How to find a business partner

Finding a business partner involves a number of initiatives on your part. Due to fierce competition in the EU and Swedish market, attracting buyers is not easy. But you can increase your chances by: enhancing your marketing skills, gaining business cultural awareness and networking at trade fairs and on social media.

On this page we provide the basics of finding a business partner. If you have any questions, please contact us and we will help as best we can. You will find our contact details at the bottom of the page.

What do the distribution channels look like?

The European Union (EU) functions as a single market. This may sound theoretical, but is most clearly shown by the relatively large intra-European trade. Products enter the EU at entry points such as the largest European port in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, or the largest freight airport Frankfurt am Main, Germany. From these hubs the products are distributed across the EU member states, including Sweden.

For products shipped in bulk, direct imports to Sweden are more common than for lower-volume products. But also in this case the aforementioned European gateways are often used. This explains why the Netherlands is Sweden’s fourth largest sourcing partner for bananas.

For smaller-volume products, such as exotics or speciality products, it is less expensive to ship to one European hub in order to achieve enough volume to bring down shipping costs. From there, the products are further distributed by an European distributor.

A producer can be any company working with a primary product, such as agricultural products, to a manufacturer making products from (primary) materials, for instance a garment manufacturer using organic cotton, yarn, buttons and other accessories.

The producers may export the goods themselves or go through a specialised exporter. In our supply chain infogram (not published yet), the exporter is a separate stakeholder. The exporter takes care of logistical arrangements and ships the products to his counterpart in the target market, the importer.

The EU importer receives and puts the products on the target market. This can be done through agents or distributors, but obviously some Swedish buyers imports directly from the producer without intermediators.

Depending on the product, the importer/distributor may transfer the product directly to a retailer, for instance in the case of final products where no further processing is needed. Wholesalers may be an extra stop between retailer and importer, as wholesalers supply several businesses.

In some cases, a product needs extra processing, for instance ingredients used in bakery products (chocolate in energy bars for instance), bulk foodstuff repacked in consumer packaging (seeds and nuts for example) or fabrics used for textile products made in Sweden.

For information on distribution channels in specific sectors, have a look at Open Trade Gate Sweden's market studies under Related Information at the bottom of the page.
Information on distribution on the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries website

Can potential buyers find you online?

Being visible online and thereby facilitating for sourcing agents, importers and other Swedish and EU buyers to find you easily is vital when you are looking for business partners. Being online enables you, not only to be found, but to market your products and brand.

  • Invest in a website that gives a clear picture of who you are and what you stand for. To increase the chances of your website being found, it needs to rank high in search engines results. To this end use search engine optimisation (SEO). Search engines offer guidance on how to go about it. Google offers a starter's guide.
  • Use social media. LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the most commonly-used social media in Sweden and they all allow you to present your company, your services and your expertise. LinkedIn is aimed at businesses and professionals, and also offers groups where people in the same business/sector or with the same interests join. These are good online network platforms. Activating an account on social media is a way of getting noticed and do digital networking. If you want to be guaranteed exposure you go one step further and advertise by paid ads. 
  • Get listed on online business directories or go to online trading platforms. Alibaba, Europages, Global Sources, Trade B2B and Enterprise Europe Network's partner database are examples of online trading platforms applicable to several sectors and products. You can also advertise on these platforms in order to draw maximum attention to your offer.

In addition to multi-sector platforms, there are also specialised sector platforms such as Fresh Plaza for fresh fruit and vegetables, or Fibre2Fashion for textiles.

Can potential buyers find you offline?

Attend trade fairs and networking events. Trade fairs are important meeting places, and whenever you attend a trade fair you represent your company in all its aspects. While trade fairs have different focus, such as sales or sourcing, all companies observe and network from a larger perspective. For instance, some Swedish buyers may observe techniques of products displayed at a trade fair, to later approach the company in question, not to buy the product, but to place an order of his/her own design to be produced using the same technique. Furthermore business support organisations, such as trade associations and chambers of commerce, as well as embassies organise regular events on social media. Although they might not lead to direct business deals, your presence helps in building a positive company reputation.

Can you contact a buyer?

Many Swedish importers who look for suppliers abroad, for instance at a trade fair or otherwise, are open to discovering new tings and do not mind being approached. 

Most companies however, decline being contacted directly (through for example e-mail, social media or phone). It is a matter of timing. If they are not looking for new suppliers or products when you approach them, the chances of a deal are slim. But staying visible both online and approaching importers at trade fairs or other events can pay off.

Can Open Trade Gate Sweden find you a buyer?

At Open Trade Gate Sweden we aim to facilitate market entry for medium or small size businesses in the EU and Swedish market. We do so first and foremost by answering specific questions and providing useful information to companies and export promotion organisations. Unfortunately, we cannot link you up with potential buyers in Sweden. Open Trade Gate Sweden is, however, developing market intelligence concerning specific sectors, describing market structure and trends, so that exporting companies get a better understanding of market expectations. If you have any questions, we are more than happy to help.

Which trade fairs are relevant to you?

Trade fairs offer remarkable opportunities when it comes to making new business connections. We have listed all the fairs we believe are relevant to your business. Please see Related information at the bottom of the page where the list will be published shortly.

Naturally, you can also take part in a trade fair near you, regional or national. Several Swedish and European businesses source in trade fairs and events outside Europe.

How do you build a successful business relationship?

In order to build a successful business relationship with a Swedish trading partner you should raise your business cultural awareness. By undestanding the Swedish culture, you can communicate more effectively and hopefully build meaningful relationships. 

Swedes are proud of their Swedish traditions yet open to innovations. There is an overall willingness to discover new trends, flavours, styles, fashion and qualities. This open-mindness is manifested in a constant apetite for new ingredients, new fabrics, or the adding of style elements from other cultures.

For you as an exporter, the key here is to get the balance right between the new exotics added, and the cherished Swedish way.
One way of putting your products on the market is therefore to blend it with the traditional: a Swedish cracker or an interior design item can serve as an example. An exotic ingredient might be added to the cracker (for instance quinoa) or a handcrafted detail made by foreign technique might go into the interior design item.

Work-life balance is highly valued: meetings are scheduled during office hours and punctuality is important. If you have an appointment with a Swedish buyer, be on time or call to say you are late. Moreover, remember that Sweden is a gender equal society. When doing business, you will encounter men and women alike, all with the same roles and commitments both at work and at home.

Hierarchy is flat and everyone is invited to share his or her opinion. This openness also translates into honesty. Swedes are transparent and expect the same from their business partner: if there is a problem or changes occur, be open about it and pro-actively share this information. Furthermore, Swedes are collaborative and open to discuss challenges and business approaches in general.

Finally, Swedes appreciate a business partner who understands the current trends on the Swedish market and share the same values. Sustainability has become increasingly important, and especially long-term business relationships (business codes, certification or other means) aiming to improve sustainability performance. Other important trends are health awareness, e-commerce and online services. Find out more in a guide to Sweden on the Kwintessential website.

How do you set up a contract?

A contract is an agreement between you and your business partner, with obligations that you must both meet. It includes the terms and conditions that apply for the goods to be traded, covering at least:

  • product description: description, quantity, quality, certificates and other details
  • delivery: specified according to Incoterms 
  • price: including currency
  • payment conditions: means and time of payment
  • documents: commercial invoice, packing list, insurance, certificate of origin, certificate of inspection, customs documents, other documents.

In global trade, Incoterms sets rules and gives guidance. The main purpose of using Incoterms, is to minimize the risks of potential costly misunderstandings and disputes between exporters and buyers. It provides clarity on areas of responsibility, risks and costs involved in, for example, transport of goods. Familiarise yourself with Incoterms before entering into trade negotiations.
Incoterms on the International Chamber of Commerce website

When starting business negotiations, be well prepared in terms of your offer and the conditions. For instance, what is your minimum order size? Or maximum capacity? By knowing your costs, you will know what your absolute minimum price is. Remember, Swedes are open and transparent and prefer to know what they can expect in realistic terms, rather than being presented with a best-case scenario only to be disappointed later on.

In your preparations towards an international contract, take a look at model contracts.
Model contracts on the International Trade Centre website