supplier

**A printed version is more ideal, especially when you can't see the process in person. You are printing products so it makes more sense. So when you have the actual swatches in hand, telling your supplier what you need puts it all together nicely. Pantone color bridge guide coated. (it is veryyy expensive)

If you have a specific color(s) in mind send them your swatches too! They normally send a mockup of the design with the colors they picked, so if you want something different, just ask!

When you have confirmed everything, they will send you a payment. There are quick with it...but then they start production. 

  • Product times vary, ask them what the usual timeline is. You will be waiting longer for your order doing it internationally but it's a given. Don't expect them to make it fast.

While waiting you can ask for production photos/videos (and I would) to see how far along everything is going.

 production photos of custom enamel pins

Once everything is done and you have no more requests or don't need any revisions, they will ship the order. 

Be on the lookout for a tracking link they send or ask for one if they didn't.

Supplier Tip Number #5 Last One

5. Do they offer samples?

If they offer samples in their product description this is always good. However, sometimes when communicating with a supplier they tend to not want to give out samples. 

So if they don't, move on or you can try your luck. Personally I haven't had to order samples in order to feel like I won't get scammed or testing the quality. It can be a big risk, but I always keep my MOQ low.

Here's the BIG thing to note when ordering samples...they get costly

  • It's not cheap to order samples from what I found. Anywhere from $50 and up. It gets more expensive than this.
Why? Mainly because of shipping. Which sucks but that is the case. 

    However it's great for apparel businesses to really get a feel for the clothing. When going for this route, keep in mind of having some money saved up for ordering samples.

    Now it's your Turn!

    For any small business owner or aspiring one looking to get custom products or products outsourced to save you time and money, you have to remember there are always risks.

    You win some and lose some, that's the game of business. Don't sweat.

    But when you find the supplier or manufacturer don't let them go...!


    Do it for Yourself Enamel Keychain

    Be sure to follow us on Instagram and TikTok @jasmithdesigns for more tips and behind the scenes. Or sign up for our newsletter to learn more, get freebies, and receive special discounts!

    custom enamel keychains for our nostaglia collection on jasmithdesigns. 90s vibes with the mixtape and cell phone

    You can also watch a full video explaining more about suppliers right here for more visual help.

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